Tuesday, January 31, 2012

paying attention to the melody

All right.  I know that each of us will die alone.
It doesn't matter how loud or soft the sitar plays.
Sooner or later the melody will say it all.

The prologue is so long!  At last the theme comes.
It says the soul will rise above all these notes.
It says the dust will be swept up from the floor.

It doesn't matter if we say our prayers or not.
We know the canoe is heading straight for the falls,
And no one will pick us up from the water this time.

One day the mice will carry our ragged impulses
All the way to Egypt, and at home the cows
Will graze on a thousand acres of thought.

Everyone goes on hoping for a good death.
The old rope hangs down from the hangman's nail.
The forty-nine robbers are climbing into their boots.

Robert, don't expect too much.  You've put yourself
Ahead of others for years, a hundred years.
It will take a long time for you to hear the melody.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

Sunday, January 29, 2012

creator, preserver, and destroyer

statue from Tamil Nadu, Chola Dynasty, India

As a symbol, Shiva Nataraja is a brilliant invention. 
It combines in a single image Shiva's roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer 
of the universe and conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time. 

Although it appeared in sculpture as early as the fifth century, its present, 
world-famous form evolved under the rule of the Cholas. 
Shiva's dance is set within a flaming halo. 
The god holds in his upper right hand the damaru (hand drum that made the first sounds of creation). 
His upper left hand holds agni (the fire that will destroy the universe). 
With his lower right hand, he makes abhayamudra (the gesture that allays fear). 
The dwarflike figure being trampled by his right foot represents 
apasmara purusha (illusion, which leads mankind astray). 
Shiva's front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, 
signifies refuge for the troubled soul. 
The energy of his dance makes his hair fly to the sides.

~ description by the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beneath its diversity and complexity, the underlying unity of Hinduism has correspondences with the inward dimension of the Christian faith.

~ Ursula King

Friday, January 27, 2012

only breath

~ Rumi
with Coleman Barks

after long busyness

I start out for a walk at last after weeks at the desk.
Moon gone, plowing underfoot, no stars, not a trace of light!
Suppose a horse were galloping toward me in this open field?
Every day I did not spend in solitude was wasted.

~ Robert Bly
photo by michael totten

Thursday, January 26, 2012

creativity - authority - self-knowledge

There is no method for self-knowledge. 

Seeking a method invariably implies the desire to attain some result and that is what we all want. We follow authority - if not that of a person, then of a system, of an ideology - because we want a result that will be satisfactory, which will give us security. We really do not want to understand ourselves, our impulses and reactions, the whole process of our thinking, the conscious as well as the unconscious; we would rather pursue a system that assures us of a result. But the pursuit of a system is invariably the outcome of our desire for security, for certainty, and the result is obviously not the understanding of oneself. When we follow a method, we must have authorities - the teacher, the guru, the savior, the Master - who will guarantee us what we desire; and surely that is not the way to self-knowledge.

Authority prevents the understanding of oneself, does it not? Under the shelter of an authority, a guide, you may have temporarily a sense of security, a sense of well-being, but that is not the understanding of the total process of oneself. Authority in its very nature prevents the full awareness of oneself and therefore ultimately destroys freedom; in freedom alone can there be creativeness. 

There can be creativeness only through self-knowledge.

~ J. Krishnamurti
from The Book of Life
with thanks to j krishnamurti online

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

you can barely distinguish me

I have hymns you haven't heard.

There is an upward soaring
in which I bend close.
You can barely distinguish me
from the things that kneel before me.

They are like sheep, they are grazing.
I am the shepherd on the brow of the hill.
When evening draws them home
I follow after, the dark bridge thudding,

and the vapor rising from their backs
hides my own homecoming.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from The Book of Monastic Life
translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
art from the cave of chauvet-pont-d'arc

Monday, January 23, 2012


The modern pagan, the child of technology or the “mass man,” does not even enjoy the anguish of dualism or the comfort of myth. His anxieties are no longer born of eternal aspiration, though they are certainly rooted in a consciousness of death. “Mass man” is something more than fallen. He lives not only below the level of grace, but below the level of nature—below his own humanity. No longer in contact with the created world or with himself, out of touch with the reality of nature, he lives in the world of collective obsessions, the world of systems and fictions with which modern man has surrounded himself. In such a world, man’s life is no longer even a seasonal cycle. It’s a linear flight into nothingness, a flight from reality and from God, without purpose and without objective, except to keep moving, to keep from having to face reality….

~ Thomas Merton
from Seasons of Celebration
art by picasso

the beauty

~ John O'Donohue

as we climb higher

As we climb higher, we say this.
It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess
imagination, conviction, speech or understanding.

It does not live nor is it life.  It is not a 
substance, nor is it eternity or time.

It is not wisdom.
It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness.

It falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor being.

It is beyond assertion and denial.  We make assertions and
denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond
every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things,
and by virtue of its pre-eminently simple and absolute nature,
free of every limitation,
beyond every limitation;
it is also beyond every denial.

~ Pseudo-Dionysius
art from Sistine Chapel images

unsophisticated teachers say

Unsophisticated teachers say that God is pure
being.  He is as high above being as the highest
angel is above a gnat.  I would be speaking as incorrectly
in calling God a being as if I called the sun pale or black.

God is neither this or that.

~ Meister Eckhart

Sunday, January 22, 2012

the parents poem

It’s a good idea to figure what to do with parents.
One man I knew, after caring for them for years,
Led them across a busy street—two lines of traffic.
He started a lost colony for his parents.

He bought them big boots and pith helmets.
He sent his parents into battle. He dressed
Them in Austrian uniforms and gave them
Maps of Russia. No one ever saw them again.

Another man built a furnace and put his parents
Into it. He got some tincture, and tried to tran-
Substantiate his parents. It took a long time
And used a lot of heat, but there wasn't much change.

A neighbor stored them in an empty cistern—the ladder
Is still sticking out. He took them to Kenya
And got his parents to take a walk with the elephants.
And they died all right . . . But by the end,

They knew for sure that they’d had children.

~ Robert Bly
art by gene kloss

chinese foot chart

Every part of us
alerts another part.
Press a spot in 
the tender arch and 
feel the scalp
twitch.  We are no
match for ourselves
but our own release.
Each touch
uncatches some 
remote lock.  Look,
boats of mercy
embark from
our heart at the 
oddest knock.

~ Kay Ryan
from The Best of It


Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. 

Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. 

There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something.

 Consciousness is partial and changeful, 
awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. 
And it is the common matrix of every experience.

Nisargadatta Maharaj
from I AM THAT


The essence of realization is nowness, 
Occurring all at once, with nothing to add or subtract. 
Self-liberation, innate great bliss, 
Free from hope or fear is the fruition.

~ Marpa
 from his song of realization and experience
with thanks to life love yoga

Saturday, January 21, 2012

sense of presence

This sense of presence, 
it is not the sense that I am present, you are present, or any individual is present. 
The sense of presence is the sense of presence, as such. 
Because one identifies oneself with his body, 
he thinks he is born and is going to die. 
What is born is the general sense of presence, as such. 
The sense of presence which has come spontaneously will leave spontaneously.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Friday, January 20, 2012

beyond myself

When my heart came to rule
in the world of love,
it was freed
from both belief
and from disbelief.

On this journey,
I found the problem
to be myself.

When I went beyond myself,
the pathway finally opened.

Mahsati Ganjavi
translation by David and Sabrineh Fideler

Mahsati Ganjavi lived during the 12th century, born in Ganje, Azerbaijan. Her poetry was a strong voice against prejudice and hypocrisy and patriarchy, while upholding love -- both human and divine.

She was celebrated at the court of Sultan Sanjar for her rubaiyat (quatrains), but later persecuted for her courageous stand against overly dogmatic religion and arbitrary male dominance.

Comments by eric at poetry chaikhana

the dark and mysterious virtue


The Tao gives birth to all of creation.
The virtue of Tao in nature nurtures them,
and their families give them their form.
Their environment then shapes them into completion.
That is why every creature honors the Tao and its virtue.

No one tells them to honor the Tao and its virtue,
it happens all by itself.
So the Tao gives them birth,
and its virtue cultivates them,
cares for them,
nurtures them,
gives them a place of refuge and peace,
helps them to grow and shelters them

It gives them life without wanting to posses them,
and cares for them expecting nothing in return.
It is their master, but it does not seek to dominate them.
This is called the dark and mysterious virtue.

~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching

Paul Cézanne

Born: 19 January 1839
Aix-en-Provence, France
Died: 22 October 1906 (aged 67)
Aix-en-Provence, France

The paintings convey Cézanne's intense study of his subjects, a searching gaze and a dogged struggle to deal with the complexity of human visual perception.

self portrait

Throughout his life he struggled to develop an authentic observation of the seen world by the most accurate method of representing it in paint that he could find.

~ Paul Cézanne
comments from wikipedia

Thursday, January 19, 2012

many-roofed building in moonlight

I found myself
suddenly voluminous,
a many-roofed building in moonlight.

Thought traversed 
me as simply as moths might. 
Feelings traversed me as fish.

I heard myself thinking,
It isn't the piano, it isn't the ears.

Then heard, too soon, the ordinary furnace, 
the usual footsteps above me.

Washed my face again with hot water,
as I did when I was a child.

~ Jane Hirshfield

poetry, mythology and fairy stories

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

the task

It is a simple garment, this slipped-on world.
We wake into it daily -- open eyes, braid hair --
a robe unfurled
in rose-silk flowering, then laid bare.

And yes, it is a simple enough task
we've taken on,
though also vast:
from dusk to dawn,

from dawn to dusk, to praise, and not
be blinded by the praising.
To lie like a cat in hot
sun, fur fully blazing,

and dream the mouse;
and to keep too the mouse's patient, waking watch
within the deep rooms of the house,
where the leaf-flocked

sunlight never reaches, but the earth still blooms.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from The October Palace
thanks to Ivan at poetry chaikhana

- gratitude - Louie Schwartzberg

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the box of chocolates

He always knew where he had been, and he remembered
The box elder in the fence post, looked down on men
Who couldn't see the storm coming.  He's learned
To live with the way his bait went deeper.

My mother kept her spirits high with little jobs.
He bought her a heart-shaped box of chocolates
Once a year. One life, one woman,
That was God's rule, and he didn't like it much.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the ear of a Donkey
photo by Shreve Stockton

Friday, January 13, 2012

no resistance

That which offers no resistance,
overcomes the hardest substances.
That which offers no resistance
can enter where there is no space.

Few in the world can comprehend
the teaching without words,
or understand the value of non-action.

~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching
translation by j.h. mcdonald

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

the end and the beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall.
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand, 
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

~ Wisława Szymborska
Translated By Joanna Trzeciak

Monday, January 9, 2012

the eel in the cave

Our veins are open to shadow, and our fingertips
Porous to murder. It's only the inattention
Of the prosecutors that lets us go to lunch.

Reading my old letters I notice a secret will.
It's as if another person had planned my life.
Even in the dark, someone is hitching the horses.

That doesn't mean I have done things well.
I have found so many ways to disgrace
Myself, and throw a dark cloth over my head.

Why is it our fault if we fall into desire?
The eel poking his head from his undersea cave
Entices the tiny soul falling out of Heaven.

So many invisible angels work to keep
Us from drowning; so many hands reach
Down to pull the swimmer from the water.

Even though the District Attorney keeps me
Well in mind, grace allows me sometimes
To slip into the Alhambra by night.

~ Robert Bly
from The Night Abraham Called to the Stars: Poems

Saturday, January 7, 2012

a dream

Once there was a poor and generous old man from Ballaghaderreen who has a dream.  In it he is told to make a journey at the end of which he will find a pot of gold.  In this case the old man has to leave Balla and travel a good way to Dublin and there, when he crosses one of the bridges over the River Liffy, he will find a pub, and there he will find his treasure.  The old man follows the dream map and when he sees the pub that was in his dream he looks around but there's no place he can dig for a hidden treasure,
so he stands beside the door and waits.  He waits all day and at nightfall the publican comes out and asks,
What are you standing here for all day long?
I had a dream that told me to come here.
A dream?  I think you must be a daft old man to follow dreams.  I, myself, had a dream a month ago and it told me to go to some poor old sod's cottage on the crossroads from French Park to Ballaghaderreen and if I did, I would find a pot of gold in his front yard.  Do you think I would go traipsing all over the countryside because of a dream?  It's cold.  You should go home.
Indeed I should and will, said the old man.
And when he got home he dug in his front yard and found the treasure and wasn't he himself and all the others the better for it.  And if he hasn't given it all away we might share a bit with them.

~ Irish Folk Tale
summarized here by Gioia Timpanelli
photo above by erin at photographs from a white space

Gioia Timpanelli

Friday, January 6, 2012

water lily

My whole life is mine, but whoever says so
will deprive me, for it is infinite.
The ripple of water, the shade of the sky
are mine; it is still the same, my life.

No desire opens me: I am full,
I never close myself with refusal-
in the rhythm of my daily soul
I do not desire-I am moved;

by being moved I exert my empire,
making the dreams of night real:
into my body at the bottom of the water
I attract the beyonds of mirrors... 

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by A. Poulin, Jr. 
from The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke
art by monet

in a time of losses

We don't want to alarm the heron who's
Guarding the cranberry bog from frost.
But so many hares have been eaten by weasels;
The losses go on night after night.
Foxes slip through the bushes at dusk.
So much we care for has been carried off.
The airs and ars we hear in this poem
Belong to the hare who cries out in the night.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the ear of a Donkey

be still and still moving into another intensity

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

~ T.S. Eliot
from The Four Quartets, No. 2, East Coker
art by van gogh

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, 
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. 
Down the ravine behind the empty house, 
The cowbells follow one another 
Into the distances of the afternoon. 
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines, 
The droppings of last year’s horses 
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on. 
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

~  James Wright
from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose

a blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness 
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs. 
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness. 
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me 
And nuzzled my left hand. 
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

~ James Wright
 from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the bridegroom

The bridegroom wanted to reach the Norwegian Church.
But the roads were made impassable by huge snows.
We are each the bridegroom longing for existence.

Marriage brings the moth close to the candle flame.
With their frail wings, men and women
Are constantly flying into the fire of existence.

Some say that each drop of ground water in Kansas
Knows about the ocean. How can this be?
Every drop of water longs like us for existence.

Abu Said fasted in the desert for twenty years.
Later when he came back, his dragon friend
Wept. "Your suffering gave me a hint of existence."

When the pianist's fingers strike all the notes
In the Tenth Prelude, it's clear Bach's soul has been
Leaping about like a hare in the field of existence.

Robert, you're close to joy but not quite there.
You are a hunchback standing in an Italian
Square, looking in at the festival of existence.

~ Robert Bly
from My Sentence Was A Thousand Years of Joy