Thursday, April 30, 2020

steady the heart

~ Trudy Goodman & Jack Kornfield

a manuscript of a divine letter

Do you know what you are?

You are a manuscript of a divine letter.
You are a mirror reflecting a noble face.
This universe is not outside of you. 

Look inside yourself;
everything that you want,
you are already that. 

~ Rumi
from  Hush, Don't Say Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi
art by Misa Funai


Wednesday, April 29, 2020


The deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me 
by my own estimate of what I am. 
My idea of what I am is falsified by my admiration for what I do. 

And my illusions about myself are bred by contagion 
from the illusions of other men. 
We all seek to imitate one another’s imagined greatness.
If I do not know who I am, it is because 
I think I am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be. 

Perhaps I have never asked myself
 whether I really wanted to become 
what everybody else seems to want to become. 

Perhaps if I only realized that I do not admire
 what everyone seems to admire, 
I would really begin to live after all.

I would be liberated from the painful duty
 of saying what I really do not think 
and of acting in a way that betrays God’s truth
 and the integrity of my own soul.

~ Thomas Merton
 from No Man is an Island
art by Van Gogh

hidden beneath Van Gogh's Patch of Grass
a portrait is revealed

not enemies

We are not enemies
though parents told us so

We are not enemies 
though they taught us so as school

We are not enemies
just because the pulpit insists

We are not enemies
though strangers toss epithets

We are not enemies
though even love goes sour

We are not enemies
just because we can't contain our pain

We are not enemies
though we meet short of our sameness,
the best of each of us live in the other.

If we can forgive ourselves
we can forgive anyone.

~ Stephen Levine
from Breaking the Drought


to Paula in late spring

Let me imagine that we will come again
when we want to and it will be spring
we will be no older than we ever were
the worn griefs will have eased like the early cloud
through which the morning slowly comes to itself
and the ancient defenses against the dead
will be done with and left to the dead at last
the light will  be as it is now in the garden
that we have made here these years together
of our long evenings and astonishment

~ W.S. Merwin
art by Van Gogh

if only

Last year's
fragile, vanished snow
is falling now again -
if only seeing you
could be like this.

~ Izumi Shikibu

half spirit and half animal

Humans are amphibians - half spirit and half animal. 

As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. 
This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object,
 their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, 
for to be in time, means to change. 

~  C. S. Lewis
from The Screwtape Letters

you need no change


Words indicate, but do not explain.
What I teach is the ancient and simple way of liberation through understanding. 
 Understand your own mind and its hold on you will snap. 
 The mind misunderstands, misunderstanding is its very nature. 
 Right understanding is the only remedy, whatever name you give it.
 It is the earliest and also the latest, for it deals with the mind as it is.

Nothing you do will change you, for you need no change. 
 You may change your mind or your body, but it is always something external
 to you that has changed, not yourself. Why bother at all to change?
 Realize once and for all that neither your body nor your mind, 
nor even your consciousness is yourself and stand alone in your true nature
 beyond consciousness and unconsciousness. No effort can take you there,
 only the clarity of understanding. Trace your misunderstandings and abandon them,
 that is all.
 There is nothing to seek and find,
 for there is nothing lost.
 Relax and watch the 'I am'. 
 Reality is just behind it.
 Keep quiet, keep silent; 
it will emerge,
 or, rather,
 it will take you in.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Monday, April 27, 2020


As they were leaving the garden
one of the angels bent down to them and whispered

I am to give you this
as you are leaving the garden

I do not know what it is
or what it is for
what you will do with it

you will not be able to keep it
but you will not be able

to keep anything
yet they both reached at once

for the present
and when their hands met

they laughed 

~ W.S. Merwin
 from  Garden Time
art by Tiffany Gomez

your way of knowing

Your way of knowing is a private herb garden.
Enclose it with a hedge of meditation,
and self-discipline, and helpfulness to others.

Then everything you've done before
will be brought as a sacrifice
to the mother goddess.

And each day, as you eat the herbs,
the garden grows more bare and empty.

~ Lalla
translation by Coleman Barks
 from The Soul is here for its own Joy, Sacred Poems from Many Cultures
edited by Robert Bly

Sunday, April 26, 2020

the sleepless ones

What if all the people
who could not sleep
at two or three or four
in the morning
left their houses
and went to the parks
what if hundreds, thousands,
went in their solitude
like a stream
and each told their story
what if there were
old women
fearful if they slept
they would die
and young women
unable to conceive
and husbands
having affairs
and children
fearful of failing
and fathers
worried about paying bills
and men
having business troubles
and women unlucky in love
and those that were in physical
and those who were guilty
what if they all left their houses
like a stream
and the moon
illuminated their way and
they came, each one
to tell their stories
would these be the more troubled
of humanity
or would these be
the more passionate of this world
or those who need to create to live
or would these be
the lonely
and I ask you
if they all came to the parks
at night
and told their stories
would the sun on rising
be more radiant and

again I ask you
would they embrace

~ Lawrence Tirnauer
 a PhD from Pennsylvania State University
with a private practice in Washington DC

weight shifts

If we can imagine a wheel whose rim is the cycle of births and deaths,

 all of the 'stuff' of life, conditioned reality, and whose center is perfect flow,
 formless no-mind, the source, we’ve got one foot with most of our weight
 on the circumference of the wheel, and one foot tentatively on the center. 

That’s the beginning of awakening. And we come in, and we sit down and meditate,
 and suddenly there’s a moment when we feel the perfection of our being 
and our connection. Then our weight goes back on the outside of the wheel.
 Over and over and over, this happens.

Slowly, slowly the weight shifts. Then the weight shifts just enough

 so that there is a slight predominance on the center of the wheel,
 and we find that we naturally just want to sit down and be quiet, 
that we don’t have to say, 'I’ve got to meditate now,' 
or 'I’ve got to read a holy book,' or 'I’ve got to turn off the television set,'
 or 'I’ve got to do… anything.' It doesn’t become that kind of a discipline anymore.
 The balance has shifted.

And we keep allowing our lives to become more and more simple,

 more and more harmonious. And less and less are we grabbing
 at this and pushing that away...

~ Ram Dass 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

man is but the place where I stand


I do not value any view of the universe
 into which man and the institutions of man 
enter very largely and absorb much of the attention.  

Man is but the place where I stand; 
and the prospect hence is infinite.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from his journal, 1852
art by roderick maclver


Friday, April 24, 2020

beyond confinement

A name should never trap a thing.  In the Jewish tradition, for instance, if you knew the name of a thing, you had a inkling of its secret and mystery.  The name was a doorway of reverence.  When you name a dimension of your experience, one of your qualities or difficulties, or some presence within you, you give it an identity.  It then responds to you according to the tone of its name.  We need to exercise great care and respect when we come to name something,  We always need to find a name that is worthy and spacious.

When we name things in a small way, we cripple them.  Often our way of naming things is driven by our addiction to what is obviously visible...  The visible is only the shoreline of the magnificent ocean of the invisible.  The invisible is not empty, but is textured and tense with presences.  These presences cannot be named; they can only be sensed, not seen.  

We have put wrong names on many of our most important experiences.  We have often caricatured and shown disrespect to some of our most faithful desires.  We have kept some of our most beautiful longings as prisoners in our hearts, falsely imprisoned simply because of mistaken identity.

The wildness of the invisible world is nameless.  It has no name. A first step towards reawakening respect for your inner life may be to become aware of the private collage of dead names you have for your inner life.  Often, the experiences of wilderness can return us to the nameless wildness within.  Sometime, go away to a wild place on your own.  Leave your name and the grid of intentions and projects and images which mark you out as citizen Z.  Leave it all, and let yourself just slip back into the rhythms of your intimate wildness. You will be surprised at the lost terrains, wells, and mountains that you will rediscover, territories which have been buried under well-meant but dead names.   To go beyond confinement is to rediscover yourself.

~ John O'Donohue
from Eternal Echoes

what isn't

~ Ram Dass

call me by my true names

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow -
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
"debt of blood" to my people
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh
 from Being Peace

my companion

You went away but remained in me
And thus became my peace and happiness.

In separation, separation left me
And I witnessed the Unknown.

You were the hidden secret of my longing,
Hidden deep within my conscience deeper than a dream.

You were my true friend in the day
And in darkness my companion.

~ Mansur al-Hallaj 
translated by Mahmood Jamal

from Wikipedia

Al-Hallaj was born around 858 in Fars province of Persia to a cotton-carder (Hallaj means "cotton-carder" in Arabic). His grandfather was a Zoroastrian. His father lived a simple life, and this form of lifestyle greatly interested the young Al-Hallaj. As a youngster he memorized the Qur'an and would often retreat from worldly pursuits to join other mystics in study.
Al-Hallaj later married and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he stayed for one year, facing the mosque, in fasting and total silence. After his stay at the city, he traveled extensively and wrote and taught along the way. He traveled as far as India and Central Asia gaining many followers, many of whom accompanied him on his second and third trips to Mecca. After this period of travel, he settled down in the Abbasid capital of Baghdad.
During his early lifetime he was a disciple of Junayd Baghdadi and Amr al-Makki, but was later rejected by them both. Sahl al-Tustariwas also one of Al-Hallaj's early teachers.
Among other Sufis, Al-Hallaj was an anomaly. Many Sufi masters felt that it was inappropriate to share mysticism with the masses, yet Al-Hallaj openly did so in his writings and through his teachings. He thus began to make enemies. This was exacerbated by occasions when he would fall into trances which he attributed to being in the presence of God.
During one of these trances, he would utter Arabic: أنا الحق‎ Anā l-Ḥaqq "I am The Truth," which was taken to mean that he was claiming to be God, since al-Ḥaqq "the Truth" is one of the Ninety Nine Names of Allah. In another controversial statement, al-Hallaj claimed "There is nothing wrapped in my turban but God," and similarly he would point to his cloak and say, ما في جبتي إلا الله Mā fī jubbatī illā l-Lāh "There is nothing in my cloak but God."
These utterances led to a long trial, and his subsequent imprisonment for 11 years in a Baghdad prison. He was publicly crucified on March 26, 922.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

a question the bundle had


When summer was nearly over,
The bundles would stand in the stubble
Whispering.  One said: "For a while,
It looked like I might get away."

"I could have done it -
No one would have noticed.
But it was hard to know
If I should go singly, or with others."

Each of us resembles that
Bundle.  For years we waited
For the right moment to escape.
Perhaps it was that moment in July

When the thunder came.  But the next
Day it was too late.  And we
Ended up in the thresher.
Were we right to wait?

~ Robert Bly
an early Vincent Van Gogh

the silent refuge

~ Gangaji


are you prepared?

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

a flow of aliveness

animated by a flow of aliveness
 that resists crystallizing into a system of thought or belief -
 although it does not hesitate to enjoy
 thought and belief for the delight or communion they may reveal.

open, free-wheeling, inclusive
 in view and practice, non-definitive, experimental, non-sectarian,
 warm-hearted, and non-attached. 

 embraces the full range of human experience 
while settling nowhere, 
capable of a subtle openness and 
... equally open to spontaneous delight and sensual extravagance. ...
grateful for beauty in all its forms of disclosure, 
recognizing happiness and grief and all 
emotions in between as free offerings of the Unnameable into Itself.

it negates conclusion-making while affirming the indefinable.  
A kind of love-mysticism, it loves
 the edginess and poignancy of human life 
while seeing through its apparency to the stillness within.  

Present without agenda, kind without being moralistic, 
it reaches across the seeming divisions between
 people and societies with the confidence of the light 
that is common to us all.

 ~ Pir Elias Amidon
excerpts from Free Medicine

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

a default setting - cracks open possibility

In the wake of an earthquake, bombing, major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors, as well as friends and loved ones.

These remarkable societies suggest that, just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, so human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful, and imaginative after a disaster, that we revert to something we already know how to do. The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.

Disaster demonstrates this, since among the factors determining whether you will live or die are the health of your immediate community and the justness of your society. We need ties to survive, but they along with purposefulness, immediacy, and agency also give us joy—the startling, sharp joy I found over and over again in accounts of disaster. These accounts of disaster demonstrate that the citizens any paradise requires—the people who are brave enough, resourceful enough, and generous enough—already exist. The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If Paradise nowadays most often arises in hell, that’s because the chaos of that hell suspends the ordinary rules and routines; it is not its hellishness but its disruptiveness that cracks open possibility.

The ideal societies we hear of are mostly far away or long ago or both, situated in some primordial society before the fall or a spiritual kingdom in a remote Himalayan fastness. The implication is that we here and now are far from capable of living such ideals. But what if paradise flashed up among us from time to time—at the worst of times? What if we glimpsed it in the jaws of hell? These flashes give us, as the long ago and far away do not, a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become. This is a paradise of rising to the occasion that points out as well how the rest of the time most of us fall down from the heights of possibility, down into diminished selves and dismal societies. Many now do not even hope for a better society, but they recognize it when they run into it, and that discovery shines out even through the namelessness of their experience. Others recognize it, grasp it, and make something of it, and longterm social and political transformations, both good and bad, arise from the wreckage. The door to this era’s potential paradises is in hell.

The word emergency comes from emerge, to rise out of, the opposite of merge, which comes from mergere: to be within or under a liquid, immersed, submerged. An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often demands we ourselves rise to the occasion. Catastrophe comes from the Greek kata, or down, and streiphen, or turning over: it means an upset of what is expected and was originally used to mean a plot twist. To emerge into the unexpected is not always terrible, though these words have evolved to imply ill fortune. The word disaster comes from the Latin compound of dis-, or away, without, and astro, star or planet, literally without a star. It originally suggested misfortune due to astrologically generated trouble, as in the blues musician Albert King’s classic “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

In some of the disasters of the 20th century—the big northeastern blackouts in 1965 and 2003, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast—the loss of electrical power meant that the light pollution blotting out the night sky vanished. In these disaster-struck cities, people suddenly found themselves under the canopy of stars still visible in small and remote places. On the warm night of August 15, 2003, the Milky Way could be seen in New York City, a heavenly realm long lost to view until the blackout that hit the northeast late that afternoon. You can think of the current social order as something akin to this artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster. In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative and local society. However beautiful the stars of a suddenly visible night sky, few nowadays could find their way by them, but the constellations of solidarity, altruism and improvisation are within most of us and reappear at these times. People know what to do in a disaster. The loss of power, the disaster in the modern sense, is an affliction, but the reappearance of these old heavens is its opposite. This is the paradise entered through hell.

~ Rebecca Solnit
excerpts from  A Paradise Built in Hell: 
The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster


Saturday, April 18, 2020

for grief

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And, when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time. 

~ John O’Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings 

what you cannot hold

You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins beside you.

Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.

Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part One, IV
  translation by Macy and Barrows

Friday, April 17, 2020

bird song opera

not difficult

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 minds essential peace is disturbed to no avail. 

The Way is perfect like vast space 
where nothing is lacking and nothing is 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 to achieve passivity 
your very effort fills you with activity. 
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other 
you will never know Oneness. 


who goes there

midstream halt --
the horseman looks up
at the falling stars

~ H. F. Noyes
 from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition 
  by Gabriel Rosenstock


Birds vanishing in the sky, the last cloud fades,
sitting together, the mountain and I....
now, only the mountain remains

~~ Li Bai 
 from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition 
  by Gabriel Rosenstock 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

in the mirror

‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbor
With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on. 

~ W.H. Auden 

gentleness and great pain

Terri Roberts - Charlie's mother

a gunman barricaded himself inside a one-room Amish schoolhouse 
near Lancaster, Pa. Then he opened fire.

Charles "Charlie" Roberts killed five children and 
injured five others before killing himself.

The Amish community responded in a way that many found surprising:
 They forgave the shooter. And, in the years since, they have grown close to his family.

That week, the Robertses had a private funeral for their son, 
but as they went to the gravesite, they saw as many as 40 Amish start coming 
out from around the side of the graveyard, surrounding them like a crescent.

"Love just emanated from them," Terri says.

Terri finds it especially hard to accept that forgiveness 
when she thinks of one of the survivors, Rosanna.

"Rosanna's the most injured of the survivors," she explains.
 "Her injuries were to her head. She is now 15, still tube-fed and in a wheelchair. 
And she does have seizures, and when it gets to be this time of year,
 as we get closer to the anniversary date, she seizes more. 
And it's certainly not the life that this little girl should have lived."

Terri asked if it would be possible for her to help with Rosanna once a week.
"I read to her, I bathe her, dry her hair," says Terri, who herself is battling cancer.

"I will never forget the devastation caused by my son," says the 65-year-old Terri.
 "But one of the fathers the other night, he said, 'None of us would have ever chosen this.
 But the relationships that we have built through it, you can't put a price on that.' "


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

it was like this

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent - what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness -
between you, there is nothing to forgive -
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn't matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

~ Jane Hirshfield

it takes so long

My hand remembers stroking a sleek bird years ago, 
one which was crouching under my fingers, 
longing for the sky roof on top of the cabin roof, 
the forgiveness high in the air.  

As for me, I have given so many hours to the ecstasy of detail, 
the shadow of the closing door, 
the final syllable of that poem which is already gone, 
looking back over its shoulder.  

Well, well... sometimes in our slow hours a child climbs down into this world.

~ Robert Bly
from Reaching Out to the World -
 New & Selected Prose Poems