Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the tongue says loneliness

The tongue says loneliness, anger, grief,
but does not feel them.

As Monday cannot feel Tuesday,
nor Thursday
reach back to Wednesday
as a mother reaches out for her found child.

As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.

Not a bell, 
but the sound of the bell in the bell-shape,
lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Come, Thief

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the grownup


All this stood upon her and was the world
and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
yet wholly image, like the Ark of God,
and solemn, as if imposed upon a race.

And she endured it all: bore up under
the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far-gone,
the inconceivably vast, the still-to-learn,
serenely as a woman carrying water
moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
transfiguring and preparing for the future,
the first white veil descended, gliding softly

over her opened face, almost opaque there,
never to be lifted off again, and somehow
giving to all her questions just one answer:
In you, who were a child once — in you.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

lying in the grass


Is this everything now, the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees’ song,
Is this everything only a god’s
Groaning dream,
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony, only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird’s cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
With consolation.
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-
But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.

~ Hermann Hesse
art by camille pissarro

Sunday, August 28, 2011

the new moon beginning to shine

The chok chok of an axe, on a winter evening, 
the sun having set over the snowy earth, 
the new moon beginning to shine.  

Man has evolved into this social, technological, intellectual animal, 
but perhaps another development is possible, in another direction.  
He need not modify and subdue the earth, his home, 
nor forget that he is a part of the natural system.

~ Harlan Hubbard
from his journal, January 26, 1966

this side


There is light. We neither see or touch it.
In its empty clarities rests
what we touch and see.
I see with my fingertips
what my eyes touch:
shadows, the world.
With shadows I draw worlds,
I scatter worlds with shadows.
I hear the light beat on the other side.

~  Octavio Paz
from  Selected Poems
translated by Eliot Weinberger
art by van gogh

attaining harmony


The best warriors
do not use violence.
The best generals
do not destroy indiscriminately.
The best tacticians
try to avoid confrontation.
The best leaders
become servants of their people.

This is called the virtue of non-competition.
This is called the power to manage others.
This is called attaining harmony with the heavens.

~ Tao Teh Ching
translation by j.h. mcdonald

Friday, August 26, 2011

running from ...


In listening to my patients tell me thousands of stories, as they try to find some peace in the present, I have learned this beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Rather than behaving sanely, rather than being in touch with our present realities, we human beings - all of us, myself included - are too often simply run by losses and hardships long gone by, and by our stockpiled fears.  Our collective history, our individual lives, our very minds, bear unmistakable testimony.

Instead of receding harmlessly into the past, the darkest, most frightening events from our childhood and adolescence gain power and authority as we grow older.  The memory of such events causes us to depart from ourselves, psychologically speaking, or to separate one part of our awareness from the others.  What we conceive of as an unbroken thread of consciousness is, instead, quite often a train of discontinuous fragments.  Our awareness is divided.  And much more commonly that we know, even our personalities are fragmented - disorganized team efforts trying to cope with the past - rather than the sane, unified wholes we anticipate in ourselves and in other people...

Is this our unalterable destiny as human beings?

~ Martha Stout
from The Myth of Sanity, Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness
art by picasso

Thursday, August 25, 2011

so many talking all the time

It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world. Through our voices, we bring out sound from the mountain beneath our soul. These sounds are words. There are so many talking all the time, loudly, quietly, in rooms, on streets, on TV, on radio, in the paper, in books. The noise of words keeps what we call the world there for us. We take each others’ sounds and make patterns and predictions, benedictions, and blasphemies. Each day, our tribe of language holds what we call the ‘world’ together. Yet the uttering of the world reveals how each of us relentlessly creates. Everyone is an artist. Each person brings out sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.

Humans are new here. Above us, the galaxies dance out toward infinity. Under our feet is the ancient earth. We are beautifully molded from this clay. Yet the smallest stone is millions of years older than us. In your thoughts, the silent universe seeks echo.

An unknown world aspires towards reflection. Words are the oblique mirrors which hold your thought. You gaze into these word mirrors and catch glimpses of meaning, belonging shelter. Behind their bright surfaces is the dark and the silence. Words are like the god Janus, they face inwards and outwards at once.

If we become addicted to the external our interiority will haunt us. We will become hungry with a hunger no image, person or deed can still. To be wholesome, we must remain truthful to our vulnerable complexity. In order to keep our balance, we need to hold the interior and exterior, visible and invisible, known and unknown, temporal and eternal, ancient and new together. No one else can undertake this task for you. You are the one and only threshold of your inner world. This wholesomeness is holiness. To be holy is natural; to befriend the worlds that come to balance in you.

Behind the facade of image and distraction, each person is an artist in this primal and inescapable sense. Each one of us is doomed and privileged to be an inner artist who carries and shapes a unique world.

Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace.

~ John O'Donohue
from Anam Cara

far company

At times now from some margin of the day 
I can hear birds of another country
not the whole song but a brief phrase of it
out of a music that I may have heard
once in a moment I appear to have 
forgotten for the most part that full day
no sight of which I can remember now
though it must have been where my eyes were then
that knew it as the present while I thought
of somewhere else without noticing that 
singing when it was there and still went on 
whether or not I noticed now it falls
silent when I listen and leaves the day
and flies before it to be heard again
somewhere ahead when I have forgotten

~ W.S. Merwin
from The Pupil
art by van gogh

Wednesday, August 24, 2011



I wake and remembered 
nothing of what I was dreaming

The day grew light, then dark again — 
In all its rich hours, what happened? 

A few weeds pulled, a few cold flowers 
carried inside for the vase. 
A little reading. A little tidying and sweeping.

I had vowed to do nothing I did not wish 
to do that day, and kept my promise.

Once, a certain hope came close 
and then departed. Passed by me in its familiar 
shawl, scented with iodine woodsmoke.

I did not speak to it, nor it to me. 
Yet still the habit of warmth traveled 
between us, like an apple shared by old friends —

One takes a bite, then the other. 
They do this until it is gone.

~ Jane Hirshfield
art by  scarlet owl

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

always traveling


In one sense we are always traveling, 
and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. 
 In another sense we have already arrived. 
 We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, 
and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. 
 But we already possess Him by grace, 
and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and 
are dwelling in the light. 
 But oh! How far have I to go to find You
 in Whom I have already arrived!

~ Thomas Merton
from The Seven Storey Mountain
art by van gogh

Sunday, August 21, 2011

the door I made

Outside the door I made but don't close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds
a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can't buy a lifetime of freedom
the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods
mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don't get past the clouds

~ Stonehouse
from The Zen Works of Stonehouse
translated by Red Pine

Friday, August 19, 2011



Moments of great calm, 
Kneeling before an altar 
Of wood in a stone church 
In summer, waiting for the God 
To speak; the air a staircase 

For silence; the sun's light 
Ringing me, as though I acted 
A great role. And the audiences 
Still; all that close throng 
Of spirits waiting, as I, 
For the message. 

Prompt me, God; 
But not yet. When I speak, 
Though it be you who speaks 
Through me, something is lost. 
The meaning is in the waiting. 

~ R. S. Thomas
with thanks to whiskey river

Thursday, August 18, 2011

the beauty

If any part of nature excites our pity, it is for ourselves we grieve, 
for there is eternal health and beauty.  
We get only transient and partial glimpses of the beauty of the world.  
Standing at the right angle, we are dazzled by the colors of the rainbow in colorless ice.  
From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow.  
Beauty and music are not mere traits and exceptions.  
They are the rule and character.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from his journal, 1856
art by Roderick Maclver

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

paths which the mind travels


I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there.  Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.  It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.  I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pondside; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct... The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels.  How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains.  I do not wish to go below now.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from the last chapter of Walden
art by van gogh

statue of R.H. Dana - Dana Point California

How invisibly
it changes color
in this world,
the flower
of the human heart.

~ Komachi

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible


Nature, and the things we live with and use, precede us and come after us. But they are, so long as we are here, our possession and our friendship. They know us with our needs and our pleasures, as they did those of our ancestors, whose trusted companions they were.

So it follows that all that is here is not to be despised and put down, but, precisely because it did precede us, to be taken by us with the innermost understanding that these appearances and things must be seen and transformed.

Transformed? Yes. For our task is to take this earth so deeply and wholly into ourselves that it will resurrect within our being. We are bees of the invisible. Passionately we plunder the honey of the visible in order to gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from a letter to Witold Hulewicz
November 13, 1925

Monday, August 15, 2011


The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning

with a scent which does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand 
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

-- Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

~ Zbigniew Herbert
translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott



in midnight water,
no waves, no wind,
the empty boat
is flooded with moonlight.

~ Dogen

Sunday, August 14, 2011

into deep eternity

Exultation is the going
Of the inland soul to the sea -
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep Eternity.

~ Emily Dickinson

are you free?

These Things whose essential life you want to express first ask you, "Are you free?  Are you prepared to devote all your love to me...?"  And if the Thing sees that you are otherwise occupied with even a particle of your interest, it shuts itself off;  it may perhaps give you some slight sign of friendship, a word or a nod, but it will never give you its heart, entrust you with its patient being, its sweet sidereal constancy, which makes it so like the constellations in the sky.  In order for a Thing to speak to you, you must regard it for a certain time as the only one that exists, as the one and only phenomenon which, through your laborious and exclusive love, is now placed at the center of the universe, and which, in that incomparable place, is on the day attended by angels.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke 
from a letter to Baladine Klossowska
translated by Stephen Mitchell

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I would like to describe

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and it is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water
to put it another way 
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin
but apparently this is not possible

and just to say - I love
I run around like mad 
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me what white-haired gentlemen 
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep with one had under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us 
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

~ Zbigniew Herbert 
translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott

Friday, August 12, 2011

just being


Dharmakaya is not just expressed in words, in sounds.  It can express itself in just being.  Sometimes if we don't do anything, we help more than if we do a lot.  We call that non-action.  It is like the calm person on a small boat in a storm.  That person does not have to do much, just to be himself, and the situation can change.  That is also an aspect of Dharmakaya: not talking, not teaching, just being.

This is true not only of humans, but other species as well.   Look at the trees in our yard.  An oak tree is an oak tree.  That is all it has to do.   If an oak tree is less than an oak tree, then we are all in trouble.  Therefore, the oak tree is preaching the Dharma.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh
from Being Peace

the knower


By following any religion, 
cult or creed, 
one becomes inevitably conditioned, 
because one is obliged to conform and accept its disciplines, 
both physical and mental. 

One may get a little peace for some time, 
but such a peace will not last long. 

In your true nature, 
you are the knower of concepts and therefore 
prior to them.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

two washings

One morning in a strange bathroom
a woman tries again and again to wash the sleep 
from her eyelids' corners,
until she understands.  Ah, she thinks, it begins.
Then goes to put on the soup,
first rerinsing the beans, then lifting the cast-iron pot
back onto the stove with two steadying hands.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from After

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I looked for my self


I looked for my self, but my self was gone.
The boundaries of my being
had disappeared in the sea.
Waves broke. Awareness rose again.
And a voice returned me to myself.
It always happens like this.
Sea turns on itself and foams,
and with every foaming bit
another body, another being takes form.
And when the sea sends word,
each foaming body
melts back to ocean-breath.

~ Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
sketch by e.e. cummings

audible to all men, at all times, in all places

Silence is the communing of a conscious soul with itself.
If the soul attends for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence.
She is audible to all men, at all times, in all places, 
and if we will we may always hearken to her admonitions.

~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
from Thoreau and the Art of Life
art by Roderick Maclver