Saturday, June 15, 2019

in praise of Sophia

Friend, don't be angry at the Teacher's discipline,
nor lose your taste for his rebukes,
for the Teacher only corrects those whom he loves, 
as a mother watches constantly her favorite son.
The man who finds the ecstatic mother is a joyful man,
and the man who gains consciousness from her,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver,
and the profit from that acquisition better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
She has long life in her right hand,
and riches and reputation in her left.
Along her path there is much pleasure,
and her path goes through the places of peace.
She is a tree of life for those who bring her inside,
those who hold her firmly inside are called happy.
The Secret One through the ecstatic mother founded the earth,
through consciousness he made the skies go around,
by secret knowledge the oceans broke open,
and the clouds let the dew down.

~ from Proverbs: 3:11-20
translated by Aaron Blon


Ich stehe mir im Weg

People don't realize how much they are in the grip of ideas.
We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.

~ Saul Bellow

doing so,
"Ich stehe mir im Weg"
I stand in my own way.

Friday, June 14, 2019

take no account of all that happens

Abide in peace, 
banish cares, 
take no account of all that happens, 
and you will serve God 
according to His good pleasure, and rest in Him. 

~ Saint John of the Cross 

love impels impels people to service.  If love starts with a downward motion, burrowing into the vulnerability of self, exposing nakedness, it ends with an active upward motion.  It arouses great energy and desire to serve.  The person in love is buying little presents, fetching the glass from the next room, bringing a tissue when there's flu, driving through traffic to pick the beloved up at the airport. Love is waking up night after night to breastfeed, living year after year to nurture.  It is risking and sacrificing your life for your buddy's in a battle.  Love ennobles and transforms.  In no other state do people so often live as we want them to live.  In no other commitment are people so likely to slip beyond the logic of self-interest and unconditional commitments that manifest themselves in daily acts of care.

Occasionally you meet someone with a thousand-year heart.  The person with the thousand-year heart has made the most of the passionate, tumultuous phase of love. Those months or years of passion have engraved a deep commitment in their mind.  The person or thing they once loved hotly they now love warmly but steadily, happily, unshakably.  They don't even think of loving their beloved because they want something back.  They just naturally offer love as a matter of course.  It is gift-love, not reciprocity-love.

~ David Brooks
from The Road to Character

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Susila was on the point of turning to catch the
expression of delight on Dugald's upturned face; then, checking herself,
she looked down at the ground. There was no Dugald any more; there was
only this pain, like the pain of the phantom limb that goes on haunting the
imagination, haunting even the perceptions of those who have undergone an
amputation. "Amputation," she whispered to herself, "amputation ..."
Feeling her eyes fill with tears, she broke off. Amputation was no excuse
for self-pity and, for all that Dugald was dead, the birds were as beautiful as
ever and her children, all the other children-, had as much need to be loved
and helped and taught. If his absence was so constantly present, that was
to remind her that henceforward she must love for two, live for two, take
thought for two, must perceive and understand not merely with her own
eyes and mind but with the mind and eyes that had been his and, before
the catastrophe, hers too in a communion of delight and intelligence.

~ aldous huxley
from Island

seawater stiffens cloth

Seawater stiffens cloth long after it's dried.
As pain after it's ended stays in the body:
A woman moves her hands oddly
because her grandfather passed through
a place he never spoke of.  Making
instead the old jokes with angled fingers.
Call one thing another's name long enough,
it will answer.  Call pain seawater, tree, it will answer.
Call it a tree whose shape of branches happened.
Call what branching happened a man
whose job it was to break fingers or lose his own.
Call fingers angled like branches what peel and cut apples,
to give to a girl who eats them in silence, looking.
Call her afterward tree, call her seawater angled by silence.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Come, Thief

Sunday, June 9, 2019

no superstition in the breath

Sometimes when I meditate
there is nothing left of me
but the breath
all the rest of me inseparable
from all the rest of you.

There is no superstition in the breath
only in the mind and body surrounding.

The mind and body are suspicious,
full of fables and myths;
but there is no superstition in the breath.
With each exhalation
wordless sensation migrates
from the nostrils to the belly and back again
brings water to the fields,
brings breath down the cord from mother to child,
brings blood to the sacrifice of love and war,
brings bright offerings to the temple;
sings into the dark,
assuring the aspirant bent in the shadow
the breath that never ends,
whether dropped to our knees below the cross,
or easy in the slippers of the Beloved,
and certainly behind the diamond brow,
sighs the sigh heard 'round the world.

That famous ten percent we are supposed 
to have use of our brain seems true
of the rest of the body and mind as well.
We occupy very little of ourselves
A few percent perhaps...

We barely inhabit the breath
living in the shallows of our life.
Our ordinary breath hollowed by fear and anger,
lost behind the nostrils somewhere near the heart,
lost somewhere between the back of the cave 
and to top of Jacob's ladder...our cells
are starving for breath.

The breath does not lie.
It has nothing to say
It simply is
overflowing with sensation
met crossing the bright field
inviting the body and the rest of the mind
to enter subtle as the breath
subtler levels of being...

The fable of each inhalation, like the first
firing of the imagination (full of the superstition of "I")
and animating the body; that first inhalation
still being drawn...
And last exhalation suspended in myth
begun to be expelled soon after birth.

Taking each breath as if it were the last,
before we enter the enormity at the center
of each breath.

Though superstition surrounds the first breath
and is rarely discarded even with the last,
these two breaths - separated by joyful swoons
and plaintive cries - come together in the great silence,
the bitter tears before and after
the great peace between breaths
when mind slows to wisdom and the body
knows itself, as T. S. Eliot nearly says,
for the very first time.

The wise man, the flying woman, dwells
in the space between breaths as faint echoes
drop over the edge and fade into
the vast chasm of silence.

Letting go at the end of each out-breath
stills the enormity.

Occasionally in the meditation hall my breath
nearly stopped.  I needed nothing more 
as thought stilled, and the wind-blown mind
settled.  As the drum stopped.
Breath and fear surrendered.
"If the breath never returns
the universe will breath for me."

Overcoming the distrust, not holding
to the last breath or grasping at the next.
Letting go completely of control of the breath.
Trusting a breath unshaped by pretense
or superstition, a breath that breaths itself
from the oceanic tides between planets ...
a breath like the one before
the one that created the universe,
that began thought, and forgot
its original face.

~Stephen Levine
from Breaking the Drought
photo by Diane Varner

the hurt you embrace becomes joy

The hurt you embrace becomes joy.
Call it to your arms where it can

change.  A silkworm eating leaves
makes a cocoon.  Each of us weaves

a chamber of leaves and sticks.
Silkworms begin to truly exist

as they disappear inside that room.
Without legs, we fly.  When I stop

speaking, this poem will close,
and open its silent wings...

~ Rumi

Saturday, June 8, 2019

the etchings of trauma

~ Rupert Spira 



I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.

And nothing
happens! Nothing... Silence... Waves...

-Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

~ Juan Ramon Jimenez
translated by Robert Bly

Van Gogh reuses a canvas that he’d already painted 
some two and a half years earlier in Nuenen: x-ray photos
 reveal the head of a woman with a cap under Patch of grass.


More often than not, we feel so enmeshed in the life we have that the prospect of change appears remote or impossible.  Thus, we continue on the tracks that we have laid down for ourselves,  We are unable to think in new ways and we gradually teach ourselves to forget the other horizons.  We unlearn desire.  Quietly, over time, we succumb to the dependable script of the expected life and become masters of the middle way.  We avoid extremes and after a while we no longer even notice the pathways off to the side and no longer sense the danger and disturbance that could be experienced "out there."  We learn to fit our chosen world with alarming precision and regularity.  Often it takes a huge crisis or trauma to crack the dead shell that has grown ever more solid around us.  Painful as that can be, it does resurrect the longing of the neglected soul.  It makes a clearance.  Again we can see the horizons and feel their attraction.  Though we may wince with vulnerability as we taste the exhilaration of freedom, we feel alive!

John O'Donohue
from The Invisible Embrace: Beauty

Friday, June 7, 2019

by the true, loving will of your heart

For silence is not God, nor speaking; 
fasting is not God, nor eating; 
solitude is not God, nor company; 
nor any other pair of opposites.  

He is hidden between them, 
and cannot be found by anything your soul does, 
but only by the love of your heart. 

He cannot be known by reason, 
he cannot be thought, caught, or sought by understanding.  
But he can be loved and chosen by the true, loving will of your heart.

~ The Cloud of Unknowing
Written anonymously, this practical, unemotional book of instruction focuses on stripping away all earthly ways of knowing, of passing through the cloud of forgetting and piercing the cloud of unknowing that exists between himself and God.  Widely read in the fourteen century for its beauty in aiding a contemplative experience, The Cloud, is better known than the later work, The Book of Privy Counseling which also clearly written by one who has trodden the mystical path himself and offers others a helping hand.


don't look at things through your concepts

If you don't look at things through your concepts, you'll never be bored. 
Every single thing is unique. 
Every sparrow is unlike every other sparrow despite the similarities. 
It's a great help to have similarities, so we can abstract, 
so that we can have a concept. 
It's a great help, from the point of view of communication, 
education, science. 
But it's also very misleading and a great hindrance
 to seeing this concrete individual. 
If all you experience is your concept,
 you're not experiencing reality,
 because reality is concrete. 
The concept is a help, 
to lead you to reality, 
but when you get there, 
you've got to intuit or experience it directly.

~ Anthony de Mello


There is a story of a man who came to see the Buddha because he had heard that the Buddha was a great teacher. He had some problems in his life, and he thought the Buddha might be able to help him straighten them out.

The Buddha listened patiently to the man as he laid out all his difficulties and worries, and then waited for the Buddha to say the words that would put everything right for him.

The Buddha said, "I can't help you."

"What do you mean?" said the man.

"Everybody's got problems," said the Buddha. "In fact, we've all got eighty-three problems, each one of us. Eighty-three problems, and there's nothing you can do about it. If you work really hard on one of them, maybe you can fix it - but if you do, another one will pop right into its place."

The man was furious. "I thought you were a great teacher! I thought you could help me!"

The Buddha said, "Well, maybe it will help you with the eighty-fourth problem."

"The eighty-fourth problem?" said the man. "What's the eighty-fourth problem?"

The Buddha said, "You want to not have any problems."

- Steve Hagen
from Buddhism Plain and Simple
art by Alex Arshansky

Thursday, June 6, 2019

I'm working on the world

I’m working on the world,
revised, improved edition,
featuring fun for fools,
blues for brooders,
combs for bald pates,
tricks for old dogs.

Here’s one chapter: The Speech
of Animals and Plants.
Each species comes, of course,
with its own dictionary.
Even a simple “Hi there,”
when traded with a fish,
make both the fish and you
feel quite extraordinary.

The long-suspected meanings
of rustlings, chirps, and growls!
Soliloquies of forests!
The epic hoot of owls!
Those crafty hedgehogs drafting
aphorisms after dark,
while we blindly believe
they are sleeping in the park!

Time retains
its sacred right to meddle
in each earthly affair.
Still, time’s unbounded power
that makes a mountain crumble,
moves seas, rotates a star,
won’t be enough to tear
lovers apart: they are
too naked, too embraced,
too much like timid sparrows.

Old age is, in my book,
the price that felons pay,
so don’t whine that it’s steep:
you’ll stay young if you’re good.
Suffering doesn’t insult the body.
Death? It comes in your sleep,
exactly as it should.

When it comes, you’ll be dreaming
that you don’t need to breathe;
that breathless silence is
the music of the dark
and it’s part of the rhythm
to vanish like a spark.
Only a death like that. A rose
could prick you harder, I suppose;

you’d feel more terror at the sound
of petals falling to the ground.
Only a world like that. To die
just that much. And to live just so.
And all the rest is Bach’s fugue, played
for the time being
on a saw.

~ Wislawa Szymborska
translated by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no nonbeing can hold.

– Wislawa Szymborska Polish Poet (Born July 1923)/Nobel Literature Prize 1996

Excerpt from her Nobel Lecture
December 1996

Poets, if they’re genuine, must also keep repeating “I don’t know.” Each poem marks an effort to answer this statement, but as soon as the final period hits the page, the poet begins to hesitate, starts to realize that this particular answer was pure makeshift that’s absolutely inadequate to boot. So the poets keep on trying, and sooner or later the consecutive results of their self-dissatisfaction are clipped together with a giant paperclip by literary historians and called their “oeuvre” …

The Poet and the World by Wislawa Szymborska

with thanks to