Friday, December 31, 2021

between the hammers our heart endures


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

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


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

unending love

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.
Rabindranath Tagore
from Selected Poems

Sunday, December 26, 2021

the first peace

The first peace, which is the most important, 
is that which comes within the souls of people 
when they realize their relationship, their oneness,
 with the universe and all its powers, 
and when they realize that at the center of the universe 
dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit), and that this center
 is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
 This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.

The second peace is that which is made between two individuals,
 and the third is that which is made between two nations.
 But above all you should understand that there can never be peace
 between nations until there is known that true peace, 
which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.

~  Black Elk

Thursday, December 23, 2021

take me to the alley

~  Gregory Porter

we are many

Of the many men who I am, who we are,
I can't find a single one;
they disappear among my clothes,
they've left for another city.

When everything seems to be set
to show me off as intelligent,
the fool I always keep hidden
takes over all that I say.

At other times, I'm asleep
among distinguished people,
and when I look for my brave self,
a coward unknown to me
rushes to cover my skeleton
with a thousand fine excuses.

When a decent house catches fire,
instead of the fireman I summon,
an arsonist bursts on the scene,
and that's me. What can I do?
What can I do to distinguish myself?
How can I pull myself together?

All the books I read
are full of dazzling heroes,
always sure of themselves.
I die with envy of them;
and in films full of wind and bullets,
I goggle at the cowboys,
I even admire the horses.

But when I call for a hero,
out comes my lazy old self;
so I never know who I am,
nor how many I am or will be.
I'd love to be able to touch a bell
and summon the real me,
because if I really need myself,
I mustn't disappear.

While I am writing, I'm far away;
and when I come back, I've gone.
I would like to know if others
go through the same things that I do,
have as many selves as I have,
and see themselves similarly;
and when I've exhausted this problem,
I'm going to study so hard
that when I explain myself,
I'll be talking geography.

~  Pablo Neruda 
translated by Alastair Reid
art by picasso

undress them


This means that we have barely 
disembarked into life, 
that we've only just now been born, 
let's not fill our mouths 
with so many uncertain names, 
with so many sad labels, 
with so many pompous letters, 
with so much yours and mine, 
with so much signing of papers. 

I intend to confuse things, 
to unite them, make them new-born 
intermingle them, undress them, 
until the light of the world 
has the unity of the ocean, 
a generous wholeness, 
a fragrance alive and crackling. 

~ Pablo Neruda

keeping quiet


Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.
Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

~ Pablo Neruda 
from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

St. Vith, December 21, 1944

TANKS OF THE 7TH ARMORED DIVISION in a temporary position near St. Vith

Cut off in front of the line
that now ran through St. Vith,
the five American tanks sat
in a field covered with snow
in the dark. And now they must
retreat to safety, which they
could do only through gunfire
and flame in the burning town.
They went, firing, through the fire,
GIs and German prisoners
clinging to the hulls, and out
again into the still night beyond.
In the broad dark, someone
began to sing, and one by one
the others sang also, the German
prisoners singing in German,
the Americans in English,
the one song. "Silent night,"
they sang as the great treads
passed on across the dark
countryside muffled in white
snow, "Holy night."

~ Wendell Berry

nothing else


 There is nothing else than now. 
There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. 
How old must you be before you know that? 
There is only now, and if now is only two days, 
then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. 
This is how you live a life in two days. 
And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get,
 you will have a good life.
~ Ernest Hemingway 
from For Whom the Bell Tolls
photo by Robin Zygelman
with thanks to whiskey river

Monday, December 20, 2021

each time


The soul said, "Give me something to look at."
So I gave her a farm.  She said,
"It's too large."  So I gave her a field.
The two of us sat down.
Sometimes I would fall in love with a lake
Or a pine cone.  But I liked her
Most.  She knew it.
"Keep writing," she said.
So I did.  Each time the new snow fell,
We would be married again.
The holy dead sat down by our bed.
This went on for years.
"This field is getting too small," she said.
"Don't you know anyone else
To fall in love with?"
What would you have said to Her?
~ Robert Bly


where no one has a home


The wind blows where it likes: that is what 
Everyone is like who is born from the wind.
Oh now it's getting serious.  We want to be those
Born from the wind that blows along the plains
And over the sea where no one has a home.
And that Upsetting Rabbi, didn't he say:
"Take nothing with you, no blanket, no bread.
When evening comes, sleep wherever you are.
And if the owners say no, shake out the dust
From your sandals; leave the dust on their doorstep."
Don't hope for what will never come.  Give up hope,
Dear friends, the joists of life are laid on the winds.

~ Robert Bly
excerpt from A Poem for Giambattista Vico 


Sunday, December 19, 2021

the hope of results

Do not depend on the hope of results. 
… you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless 
and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. 

As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results
 but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. 

~ Thomas Merton
in a letter to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966, 
reproduced in The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton
art by Winslow Homer

the beginning of love


The beginning of love 
is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, 
and not to twist them to fit our own image. 

Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

~ Thomas Merton
sketch by the author

the secret beauty


Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, 
the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire
 nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality,
 the person that each one is in God's eyes.
 If only they could see themselves as they really are. 
If only we could see each other that way all the time,
 there would be no more war, no more hatred, 
no more cruelty, no more greed... 
I suppose the big problem would be 
that we would fall down and worship each other.
~ Thomas Merton 
photo by konrad gos


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

gratitude to old teachers

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers? 

Water that once could take no human weight-
We were students then-holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

~ Robert Bly 
from Eating the Honey of Words

what caused us each to live hidden?

What caused us each to live hidden?
A wound, the wind, a word, a parent.
Sometimes we wait in a helpless way,
awkwardly, not whole and not healed.

When we hid the wound, we fell back
from a human to a shelled life.

~ Robert Bly
from Stealing Sugar from the Castle


Friday, November 26, 2021

inviting you to be generous

Wonder, as the child of mystery, is a natural source of prayer.  
One of the most beautiful forms of prayer is the prayer of appreciation.
  This prayer arises out of the recognition of the gracious kindness of creation.
  We have been given so much.  We could never have merited or earned it.
  When you appreciate all you are and all you have, 
you can celebrate and enjoy it. 

 You realize how fortunate you are. 
 Providence is blessing you and inviting you to be generous with your gifts.
  You are able to bless life and give thanks to God. 
 The prayer of appreciation has no agenda but gracious thanks.
  Nothing is given to you for yourself alone.  
When you receive some blessing or gift, 
you do it in the name of others;
 through you, they, too, will come to share
 in the kindness of Providence.

~ John O'Donohue
from Eternal Echoes

the only time you are alive

You think you will never forget any of this, 
you will remember it always just the way it was. 

But you can't remember it the way it was.
 To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it 
right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. 

Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them
 that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind. 
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now
 and now and now, gone before you can speak of it,
 and you must be thankful for living day by day,
 moment by moment, in this presence.

But you have a life too that you remember. It stays with you.
 You have lived a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present,
 and your memories of it, remember now, are of a different life 
in a different world and time. When you remember the past,
 you are not remembering it as it was. You are remembering it as it is.
 It is a vision or a dream, present with you in the present,
 alive with you in the only time you are alive.

~ Wendell Berry
from Hannah Coulter

Sunday, November 14, 2021

amazing grace


~ Kraig Kenning

every precious moment


~ Kraig Kenning

lucky mud

God made mud. 
God got lonesome. 
So God said to some of the mud, "Sit up!" 
"See all I've made," said God, "the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars."

And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around. 
Lucky me, lucky mud.

I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done. 
Nice going, God. 
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have. 
I feel very unimportant compared to You. 
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud
that didn't even get to sit up and look around. 
I got so much, and most mud got so little. 
Thank you for the honor!

Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep. 
What memories for mud to have! 
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met! 
I loved everything I saw! 
Good night. 

~ Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
(Cat's Cradle)


Friday, November 12, 2021



A day so happy.
Fog lifted early I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no man worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man didn’t embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
On straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
~ Czeslaw Milosz
from New & Collected Poems
 with thanks to poetry chaikhana


see the purity of your being



In parting, I would like to give you one small piece of advice to keep in your heart. 
You may have heard me say this before, but it is the key point of the entire path,
 so it bears repeating: All that we are looking for in life—all the happiness, 
contentment, and peace of mind—is right here in the present moment. 
Our very own awareness is itself fundamentally pure and good. 
The only problem is that we get so caught up in the ups and downs of life 
that we don’t take the time to pause and notice what we already have.

Don’t forget to make space in your life to recognize the richness of your basic nature, 
to see the purity of your being and let its innate qualities of love, compassion,
 and wisdom naturally emerge. Nurture this recognition as you would a small seedling.
 Allow it to grow and flourish. . . .Keep this teaching at the heart of your practice.
 Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, pause from time to time
 and relax your mind. You don’t have to change anything about your experience.
You can let thoughts and feelings come and go freely, and leave your senses wide open.
 Make friends with your experience and see if you can notice the spacious awareness
 that is with you all the time. Everything you ever wanted is right here 
in this present moment of awareness.
~  Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
from  a letter he left for his students 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

loneliness and a Grandmother’s wisdom


“Sabishii ne.”

At my last dinner before leaving home to live in Tokyo, these words unexpectedly came out of my mouth. In Japan, they’re a common way of expressing feelings of loneliness. Early the next morning I would leave and Grandmother would be alone again. I was sad at the thought of her being by herself, and thought that she might feel as lonely as I did.

But Grandmother surprised me by saying, “That’s okay. I like loneliness.” I thought she was just acting brave. I knew that she had been devastated when we—her daughter, who was her only child, her three grandchildren, including me, and my dad—all left her behind to go to America. But she was fifty years old then; now she was nearly eighty. My American upbringing had deprived me of understanding how Grandmother had learned to find happiness and live a good life in Japan, alone.
One way we embrace loneliness is by internalizing lost loved ones.

The word sabishii means “lonely,” but my grandmother’s way of using it seemed to have a deeper meaning. Perhaps to her it was the human condition to be lonely. So being mindful in moments of loneliness connected her to others, because we all experience this sadness that is part of life. Grandmother’s way of living was based on a mature acceptance of loneliness, of the suffering in existence, and of the impermanent nature of human experience.

Loneliness reminds us that we know love. I saw there was dignity, sacrifice, and service in my grandmother’s way of parting, which freed me to pursue my path.

In the word sabishii, “sabi” represents the loss of what sparkles in us, and the fleeting nature of beauty. Like my grandmother herself, sabi things carry the burden of aging with dignity and grace. Although I didn’t understand her feelings at the time, they made sense to me when I realized that in English the word “sad” comes from the same root as the words “sated” and “satisfied.” This means sadness may actually be a kind of fullness—a fullness of the heart. We feel sad when our heart is full, tender, and alive, as opposed to the frozen state of depression that comes from pushing away our sadness rather than opening to it.

In searching for a deeper understanding of the Japanese sense of loneliness, I discovered its relation to nirvana, the state of perfect quietude, freedom, and happiness. Sabishii expresses not only loneliness, but also mellow stillness. Combined with horobiru, meaning “termination,” it expresses the enlightened state of nirvana in which one is liberated from the repeating cycle of birth, life, and death.

In Japanese, the phrase mono no aware expresses compassion and sadness in our awareness of the transience of all things, which in turn deepens our appreciation of their truth and beauty and elicits a gentle sadness after their passing. The love of the glorious, ephemeral beauty of cherry blossoms is characterized by mono no aware. This compassionate sensitivity is perhaps what my grandmother was describing.
Not alone in the delusion of separateness, I go about my day remembering that I too am living and dying, no different from the way they once were on this earth.

In my twenties I couldn’t see what I see now in my sixties: that loneliness is an inevitable part of the human condition. We try to escape it in so many ways, but when we face and embrace loneliness, our relationship to it shifts. If we engage and befriend loneliness, it can be a natural part of life. If we tell ourselves, don’t be afraid, don’t run from it, there’s too much beauty there, engaging with loneliness can bring us freedom.

One way we embrace loneliness is by internalizing lost loved ones. In a touching scene in The Lion King, the young lion grieving his dead father is told, “He lives in you.” I often have this feeling when I say or do something and it reminds me of my father, grandmother, or some other departed loved one. I have the sense that they live on in me. I’m reminded how my grandmother told me that we would never be apart because she would be in my heart.

We are not alone, but deeply interconnected with others, past and present. And yet we are alone. We are both not alone and alone. Though we search for the magical solution to ending this aloneness, we never find it. Grandmother taught me that acceptance of our pain makes it possible to convert weakness into strength, and we can offer our experience as a source of healing to others lost in the darkness of their own sufferings.

Grandma passed away on February 22 of 2015, and to this day whenever I see the time is 2:22, I imagine Grandma is here. She was 111 and when I see 1:11, I remember her as well. In these moments, I feel the presence of those who have left us. “I am here, for you,” they are telling me. Not alone in the delusion of separateness, I go about my day remembering that I too am living and dying, no different from the way they once were on this earth.

That’s what we’re all doing—loving and losing, coming and going, living and dying. We do what we’re called to do here and then are called away, leaving those left behind with the challenge of making meaning of it all. Though I don’t understand it, I draw strength in trusting the departed are well, still by my side, living on in me. And that I am well too.
~ Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu
 from Lion's Roar 11/09/2021

 Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu received a doctorate in psychology from Harvard University and trained in traditional medicine in Japan. He designs "heartfulness" learning programs at Stanford University and is the author of eleven books in English and Japanese.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

optimism and enduring patience



American Indians continue to suffer from the effects of conquest by European immigrants
 over the past five centuries—an ongoing and pervasive sense of community-wide
 post-traumatic stress disorder. We live with the ongoing stigma of defeated peoples
 who have endured genocide, the intentional dismantling of cultural values, 
forced confinement on less desirable lands called “reservations,” 
intentionally nurtured dependency on the federal government, 
and conversion by missionaries who imposed a new culture on us 
as readily as they preached the gospel. . . .

[Indian peoples] suspect that the greed that motivated the displacement
 of all indigenous peoples from their lands of spiritual rootedness is the same greed
 that threatens the destruction of the earth and the continued oppression of so many
 peoples and ultimately the destruction of our White relatives. 
Whether it is the stories the settlers tell or the theologies they develop to interpret those stories,
 something seems wrong to Indian people. But not only do Indians continue to tell the stories,
 sing the songs, speak the prayers, and perform the ceremonies that root themselves
 deeply in Mother Earth; they are actually audacious enough to think that their stories
 and their ways of reverencing creation will some day win over our White settler
 relatives and transform them. Optimism and enduring patience seem to run 
in the life blood of Native American peoples.
May justice, followed by genuine peace,
 flow out of our concern for one another and all creation. 
~ George Tinker
from  American Indian Liberation

Friday, October 15, 2021

thank you






honour song




Saturday, October 9, 2021

heartbreak, loss, and letting go



Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colours and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in love relationship, in a life's work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is just as much an essence and emblem of care as the spiritual athlete's quick but abstract ability to let go. Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going.

Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream, a child lost before their time. Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, a chasm to be carefully looked for and then walked around; the hope is to find a way to place our feet where the elemental forces of life will keep us in the manner to which we want to be accustomed and which will keep us from the losses that all other human beings have experienced without exception since the beginning of conscious time. But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way.

Our hope to circumvent heartbreak in adulthood is beautifully and ironically child-like; heartbreak is as inescapable and inevitable as breathing, a part and parcel of every path, asking its due in every sincere course an individual takes, it may be that there may be not only no real life without the raw revelation of heartbreak, but no single path we can take within a life that will allow us to escape without having that imaginative organ we call the heart broken by what it holds and then has to let go.

In a sobering physical sense, every heart does eventually break, as the precipitating reason for death or because the rest of the body has given up before it and can no longer sustain its steady beat, but hearts also break in an imaginative and psychological sense: there is almost no path a human being can follow that does not lead to heartbreak. A marriage, a committed vow to another, even in the most settled, loving relationship, will always break our hearts at one time or another; a successful marriage has often had its heart broken many times just in order for the couple to stay together; parenthood, no matter the sincerity of our love for a child, will always break the mold of our motherly or fatherly hopes, a good work seriously taken, will often take everything we have and still leave us wanting; and finally even the most self compassionate, self examination should, if we are sincere, lead eventually to existential disappointment.

Realizing its inescapable nature, we can see heartbreak not as the end of the road or the cessation of hope but as the close embrace of the essence of what we have wanted or are about to lose. It is the hidden DNA of our relationship with life, outlining outer forms even when we do not feel it by the intimate physical experience generated by it absence; it can also ground us truly in whatever grief we are experiencing, set us to planting a seed with what we have left or appreciate what we have built even as we stand in its ruins.

If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, and even, its own reward. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is an introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something and someone that has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the ultimate letting go.

David Whyte
from Consolations: The Solace, 
Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words