Wednesday, September 30, 2020

the unfinished work


~ Abraham Lincoln, Andrea Scheidler

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate we can not consecrate we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

seeing through the "I" concept


After a summer storm, the sunlight comes out and we see a rainbow in the sky.
And generally, we feel happy at seeing a rainbow. It's a beautiful object of sight.
But the question is, is there a thing in itself which is the rainbow?
When we look more carefully, we see that what we're calling a rainbow
is the coming together of certain conditions of light and moisture and air.
And when these conditions come together in a certain way,
there's an appearance of a rainbow, but there's no thing in itself
which is the rainbow other than the appearance
arising out of these conditions.

Self is like a rainbow. There is an appearance of Bob, of Joseph,
of each one of us. There's an appearance which comes together,
which appears because of the conditions of all our mental, physical phenomena
coming together in a certain pattern. And we recognize the pattern.
We call it Bob, Joseph, rainbow. And on a relative level, we are experiencing it.
When we see a rainbow, we are responding to something.
On a relative level, we can say rainbow exists, but on a more ultimate level,
we see that there's no essential substratum which is rainbow.

There's no essence.

One Vipassana teacher really expressed this beautifully. Somebody asked him,
"Is the self real?" And he said, "Yes, the self is real. But not really real."
That captures these two levels. It is real on the relative level,
and we interact on this level, it's the level of our conventional reality.
We're not dismissing that. But we just see that on a deeper level,
there's another whole way of perceiving things.

Let me give you one more example.

You go out at night and, if it's a clear night and the stars are out,
most people can recognize the constellation of the Big Dipper.
The question then is, is there really a Big Dipper up there? …

Big Dipper is a concept which we're overlaying on a certain pattern of stars,
but there's no Big Dipper.

So, self is like Big Dipper. The notion of self is a concept,
just like Big Dipper is a concept, and we're overlaying that concept of self
onto this pattern of mental, physical, emotional content.
We're putting a name, we're giving a designation
of Joseph, Bob, Big Dipper.

But what's interesting is that, even though we know Big Dipper is a concept
and there's no Big Dipper in the sky, to go out at night, look up at the sky
and see if it's possible not to see the Big Dipper—
it’s very difficult, because we've been so conditioned to see
in a certain way.

It's helpful to realize that the concept of Big Dipper can be useful,
just like the concept of self can be useful. One of the stars of Big Dipper
actually points to the North star. If you're out in the middle of the ocean
and you want to navigate, you need to find the north,
the concept can be helpful.

We're not suggesting—either with Big Dipper or self—to get rid of the concept,
but to understand that that's what it is. ...

When we see that Big Dipper is a concept, even though we use it,
what happens is when we look up at the sky, we see the sky undivided.
It's possible to see all the stars as part of a unity.
Imagine what it would be like if we could experience the whole world
not bound or limited by the concept of the self.
We need to use it to operate on the relative level,
but if we have a deeper wisdom that it is just a concept,
then so many aspects of our separateness falls away.

~ Joseph Goldstein
from Mindfulness Interviews
by Robert Wright

an irresistible momentum

What am I in the eyes of most people — 
a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — 
somebody who has no position in society and will never have; 
in short, the lowest of the low.
All right, then — 
even if that were absolutely true, 
then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, 
such a nobody, has in his heart. 

That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, 
based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. 
Though I am often in the depths of misery, 
there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. 

I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, 
in the dirtiest corners. 
And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.

~ Vincent Van Gogh

leaning forward


If drawn as a cartoon figure,
you would be leaning always forward, feet blurred
with the multiple lines that convey both momentum and hurry.
Your god is surely Hermes:
messenger, inventor,
who likes to watch the traveler passing the crossroads
in any direction.
Your nemesis? The calm existence of things as they are.
When I speak as here,
in the second person, you are quietly present.
You are present in presents as well, which are given to.
Being means and not end, you are mostly modest,
obedient as railroad track to what comes or does not.
Yet your work requires
both transience and transformation:
night changes to day, snow to rain, the shoulder of the living pig to meat.
When attached to verbs, you sometimes change them
to adjectives, adverbs, nouns,
a trick I imagine
would bring enormous pleasure,
were you capable of pleasure, You are not.
You live below the ground of humor, hubris, grievance, grief.
Whatever has been given you,
you carry, indifferent as a planet to your own fate.
Yet it is you,
polite retainer of time and place, who bring us to ours,
who do not leave the house of the body
from the moment of birth until your low-voiced murmur, "dust to dust."
And so we say, "today," "tomorrow."
But from yesterday, like us, you have vanished.
~ Jane Hirshfield
from After
art by Salvador Dali

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

embodying the light


A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
this is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

~   Lao Tzu
translated by Stephen Mitchell

the struggle


We tend to think of Sisyphus as a tragic hero, 
condemned by the gods to shoulder his rock 
sweatily up the mountain, and again up the mountain, forever. 
The truth is that Sisyphus is in love with the rock. 
He cherishes every roughness and every ounce of it.
 He talks to it, sings to it. It has become the Mysterious Other. 
He evens dreams of it as he sleepwalks upward. 
Life is unimaginable without it, looming always above him
 like a huge gray moon. He doesn’t realize that at any moment 
he is permitted to step aside, let the rock hurtle to the bottom, 
and go home. 
Tragedy is the inertial force of the mind.

~  Stephen Mitchell
art by Van Gogh

Monday, September 28, 2020

no desire for security

Surely, the mind has abandoned itself and its moorings only when
 there is no desire for security. A mind that is seeking security
can never know what love is. Self-abandonment is not the state
 of the devotee before his idol or his mental image. Self-abandonment
 can come about only when you do not cultivate it,
 and when there is self-knowing.

When the mind has understood the significance of knowledge,
 only then is there self-knowing, and self-knowing implies self-abandonment. 
You have ceased to rest on any experience as a center from which to observe,
 to judge, to weigh; therefore, the mind has already plunged into the movement
 of self-abandonment. In that abandonment there is sensitivity. 
But the mind which is enclosed in its habits of eating, of thinking,
 in its habit of never looking at anything - such a mind obviously cannot
 be sensitive, cannot be loving. 

In the very abandonment of its own limitations, the mind becomes sensitive
 and therefore innocent. And only the innocent mind knows what love is
 not the calculating mind, not the mind that has divided love
 into the carnal and the spiritual. In that state there is passion and, 
without passion, reality will not come near you. It is only the enfeebled mind
 that invites reality; it is only the dull, grasping mind that pursues truth, 
God. But the mind that knows passion in love
 to such a mind the nameless comes.

~ J. Krishnamurti
from Collected Works, Vol. XI,251
with thanks to J. Krishnamurti Online
illustration by glen wexler 

no longer any shore

I do not cease swimming in the seas of love,
rising with the wave, then descending;
now the wave sustains me, and then I sink beneath it;
love bears me away where there is no longer any shore.

~ Al Hallaj
from Diwan al-Hallaj

Saturday, September 26, 2020


More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs—all this resinous, unretractable earth.

~ Jane Hirshfield 

Friday, September 25, 2020

tribute to John O'Donohue



The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised.

If you don't trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!"

~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching

the back of the world


Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? 
It is that we have only known the back of the world. 
We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal.
That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. 
That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. 
Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? 
If we could only get round in front—

~ G. K. Chesterton, 1908
from The Man Who Was Thursday

Thursday, September 24, 2020

the spirit within the earth

It is lovely indeed, it is lovely indeed.

I, I am the spirit within the earth.
The feet of the earth are my feet;
The legs of the earth are my legs.
The strength of the earth is my strength;
The thoughts of the earth are my thoughts;
The voice of the earth is my voice.
The feather of the earth is my feather;
All that belongs to the earth belongs to me;
All that surrounds the earth surrounds me.
I, I am the sacred works of the earth.
It is lovely indeed, it is lovely indeed.

~ Navajo origin legend
Song of the Earth Spirit
art by van gogh

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

when I detect a beauty


When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, 
I am reminded by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated, 
of the inexpressible privacy of life - how silent and unambitious it is.  
The beauty there in mosses will have to be considered from the holiest, quietest nook.
My truest, serenest moments are too still for emotion; they have woolen feet.  
In all our lives we live under the hill, and if we are not gone we live there still. 
To be calm, to be serene!  
There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind;
there is the calmness of a stagnant ditch.  So is it with us.  
Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, 
not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, 
so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal 
and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves.  
I awoke into a music which no one by me heard.
Whom shall I thank for it?  I feel my Maker blessing me.
To the sane man the world is a musical instrument.
The very touch affords an exquisite pleasure.


~ Henry David Thoreau
taken from a journal entry, June 22,1851


completely empty

Settle down in your room at a moment when you have nothing else to do.
 Say “I am now with myself,” and just sit with yourself. 
After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored. 
This teaches us one very useful thing. It gives us insight into the fact that
 if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, 
it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored! Why is this so? 
It is so because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought,
 for emotion and for life. If you watch your life carefully you will discover 
quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; 
instead we respond to incitement, to excitement. In other words, 
we live by reflection, by reaction… We are completely empty, 
we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life
which is actually fed in from the outside; we are used to things happening 
which compel us to do other things. How seldom can we live simply
 by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves.

~ Archbishop Anthony Bloom
from Beginning to Pray

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

without cause or calculation

A lover doesn't figure the odds.
He figures he came clean from God
as a gift without a reason,
he gives without cause
or calculation or limit.
A conventionally religious person
behaves a certain way
to achieve salvation.
A lover gambles everything, the self,
the circle around the zero! He or she
cuts and throws it all away.
This is beyond
any religion.
Lovers do not require from God any proof,
or any text, nor do they knock on a door
to make sure this is the right street.
They run,
and they run.
~ Rumi
translation: Coleman Barks, 
from: Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion


fable - everyone was everything




Ages of fire and of air
Youth of water
From green to yellow
From yellow to red
From dream to watching
From desire to act
It was only one step and you took it so lightly
Insects were living jewels
The heat rested by the side of the pond
Rain was a willow with unpinned hair
A tree grew in the palm of your hand
And that tree laughed sang prophesied
Its divinations filled the air with wings
There were simple miracles called birds
Everything was for everyone
Everyone was everything
There was only one huge word with no back to it
A word like a sun
One day it broke into tiny pieces
They were the words of the language we now speak
Pieces that will never come together
Broken mirrors where the world sees itself shattered
 ~  Octavio Paz
 with thanks to whiskey river


Monday, September 21, 2020

where without whom






 There is not

a single soul among the trees.

and I

 don't know where I've gone.

~ Octavio Paz



Sunday, September 20, 2020

binding the torn threads



Ruth Bader as a child.

The war has left a bloody trail and many deep wounds not too easily healed.
 Many people have been left with scars that take a long time to pass away. 
We must never forget the horrors which our brethren were subjected to
 in Bergen-Belsen and other Nazi concentration camps.
 Then, too, we must try hard to understand that for righteous people
 hate and prejudice are neither good occupations nor fit companions.
 Rabbi Alfred Bettleheim once said:
 “Prejudice saves us a painful trouble, the trouble of thinking.”

No one can feel free from danger and destruction until 
the many torn threads of civilization are bound together again.
 We cannot feel safer until every nation, regardless of weapons or power, 
will meet together in good faith, the people worthy of mutual association. 
There can be a happy world and there will be once again, 
when men create a strong bond towards one another,
 a bond unbreakable by a studied prejudice or a passing circumstance.
 ~  Ruth Bader Ginsburg
 comments written as a 13 year old child
with thanks to Brainpickings

mindfulness - taking care of anger






~ Thich Nhat Hanh




the culture of the day

The cities only care for what is theirs
and uproot all that's in their path.
They crush the creatures like hollow sticks
and burn up nations like kindling.

Their people serve the culture of the day,
losing all balance and moderation,
calling their aimlessness progress,
driving recklessly where they once drove slow,
and with all that metal and glass
making such a racket.

It's as if they were under a spell:
they can no longer be themselves.
Money keeps growing, takes all their strength,
and empties them like a scouring wind,
while they wait for wine and poisonous passions
to spur them to fruitless occupations.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
III,31, The Book of Poverty and Death
translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
photo by robert frank

eyes are blind

‘People where you live,”
 the little prince said,
 “grow five thousand roses in one garden… 
yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…”

“They don’t find it,” I answered.

“And yet what they’re looking for could be found 
in a single rose, or a little water…”

“Of course,” I answered.

And the little prince added,
 “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.’

~  Antoine de Saint-Exupery
from The Little Prince

born in Lyon in 1900. He was rather a poor student, and he failed his entrance exam to the naval academy, but he joined the French army in 1921, and that's where he flew his first plane. He left the military five years later and began flying airmail routes into the Sahara Desert, eventually becoming the director of a remote airfield in Rio de Oro. Living conditions were Spartan, but he said, "I have never loved my house more than when I lived in the desert." He wrote his first novel, Southern Mail (1929), in the Sahara and never lost his love for the desert.

In 1929, he moved to South America to fly the mail through the Andes, and he later returned to carry the post between Casablanca and Port-étienne. He worked as a test pilot and a journalist throughout the 1930s, and survived several plane crashes. He also got married in 1931, to Consuelo Gómez Carrillo. She wrote of him in her memoir, "He wasn't like other people, but like a child or an angel who has fallen down from the sky."

He rejoined the French army upon the outbreak of World War II, but when the Nazis invaded France in 1940, he fled to the United States, hoping to serve the U.S. forces as a fighter pilot. He was turned down because of his age, and, homesick and discouraged, he began his best-known book, The Little Prince (1943). The following year, he returned to North Africa to fly a warplane for France. He took off on a mission on July 31, 1944, and was never heard from again.

Friday, September 18, 2020

when we are weak

When we are weak, we are
strong.  When our eyes close
on the world, then somewhere
within us the bush
burns.  When we are poor
and aware of the inadequacy
of our table, it is to that 
uninvited the guest comes.
~ R. S. Thomas
art by Picasso

when they sleep



All people are children when they sleep.
there's no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.
They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.
If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
-- God, teach me the language of sleep.
~ Rolf Jacobsen
from Night Music - Selected Poems
translation by Robert Hedin 
photo - children of the boat people
with thanks to Poetry Chaikhana

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

ask anything

"Ask anything,"

My Lord said to me.

And my mind and heart thought deeply 
for a second,

then replied with just one word,


God's arms then opened up and I entered Myself.
I entered Myself when I entered

And having learned compassion I
allowed my soul

to stay.

~ Saint Thomas Aquinas
 from for lovers of god everywhere -
Poems of the Christian Mystics 

the half-finished heaven

Cowardice breaks off on its path.
Anguish breaks off on its path.
The vulture breaks off in its flight.

The eager light runs into the open,
even the ghosts take a drink.

And our paintings see the air,
red beasts of the ice-age studios.

Everything starts to look around.
We go out in the sun by hundreds.

Every person is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless field under us.

Water glitters between the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

~ Tomas Transtromer
from Half-Finished Heaven
translated by robert bly
art by rolf harris

happiness writes white

I am a piece of chalk
scrawling words on an empty blackboard.

I am a banner of smoke
that crosses the blue air and doesn't dissolve.

I don't believe that only sorrow
and misery can be written.

Happiness, too, can be precise:

Doctor, there's a keen throbbing
on the left side of my chest
where my ribs are wrenched by joy.

Wings flutter in my shoulders
and blood courses through my body
like waves cresting on a choppy sea.

Look: the eyes blur with tears
and the tears clear.

My head is like skylight.
My heart is like dawn.

~ Edward Hirsch
from Special Orders
thanks to knopf  poetry


In my loneliness
I break and burn
twigs for the snapping fire -
hoping the smoke at least won't leave.

~ Izumi Shikibu
from The Ink Dark Moon
translation by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

for what binds us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down --
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses, 
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest --

And when two people have loved each other 
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

~ Jane Hirshfield
(Of Gravity & Angels)