Thursday, December 31, 2020

due to our choosing - we do not see


The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

The Way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.

Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things and such
erroneous views will disappear by themselves.

When you try to stop activity by passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
you will never know Oneness.

Those who do not live in the single Way
fail in both activity and passivity,
assertion and denial.
To deny the reality of things
is to miss their reality;
To assert the emptiness of things
is to miss their reality.

The more you talk and think about it,
the further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking,
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.

~ excerpt from
The Third Patriarch of Zen Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T'san
 Translated from the Chinese by Richard B. Clarke
 teachings of the Buddha


the simple


... imagination and reason have taught you all they can 
and now you must learn to be wholly given 
to the simple spiritual awareness of your self and God....

he told his disciples, who were loath to give up his physical presence
 (just as you are loath to give up the speculative reflections of your subtle, clever faculties),
 that for their own good he would withdraw his physical presence from them, 
 He said to them, "It is necessary for you that I go,"
 meaning, "It is necessary  for you 
that I depart physically from you."  

St. Augustine, commenting on these words, says:
 "Were not the form of  his humanity withdrawn from our bodily eyes,
 love for him in his Godhead would never cleave to our spiritual eyes."  
And thus I say to you, at a certain point it is necessary
 to give up discursive meditation and learn to taste something of that deep,
 spiritual experience of God's love.

...  always and ever strive toward the naked awareness of your self, 
and continually offer your being to God as your most precious gift. 
 Inasmuch as this awareness really is naked, 
you will at first find it terribly painful to rest in it for any length of time
 because, ... your faculties will find no meat for themselves in it. 
 Let them fast awhile from their natural delight in knowing, 
It is well said that man naturally desires to know.  Yet at the same time,
 it is also true that no amount of natural or acquired knowledge 
will bring him to taste the spiritual experience of God,
 for this is a pure gift of grace. 
 And so I urge you: go after experience rather than knowledge. 
 On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you,
 but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. 
 Knowledge tends to breed conceit,
 but love builds.  
Knowledge is full of labor,
but love, full of rest.

~ from The Book of Privy Counseling
written anonymously in the fourteenth century 

the taste

When young, I did not know the taste of sorrow.
I went up the tower.
I went up the tower
to write a poem on pretended sorrow.

By now I’ve completely tasted sorrow, but already
I do not want to speak about it.
I do not want to speak about it,
I only say: what a beautiful, cold autumn.

~   Xing Qijia

in silence

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
be silent, they try
To speak your
To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?
Who (be quiet)
Are you (as these stones
Are quiet). Do not
Think of what you are
Still less of
What you may one day be.
Be what you are (but who?) be
The unthinkable one
You do not know.
O be still, while
You are still alive,
And all things live around you
Speaking (I do not hear)
To your own being,
Speaking by the Unknown
That is in you and in themselves.
"I will try, like them
To be my own silence:
And this is difficult.  The whole
World is secretly on fire.  The stones
Burn, even the stones
They burn me.  How can a man be still or
Listen to all things burning?  How can he dare
To sit with them when
All their silence
Is on fire?"

~ Thomas Merton
from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton


waiting in line

When you listen you reach
into dark corners and
pull out your wonders.
When you listen your
ideas come in and out
like they were waiting in line.
Your ears don’t always listen.
It can be your brain, your
fingers, your toes.
You can listen anywhere.
Your mind might not want to go.
If you can listen you can find
answers to questions you didn’t know.
If you have listened, truly
listened, you don’t find your
self alone.
~  Nick Penna, fifth grade
(from:  Poetic Medicine by John Fox)
 art by Joe Villion

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

within me

My dear,
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, 
within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy.
 For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, 
within me, there’s something stronger – 
something better, pushing right back.

Truly yours,
Albert Camus

from Retour à Tipasa, 1952 
(Return to Tipasa, 1952)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

no room


Christ’s place is with those others for whom there is no room.
His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated.
With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.

He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing
 but the world at its worst…
It is in these that he hides himself, [the people] for whom there is no room.
-- Thomas Merton 
from Raids on the Unspeakable 
 with thanks to louie, louie


make a fish unfish

There seem to two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something 
other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish unfish), 
and those who understand that all such attempts are just gesticulation and 
play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to dis-identify 
themselves with the ego, by realizing its unreality, and by becoming aware of their 
eternal identity with pure being. 

~ Wei Wu Wei 

between the hammers our heart endures


 Happy are those who know
behind all words, the Unsayable stands,
and from that source, the Infinite
crosses over to gladness, and us.

Free of those bridges we raise
with constructed distinctions;
so that always, in each separate joy,
we gaze at the single, wholly mutual core.


But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.
Here is the time for the say-able, here is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness. More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise.
 ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
art by Keith Hennig

Saturday, December 26, 2020

another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house


The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius. 
~ Billy Collins

Friday, December 25, 2020


Mysteriously, Wonderfully,
I bid Farewell to what Goes,
I Greet what Comes;
for what comes cannot be denied,
and what goes cannot be detained.

~ Chuang-Tzu
from The Complete Works of Zhuangzi
translated by Burton Watson
photo by ansel adams

already given

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

~ Wendell Berry

Thursday, December 24, 2020

if you want

you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”

Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.

Yes there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence externally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb of your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light, and
sing . . .

~ St. John of the Cross
Daniel Ladinsky translation
Love Poems from God

life within life

You who sleep in my breast are not met with words, 
but in the emergence of life within life 
and of wisdom within wisdom.   
With You there is no longer any dialogue, 
any contest, any opposition.  
You are found in communion! 
Thou in me and I in Thee,  
Thou in them and they in me: 
dispossession within dispossession, 
dispassion within dispassion, 
emptiness within emptiness, 
freedom within freedom. 
 I am alone.  
Thou are alone. 
 The Father and I are One.
~ Thomas Merton
from Dialogues with Silence
sketch by the author

Your brightness is my darkness.  
I know nothing of You and, by myself, 
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. 
 If I imagine You, I am mistaken.  
If I understand You, I am deluded.  
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough.
prayer written by Merton in 1941 
before midnight mass at Christmas 

exteriorly “all right”


The heart of man  can be full of so much pain, 
even when things are exteriorly “all right”.
 It becomes all the more difficult because today we are used to thinking
 that there are explanations for everything. But there is no explanation 
of most of what goes on in our own hearts, and we cannot account for it all.
 No use resorting to the kind of mental tranquilizers
 that even religious explanations sometimes offer.
 Faith must be deeper than that, rooted in the unknown
 and in the abyss of darkness that is the ground of our being. 
No use teasing the darkness to try to make answers grow out of it. 
But if we learn how to have a deep inner patience, 
things solve themselves, or God solves them if you prefer:
 but do not expect to see how. Just learn to wait,
 and do what you can and help other people. 
Often it is in helping someone else 
we find the best way to bear our own trouble.

-- Thomas Merton
from his Christmas letter, 1966
art by Picasso

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

a community

It's possible that the next Buddha 
will not take the form of an individual. 
The next Buddha may take the form of a community,
a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, 
a community practicing mindful living. 
This may be the most important thing we can do
 for the survival of the earth.
Thich Nhat Hahn


You must become brother and sister
to each and every thing
so that they flow through you
dissolving every difference
between what belongs to you and others.

No star, no leaf shall fall -
you fall with them -
to rise again
in every new beginning.

~ Hermann Hesse 
 translated by Ludwig Max Fisher, PhD
photo by Eliot Porter


let this weather of feeling pass


In your clay body, things are coming to expression 
and to light that were never known before, 
presences that never came to light or shape in any other individual.
  To paraphrase Heidegger, who said, "Man is a shepherd of being," 
  we could say, "Man is a shepherd of clay." 
 You represent an unknown world that begs you to bring it to voice.
  Often the joy you feel does not belong to your individual biography
 but to the clay our of which you are formed.  
At other times, you will find sorrow moving through you, 
like a dark mist over a landscape.   
This sorrow is dark enough to paralyze you. 
 It is a mistake to interfere with this movement of feeling. 
 It is more appropriate to recognize that this emotion
 belongs more to your clay than to your mind. 
 It is wise to let this weather of feeling pass;
 it is on its way elsewhere.
 Regardless of how modern we seem, we still remain ancient,
 sisters and brothers of the one clay. 
 In each of us a different part of the mystery becomes luminous. 
 To truly be and become yourself,  
you need the ancient radiance of others.
~ John O'Donohue

Sunday, December 20, 2020

creating an identity or a child went forth

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon and received
 with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became.
And that object became part of him 
for the day or a certain part of the day....
or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning glories, 
and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird.
And the March-born lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter,
 and the mare's foal, and the cow's calf, 
and the noisy brood of the barnyard 
or by the mire of the pond side.. 
and the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there.. 
and the beautiful curious liquid.. 
and the water-plants with their grateful flat heads..
 all became part of him.

And the field-sprouts of April and May became part of him....
winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, 
and of the esculent roots of the garden,
And the apple trees covered with blossoms, 
and the fruit afterward.... and wood berries..
 and the commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse
 of the tavern whence he had lately risen,
And the schoolmistress that passed on her way to the school.. 
and the friendly boys that passed.. and the quarrelsome boys.. 
and the tidy and fresh-cheeked girls.. and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country wherever he went.

His own parents..he that had propelled the fatherstuff at night, 
and fathered him.. and she that conceived him in her womb and birthed him....
 they gave this child more of themselves than that,
They gave him afterward every day....
 they and of them became part of him.

~ Walt Whitman
excerpt from There was a Child Went Forth
art by Klimt

the parable of the sower


A sower went forth to sow.
Some of his seeds fell upon stony places.
Centuries passed; millennia.
And the seeds remained.
And the stones crumbled and became good soil,
and the seeds brought forth fruit.
"Wait a minute," said one listener.
"You can't play fast and loose that way with the natural facts.
The seeds would die long before the soil could receive them."
"Why would they die?"
"Because they can't hold out in stony places,
for thousands of years."
"But, my dear, what kind of seeds do you think we're 
talking about?"
Stephen Mitchell
from Parables and Portraits



It rests inside its close-fitting red-velvet-lined case
the way medieval monks slept inside their coffins.
But it doesn't  meditate on death; it has already died,
and barely remembers sunlight, water, the wind among the branches.
It lies there in the dark, feeling all through its graceful curves
the memory of a hundred years of music,
and sometimes dreaming of heaven: the Bach suites.
Taken out to be played, it knows that by itself it is nothing,
that it would be incapable of producing a single note
even if it were a Stradivarius.
So it gladly assents to having its strings tightened,
painful though this is; it wants to be perfectly in tune,
stretched to its utmost but not straining.
When it feels ready, it leans back and waits
for the bow to be drawn across,
for the resonance to fill it completely.
 ~ Stephen Mitchell
from Parables and Portraits

Friday, December 18, 2020

uncertainties about identity

Image result for the past art


The past is all of one texture—whether feigned or suffered
— whether acted out in three dimensions, or only witnessed
 in that small theatre of the brain which we keep
 brightly lighted all night long, after the jets are down,
 and darkness and sleep reign undisturbed 
in the remainder of the body. 
 There is no distinction on the face of our experiences;
 one is vivid indeed, and one dull, and one pleasant, 
and another agonising to remember;
 but which of them is what we call true, 
and which a dream, there is not one hair to prove. 
 The past stands on a precarious footing; 
another straw split in the field of metaphysic, and behold us robbed of it.


the past, ... is lost for ever: our old days and deeds, our old selves, too,
and the very world in which these scenes were acted, all brought down to the
 same faint residuum as a last night's dream, to some incontinuous images,
and an echo in the chambers of the brain.  Not an hour, not a mood, 
not a glance of the eye, can we revoke; it is all gone, past conjuring.  And 
yet conceive us robbed of it, conceive that little thread of memory that
we trail behind us broken at the pocket's edge; and in what naked nullity
should we be left! For we only guide ourselves, and only know ourselves,
by these air painted pictures of the past.

~  Robert Louis Stevenson
 from A Chapter on Dreams,
The Complete Works of Robert Louis Stevenson 
art by Arthur Boyd