Saturday, March 25, 2017

nothing?






Once upon a time there was a man who had about twelve cows, and he loved his cows.  Every morning and evening he would praise them for the amount of  milk they were giving and praise them for their beauty.  One morning he noticed that the amount of milk had lessened.  Each day for a week he noticed the same thing.  So that night he decided to stay up and see what was going on.

About midnight, he happened to look up at the stars, and he saw one star that seemed to be getting larger.  It was - and the light got stronger as the star came closer and closer to earth.  It came straight down towards his cow pasture and stopped a few feet from him in the form of a great ball of light.  Inside the light there was a luminous woman.  As soon as her toes touched the ground, the light disappeared, and she stood there like an ordinary woman.

He said to her, "Are you the one who has been stealing milk from my cows?" "Yes," she said, "my sisters and I like the milk from your cows very much."  He said, "You are very beautiful, and I'm glad that you like my cows.  And so, this is what I want to say: If you marry me, we can live together, and I will never hit you and you won't have to take care of the cows all the time.  I'll take care of them part of the time myself.  Will you marry me?"  She said slowly, "Yes, I will.  But there's one condition.  I have brought this basket with me, and I want you to agree that you will never look into this basket.  You must never look into it, no matter how long we are married.  Do you agree to that?"  "Oh, I do,"  he said.

So they were married, and they lived together very well for six or seven months.  Then one day, while she was out herding the cows, he happened to notice that basket standing in a corner of the house.  He said to himself,  "Well, you know, she is my wife, so it could be considered to be my basket.  After all, this is my house, and the basket is in my house, and so it could be considered my basket!"  After he had said this, he opened the basket and then began to laugh.  "There's absolutely nothing in the basket!  Nothing! There's nothing in the basket!"  He kept saying these words and laughing so loud that his wife eventually heard the laughter.

She came into the house and she said to him, "Have you opened the basket?"  He began laughing again.  "I did!"  he said.  "I opened the basket!  There's nothing in it! There's nothing in the basket at all!  There's absolutely nothing in the basket! Nothing is in the basket!"

She said,"I have to leave now.  I have to go back."  He cried out. "Don't go!  Don't leave me!"  She said, "I have to go back now.  What I brought with me in the basket was spirit.  It's so like human beings to think that spirit is nothing."

And she was gone.




~  An African Story
from The Soul is Here for It's Own Joy - Sacred Poems from Many Cultures
edited by Robert Bly
african rock art from Chad



 

Friday, March 24, 2017

the name






I got sleepy while driving and pulled in under a tree at the 
side of the road.  Rolled up in the back seat and went to sleep.
How long? Hours. Darkness had come.

All of a sudden I was awake, and didn't know who I was?
I'm fully conscious, but that doesn't help.  Where am I?
WHO am I? I am something that has just woken up in a back
 seat, throwing itself around in panic like a cat in a gunnysack. 
Who am I?

After a long while my life comes back to me.  My name
comes to me like an angel.  Outside the castle walls there is a
 trumpet blast (as in the Leonora Overture)  and the footsteps
that will save me come quickly quickly down the long staircase.
It's me coming! It's me!

But it is impossible to forget the fifteen-second battle in the 
hell of nothingness, a few feet from a major highway where
the cars slip past with their lights dimmed.



~ Tomas Tranströmer
 art by Picasso


Sunday, March 19, 2017

a multitude of others






From "the incessant workings of his mind and the physical activity displayed by the body... nothing of all that is from him, is him.  He, physically and mentally,  is the multitude of others.

On the mental plane, this "multitude of others" includes many beings who are his contemporaries: people he consorts with, with whom he chats, whose actions he watches. ... the individual absorbs a part of the various energies given off by those with whom he is in contact, and these incongruous energies, installing themselves in that which he considers his "I", form a swarming throng.
To a Westerner, Plato, Zeno, Jesus, Saint Paul, Calvin, Diderot, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Napoleon, and many others constitute a diversified crowd,...
 These names are only examples. The guests, whom X shelters in his particular guest-house, are not at all the same as those who live with Y.

"that which is compound", which is constituted by the combination of elements as a house is made up of stones, wood, etc., is only a collection, a group and in no way a real "ego".  Thus the individual is empty, everything is empty, because one can find nothing in it except the parts which constitute it.




 ~ Alexandra David-Neel and Lama Yongden
from The Secret oral teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects
art by Picasso

Saturday, March 18, 2017

birds of passage







The
Classroom
Surely becomes disarrayed
When the teacher is out of sight
Because of our grand
Volcanic 
Spirits.

The 
Birds of passage
Arrive with a broken 
Wing,

Though
Are then lifted by God
So high and
"Low"

To experience the heart
Of everything.

The mind surely becomes disarrayed
When the Teacher is out
Of sight.



~ Hafiz
from The Gift
translations by Daniel Ladinisky

 

Friday, March 17, 2017

and love says






And love
Says,

"I will, I will take care of you,"

To everything that is
Near.


~ Hafiz
from The Gift
translation by Daniel Ladinsky

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

a symbolic universe







There is no remedy against this reversal of the natural order. Man cannot escape from his own achievement. He cannot but adopt the conditions of his own life. No longer in a merely physical universe, man lives in a symbolic universe. Language, myth, art, and religion are parts of this universe. They are the varied threads which weave the symbolic net, the tangled web of human experience. All human progress in thought and experience refines and strengthens this net. No longer can man confront reality immediately; he cannot see it, as it were, face to face. Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man's symbolic activity advances. Instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself.

He has so enveloped himself in linguistic forms, in artistic images, in mythical symbols or religious rites that he cannot see or know anything except by the interposition of this artificial medium. His situation is the same in the theoretical as in the practical sphere. Even here man does not live in a world of hard facts, or according to his immediate needs and desires. He lives rather in the midst of imaginary emotions, in hopes and fears, in illusions and disillusions, in his fantasies and dreams. 'What disturbs and alarms man,' said Epictetus, 'are not the things, but his opinions and fantasies about the things.
 
 
 
 ~  Ernst Cassirer 
from An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture
with thanks to Love is a Place
 
 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

what?






Coming empty handed, going empty handed - that is human.
When you are born, where do you come from?
When you die, where do you go?
Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like that.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
What then is the one pure and clear thing?


~ Zen Master Seung Sahn

Saturday, March 4, 2017

chickpea to cook





A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it's being boiled.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

"Don't you try to jump out.
You think I'm torturing you.
I'm giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this."

Grace first. Sexual pleasure,
then a boiling new life begins,
and the Friend has something good to eat.

Eventually the chickpea 
will say to the cook,
 "Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can't do this be myself.

I'm like an elephant that dreams of gardens
back in Hindustan and doesn't pay attention
to his driver.  You're my cook, my driver,
my way into existence. I love cooking."

The cook says, "I was once like you,
fresh from the ground,  Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled once beyond that,
and become your teacher."


~ Rumi
from The essential Rumi
translations by Coleman Barks and John Moyne

Macarius and the pony


.


.
People in a village
At the desert's edge
Had a daughter
Who was changed (they thought)
By magic arts
Into a pony.

At first they berated her
"Why do you have to be a horse?"
She could think of no reply.

So they led her out with a halter 
Into the hot waste land
Where there was a saint
Called Macarius
Living in a cell.

"Father" they said
"This young mare here
Is, or was, our daughter.
Enemies, wicked men,
Magicians, have made her
The animal you see.
Now by your prayers to God
Change her back
Into the girl she used to be."

"My prayers" said Macarius,
"Will change nothing,
For I see no mare.
Why do you call this good child
An animal?"

But he led her into his cell
With her parents:
There he spoke to God 
Anointing the girl with oil;
And when they saw with what love 
He placed his hand upon her head
They realized, at once.
She was no animal.
She had never changed.
She had been a girl from the beginning.

"Your own eyes
(said Macarius)
Are your enemies.
Your own crooked thoughts
(said the anchorite)
Change people around you
Into birds and animals.
Your own ill-will
(said the clear-eyed one)
Peoples the world with specters."


.
~ Thomas Merton
from  The Collected Poems


.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

non-dual sufism






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

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

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

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

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


 ~ Pir Elias Amidon
excerpts from Free Medicine


 

Friday, February 24, 2017

sweater






What is asked of one is not what is asked of another.
A sweater takes on the shape of its wearer,
a coffee cup sits to the left or the right of the workspace,
making its pale Saturn rings of now and before.
Lucky the one who rises to sit at a table,
day after day spilling coffee sweet with sugar, whitened with milk.
Lucky the one who writes in a book of spiral-bound mornings
a future in ink, who writes hand unshaking, warmed by thick wool.
Lucky still, the one who writes later, shaking.  Acrobatic at last, the 
sweater,
elastic as breath that enters what shape it is asked to. 
Patient the table;  unjudging, the ample, refillable cup.
Irrefusable, the shape the sweater is given,
stretched in the shoulders, sleeves lengthened by unmetaphysical
pullings on.





~ Jane Hirshfield
from Come, Thief 


Monday, February 13, 2017

for the sake of others






The story goes that in certain Native American tribes, when a person became psychologically unstable, she or he was placed in the middle of a circle of tribal members – men and women, children and old people – and required to spin around and around until collapsing to the ground. The tribal member toward whom her body faced now became her special charge. She was obligated to care for that person, see to their needs, and be their companion and friend. The understanding was that caring for someone else is what stirs personal healing.

When we ache from the pain of loss or rejection, the pain of depression or loneliness, the pain of feeling unloved, from bodily pain or even the pain of impending death, the ache can feel agonizingly private to us. We feel alone in our pain: it encloses us in an isolation that feels terribly unfair. How is it possible then to offer care for others?

When Robert Kennedy lay dying from an assassin’s bullet, his blood spreading across a kitchen floor, he opened his eyes and asked, “Is everyone all right?” I like to believe that question eased his homecoming. At least it taught me this counter-intuitive calculus: when you are in need, give.

Giving in this way requires a shift in our hearts. In moving from self-concern to other-concern, we enter a deeper belonging.

The Native American ritual is charged by the healing power of belonging, not altruism, for altruistic behavior benefits another at one’s own expense. The circle of tribal members embraces the wounded person, who returns that embrace. Both are healed.

So to say “when you are in need, give,” is not an injunction to be virtuous or to sacrifice your need in favor of another’s. It is to step from the loneliness of separation into the seamlessness of Being where nothing and no one has ever been separate from anything else. Our absolute belonging is not an idea, nor do we need to make it happen, nor make ourselves worthy of it. It’s already and always so.

“Stepping into the seamlessness of Being” doesn’t require us to travel any distance – it may be more accurate to say it steps into us when we allow it to. A generous heart is first of all a receptive heart.

If I feel the need to be seen and loved for what I am, and if I sit in that need waiting for someone to respond with what I need, I might sit for a long time in disappointment. But if I stop waiting and simply give, as best I can, what I’ve been waiting for, my world turns inside out. The connection I longed for is revealed – maybe not in the way I wanted or expected, but in a more fundamental sense of belonging. I am now able to receive.

The way this happens is a kind of magic that is always available to us. The distressed woman falls to the ground. When she looks up she sees in front of her an old toothless grandmother. She takes her hand. What is it that passes between their hands?



~ Pir Elias Amidon, from Free Medicine

Friday, February 10, 2017

the "I" experience









~ Alan Watts



the night house







Every day the body works in the fields of the world
Mending a stone wall
Or swinging a sickle through the tall grass -
The grass of civics, the grass of money -
And every night the body curls around itself
And listens for the soft bells of sleep.

But the heart is restless and rises
From the body in the middle of the night,
Leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
With its thick, pictureless walls
To sit by herself at the kitchen table
And heat some milk in a pan.

And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
And goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
And opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
And roams from room to room in the dark,
Darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.

And the soul is up on the roof
In her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
Singing a song about the wildness of the sea
Until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
The way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,

Resuming their daily colloquy,
Talking to each other or themselves
Even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body - the house of voices -
Sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
To stare into the distance,

To listen to all its names being called
Before bending again to its labor.

  ~ Billy Collins
 art by Van Gogh
with thanks to whiskey river


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

for citizenship






In these times when anger
Is turned into anxiety
And someone has stolen
The horizons and mountains,

Our small emperors on parade
Never expect our indifference
To disturb their nakedness.

They keep their heads down
And their eyes gleam with reflection
From aluminum economic ground,

The media wraps everything
In a cellophane of sound,
And the ghost surface of the virtual
Overlays the breathing earth.

The industry of distraction 
Makes us forget
That we live in a universe.

We have become converts 
To the religion of stress
And its deity of progress;

That we may have courage 
To turn aside from it all
And come to kneel down before the poor,
To discover what we must do,
How to turn anxiety
Back into anger,
How to find our way home.





~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us
photo by Robert Frank