Friday, April 27, 2012

concentration of attention in the heart

Images, however sacred
they may be, retain
the attention outside,
whereas at the time of prayer
the attention must be within -
in the heart.  The concentration
of attention in the heart -
this is the starting point of prayer.

~ Saint Theophan the Recluse
from for lovers of god everywhere
compiled by Roger Housden

Thursday, April 26, 2012

knowledge and half-knowledge

Four frogs sat upon a log that lay floating on the edge of a river.  Suddenly the log was caught by the current and swept slowly down the stream.  The frogs were delighted and absorbed, for never before had they sailed.

At length the first frog spoke, and said, "This is indeed a most marvelous log.  It moves as if alive.  No such log was ever known before."

Then the second frog spoke, and said, "Nay, my friend, the log is like other logs, and does not move.  It is the river, that is walking to the sea, and carries us and the log with it."

And the third frog spoke, and said, " It is neither the log nor the river that moves.  The moving is in our thinking.  For without thought nothing moves."

And the three frogs began to wrangle about what was really moving.  The quarrel grew hotter and louder, but they could not agree.

Then they turned to the fourth frog, who up to this time had been listening attentively but holding his peace, and they asked his opinion.

And the fourth frog said, "Each of you is right, and none of you is wrong.  The moving is in the log and the water and our thinking also."

And the three frogs became very angry, for none of them was willing to admit that his was not the whole truth, and that the other two were not wholly wrong.

Then the strange thing happened.  The three frogs got together and pushed the fourth frog off the log into the river.

~ Kahlil Gibran
from Poems, Parables and Drawings

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

happy birthday Ella

Friday, April 20, 2012

beyond my solitude

Beyond my solitude is another solitude, 
and to him who dwells therein, 
my aloneness is a crowded market-place and my silence a confusion of sounds.

Too young am I and too restless to seek that above-solitude.  
The voices of yonder valley still hold my ears, 
and its shadows bar my way and I cannot go.

Beyond these hills is a grove of enchantment and to him who dwells therein, 
my peace is but a whirlwind and my enchantment an illusion.

To young am I and too riotous to seek that sacred grove.  
The taste of blood is clinging in my mouth, 
and the bow and the arrows of my fathers yet linger in my hand and I cannot go.

Beyond this burdened self lives my freer self; and to him, 
my dreams are a battle fought in twilight and my desires, the rattling of bones.

Too young am I and too outraged to be my freer self.

And how shall I become my freer self unless I slay my burdened selves, 
or unless all men become free?

How shall my leaves fly singing upon the wind unless my roots shall wither in the dark?

How shall the eagle in me soar against the sun until my fledglings leave the nest 
which I with my own beak have built for them?

~ Kahlil Gibran
from Poems, Parables and Drawings

Thursday, April 19, 2012

the lost trapper

Each time the soprano and the tenor
Kneel and sing to each other,
Somewhere else on stage the baritone
Is about to die.

The Alaskan trapper finds
Blood on his arm, his radio
Dead, and new snow
Falling on the branches.

I don't know why the grasshopper
Doesn't try to wiggle
Out from the bird's claw,
But he doesn't move.

Just forget the idea that
Someone will come and save
You whenever cedars begin
Making that low sound.

~ Robert Bly 
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

I was sorry to hear, via David Sanders‘ “Poetry News” in Prairie Schooner that the poet has Alzheimer’s. His daughter, Mary Bly, told Minnesota Public Radio:

You know he’s very happy. So… not very happy but he’s happy. So I’m very grateful that he’s not experienced the personality changes that sometimes accompany that sort of loss. But it’s sad, it’s very very hard for someone whose life is made up of looking at a tree and turning it into a poem – so your whole life flows by you in words – to not be able to manipulate words is a terrible thing.

At Minnesota's "Poetry Out Loud" in 2009 (Photo: Creative Commons)

For a good part of my childhood my dad was working on short prose poetry. And he used to make us – the children had to do it along with him! Our dinners were often made up of impromptu poetry readings. So in a way this was my tribute year to him, too, because that’s the kind of writing he did when I was growing up. He worked very hard on very small sets of words.

…My stepmother was talking about watching a video of him – and he sparked with ideas all the time – and he hasn't lost his sense of humor so he said “I like that guy!” And then he said “I wish I knew him.” So it was very hard for my stepmother in that moment. But he’s both recognizing what’s happening – his sense of humor is not gone at all – and acknowledging that life has different phases.

I met up with Bly again decades later at Stanford in 2008, but by then I was different and older, and he seemed curiously (perhaps deceptively) the same, although his hair was pure silver, and he seemed more a grandfatherly figure to the students. He turned to the young poet wannabes and cackled conspiratorially, “You can’t tell this to your parents.” Of course, he was a parent by then, and so was I, so the comment seemed oddly nostalgic.

I spoke to him privately, during a break in the class, and told him of our meeting decades ago. For a moment our eyes met, and he seemed curiously vulnerable, aware of the mask he was wearing that had somehow grown to him, the name and fame he carried like a heavy backpack, and could no longer put down.

~ from book haven

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

the old man mad about drawing

hokusai - an animated sketchbook

~ tony white
with thanks to sharanam

your eyes

~ Anoushka Shankar
with thanks to pacifixe

the starfish

It is low tide. Fog. I have climbed down the cliffs
from Pierce Ranch to the tide pools. Now the ecstasy
of the low tide, kneeling down, alone. In six inches of
clear water I notice a purple starfish—with nineteen
arms! It is a delicate purple, the color of old carbon
paper, or an attic dress . . . at the webs between the
arms sometimes a more intense sunset red glows
through. The fingers are relaxed . . . some curled up at
the tips . . . with delicate rods . . . apparently globes
on top of each, as at World's Fairs, waving about. The
starfish slowly moves up the groin of the
rock . . . then back down . . . many of its arms rolled
up now, lazily, like a puppy on its back. One arm is
especially active and curved up over its own body as
if a dinosaur were looking behind him.
How slowly and evenly it moves! The starfish is a
glacier, going sixty miles a year! It moves over the pink
rock, by means I cannot see . . . and into marvelously
floating delicate brown weeds. It is about the size of
the bottom of a pail. When I reach into it, it tightens
and then slowly relaxes. . . . I take an arm and quickly
lift. The underside is a pale tan. . . . Gradually, as I
watch, thousands of tiny tubes begin rising from all
over the underside . . . hundreds in the mouth, hun-
dreds along the nineteen underarms . . . all looking. . .
feeling . . . like a man looking for a woman . . . tiny
heads blindly feeling for a rock and finding only air.
A purple rim runs along the underside of every arm,
with paler tubes. Probably its moving-feet.
I put him back in. He unfolds—I had forgotten
how purple he was—and slides down into his rock
groin, the snail-like feelers waving as if nothing had
happened, and nothing has.

~ Robert Bly
 from Selected Poems
photo by nick hobgood
with thanks to writers almanac

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

bring it back gently

If the heart wanders or is distracted, 
bring it back to the point quite gently and 
replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. 

And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour 
but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, 
though it went away every time you brought it back, 
your hour would be very well employed. 

~ Saint Francis de Sales
with thanks to blue mountain meditation

o lacrimosa

(trilogy for future music of Ernst Krenek)


Oh tear-filled figure who, like a sky held back,
grows heavy above the landscape of her sorrow.
And when she weeps, the gentle raindrops fall,
slanting upon the sand-bed of her heart.

O heavy with weeping. Scale to weigh all tears.
Who felt herself not sky, since she was shining
and sky exists only for clouds to form in.

How clear it is, how close, your land of sorrow,
beneath the stearn sky's oneness. Like a face
that lies there, slowly waking up and thinking
horizontally, into endless depths.


It is nothing but a breath, the void.
And that green fulfillment
of blossoming trees: a breath.
We, who are still the breathed-upon,
today still the breathed-upon, count
this slow breathing of earth,
whose hurry we are.


Ah, but the winters! The earth's mysterious
turning-within. Where around the dead
in the pure receding of sap,
boldness is gathered,
the boldness of future springtimes.
Where imagination occurs
beneath what is rigid; where all the green
worn thin by the vast summers
again turns into a new
insight and the mirror of intuition;
where the flowers' color
wholly forgets that lingering of our eyes.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by Stephen Mitchell
art by francoise pothier

rescue the dead

Finally, to forgo love is to kiss a leaf,
is to let rain fall nakedly upon your head,
is to respect fire,
is to study man’s eyes and his gestures
as he talks,
is to set bread upon the table
and a knife discreetly by,
is to pass through crowds
like a crowd of oneself.
Not to love is to live.

To love is to be led away
into a forest where the secret grave
is dug, singing, praising darkness
under the trees.

To live is to sign your name,
is to ignore the dead,
is to carry a wallet
and shake hands.

To love is to be a fish.
My boat wallows in the sea.
You who are free,
rescue the dead.

~ David Ignatow

the signal

How can I regret my life
when I find the blue-green traffic light
on the corner delightful against the red brick
of my house. It is when the signal turns red
that I lose interest. At night
I am content to watch the blue-green
come on against the dark
and I do not torture myself
with my shortcomings.

~ David Ignatow

Monday, April 16, 2012

leap before you look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

~ W. H. Auden
with thanks to knopf poetry


I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not a comment on my life.

~ David Ignatow
art from the song dynasty

Sunday, April 15, 2012

how rarely I have stopped to thank the steady effort

A person speaking
pauses, lets in
a little silence-portion with the words.
It is like an hour.
Any hour. This one.
Something happens, much does not.
Or as always, everything happens:
the standing walls keep
standing with their whole attention.
A noisy crow call lowers and lifts its branch,
the crow scent enters the leaves, enters the bark,
like stirred-in honey gone into the tea.
How rarely I have stopped to thank
the steady effort of the world to stay the world.
To thank the furnish of green
and abandon of yellow. The ancient Sumerians
called the beloved “Honey,” as we do.
Said also, “Borrowed bread is not returned.”
Like them, we pay love’s tax to bees,
we go on arranging the old notes in different orders.
Desire inside A C A G G A T.
Forgiveness in G T A C T T.
In a world of space and time, arrangement matters.
An hour has no front or back,
except to those whose eyes face forward,
whose tears blur thought and stars.
Five genes, in a certain arrangement,
will spend this life unrooted, grazing.
It has to do with how the animal body comes into being,
the same whether ant or camel.
What then does such unfolded code understand,
if it finds in its mouth the word important
the thing that can be carried, or the thing that cannot,
or the way they keep trading places,
grief and gladness, the comic, the glum, the dead, the living.
Last night, the big Sumerian moon
clambered into the house empty-handed
and left empty-handed,
not thief, not lover, not tortoise, just looking around,
shuffling its soft, blind slippers over the floor.
This felt, to me, important, and so I looked back with both hands
open, palms unblinking.
What caused the fire, we ask, meaning, lightning, wiring, matches.
How precisely and unbidden
oxygen slips itself into, between those thick words.

~  Jane Hirshfield
from the New York Times
print on April 15, 2012, on page SR6 of the 
New York edition with the headline: Tax Break. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

arrogance of reason

The guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.

The blue sky opens out farther and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away,
the damage I have done to myself fades,
a million suns come forward with light,
when I sit firmly in that world.

I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken,
inside "love" there is more joy than we know of,
rain pours down, although the sky is clear of clouds,
there are whole rivers of light.
The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.
How hard it is to feel that joy in all our four bodies!

Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail.
The arrogance of reason has separated us from that love.
With the word "reason" you already feel miles away.

~ Kabir
from The Kabir book: Forty-four of the ecstatic poems of Kabir

Friday, April 13, 2012

being without there being a center

These days many people are finding their way into “selflessness” or “centerlessness”—the state of being without there being a center or separate experiencer. People realize this state through self-inquiry, using questions like “Who or what is experiencing this moment?” People may struggle for a few minutes thinking that the word “me” is the experiencer, but after a few affirmations, most people who engage in this type of inquiry can see that, yes, the idea of “me” or “I” is a particular idea that’s also being experienced. Some people find it easy to discover selflessness using the perceptual doorways made famous by Douglas Harding’s “experiments.” We point one of our fingers at our face and see that we can never see, never find, what our finger is pointing at. The finger points at a space, a clearing, that is the centerless universe that circumscribes our reality.

No “non-self” either

Moreover, if we try to find the “absence of a center,” or a “self,” or “me,” we can’t find what’snot there. So, contrary to what some people conclude, we can’t say that there is “no self,” or “no experiencer,” either. We are left speechless, seeing that we neither exist nor don’t exist.

Sometimes people get nervous when they first encounter the realization that there is no findable “me” that sits in our head, or stands behind everything out there. People fear that the bottom of their lives might fall out. But, if we look at what really happens, nothing changes at all. Our fear is baseless because, while we can’t find ourselves, equally we can’t conclude that we don’t exist. We have no basis at all for saying “Who we aren’t!” If we look at things, we are here—you and I—and everyone else is exactly where they are. And yet we are all unfindable!

At this point you might be thinking, “I can’t think about ‘this’.” And, yes, that’s precisely the case. We can’t think about “this.” We are beyond dualistic concepts. We can’t even say, “we are beyond.” Nothing whatsoever changes when we realize selflessness because a self was never there in the first place. We might think that something goes away (the self) but it doesn’t. There is nothing to disappear!

Liberated in the here-and-now

This realization is wonderful because it creates a sense of open, unbounded, freedom that’s completely fused with the infinitely complex mandala of our unique, empirical existence. This realization allows us to be totally free in the same moment that we are, effectively, trapped in the particulars of our moment-by-moment experience. Think about it, in this moment, nothing can be different. The thought we are thinking displaces every other thought, if we are inhaling we can’t be exhaling. The word you are reading right now can’t be another word, because this is the one that’s here. Your body can’t be in a different location in this very moment, because it is where it is. Every square centimeter of our life-world is filled to the limits with a panoramic display of colors, shapes, sensations and thought-forms. We are engulfed in a seamless and totalizing sea of sensations and cognition that has no ruptures or interruptions.

If you’re like me, your capacity for resting in the ground of being is highly conditioned. The external circumstances and state of my body-mind need to be “just right” if I’m to have any chance of resting in awareness. Even when things are just right, I can still be distracted by my “important” projects or necessary interests, like thinking that I really need to know the current updates in world news. It takes just a small discomfort to wish that “things were different.” Frustrations, anxieties, fears, annoyances, boredoms, and vulnerabilities abound.

Gradual evolution

The path for many people is gradual. Moments of selfless awareness arise within the larger context of our life—all the events that happen from our birth, initial awakening, on into death and beyond. The first recognition of pure, primordial awareness may occur as a child, or the serene setting of a contemplative dialogue with a nondual master, after years of meditation practice, while taking in a sunset, or in dokusan with a Zen roshi. Or, perhaps we are introduced to the nature of mind by watching a YouTube video or informally in a café when a friend who knows this space shares the unfindable “this.” Sometimes the first recognition happens spontaneously without any obvious precondition. One day, everything drops away and we find ourselves in a space that’s like the open sky: beyond all concepts and feelings. Or, perhaps this realization creeps up on us, and we can’t say exactly when we first become aware of the fact that we can’t find ourselves.

Having tasted the goal, the path consists of incrementally expanding and deepening our capacity to abide more continuously and reliably in selfless awareness as we engage the full range of experiences that are delivered to us by our karmically conditioned body-mind. The scope for integrating what’s possible within the extremes of nirvana and samsara are enormous. Perhaps it has no limit.

Universal awakening: limitless integration

In Mahayana Buddhism the scope for our evolution is said to be inconceivably vast. Quantum physics leads to the conclusion: “If it can happen, it will.” Mahayana takes this further saying, “Everything can happen, and already is.”

The scope for deepening and expanding the embodied realization of selflessness is limitless. According to the Mahayana, there is no conceivable event or experience that can disturb the vast, open-minded equanimity of a buddha. For a buddha, violent emotional invasions are received as whispered teachings of “perfect wisdom.” Mental energies that would otherwise be experienced as psychological anguish and torment auto-liberate into a continuous stream of meditative quietude. Physical pain is instantly and continuously transmuted by buddhamind into super-sensory pleasure. For buddhas, energy in any form is the currency of bliss—exchangeable like dollars and euros for whatever we wish. They live continuously in a “heaven on earth.”

One of my teachers, Lama Thubten Yeshe, often used the example of atomic power. Awakened beings radiate a fusion-energy field. They live in a matrix, a holographic mandala, that penetrates other people’s psyche and transforms any environment they inhabit. The realization of buddhas is contagious, like a chain reaction. Lama Yeshe embodied this capacity himself. In the space of one or two minutes he would do a complete make-over of people’s limited conception of themselves. They would arrive at his doorstep feeling very miserable about themselves, and leave a few minutes later with a life-changing experience of their spiritual potential.

Even though we are just scratching the surface of these buddha-like capacities, it’s inspiring to see that we have everything that’s needed to follow the same path to universal awakening (mahabodhi). We are aware, and more over, we can see that we can be free in the moment without anything needing to change at all.

Pure perception

Within the vision of universal awakening, a gap between where we are now and the irreversible liberation of all mind-streams, is creatively and lovingly bridged by visioning the ideal spaces within which people can wake up and be constantly suffused and infused with the nectar of selfless awareness. This is called “pure perception.”

“Pure perception” arises naturally when we see that there is no end to the dimensions and realities that can be touched and transformed by the liberating field of selfless awareness. Ultimately, there is no other work to do. We learn to how to think, feel and live at the result-level. The type of visioning I’m talking about here comes to us effortlessly as we tune into precisely what people need in the moment in order to abide in the primordial state.

As the Buddha says in the Prajnaparamita Sutra:

Bodhisattvas are ceaselessly inspired by the conviction that the infinitely diverse structures of relativity, far from being some dangerous disease, are actually a healing medicine. Why? Because in their intrinsically selfless nature, interdependent structures perfectly express the mystery and transmit the spiritual energy of universal companionship. Not just awakened sages but all structures of relativity are dwellers in the boundlessness which constitutes all-embracing love, selfless compassion, sympathetic joy and blissful equanimity.

The wonderful thing about “pure perception” is that we can taste it now. By definition, this is the nature of pure perception. Pure perception is never something that happens in the future. The idea that “pure perception” can only happen in the future, degrades the very quality of this experience itself. In pure perception we bring an exalted appreciation to our experience of the world, including our own physical form. We see the intrinsic harmony within and between all phenomena. We experience the seamless, unimpeded flow of everything that arises and dissolves within the reality-sphere that is the mandala of our own existence. Nothing is out of place; everything gives unique expression to an infinite network of conditions that are implicated in every manifestation from the most minuscule to the most cosmic, from the most insignificant to the most magnificent. Everything is revealed as an expression of the unfindable vastness.

~ Peter Fenner

your presence is a healing calm

Cry out all your grief, your
disappointments! Say them in

Farsi, then Greek.  It doesn't 
matter whether you're from Rum

or Arabia.  Praise the beauty
and kindness praised by every

living being.  You hurt and have 
sharp desire, yet your presence

is a healing calm.  Sun, moon,
bonfire, candle, which?  Someone

says your flame is about to be 
dowsed, but you're not smoke or

fire. You're infinitely more
alive.  Say how that is! This

fluttering love will not stay
much longer in my chest.  Soon it 

will fly like a falcon to its
master, like a owl saying HU.

~ Rumi
from The Soul of Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks


U-2 flight to 70,000 ft.

lifting of the burden of anxiety

To me it seems that at those moments, which are characterized by the sudden lifting of the burden of anxiety and fear which presses upon our daily lives so steadily that we are unaware of it, what happens is something negative: that is to say, not ‘inspiration’ as we commonly think of it, but the breaking down of strong habitual barriers—which tend to reform very quickly. Some obstruction is momentarily whisked away. The accompanying feeling is less like what we know as positive pleasure, than like a sudden relief from an intolerable burden.

~ T.S. Eliot
 describing moments of clarity and inspiration
art by Emil Nolde
with thanks to invisible stories

Monday, April 9, 2012

awake awhile

Awake awhile.

It does not have to be
Right now.

One step upon the Sky's soft skirt
Would be enough.

Awake awhile.
Just one True moment of Love
Will last for days.

Rest all your elaborate plans and tactics
For Knowing Him,
For they are all just frozen spring buds
So far from Summer's Divine Gold.

Awake, my dear.
Be kind to your sleeping heart.
Take it out into the vast fields of Light
And let it breathe.

Give me back my wings.
Lift me,
Lift me nearer."

Say to the sun and moon,
Say to our dear Friend,

"I will take You up now, Beloved,
On that wonderful Dance You promised."

~ Hafiz


We are looking for your laugh.
Trying to find the path back to it
between drooping trees.
Listening for your rustle
under bamboo,
brush of fig leaves,
feeling your step
on the porch,
natty lantana blossom
poked into your buttonhole.
We see your raised face
at both sides of a day.
How was it, you lived around
the edge of everything we did,
seasons of ailing & growing,
mountains of laundry & mail?
I am looking for you first & last
in the dark places,
when I turn my face away
from headlines at dawn,
dropping the rolled news to the floor.
Your rumble of calm
poured into me.
There was the saving grace
of care, from day one, the watching
and being watched
from every corner of the yard.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye
from Transfer
with thanks to

Friday, April 6, 2012

seawater stiffens cloth

Seawater stiffens cloth long after it's dried.
As pain after it's ended stays in the body:
A woman moves her hands oddly
because her grandfather passed through
a place he never spoke of.  Making
instead the old jokes with angled fingers.
Call one thing another's name long enough,
it will answer.  Call pain seawater, tree, it will answer.
Call it a tree whose shape of branches happened.
Call what branching happened a man
whose job it was to break fingers or lose his own.
Call fingers angled like branches what peel and cut apples,
to give to a girl who eats them in silence, looking.
Call her afterward tree, call her seawater angled by silence.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Come, Thief

profound not-knowing

One of my favorite things to do is to sit with my elderly father who has Alzheimers. It's a beautiful thing just to sit a place of profound not-knowing with him, a place where I do not know what to say or do. I sit, without expectation, without trying to 'fix' him, or manipulate his experience in any way. I just listen, without trying to make things better in the moment, without playing the role of 'the one who knows'. As consciousness, I am simply available to him. I don't need to 'know' anything in this place, for we are each other. I simply cannot tell who is the one with memory loss. 

And here, I notice a deep and profound acceptance of any wave of frustration or sadness that appears in the ocean of experience. His pain, my pain, there is no difference at all. 

And this seems to me to be what true relationship is at its very core - meeting, really meeting in the moment, without hope, without a future, without expectation, without a story. Coming face to face with yourself. Nobody meeting nobody. 

I love what Nisargadatta Maharaj says: 

"With the dissolution of the personal 'I', 
personal suffering disappears." 

But crucially, he also adds: 

"What remains is the great sadness of compassion". 

Yes, the absence of 'I' is not cold detachment and neo-Advaita world-rejection, 
but intimacy of the most unspeakable kind. 

Thanks, Dad, for keeping me grounded." 

~ Jeff Foster
from his newsletter: Life Without a Centre
art by picasso

Thursday, April 5, 2012


A man walking in a field
and everywhere at his feet
in the short grass of April
the small purple violets
are in bloom. As the man walks 
the ground drops away,
the sunlight of day becomes
a sort of darkness in which
the lights of the flowers rise
up around him like 
fireflies or stars in a sort
of sky through which he walks.

~ Wendell Berry
from Leavings