Tuesday, June 30, 2020

on the value of not-knowing

All sorts of torturers, dictators, fanatics, and demagogues struggling for power

 by way of a few loudly shouted slogans also enjoy their jobs, 
and they too perform their duties with inventive fervor. Well, yes,
 but they “know.” They know, and whatever they know is enough for them
 once and for all. They don’t want to find out about anything else,
 since that might diminish their arguments’ force. And any knowledge
 that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain
 the temperature required for sustaining life. In the most extreme cases,
 cases well known from ancient and modern history, 
it even poses a lethal threat to society.

This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. 

It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include 
the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth 
hangs suspended. If Isaac Newton had never said to himself “I don’t know,” 
the apples in his little orchard might have dropped to the ground 
like hailstones and at best he would have stooped to pick them up 
and gobble them with gusto. Had my compatriot Marie Sklodowska-Curie
 never said to herself “I don’t know”, she probably would have wound up
 teaching chemistry at some private high school for young ladies from good families,
 and would have ended her days performing this otherwise perfectly respectable job.
 But she kept on saying “I don’t know,” and these words led her, 
not just once but twice, to Stockholm, where restless, questing spirits
 are occasionally rewarded with the Nobel Prize.

The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness 

and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering,
 of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure
 that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses
 pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun
 to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know;
 whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got 
reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short,
 bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else
 we might think of this world — it is astonishing.

But “astonishing” is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We’re astonished, 

after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally 
acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we’ve grown accustomed to. 
Now the point is, there is no such obvious world. Our astonishment exists per se 
and isn’t based on comparison with something else.

Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, 

we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary
 course of events” … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed,
 nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it.
 Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, 
not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.

 ~  Wisława Szymborska
 art by Salvador Dalí from a rare edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Monday, June 29, 2020

so much of Everything

Reality demands
we also state the following:
life goes on.
At Cannae and Borodino.
at Kosovo Polje and in Guernica.

There is a gas station 
in a small plaza in Jericho,
and freshly painted
benches near Bila Hora.
Letters travel
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a furniture truck passes
before the eyes of the lion of Chaeronea,
and only an atmospheric front advances
toward the blossoming orchards near Verdun.

There is so much of Everything,
that Nothing is quite well concealed,
Music flows
from yachts at Actium
and on board couples dance in the sun.

So much keeps happening, 
that it must be happening everywhere.
Where not a stone is left standing,
there is an ice-cream truck
besieged by children.

Where Hiroshima had been,
Hiroshima is again
manufacturing products
for everyday use.

Not without its draws is this terrible world,
not without its draws
worth our waking.

In the fields of Maciejowice
the grass is green
and on the grass is - you know how grass is -
transparent dew,

Maybe there are no fields but battlefields,
those still remembered,
and those long forgotten,
birch groves and cedar groves,
snows and sands, iridescent swamps,
and ravines of dark defeat
where today, in sudden need,
you squat behind a bush.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
But what really flows is quickly drying blood,
and as always, some rivers and clouds.

On the tragic mountain passes
the wind blows hats off heads
and we cannot help-
but laugh.

~ Wislawa Szymborska
from miracle fair
translated by Joanna Trzeciak


living in two worlds

~ Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Bauman

Sunday, June 28, 2020

water and ice

~ Joseph Goldstein


like a creek

The way the soul is with the senses
and the mind, is like a creek.

When desire-weeds grow thick,
your intelligence cannot flow,
and soul-creatures stay hidden.

But sometimes a flooding comes
that runs so strong
it clears the clogged stream,
as though with God’s hand.

No longer weeping and frustrated,
your being grows as powerful
as your wantings were before.

Laughing and satisfied,
that masterful current
lets soul-creatures appear.

You look down,
and it’s lucid dreaming.
The gates made of light
swing open. 
You see in.

~ Rumi
from A Year with Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
photo by ansel adams

not yet discouraged

By plucking her petals, you do not
gather the beauty of the flower.

Clouds come floating into my life,
no longer to carry rain or usher storm,
but to add colour to my sunset sky.

Death is not extinguishing the light;
it is only putting out the lamp
because the dawn has come.

Do not say, ‘It is morning,’
and dismiss it with a name of yesterday.
See it for the first time
as a newborn child that has no name.

Don’t limit a child to your own learning,
for he was born in another time.

Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
is no freedom for the tree.

Every child comes with the message
that God is not yet discouraged of man.

Every difficulty slurred over
will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on.

Everything comes to us that belongs to us
if we create the capacity to receive it.

Faith is the bird that feels the light
when the dawn is still dark.

From the solemn gloom of the temple
children run out to sit in the dust,
God watches them play and forgets the priest.

I have become my own version of an optimist.
If I can’t make it through one door,
I’ll go through another door - or I’ll make a door.
Something terrific will come
no matter how dark the present.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Friday, June 26, 2020

the storm


We lay in our bed as in a tomb
awakened by thunder to the dark
in which our house was one with night,
and then light came as if the black
roof of the world had cracked open,
as if the night of all time had broken,
and out our window we glimpsed the world
birthwet and shining, as even
the sun at noon had never made it shine.

~ Wendell Berry

Thursday, June 25, 2020


~ Joseph Goldstein


and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore

"The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore."

~  from Of Human Bondage, 1915

Maugham then studied medicine for six years in London. He qualified in 1897 as doctor from St. Thomas' medical school, but abandoned medicine after the success of his first novels and plays.

"I have never pretended to be anything but a story teller. It has amused me to tell stories and I have told a great many. It is a misfortune for me that the telling of a story just for the sake of the story is not an activity that is in favor with the intelligentsia. I endeavor to bear my misfortunes with fortitude." 

from Creatures of Circumstance, 1947

With the outbreak of WW I, Maugham volunteered for the Red Cross, and was stationed in France for a period. There he met Gerald Haxton (1892-1944), an American, who became his companion. Disguising himself as a reporter, Maugham served as an espionage agent for British Secret Intelligence Service in Russia in 1916-17, but his stuttering and poor health hindered his career in this field.

In 1917 he married Syrie Barnardo Wellcome, an interior decorator; they were divored in 1927-8.


Maugham named his daughter and only child, Elizabeth 'Liza' Mary Maugham, after the title character in his first novel  Liza of Lambeth.

Liza center

"He did not know how wide a country, arid and precipitous, must be crossed before the traveler through life comes to an acceptance of reality. It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truth-less ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded."

~ from Of Human Bondage, Ch. 29
Initially titled "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey"

“The writer is more concerned to know than to judge,” 
declares the narrator of Maugham’s novel The Moon and Sixpence (1919)

Guy Hague and Ramana Maharshi

Meditation enables them to go
Deeper and deeper into consciousness,
From the world of words to the world of thoughts,
Then beyond thoughts to wisdom in the Self.

Sharp like a razor's edge, the sages say,
Is the path, difficult to traverse.

~ Katha Upanishad

This is the passage from which the title of Somerset Maugham's book The Razor's Edge was taken. His story traces the spiritual journey of an American fighter pilot traumatized by WWI. The book is apparently based on the life of Guy Hague who had spent time with Ramana Maharshi in Tamil Nadu, India, as did Maugham himself.
Maugham's novels explore the beauty of and intricacy of the fabric of life in-which we are all entwined.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


I would like
to take something with me

but even one chair
is too awkward
too heavy

peeling paint
falls off in a suitcase
hinge sounds betray a theft
cheeses won't keep

the clothespin 
without its surroundings 
would be mediocre

the big thunder rolled elsewhere

the umbrella is for sale
but in a desert what you want is a soaking

the do not disturb sign is tattered

I have many times taken
some cafe's small packets of sugar
so that in Turkey
I might sweeten my coffee with China
and in Italy remember a Lithuanian pastry

but where is the coffee

hands left and right useless

Knees clattery
heart finally calm
as some hero at the end of a movie
squinting silently into the sun

you can't hold an umbrella there anyhow
and what would he hang from the clothespin

~ Jane Hirshfield
from The Beauty

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

When I come near the red peony flower

When I come near the red peony flower
I tremble as water does near thunder,
As the well does when the plates of earth move,
Or the tree when fifty birds leave at once.

The peony says that we have been given a gift,
And it is not the gift of this world.
Behind the leaves of the peony
There is a world still darker, that feeds many.

~ Robert Bly

real presence is the ideal

Real presence is the ideal of all true individuation.  When we yield to helplessness, 
we strengthen the hand of those who would destroy.  When we choose indifference, 
we betray our world.  Yet the world is not decided by action alone. 

 It is decided more by consciousness and spirit; they are the secret sources of all action
 and behavior.  The spirit of a time is an incredibly subtle, yet hugely powerful force. 
 And it is comprised of the mentality and spirit of all individuals together. 

 Therefore, the way you look at things is not simply a private matter.  
Your outlook actually and concretely affects what goes on.  When you give in
 to helplessness, you collude with despair and add to it.  When you take back
 your power and choose to see the possibilities for healing and transformation, 
your creativity awakens and flows...

~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us
art: Herzeloyde – The Mother Archetype

Monday, June 22, 2020


They come singly, the little streams,
Out of their solitude.  They bear
In their rough fall a spate of gleams
That glance and dance in morning air.

They come singly, and coming go
Ever downward toward the river
Into whose dark abiding flow
They come, now quieted, together.

In dark they mingle and are made
At one with light in highest flood
Embodied and inhabited,
The budded branch as red as blood.

~ Wendell Berry
from This Day - Collected & New Sabbath Poems

flow like the Tao

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace.  He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

~ Chuang Tzu
translation by Thomas Merton
from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton


 who sees exactly what is taking place in the world, 
and who really wants to find out if God, truth, 
is an actuality or merely a clever invention of the priest? 

After all, you and I are the result of the collective, are we not? 

And there must be individual human beings who have completely broken away from the collective, 
from society, who are free from conditioning, not in layers or in spots, but totally, 
for it is only such individuals who can find out what truth or God is 

-not the man of tradition, not the man who does japa, rings the bell, quotes the Gita,
 and goes to the temple every day. 
It is the irreligious people who do that. 

But the man who really wants to find out 
what this extraordinary movement of living is 
must not only understand the process of his own conditioning, 
but be able to go beyond it. 

Because, the mind can find out what is true 
only when it is free from all conditioning, 
not when it merely repeats certain words or quotes the sacred books. 
Such a mind is not free.

~ J. Krishnamurti
from  Collected Works

primal simplicity


Tao is always nameless.
Small as it is in its Primal Simplicity,
It is inferior to nothing in the world.
If only a ruler could cling to it,
Everything will render homage to him.
Heaven and Earth will be harmonized
And send down sweet dew
Peace and order will reign among the people
Without any command from above.
When once the Primal Simplicity diversified,
Different names appeared.
Are there not enough names now?
Is this not the time to stop?
To know when to stop is to preserve ourselves from danger.
The Tao is to the world what a great river or an ocean
is to the streams and brooks.

~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching
translated by John C. H. Wu


Friday, June 19, 2020

the secret fish

As timely as a river
God's timeless life passes
Into this world. It passes
Through bodies, giving life,
And past them, giving death.
The secret fish leaps up
Into the light and is 
Again darkened. The sun
Comes from the dark, it lights
The always passing river,
Shines on the great-branches tree,
And goes. Longing and dark,
We are completely filled
With breath of love, in us
Forever incomplete.

~ Wendell Berry
from Sabbaths 2000

be ever kind

I saw a wise sage!  he did not heed
For caste or creed, for faith or worldly greed;
And free from truth and quest, from path and goal,
He sat at ease, from earth and heaven freed.
Some strung the pearls of thought by searching deep,
And told some tales about Him,–sold them cheap;
But none has caught a clue to secret realms,
They cast a horoscope and fall in sleep.

Dedicate yourself to the wise when you find
Forget fasting and praying, you need not mind
But listen to truth from what Umar Khayyæm says,
Drink wine, steal if you should but be ever kind. 
 ~ Omar Khayyam
(1048 - 1131)
from The Great‘UMAR KHAYYAM
He known for his agnostic and skeptic poetry 
 also lived in complicated times of cultural unrest
in which freedom of expression was repressed and 
access to education was limited. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

practicing listening

I want to speak just briefly on the whole idea of universalism, since that’s what has brought us all together and I’d like to share a little bit about my own background. I was raised Catholic, and I’m now a Quaker – a member of the Celo Friends Meeting, which is part of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting. I am also a practicing Buddhist, and I have had some experience in Native American religious tradition. This past summer, I had the pleasure of experiencing Hinduism in Indonesia. So when someone says, “What religion are you?” I give a different answer each time. The fact is, it really doesn’t matter what you call yourself. What I have found is that words are easy to come by, and I’ve heard many things said in the name of religion. What really matters is what people do with their lives. How they live out their faith and what they do with what they believe and what impact they have on the world and on their neighbors. That is the essence, I think, of religion. 
 Many times in social change movements, activists help polarize the situation. We create enemy images, just as anyone else does. They are the bad guys, we are the good guys. Or they are the people who don’t understand, and we are the people who do understand. So when we approach people in this way, they feel defensive and the potential for change actually decreases. We don’t really listen to people who disagree with us – listen to their fears and concerns – so they become even more polarized against us. Too many peace groups are largely isolated and seen as “outsiders” or fringe groups in their own communities. That was one of my primary reasons for starting the Listening Projects. I saw people in the peace movement going out to preach, to convert, to change people and tell them what was the right way, but very little true communication was happening. As you know, the minute you’re preached to, you become defensive, because the people preaching to you seem not to really care about who you are or what you believe. All they care about is changing you. 
 So the Listening Project was an attempt to break through the isolation and barriers that separate people into the good vs. the bad; liberal vs. conservative; hawks vs. doves. The Listening Project is an attempt, through deep listening and non-violence, to get down to the basic human values that really connect us all. These are the same values that connected my father and myself. Deep down in us all there is a desire for peace, for goodness and for justice. For each person those feelings come out in different ways and in some cases they get covered up, distorted or hidden by painful human experiences, by fear, insecurity or lack of knowledge. As children, we’ve all learned ideas from adults that we later found to be negative or problematic. My father grew up as a poor farm boy. He had no other opportunity to change his life than to join the military. The military became his way of understanding world issues. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with him that made him go into the military and want to use those kinds of solutions. It could have been me. Any of us could have ended up in the military instead of at a Quaker gathering about peace.
The Listening Project involves listening at a very deep level so that one builds a relationship of trust and respect between oneself and the person doing the speaking. We try to be non-judgmental and not react to things the other person may say. The other person must be allowed to start from where she or he needs to start. As this trust is built, people open up and begin to reconnect with their basic yearning for goodness and peace. What normally prevents that opening up from happening is a polarization process. People aren’t able to overcome their fears. When we tell them that what they think is all wrong, they feel that they have to defend themselves. So while we’re sitting there telling them what all the right answers are, they’re figuring out a way to say, “Yeah, but this is what I believe.” They defend their viewpoint. 
 Listening is a way of empowering people. It’s a way of saying to people, “What you think, what you feel and what you believe really counts and is important, and you can make a difference.” In Palau most of the people with whom we talked said they wanted more information and they wanted to get involved. In Southern communities and areas that are probably some of the most conservative areas in the country, we’ve gone in using a Listening Project and a large percentage of the people have said: “We do care. We want to get involved.” We’ve used projects to talk about social problems and military spending and we’ve found that people have never had the opportunity before to really explore their feelings and explore what they think and what might make a positive difference. One very important aspect of a Listening Project is that the group conducting the project is committed to following up with people who express an interest in getting involved. Listening Project participants are committed to acting on some of the input and ideas that come from people. So even after the active act of listening has concluded, a process of empowerment continues.

 ~ Herb Walters
excerpts from the article Adventures in Listening
find more here:  https://universalistfriends.org/walters.html


What is deep listening?
Sema is a greeting from the secret ones
inside the heart, a letter.

The branches of your intelligence
grow new leaves in the wind of this listening.

The body reaches a peace.
Rooster sound comes,
reminding you of your love for dawn.

The reed flute and the singer's lips.
The knack of how spirit breathes into us
becomes as simple and ordinary as eating and drinking.

The dead rise with the pleasure of this listening.
If some cannot hear a trumpet melody,
sprinkle dirt on his head and declare him dead.

Listen and feel the beauty of your separation,
the unsayable absence.

There is a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it.
Give more of your life to this listening.

As brightness is to time, so you are 
to the one who talks to the deep ear in your chest.

I should sell my tongue and buy a thousand ears
when that one steps near and begins to speak.

~ Rumi
from The Big Red Book
translations by Coleman Barks

before listening

Before listening to the way, do not fail to wash your ears.
Otherwise it will be impossible to listen clearly.

What is washing your ears?
Do not hold on to  your view.
If you cling to it even a little bit,
you will lose your way.

What is similar to you but wrong, you regard as right.
What is different from you but right, you regard as wrong.
You begin with ideas of right and wrong.
But the way is not so.

Seeking answers with closed ears is
like trying to touch the ocean bottom with a pole.

~ Ryokan
from Sky Above, Great Wind

extraordinary concentrated affection

You know, when you have a small child with you, you listen to its cries, 
you listen to its words, its murmurs.  You are so concerned you listen;
 you may be asleep, but the moment he cries you wake up.  You are attentive
 all the time because the child is yours, you must care for it, you must love it, 
you must hold it.  You are so tremendously attentive that even though 
you are asleep, you wake up.  Now, with that same quality of attention, affection,
 care, you give to every movement of that child, could you watch the mirror 
which is yourself?  Not me, you are not listening to me: you are listening 
with that extraordinary concentrated affection and care to the mirror
 which is yourself, and to what it is telling you. 
 Will you do it?

J. Krishnamurti
from a talk at Saanen, July 18th, 1978

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

we conceal ourselves

Like cuttlefish we conceal ourselves, 
we darken the atmosphere in which we move; 
we are not transparent. I pine for one to whom
 I can speak my first thoughts; thoughts which
 represent me truly, which are no better and no worse than I; 
thoughts which have the bloom on them, which alone 
can be sacred and divine. Our sin and shame 
prevent our expressing even the innocent thoughts 
we have. I know of no one to whom I can
 be transparent instinctively. I live the life of the cuttlefish; 
another appears, and the element in which I move is tinged 
and I am concealed. My first thoughts are azure; 
there is a bloom and a dew on them; they are papillaceous feelers
 which I put out, tender, innocent.
 Only to a friend can I expose them.

~ Henry David Thoreau


below high cliffs - ten poems


Below high cliffs
I slash and I burn
there's vegetables and grain
to boil and steam
to satisfy the present
to brighten old age
looking at a tree in the yard
I count its falls and springs


Below high cliffs 
my companions are the ancients
having reached the source
here I rest
others of more mystic persuasion 
study koans to death
wait beside stumps for rabbits
notch boats to find lost swords


Below high cliffs
all day I see plants
no sign of people
yellow leaves in the wind
birds call at dusk from the valley
the mountain moon rises at night
a crane takes flight from a pine
and showers my robe with dew


Below high cliffs
tigers and snakes are my neighbors
once I forgot my mind
their natures suddenly became tame
people born in this world
all have something divine
mouths of teeth heads of hair
why can't they be kind


Below high cliffs
unaware of the source
wherever you turn is karma
chaos and confusion
in order to see the truth
look beyond your senses
it's always been this way
the spring flows all around you


Below high cliffs
serene in solitude
not visited by time
the mind creates the world
the window holds a setting moon
the stove contains a dying fire
pity the sleeping man
startled from his butterfly dream


Below high cliffs
a white-haired old man
his robe with no hem 
his pants with no lets
practicing zazen at night
working his fields by day
herein lies the Path
where else could it be


Below high cliffs
I face a thousand mountains
one sense finds the source
all six relax
white clouds drift
green water ripples
beyond movement and stillness
there's another world


Below high cliffs
I don't dress up by body
I eat roots and wear plants
my socks are hemp my shoes are sedge
dense bamboo shades my windows
thick moss covers the steps in front
desires die in the quiet
cares disappear it's so still


Below high cliffs
you eat and sleep your fill
indulge desire and lethargy
idle away the months and years
until old age and illness arrive
and a thousand pains afflict you
digging a well when you're thirsty
you endure heat in vain

~ Stonehouse
from: Book Two Gathas, "The Zen Works of Stonehouse"
by Red Pine
art by Huang Kung-wang