Friday, February 28, 2020

compassionate inquiry

~ Gabor Maté

looking at some flowers

Light is around the petals, and behind them:
Some petals are living on the other side of the light,
Like sunlight drifting onto the carpet
Where the casket stands, not knowing which world it is in.
And fuzzy leaves, hair growing from some animal
Buried in the green trenches of the plant. 
Or the ground this house is on,
Only free of the sea for five or six thousand years.

~ Robert Bly
from The Light Around the Body
 Shasta Daisy photographed under ultraviolet light

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

I follow barefoot


I long for You so much
I follow barefoot Your frozen tracks

That are high in the mountains
That I know are years old.

I long for You so much 
I have even begun to travel
Where I have never been before.

Hafiz, there is no one in this world
Who is not looking for God.

Everyone is trudging along
With as much dignity, courage
And style

As they possibly 

~ Hafiz
from The Subject Tonight is Love
translations by Daniel Ladinsky

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

bedtime story

The moon lies on the river
like a drop of oil.
The children come to the banks to be healed
of their wounds and bruises.
The fathers who gave them their wounds and bruises
come to be healed of their rage.
The mothers grow lovely; their faces soften,
the birds in their throats awake.
They all stand hand in hand
and the trees around them,
forever on the verge
of becoming one of them,
stop shuddering and speak their first word.

But that is not the beginning.
It is the end of the story,
and before we come to the end,
the mothers and fathers and children
must find their way to the river,
separately, with no one to guide them.
That is the long, pitiless part,
and it will scare you. 

- Lisel Mueller
from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems
 photo by ansel adams
with thanks to whiskey river

consciousness alone

~ Rupert Spira


Monday, February 24, 2020

word fog

Words, even if they come from
the soul, hide the soul, as fog

rising off the sea covers the sea,
the coast, the fish, the pearls.

It's noble work to build coherent
philosophical discourses, but

they block out the sun of truth.
See God's qualities as an ocean,

this world as foam on the purity
of that. Brush away and look

through the alphabet to essence,
as you do the hair covering your

beloved's eyes. Here's the mystery:
this intricate, astonishing world

is proof of God's presence even as
it covers the beauty. One flake

from the wall of a gold mine does
not give much idea what it's like

when the sun shines in and turns
the air and the workers golden.

art by claude monet



Sometimes farm granaries become especially beautiful when all the oats
 or wheat are gone, and wind has swept the rough floor clean. 
Standing inside, we see around us, coming in through the cracks 
between shrunken wall boards, bands or strips of sunlight. 
So in a poem about imprisonment, one sees a little light.
But how many birds have died trapped in these granaries. The bird,
 seeing the bands of light, flutters up the walls and falls back again and again. 
The way out is where the rats enter and leave; but the rat’s hole is low to the floor. 
Writers, be careful then by showing the sunlight on the walls not to promise 
the anxious and panicky blackbirds a way out!

I say to the reader, beware. Readers who love poems of light 
may sit hunched in the corner with nothing in their gizzards for four days,
 light failing, the eyes glazed. . . . They may end as a mound of feathers 
and a skull on the open boardwood floor . . .

~ Robert Bly
from What have I ever lost by dying? 

the walls and fences


Now I yearn for one of those old, meandering, dry uninhabited roads, 
which lead away from towns, which lead us away from temptation, 
which conduct to the outside of Earth, over its uppermost crust; 
where you may forget in what country you are traveling; where no farmer can
 complain that you are treading down his grass, no gentleman who has
 recently constructed a seat in the country that you are trespassing; 
on which you can go off at half cock and wave adieu to the village;
 along which you may travel like a pilgrim, going nowhither; 
where travelers are not too often to be met; where my spirit is free;
 where the walls and fences are not cared for; where your head is more
 in heaven than your feet are on earth; which have long reaches 
where you can see the approaching traveler half a mile off
 and be prepared for him; not so luxuriant a soil as to attract men; 
some root and stump fences which do not need attention; where travelers 
have no occasion to stop, but pass along and leave you to your thoughts; 
where it makes no odds which way you face, whether you are going or coming, 
whether it is morning or evening, mid-noon or midnight; where earth is 
cheap enough by being public; where you can walk and think with least obstruction,
 where you can pace when your breast is full, and cherish your moodiness; 
where you are not in false relations with men, are not dining nor conversing 
with them; by which you may go to the uttermost parts of the earth.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from his journal, July 21 1851
art by Roderick Maclver

Sunday, February 23, 2020

a thousand walls

We must not portray you in king's robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes
we take the same gold for scepter and crown
that has disguised you through the ages.

Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls  
And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you.

~ Rainer Rilke
from The Book of Monastic Life
 art by marika-k


freedom - it comes unexpectedly


Freedom is of the highest importance, but we place it within the borders of our own conceit.
  We have preconceived ideas of what freedom is, or what it should be; we have beliefs, ideals,
 conclusions about freedom.  But freedom is something that cannot be preconceived. 
 It has to be understood.  Freedom does not come through mere intellection, 
through a logical reasoning from conclusion to conclusion.  It comes darkly, unexpectedly;
 it is born of its own inward state.  To realize freedom requires an alert mind,
 a mind that is deep with energy, a mind that is capable of immediate perception
 without the process of gradation, without the idea of an end to be slowly achieved. 
 So, if I may, I would like to think aloud with you about freedom this evening.
I think it is very important to understand this problem for oneself,
 because it is only in freedom that there is love; it is only in freedom that there is creation;
 it is only in freedom that Truth can be found.  Do what it will, a slavish mind can never find Truth;
 a slavish mind can never know the beauty and the fullness of life.
What matters is to observe your own mind without judgement - just to look at it, to watch it,
 to be conscious of the fact that your mind is a slave, and no more; because that very perception 
releases energy, and it is this energy that is going to destroy the slavishness of the mind... 
We are concerned only with perceiving 'what is', and it is the perception of 'what is'
 that releases the creative fire.
We are the product of our environment, of our culture; we are the product of the food we eat,
 of our climate, our customs, our traditions. ...As long as I accept the dictates of tradition,
 of a particular culture, as long as I carry the weight of my memories, my experiences -
 which after all are the result of my conditioning - I am not an individual, but merely a product. 
 When you call yourself a Hindu, a Muslim, a Parsi, a Buddhist, a communist, a Catholic, 
or what you will, are you not the product of your culture, your environment?
Our minds are the result of a thousand yesterdays; being conditioned by the culture
 in which they live, and by the memory of past experiences, they devote themselves
 to the acquisition of knowledge and technique. ...most of us prefer to be slaves;
 it is less troublesome, more respectable, more comfortable.  In slavery there is little danger,
 our lives are more or less secure, and that is what we want - security, certainty, a way of life
 in which there will be no serious disturbance.  
I wonder whether you have ever taken the trouble actually to look at a flower?  
And when you do look at a flower, what happens?  You immediately name the flower,
you are concerned with what species it belongs to, or you say, 'What lovely colours it has. 
 I would like to grow it in my garden; I would like to give it to my wife, 
or put it in my button-hole', and so on.  In other words, the moment you look at a flower, 
your mind begins chattering about it; therefore you never perceive the flower. 
 You perceive something only when your mind is silent, when there is no chattering of any kind. 
 If you can look at the evening star over the sea without a movement of the mind,
 then you really perceive the extraordinary beauty of it; and when you perceive beauty,
 do you not also experience the state of love?  Surely, beauty and love are the same. 
 Without love there is no beauty, and without beauty there is no love.  
Beauty is in form, beauty is in speech, beauty is in conduct.  
You don't have to do something to bring it about; 
there is no discipline, no method by which
 you can learn to perceive.
Your minds are slaves to patterns, to systems, to methods and techniques. 
 I am talking of something entirely different.  Perception is instantaneous, timeless;
  there is no gradual approach to it.  It is on the instant that perception takes place;
 it is a state of effortless attention.  The mind is not making an effort,
 therefore it does not create a border, a frontier, it does not place a limitation 
on its own consciousness.  But to be aware of that timeless state, 
to feel the tremendous depth and ecstasy of it, 
one must begin by understanding the slavish mind.  
You know, when you love something without any motive, without any want,
such love brings its own results, it finds its own way, it is its own beauty.
  ...if you really perceive for yourself that your mind is accumulating, that is enough. 
 To perceive requires complete attention; and when you give your whole mind, 
your whole heart, your total being to something, there is no problem.  

~ J. Krishnamurti
excerpts from a talk in Bombay, 23 December 1959


born in Tao

Fishes are born in water
Man is born in Tao.
If fishes, born in water,
Seek the deep shadow
Of pond and pool,
All their needs
Are satisfied.
If man, born in Tao,
Sinks into the deep shadow
Of non-action
To forget aggression and concern,
He lacks nothing 
His life is secure.

~ Lao Tzu
translated by Thomas Merton
from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton

Saturday, February 22, 2020

songs of Kabir

O How may I ever express that secret word?
O how can I say He is not like this, and He is like that?
If I say that He is within me, the universe is ashamed:
If I say that He is without me, it is falsehood.
He makes the inner and the outer worlds to be indivisibly one;
The conscious and the unconscious, both are His footstools.
He is neither manifest nor hidden, He is neither revealed nor unrevealed:
There are no words to tell that which He is.

~ Kabir

translated by Rabindranath Tagore

Friday, February 21, 2020

from quarks to love in ancient hebrew mysticism

~  Zvi Ish-Shalom
an ordained rabbi and a professor of wisdom traditions at Naropa University shares about the hidden relationships between words, letters, and sounds in the Kabbalistic tradition and how that serves to shift our consciousness into states of greater presence and expansion.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

neither vast nor tiny

The ego says
that the world is vast, and
that the particles which form it are tiny.
When tiny particles join, it says, the vast
world appears. When the vast world
disperses, it says, tiny particles

The ego
is entranced by
all these names and ideas,
but the subtle truth is that world and particle
are the same; neither one vast, neither one tiny. Every
thing is equal to every other thing. Names and
concepts only block your perception
of this Great Oneness. Therefore
it is wise to ignore

who live inside
their egos are continually bewildered:
they struggle frantically to know whether things
are large or small, whether or not there is a purpose
to joining or dispersing, whether the universe is blind and
mechanical or the divine creation of a conscious being.
In reality there are no grounds for having beliefs
or making comments about such things. Look
behind them instead, and you will discern
the deep, silent, complete truth
of the Tao. Embrace it, and
your bewilderment

~ Lao-tzu
 Hua Hu Ching - Verse 32
 translated by Brian Walker
with thanks to Love is a Place


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

the wild

In the empty lot - a place
not natural, but wild - among
the trash of human absence,

the slough and shamble
of the city's seasons, a few
old locusts bloom.

A few woods birds
fly and sing
in the new foliage
 - warblers and tanagers, birds
wild as leaves; in a million
each one would be rare,

new to the eyes.  A man
couldn't make a habit
of such color,

such flight and singing.
But they are the habit of this 
wasted place.  In them

the ground is wise.  They are
its remembrance of what it is.

~ Wendell Berry
from The Selected Poems

foraging for wood on the mountain

The wild up here is not creatures, wooded,
tangled wild. It is absence wild.
Barren, empty, stone wild. Worn-away wild.
Only the smell of weeds and hot air.
But a place where differences are clear.
Between the mind’s severity and its harshness.
Between honesty and the failure of belief.
A man said no person is educated who knows
only one language, for he cannot distinguish
between his thought and the English version.
Up here he is translated to a place where it is
possible to discriminate between age and sorrow.

~ Jack Gilbert


to the next centuries

Is there autumn there, is there leaf smoke, is the air
blued and mapled, oaked and appled and wined,
is that tang, that ache for who knows?
gone from your sweaters and hair?
Are there trees even, do they break out
in uncontrollable cold fires,
do they shatter in long, unreal downstreamings,
is October the same without them, is our sadness
so river-and-wind swift, and so free, is it still
our sharpest seeing, if we have not learned from them
how to be taken apart, how to be blown away? 

Are clouds the same, are they still our clouds
if leaves have never seethed against them
on a tempestuous night, are they wild, is the moon the same
if it has never wildly sailed through wild clouds,
is there a Hunter’s Moon, a Blood Moon tinged
with the rust and incandescence of the leaves,
is there a moon at all, a hanging stone,
a white astonishment, the exile’s breath on a pane? 

There is sun, I am sure—has it grown more dangerous,
has its shine through thin ozone whited out your eyes,
does it drive dunes through your forests, has it warmed
the seas to exactly body temperature?
What is it like to have won and won and won,
no mile without its grid of roads,
no block unwired, no handswidth without wireless,
when every breeze has been rebreathed
each current steered, each cliff a mirror?
Is there no wild desire, no wild with all regret
because no animals are wild, because the hills
are leveled and the valleys raised
because there is no clear and endless sky? 

And what has endangered my imagination
that imagines you pale and bodiless and scanned,
not a shadow left in your floodlit brain,
your sleep hard in coming, dreams shallow and bright?
Why do I see you in a white room floating
among machines and drips and feeds
as if you were my dead, who went before me
on white boats launched into the future,
as if you were me, when I am tired,
as I am tired now, tired of the expertise
that says there is nothing new,
no thoughts or feelings not already words,
no words I have not said again and again,
thinking how long this trip has been, so near its end
that I will never again put down new roots,
change jobs, raise children, fall in love.
I can lighten my suitcase now, discarding my ticket,
since there is no return, the map of the city
I’ll never get back to, the little blue phrase book
for the language I’ll never speak again, the sweater,
the half-read novel, the comb, the end of this thought.... 

I know you will never hear the squeak of a mail box,
church bells (already quaint here), a van
graveling around a turn, a CD (surely gone).
I won’t ask (couldn't endure to know) are there birds there
still building the dawn. I know you can’t hear
the wind I’m hearing though there will be winds, the song
that’s blowing me away, though there will be song
after song. And you can’t hear this, though you, like me,
will lose what seems like everything and go on, cry
against your weariness with leaves and moon and wind,
or whatever passes then for moon and leaves and wind,
cry out against death and the dead world,
the dead world, and the death in you, until, like me,
you can stand again unborn, unused, unknown.

~ James Richardson
photo by Christine de Grancy

there was a time

...There was a time when I thought sweeter than the quiet converse of monks, 
the cooing of the ring dove flitting about the pool.

There was a time when I thought sweeter than the sound of a little bell beside me,
 the warbling of the blackbird from the gable and the belling of the stag in the storm.

There was a time when I thought sweeter than the voice of a lovely woman beside me,
 to hear at matins the cry of the heathhen of the moor.

There was a time when I thought sweeter the howling of wolves,
 than the voice of a priest indoors, baa-ing and bleating.

Though you like your ale with ceremony in the drinking-halls, 
I like better to snatch a drink of water in my palm from a spring.

Though you think sweet, yonder in your church, the gentle talk of your students, 
sweeter I think the splendid talking the wolves make in Glenn mBolcain.

Though you like the fat and meat which are eaten in the drinking-halls, 
I like better to eat a head of clean water-cress in a place without sorrow...

~ Irish; author unknown;
 twelfth century

Monday, February 17, 2020


Transformed into arrows
let's all go, body and soul!
Piercing the air
let's go, body and soul,
with no way of return,
transfixed there,
rotting with the pain of striking home,
never to return.

One last breath! Now, let's quit the string,
throwing away like rags
all we've had for decades
all we've enjoyed for decades
all we've piled up for decades,
the lot.
Transformed into arrows
let's all go, body and soul!

The air is shouting! Piercing the air
let's go, body, and soul!
In dark daylight the target is rushing towards us.
Finally, as the target topples
in a shower of blood,
let's all just once as arrows

Never to return!
Never to return!

Hail, arrows, our nation's arrows!
Hail, Warriors! Spirits of the fallen! 

~ Ko Un
translation by Brother Anthony

end to end

Friend, what do you want of me?
I contain all that was, what is, and what will be.
I hold all, standing tall.
Take everything from me you please.
I won't say no if you want all.
Say, friend, what do you want of me?
I am love.  Love fills me end to end.
What you desire to fill
Your soul, we both desire, friend.
Say to us nakedly your will.

~ Marguerite Porete
from The Mirror of Simple Souls
translated by Aliki Barnstone and Willis Barnstone
photo of "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors"
Marguerite was part of a community of Beguines.  Some of her writing attacked the established clergy.  She and her works were condemned and she was publicly burned around 1300.

wild elegance

Beauty invites us towards profound elegance of soul.
 It reminds us that we are heirs to elegance and nobility of spirit 
and encourages us to awaken the divinity within us.  
We are no longer trapped in mental frames of self-reduction or self-denunciation.

Instead, we feel the desire to celebrate, to give ourselves over 
to the dance of joy and delight.   The overwhelming beauty 
which is God pervades the texture of our soul, transforming all smallness, 
limitation and self-division.  The mystics speak of the excitement of such unity. 
 This is how Marguerite Porete describes it: 

 'Such a Soul, says Love swims in the sea of joy, that is in the sea of delights,
 flowing and running out of the Divinity.  And so she feels no joy,
 for she is joy itself.  She swims and flows in Joy...
 for she dwells in Joy and Joy dwells in her.'   

When we acknowledge the wild beauty of God, we begin to glimpse
 the potential holiness of our neglected wildness.  As humans,
 citizens and believers, we have become domesticated beyond belief.  
We have fallen out of rhythm with our natural wildness.  
What we now call 'being wild' is often misshapen, destructive and violent.
  The natural wildness as the fluency of the soul at one with beauty is foreign to us.  

The call of the wild is a call to the elemental levels of the soul,
 the places of intuition, kinship, swiftness, fluency and the consolation 
of the lonesome that is not lonely.  Our fear of our own wildness 
derives in part from our fear of the formless; but the wild is not the formless
 - it holds immense refinement and, indeed, clarity. 
 The wild has a profound simplicity that carries none of the false burdens 
of brokenness or self-conflict; it flows naturally as one,
 elegant and seamless.  

~ John O'Donohue
from The Invisible Embrace, Beauty
photo by Eliot Porter

Sunday, February 16, 2020


The sounds of engines leave the air.
The Sunday morning silence comes
at last.  At last I know the presence
of the world made without hands,
the creatures that have come to be 
out of their absence.  Calls
of flicker and jay fill the clear
air.  Titmice and chickadees feed
among the green and the dying leaves.
Gratitude for the gifts of all the living 
and the unliving, gratitude which is
the greatest gift, quietest of all,
passes to me through the trees.

~ Wendell Berry
from Leavings

Saturday, February 15, 2020

romanesque arches

Inside the huge Romanesque church the tourists jostled in the half darkness.
vault gaped behind vault, no complete view.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel with no face embraced me
and whispered through my whole body:
"Don't be ashamed of being human, be proud!
Inside you vault opens behind vault endlessly.
You will never be complete, that's how it's meant to be."
Blind with tears
I was pushed out on the sun-seething piazza
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr Tanaka, and Signora Sabatini,
and inside each of them vault opened behind vault endlessly.

Tomas Tranströmer
from The Half Finished Heaven
translated by Robert Bly

behind all my behaviors

Please always know that behind all of my human behaviors - 
behind the best of me and the worst of me, 
behind the ego struggling to survive - 
is my soul, longing to mingle with yours.

~ Elizabeth Lesser
as spoken by Ram Dass
from Broken Open