Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taking A Break

     I've decided to step away from this blog for a while and take a rest--at least until I'm once more motivated by writing and/or art I feel compelled to share. Thanks for your interest, and responses. I'll let you know when I start posting again.
-- Bob

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ancient Wisdom

     Here's a third set of poem/drawing companion pieces from The Sacred Well: Songs From The Waters Of Life:

                        OLD STONES

When we walk near old stones--say in a wall
that once bounded or divided things, but now
lies weathered, crumbling, mostly overgrown
with creepers and vines--sometimes they speak,
chanting spells from the subterranean world,
muttering in a tongue we can almost hear.

Listen. What are they saying? Can you tell?
I sense myself becoming heavier, dissolving,
my soul groping down through layers of soil,
jostled by stumps, fossils, artifacts, bones.
It is good to come to rest there, deep below,
where all the beginnings and endings are one.

Far inside me a primeval being is achored
by great, gnarled roots to a time before time,
to stark landscapes where no footfall echoes,
no voices cry. And what it knows, it knows
as death knows life; as the stone's shadow
knows what burns in the heart of the stone.


No more words.
In the name of this place
we drink in with our breathing,
stay quiet like a flower
so the nightbirds will start singing.

-- Rumi --

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Roots And Stars

Here's another poem/drawing combo from my book The Sacred Well: Songs From The Waters Of Life.


We don't know a word to say certain things.
They're too far inside. Silence attends them.
Every effort at speech fritters out and away.
This is how it is when you capsize my soul.
Our talk confounds us. For behind the voices
there's a Being who does not speak at all.

We don't know a word to say certain things.
The true name for that One is Namelessness,
our glances seeking an inconceivable Face.
I have felt the eyes and sensed the smile.
The clean light of each morning reveals it.
When night gropes up from roots, it shines.

We don't know a word to say certain things.
But because we stammer, there's hope for us.
As long as Mystery survives, and Magnitude,
I'll encounter you with growing awe, amazed
at what forever eludes me; yet grateful, too,
that beauty has a Source beyond this world.


And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss;
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

-- Pablo Neruda --

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ending And Beginning

   Last week's posting marked the final entry of a 35-week series, during which I wrote prose meditations that were each inspired by a line from a poem I'd previously written--either in 2009 or early 2010. It was challenging but rewarding to explore, in a more philosophical spirit, some of the wider implications of the poems' allusive utterances, and then to combine both with related original artwork and selected quotations. I had fun and learned a lot. I hope you did too.

      I've created many other poems and drawings however--some very recently, others across the years. So I'm going to make selections from among these and post them each week, as the Spirit moves, adding any comments which may seem relevant and helpful. Along those lines, here's a poem I wrote in May about spiritual balance:

                       TRUE LINE

landing at the perfect angle of approach
       you can hold onto your sanity without
          exploding in a spectacular fireball

impeccable balance is everything
one fear to the left    one rage to the right
                      you're cooked

finding the true line       a pure trajectory
that's the ticket!
        what can derange you then?

I spent many lifetimes figuring this out
crashing     burning     crashing     burning
                over and over

but now I've got it
    heart light       mind clear
          hands barely touching the controls


     The following drawing and poem are companion pieces, both part of a book I wrote in 1996-97 titled The Sacred Well: Songs From The Waters Of Life. Although usually a poem is inspired by an artwork (a literary practice called "ekphrasis"), in this instance the reverse is true--the poem came first, then the artistic vision inspired by it.


Amazing, isn't it? To be a woman, a man.
What does it mean? I'm born to love
what dies; born to die myself; born
all hunched up like a question mark.
But who inside me keeps asking? Who
cannot rest? Don't you sense it? Beyond
this dying animal, a deeper life begins!

Listen, I'm blundering around, same as you.
Every day I start off into the Labyrinth,
always a novice, groping this way and that,
straining to grasp the riddle of my soul.
And each night, wearily, I crawl into bed,
slanting downward through the Great Dark,
small as a raindrop, immense as a storm.




Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Receiving The Angel

                THE MESSENGER

tire tracks crisscross in the slushy snow
there's half a foot more still on the way
spring's too far off even to think about

yet for the first time this stormy winter
somewhere close among bare branches
the mourning dove    like a muted oracle
calls out over and over through sullen air

don't roll over and burrow back to sleep
or lay awake     haunted by aimless fear

the angel of a thousand guises has spoken

it doesn't care if you're tired of struggling
it doesn't believe in loneliness or self-pity

only that today is new  clean   open   free!

so don't turn over and cringe back to sleep
or lay awake  brooding on ancient wounds

you've been summoned by a primal voice
which cannot lie   stand up   breathe deep

take another shaky step into the unknown


The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across
the doorsill where two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

-- Rumi --


     All are interconnected. Everything's charged with meaning. "Coincidence" is just a word for significance we don't understand yet--or once did but have forgotten. the ancients knew this: and the scattering of vanishing tribal peoples who remain still do.

     Which means unheralded messengers enter our lives each day, although mostly we don't even recognize them, never mind grasp what they're trying to tell us. Not to imply that such understanding is easy. Intuitive sensitivity and careful discernment are essential. We must be open, alert, balanced, receptive, humble.

     The message's meaning is identical to the messenger. In other words, there's no separation between inner and outer, self and other, knower and known. Psychological awareness fuses with sensory perception to dissolve the illusion of duality into one seamless whole.

     Every message, each messenger, is utterly unique, symbolizing a single, unrepeatable convergence of giver and receiver in space and time. Simultaneously, every message, each messenger, is forever the same, calling us back home to the infinite and eternal mystery of our own souls.

     By definition then, the language a messenger speaks is always paradox--this is an intrinsic part of the message itself. Every messenger transcends boundaries and demolishes categories. Our intellect's determination to compartmentalize reality into either/or dichotomies is flummoxed and derailed.

     We've been brainwashed by an onslaught of disenchanters, but we live in an enchanted universe nevertheless. Angels of wisdom, justice, mercy and freedom--Divine Messengers wearing a thousand guises--arrive daily at the portals of our consciousness. All we need do is recognize them and invite them in.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Death And Rebirth


I think I'll start all over again      and I do
but then almost choke on a gulp of coffee

so begins another day    the angel is mute
there are various achings in different places
many paths branch off   which should I take?

not to be too cavalier about such things
each heartbeat subtracts me toward--what?
heaven   hell   oblivion   dark energy waking?

I don't want to slide from my old dead skin

I don't want to feel utterly bare and new
defenseless at dawn    exposed to noon
shrouded by the cold shadows of dusk

I don't want to grow  change   die   be born
still    it happens    I surrender    then bow

the fist of my wound hasn't unclenched yet
I still brandish it before me like a shield

but     little by little     fingers break open

as petals packed inside a bursting bud
unfurl to drink the golden light


There is no death. Only
a change of worlds.

-- Chief Seattle --


     No indeed, I don't want to shuck off my old dead skin. It may be worn out and useless now, even an impediment. But at least it's familiar. Once it served and protected me. I could not have survived without it. When I emerge completely and abandon this threadbare husk, I'll feel naked, exposed, vulnerable. Why can't I just stay here, hunker down, and somehow still get by?

     Well, for starters, because I won't "somehow still get by." If I don't grow forward, then inexorably I'll slide back. The status quo is no longer an option--if it ever was. To be alive is to be changing. My freedom is a choice: continue to evolve, facing courageously toward the unknown; or retreat into a suffocatingly decaying shell which ultimately will become my spirit's shroud.

     There's no going back to how things were. I've burned my bridges behind me. I must commit wholeheartedly, keep exploring. What I seek to discover is nothing less than a new, integrated, more authentic self--not totally altered, not utterly unfamiliar; yet transformed, balanced, whole, in a way I've never known before.

     This sounds like a grim struggle, and there's no question at times it's just that. Fear is a powerful false god. I hold on fiercely, let go painfully, grope onward grudgingly. Often it seems I only break out--break through--when I'm forced to, because staying where I am deteriorates into a living nightmare.

     But if that's all there is--desperately trying to escape more suffering--I realize it simply isn't enough. As Thomas Hobbes contended, my existence would be little more than "...nasty, brutish and short." Temporarily avoiding more agony is no sufficient prescription for curing my deepest wound. It reads more like a motto etched with acid over the gates of hell.

     The greatest incentive for embracing growth and change doesn't drive me on, it draws me on. Not desperation, but inspiration, is my overriding motive. I've caught the scent of something miraculous--a healed soul, a redeemed love, a renewed life. Now, nothing less will ever satisfy.

     Here at this pivot point, with these words, I choose life, not death; change, not stagnation; the future, not the past. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I must make the same fateful choice again and again and again. This is my stringent trial, my divine right, my sacred gift. This is the decisive crossroad of my human freedom.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Never Surrender/Always Surrender

                  REPORTING FOR DUTY

ticktock says the clock    click-clack the brain
daylight scuttles in   mincing on naked rat feet
right behind it humps   this hungry world   this
earth-plane shimmy-shake   old slug with teeth

got the heart for it once more   scribbler man--
spewing gouts of incandescent blood at dawn?
nobody knows the password    upside is down
so start over again   like always  scratch  claw

scramble  find a way  bust out   break through
the demon   the angel   they wait in the cracks
zigzagging crazily from Ground Zero  just take
that first wound on the left     you can't miss it


And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses--
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

-- Anna Akhmatova --


     There are times, like now, when just trying to cope with what this world throws down seems more than I can bear. Stuff keeps on coming, from every angle, and each hit feels like a bull's-eye. Multiply this across so many decades, and you could say my resistance has worn pretty thin. It doesn't take much anymore to stick it in and twist it, right to the bone.

     I'm still juking here, jibing there, doing my best, straining to juggle all these rusty knives. But I'm getting terribly tired; my will falters; my concentration slips. Sooner or later I fear, I'm going to miss one, badly, and it'll wind up quivering blade-deep in my own chest.

     Whatever this particular combination of personal karma, deliberate abuse, or the way life often just happens, there are limits to my endurance, to my will to keep on despite every adversity. After I exceed those limits, I simply can't take any more. I want to give up. And yet...I don't. I go on anyway--without much hope, against all odds, no matter what the cost. How can that be?

     The best answer I've been able to come up with is pure paradox: "Never Surrender/Always Surrender." Unless I consciously live both sides of this paradox--and in exacting priority and relationship--I'm cooked. But if I can somehow penetrate the conundrum, solve the riddle, and achieve the transcending synthesis, then there's no obstacle I can't overcome.

     The key: know what never to surrender to, and what always to surrender to; and also understand that these two crucial choices must occur simultaneously--they're each just halves of a far greater whole. I can only have the courage to never surrender, if at the same time I have the humility to always surrender. Without practicing both realities, I'll never make it.

     What is it to which I must never surrender? Every soulless, fractured, cruel, negative, ignorant, violating, hateful, selfish, greedy, terrifying, brutal, dehumanizing energy--both inner and outer--which threatens to crush and consume me. No matter how overwhelmed I feel, how battered and beaten, against these I must stand bravely and hold my ground.

     Which seems of course an impossible demand, and surely is, unless...unless it's coupled inseparably with the second part of the paradox--always surrender. But always surrender to what? To the infinite and eternal Essence which inspires my beleaguered heart, instructs my fallible mind and animates my mortal flesh; to my deepest Source and highest Self; to the Divine Presence which is always there, nearer than my own breath, hidden within me.

     Where my ego's limited self ends, my spirit's Greater Self takes over. When my mind's finite capacity maxes out, my soul's boundless intuition begins to play. As my heart's waves of passion and courage subside, something much older and wiser inside sinks down roots and grips hard, thrusting below time, grief, suffering, even death.

     All are facets of the Holy Mystery I discover at the innermost core of my being; and it's to that Holy Mystery alone I must always surrender. Only then can I find peace at last, whatever assails me, and no longer be afraid.

     Never Surrender/Always Surrender: these are two declensions of a single reality. We are transient flesh--inspired by Immortal Spirit!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Healing And Serving


sit in silence now    let your heart come to rest
you've ridden the passionate wave long enough
words jetting forth   gouts of blood on the page

such was the sacrifice you were called to make
and you poured it out to the last agonized drop
the syntax of horror     transmuted into ecstasy

your choice was neither sublime nor ridiculous
only the needful work of service in this world
if or how it made a difference--not your concern

but you were changed by it    purged through it
what was blinding wound     now teaching scar
the giving brought the healing     it set you free


My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

-- Dylan Thomas --


     From the wound came the word. The word was the spoken blood which kept on pouring--dark and clotted or bright and burning. Poetry began as the blind, groping voice of my anguished soul.

     I didn't know this then, as a teenager. Or, if I did, I wasn't aware of knowing. I just wrenched open an inner spigot and out it came. Nor did I realize how crude and clumsy those first fumbling literary efforts were. Yet they were the only way I could express a reality I didn't even understand. Something enormous, horrifying, implacable, had smashed into my world and splintered my being. Writing those earliest poems was my desperate, brave, lonely, impossible attempt to impose some kind of meaning and order on what seemed utterly meaningless, totally obliterating.

     So began what turned out to be the creative challenge of a lifetime. Gradually however, over the years, writing poetry came to stand for more than just an indispensable cathartic outpouring of emotions; more even than my imagination's keen delight in discovery, or my mind's growing mastery at crafting those inner visions into finished works of art.

     During a later period of raw personal upheaval, poetry emerged as a spiritual vocation. I was called to surrender my ego; to open my consciousness as a conduit for a higher Creative Energy, to offer myself as a vessel of loving service. The cost of making this choice cannot be exaggerated--other than to say "everything." I lost my life as it had been, as I wanted and expected it should be. In exchange, I was given the chance to experience a Greater Life--the Life of "We" rather than "Me"--the Life of the healed, boundless and liberated soul.

     But the only way to this new, Greater Life led through an ever deeper plumbing of the depths of my shattered psyche. That speaking blood still had to stream forth, whether in agony, ecstasy, or from somewhere--everywhere--in between. The long, slow, difficult struggle for psychological healing, and the equally long, slow, exacting labor of creative offering merged, became one.

     There's no redemptive climax to this arduous inner journey if the blood simply flows on forever, the vital healing never happens. Explore a primal wound profoundly enough though, and eventually--blessedly!--you pierce right through to the other side; to the soul's original, pristine wholeness, before all violation or betrayal, any stain of grief and loss.

     The core breakage doesn't go away. Damage was done which can't be undone. It changed me, permanently. But now I've reached beyond it to a purer, clearer, transcendent dimension of my being. Coming home to this Eternal Reality inside; living wholeheartedly from this Universal Consciousness, I experience my childhood trauma and its aftermath not as a blinding wound, but as a teaching scar.

     Poetry--the speaking blood, the unhealed wound's witness--is finally draining dry. There's only a little left at the bottom of the well. But I can understand and accept this now. It's not a symptom of writer's block or creative burnout, but rather a sign I've stayed the harrowing course, sounded the terrifying abyss, and so at last become truly healed, down deep in my soul.

     At the same time, inseparable from the essential task of personal healing, I've sought to express the fullest measure of loving service, from the Highest Source within me, through every spiritual gift in my power. The giving brought the healing. It set me free.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dubious Blessing, Hopeful Curse


nothing learned nothing changed
an old man as confounded
as I was as a child

old fool     old fool
when will you grow up!
fairy tales don't come true
and the fiercer you chase them
the more ridiculous you feel

so chill out   get a grip
you'll die soon enough
in what little time's left
why give yourself more grief?

it's just that I got stuck with
this heart
this heart won't cease wanting
what it can never have

this heart lurches on anyway
dreaming   hoping   searching

you'd think by now
it'd be worn out   broken down

you'd think by now this heart
would stop recklessly
floundering over and over
through love's bitter sea


The heart has its reasons
of which reason itself is unaware.

-- Pascal --


     A dubious blessing, a hopeful curse--that paradox pretty much nails the bittersweet drama of my emotional life. My heart has swelled with inspiring visions of all-fulfilling love--only to be cruelly deflated when they turned out to be actually all-consuming mirages; or else it's crashed and seemingly shattered into irretrievable pieces, only to be miraculously reborn--almost healed and whole again--from the bitter ashes of grief and loss. But one thing never changes: this heart won't cease wanting--wanting something apparently it can never have.

     What can I do? Lecturing my heart about being realistic, practical, using common sense, doesn't work. It laughs in my face and goes right on dreaming, longing, searching. But letting my heart charge full steam ahead chasing after hypnotic illusions doesn't work either. It always ends up lurching disasterously off the rails. The answer, if there is one, most be found by penetrating the glare of the chronic blind spot lying between frustrated inhibition and reckless compulsion.

     For me, the blind spot has proved to be a conditioned incapacity to consistently think and act like a mature, responsible, balanced and empowered adult. Reluctantly, I've had to face it: this vital training was one of several essentials which were short-circuited--deleted from a childhood scarred by family dysfunction, a sibling's tragic death, self-alienation and engulfing emotional trauma.

     Nor did my own intensely subjective, extremely imaginative nature help matters. As a consequence, in too many ways I remained a needy and rebellious adolescent, unable to attain or even envision the centered, integrated adult consciousness indispensable to overcoming this emotionally arrested self-dividedness.

     The still, small voice of my soul's intuitive wisdom was drowned out by the huge, restless clamor of my heart's yearning, my body's desire. There simply was no reliable adult occupying my being's halfway house who could effectively mediate, prioritizing between these polarized inner worlds.

     Understanding this hard-won truth awakened me at last to a redemptive psychological reformulation: aspiring to a hopeful blessing, while also repudiating a dubious curse. Now I could see--there is a means to bridge those two previously sundered sides of myself, a third place, a middle ground: the poised yet flexible stance of a centered, balanced, responsible, assertive and empowered adult.

     No, this heart will never cease wanting. But now it's reconnected to an older, wiser spiritual wisdom deep within me. It's learned to disipline those passionate desires, integrating them with my life's larger meaning, my soul's greater purpose. The pivotal instrument for this transcendent synthesis has been a painstakingly matured mind--a new, balanced, seasoned perspective, achieved through the fullest, most dynamic and creative authority of the living word.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Finding Meaning

                A POINT OF VIEW

that across the gigantic rolling universe
spawning billions and billions of galaxies
seedbeds to trillions and trillions of suns

upon this single infinitesimal dust mote
among innumerable other specks of dust

one oddball talking ape no crazier than
seven billion others   should sit here now

diddling with these convoluted symbols
fascinated by their imagined importance

stones would guffaw if they had a voice


And I said to my spirit:
When we become the enfolders of those orbs,
and the pleasure and knowledge
of everything in them,
shall we be filled and satisfied then?
And my spirit said:
No, we but level that lift
to pass and continue beyond.

-- Walt Whitman --


     Here's the perspective of our planet which modern astronomy reveals--Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot"--except much tinier and even more insignificant. Consider just one drop from all the world's oceans, or one grain of sand from all its beaches and deserts--these still wouldn't be as overwhelmed by number and immensity as Earth is by the breathtaking vastness of our ever-expanding universe.

     Then add to this cosmic revelation the fact that any individual is merely one of almost seven billion other human beings crammed onto this infinitesimal dust mote--well, do the math. Any appraisal of a person's worth based primarily on size, power and quantity must equal virtually absolute zero.

     It's hard to over-emphasize how much this staggering awareness now pervades our contemporary consciousness and underlies the taint of meaninglessness which increasingly infects it. We can so easily feel annihilated by the billions of light years suddenly encountered through this explosion of the boundaries of time and space.

     In reality though, most of us, most of the time, aren't thinking about this at all. We're too busy scrambling to hold onto a job, make a buck, pay the bills, sort out our personal problems, and basically just keep our own private little boats afloat. Who cares about the Big Bang, if our intimate, immediate, emotionally riveting world is collapsing all around us?

     This split between the background of our cosmic condition and the foreground of our myopic obsession exposes the crux of an existential crisis. We no longer celebrate a communal, over-arching spiritual narrative which could healingly reconnect these two extreme polarities. Instead, we're left with a claustrophobic preoccupation with practical survival and material consumption on one hand; and modern science's strictly secular and empirical insistence on a gigantic but soulless universe on the other. It seems the little question of what it all means--what we all mean--got lost in translation somewhere between the shopping mall and the void.

     What can we do about this? How do we restore real meaning and true purpose to our lives, when those sustaining myths and religions by which so many lived in agreement for thousands of years no longer speak to us?

     One answer: abandon belief in the legitimacy of any such redemptive metaphysical explanations, concentrating instead exclusively on worldly success, material rewards, and the illusion of lifelong security. This is the huge majority's cynical choice in our capitalist Western Society, despite mainly token religious affiliations, and we see by now where it leads.

     But there is another choice, for those with the courage to make it: to discover and express our own personal myth--that compelling and transforming narrative which reveals the hidden meaning, directing purpose, and intrinsic destiny of our unique, individual existence. This path is demanding however; it requires our complete inward surrender.

     That's one half of the challenge. The other: to weave this personal meta-story, along with the just-realized vocation which accompanies it, into the ever-expanding fabric of a new spiritual community, one composed of other intrepid explorers who are doing exactly the same thing.

     This new spiritual community now emerging--in actual fact, a new paradigm--is intuitive, unconventional, flowing, creative, multi-valanced, and largely invisible. We won't be officially joining up, following the rules and procedures, nor attending regular meetings or services. There'll be no Ten Commandments engraved on stone tablets; not even helpful answers printed in the back of any book.

     The only sure guide will be that Still Small Voice whispering from our innermost souls, inspiring us to focus all our private destinies into a renewed public vision of spiritual community--and then, once more, as we've always done, to poise this beacon bravely against the towering scale of the stars...


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Small Gifts

         WILD HEART

a poem can freeze to death
like a kitten in a blizzard

or burrow down deep
beneath drifts of snow
and ride out the storm

this poem does neither

instead it asks to be held
comforted     crooned to

it wants you to take it home
feed it     make up its bed
from some old blanket
chatter to it about anything
stroke it while it purrs

this poem says love me

its wild tiny heart
beats like a prayer
in your hands


Great ideas come into the world
 as gently as doves.
Perhaps then, if we listen attentively,
we shall hear amid the uproar
of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings,
the gentle stirring of life and hope.

-- Albert Camus --


     Sometimes very small, seemingly unimportant gifts come our way which are easy to overlook. They're so quiet and unassuming. Our first impulse, if we notice them at all, is simply to persist in the direction we're already going, focused intently on reaching that next dazzling goal. Without achieving it we believe we can never be truly happy or blessed. Yet all the while the real treasure is right there in front of us, offered freely into our hands, if only we have the humility to receive it, the ears to hear, the eyes to see.

     You know what started this whole universe? Not the much-ballyhooed Big Bang--that was just the climax of a miracle, not its genesis. The beginning of everything must have been an infinitesimal blink in endless nothingness, a change so seemingly insignificant not even the nothingness itself registered it. But when that original, minute, solitary point appeared in otherwise overwhelming pointlessness, a cosmic seed suddenly awakened which ultimately sprouted into all the numberless blossoms of the galaxies!

     It took me a long time to realize this. My ego trip was all about the Big Picture, the Grand Gesture, the Dramatic Impact, the Earth-shaking Revelation! I was convinced that's where the action was--so that's where I wanted to be. I couldn't be bothered to slow down, quiet down, simmer down. I wanted nothing less than to save the world--and for the world to be eternally grateful afterward.

     Well, the world has yet to be saved--by me or anyone else. Meanwhile though,  I wonder how many simple but priceless gifts I missed out on because I was too busy and distracted.

     No more. "May my heart always be open to little / birds, who are the secrets of living" e.e. cummings wrote. Those "little birds" show up in multiple guises--usually unexpectedly, often inconveniently, always as messengers whose meanings are inseparable from the mystery of their own irreplaceable existence.

     Whenever they do arrive, it seems we find every excuse imaginable to blank out and walk heedlessly by. Yet if we don't; if instead we stop, turn, pay attention, and gently receive them, we discover a passageway to the secret reality of things, and our lives are changed forever.

     One such humble messenger might be a poem--if that poem speaks from the deepest truth, its words entering your soul and planting a kernel of illumination there. If this should happen, it means for one timeless instant the poet surrendered his or her own self-centered ego, thereby permitting a usually narrow, limited, individual consciousness to expand into yet another wide-open channel for the still, small voice of Divinity.

     That still, small voice is the hidden Essence of every truly humble yet infinitely precious gift. Its message is Joy, and its fulfillment is Love.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wild Card

                     (for May)

we can't reckon with this wildest card

it's always gotta tango bass-ackwards
always break out from the wrong end
always careen fiercely against the grain

I wonder which perverse proto-quark
right there in the throes of the Big Bang
before direction was even conceivable
decided "I'm gonna do things MY way!"

since then the deck's been unstackable

smirking inside the fiery nuts and bolts
of the Universe   that Contrary does a jig
then a jog       then a reverse dipsy-doo!

so if I kiss you you might just smack me
if I search for God    I may find a pickle
if I leave now     I could arrive yesterday

what a weird   subversive   unholy mess!
it's a head-on collision--with ourselves!

each night I pray my life will Shape Up

each day I take back my chicken prayer


Energy is Eternal Delight.

--William Blake --


     Something there is that doesn't love a mall. Something there is that absolutely loathes whatever seems too tidy, proper, conventional and predictable. Something there is that always busts through unexpectedly out of nowhere, upsetting all our self-satisfied expectations, knocking all our fastidious plans into a cocked hat.

     We can call it the Devil, the Shadow, the Duende, Old Chaos, the Dark Side of the Force, it doesn't care. It just goes on doing what it's always done--heaving a big, nasty monkey wrench right into the workings of even the most perfectly meshing gears.

     It took me a long time to grasp that this subversive, uncontrollable Wild Card is in fact a necessary, inescapable part of existence. It not only pervades the entire universe, but also coils--perverse and untamed--deep down inside me. Whenever I get too cocky, too over-confident, too proud of my mind's presumptuous determination to chop logic, keep everything in precise order, control all important events, I can be sure that one way or another this primeval side of my nature will rear up and pull the rug fiercely out from under me.

     For which I'm finally learning to be grudgingly but genuinely grateful.

     Like most of us, I was condition by my upbringing, and in general by our global, westernized, supremely technological and materialistic civilization, to over-value mental mastery at the expense of my innate, unconscious, instinctual wisdom. On top of this, I was afflicted by deep personal doubts and often intense anxieties, so I found it all too easy to clutch at the delusion that my exceptional intellect could somehow conquer, or at least effectively manage, my worst insecurities and fears.

     But this desperate, stopgap, non-solution merely served to split me apart inside, polarizing sense and spirit, heart and will, mind and gut. The more obsessively I tried to dominate my mounting fear and rage through rigid enforcement by my intellect, the more ferocious and rebellious my still wild and stubbornly primal nature became. Talk about a no-win scenario!

     There was only one ultimate cure for this profound self-alienation: I had to acquire the hard-won humility to surrender my intellectual arrogance and so return once more to a holistic condition of psychological balance and healthy spiritual centering. Little did I realize when I started: my whole being's inner realignment would be nothing less than a life's work.

     To achieve this essential transformation, I've had to become less eager to flaunt my brain power, and correspondingly more attuned to the promptings of my core instincts. Compulsively denying them was never a viable option.

     My only real choice is between either repeatedly suffering the destructive eruption of these unnaturally repressed urges, again and again capsizing my world; or else finding some way at last to effectively integrate intellect and instinct--which also means fully accepting, rather than chronically resisting, those dark, irrational, elemental energies of existence.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Everyday Things


after you're blindsided by the avatar of a wound
after the exposed nerve
                                 gets bull's-eyed once again
after you recoil with knee-jerk
                                            shock and disbelief
after fear    rage    pain
                               ricochet through your bones

after you blunder on anyway   
                                             exiled from reality
after crashing finally   
                               unstrung with grief and loss
after you freeze solid under
                                         the glacier of despair
after blindly clawing a way out    death by death

don't try to come back just yet
                                             to the living world
or expect to stroll among others as if you belong
even sunlight glaring off a crust of ice
                                                      will agonize
the crow's caw-cawing
                               slices you like a rusty blade

water those plants first
                                    you know they're thirsty
then take care of all that laundry that's piled up
at the smell of fresh towels you'll begin to heal
sanity returns
                  in the sorting and matching of socks


Before enlightenment,
chopping wood and carrying water.
After enlightenment,
chopping wood and carrying water.

-- Buddhist Teaching --


     Sometimes only the simplest, most basic and routine experiences stand between us and going off the deep end. A new crisis can strike violently out of nowhere, or an old wound gets ripped wide open again. Nothing seems real anymore--especially not ourselves. Anything unknown, unfamiliar, feels fraught with danger, bristling with threat. At such hours, more than ever, we cling gratefully to the everyday--what has always been and always happened the same way; what we desperately long to believe always will.

     The plants need watering. You know how to do that, the same way you always have. The water pours from the spout as water has always done, and the thirsty soil soaks it up at the same reliable rate. The torn heart can find a brief refuge here; the shattered mind focuses on a practical task, the scraped-raw senses are soothed and calmed. It's not an answer. Maybe there isn't one. But for a little while at least you're granted a temporary respite, and it seems more than blessing enough.

     Yet is this merely a case of retreating miserably into the mundane, boring and predictable? Or has the soul unexpectedly been wounded so ruthlessly awake, been knocked so far off its customary somnolent traces, that now--maybe for the first time--you discover how precious, sacred and meaningful every single living moment truly is. To the busy and distracted, watering the plants is a bothersome chore. But those who cringe before one of the countless faces of death know otherwise--it's a privilege, a trust, a miracle.

     Whether we admit it or not, here we encounter one reason Carl Jung wrote: "There is no coming to consciousness without pain." The miracle of the everyday is always present, but gradually we allow our childlike wonder and openness to become blunted and dulled as the years pass by.

     We get so caught up brooding over the past or worrying about the future--trying to control life instead of living it--that we go blind to the sacred beauty hidden in plain sight. But when a great trauma overtakes us, we're forced back into the arena of Here, the crucible of Now.

     Then we must wrestle with the affliction which dragged us back, but we're also given the opportunity to soulfully reconnect with the supposedly unimportant, humdrum minutia of our daily existence--not only watering the plants, but feeding the cat, chopping up vegetables, washing the dishes, taking out the trash and, yes, doing the laundry.

     In a world where nightmare can morph into crushing fact in a heartbeat--and does so every day, somewhere, all over the planet, for millions--is there any salve more healing than the smell of fresh, warm towels, just pulled from the dryer? Can any grace exceed the humble sanity of sitting quietly in the bedroom, sorting and matching socks?

     These everyday things we need, if we treat them lovingly, love us back--by being familiar, useful, trustworthy and enduring. They help us to bear the relentless harrowing of time...


Tuesday, August 31, 2010


                     FOOL'S JOURNEY

I used to have a lot to say     or thought I did
now I sit quietly    facing silence    emptiness
immense snowdrifts towering across my mind
they're almost too deep    too perfect   to mar

living alone    lost among these white summits
no rushing or straining        desire or demand
why would I want to go back to that ballyhoo
my spirit's at home here    my heart finds rest

if you want to know me    climb to this place
lofty and secret       hidden among the clouds
the way is steep yet clear to one who is ready
but to all others it seems the journey of a fool


Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

-- Han-Shan --


     I used to love to strut at center stage, charged with poetry, passion, energy and, yes, plenty of ego too. All eyes were upon me, all ears riveted to my words. I was damn good, and I knew it! A huge side of me adored this limelight.

     But another, withdrawn, private me felt acutely exposed, embarrassed and vulnerable. That part just wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. I was split between alternately experiencing myself either as a dramatic, solar, irrepressible extrovert, or as a solitary, lunar, inaccessible introvert. The showoff and the recluse struggled for supremacy in my soul.

     Somehow though, over many years of trial and error, I've managed to discover a third place, a pivot point of difficult yet artful balance, a spiritual center neither compulsively expressive nor obsessively retreating. It's far removed from the hectic hurly-burly of the everyday world--"cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown." But it's also a beacon of welcoming openness, an invitation to intimate encounter and transparent communion.

     This third place is the home of my spirit, that transpersonal dimension most directly identified with the infinite and eternal Essence of all life, all being. Those "white summits" are both symbol and metaphor. The extreme challenge of physically climbing a great mountain is the dangerous outer counterpart of the soul's inner pilgrimage, its arduous ascent to a lofty height of vision, wholeness and serenity.

     This necessary journey of transformation is the original purpose of all authentic religious practices--to serve as a structured, supportive, yet purging crucible in which the base lead of opaque ego might painstakingly be transmuted into the pure gold of selfless illumination. Another, softer, metaphor: religion as the cocoon in which a caterpillar dies, to emerge reborn as a butterfly...

     Like all other traditional institutions during our chaotic age of upheaval and disintegration however, the world's religions have calcified. They've lost their capacity to fulfill that original, indispensable function--as a bridge across which the human soul might escape from its tragic enslavement to fear, rage, pain and death, at last attaining true liberation.

     But this spiritual exodus must be undertaken nevertheless. By default, it's become the responsibility of each individual, unaided by surefire answers in the back of any book. All those old, reliable climbing ropes, even the sturdiest of ladders affixed long ago, have been torn down or swept away. Each of us now must be prepared to risk radical uncertainty, to enact a willingness to face courageously into the Unknown.

     I say this, and I know this to be true; while at the same time I'm scared--right down to the innermost marrow. Although I can only complete this total spiritual metamorphosis as an individual, not as part of any group, I also realize I can't do it alone. I'd perish from loneliness, plunging into the gaping crevasse of my own fear, anguish and despair.

     It turns out I have a crucial need for spiritual companionship: "If you want to know me, climb to this place." There's no way I can pass through the eye of such a cosmic storm by myself. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: "No words can express the abyss between isolation and having one ally."

     One person climbing alone is a fatal accident waiting to happen. But two, climbing together, become a saving lifeline, each for the other. The way is steep yet clear to those who are ready, though to everyone else it may seem a journey of fools.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Deep Ocean


for the ten thousand things

for every no-thing else

sooner or later
you're heading to deep ocean
words love to play on the shore

they're happiest there
frisky!      at home among
crowded beaches     busy docks
people coming and going
all that hustle and bustle

but the farther you swim
alone into uncharted waters
the panickier words become

cold   exhausted   one by one
they sink beneath the waves

until at last only a handful

struggle on blindly


like this


What else should our lives become
but a continual series of beginnings,
of painful settings out into the unknown.

-- David Malouf --


     Every true writer who practices the craft long enough, pursuing it with unswerving dedication, eventually arrives at a humbling reality--the profoundest insights and experiences are beyond words. At best, language can recognize those depths, describe them meticulously, even strikingly evoke them. But the mind alone, although bringing to bear its entire, potent arsenal of symbolic expression, ultimately encounters a threshold which human speech cannot cross.

     Here's an example. For many years a graceful plant has sprouted improbably from a crack in the wall behind a washing machine in the basement of my apartment building. Every winter that plant seemingly shrivels up and dies for good. Yet each spring it grows back again, never failing, inspiring me with hope. I don't even know what kind of plant it is, but this doesn't matter. It's my friend. We've bonded.

     But today, when I went down to do my laundry, I glanced at the space behind the washing machine and saw--nothing. The plant, which had flourished there each summer for as long as I can remember, was gone--uprooted, destroyed. In a corner of the room I found a pile of brown, disintegrating stems and leaves--all that remained.

     I was stunned, angry, incredulous. Why would anyone do such a thing? The plant was harming nothing, hurting no one. It wasn't even in the way, just quietly living its own beautiful, sacred, innocent life, reborn miraculously every spring behind the washing machine. Its perennial resurgence encouraged and inspired me whenever I did my laundry. But no more...

     This has been a painful, disturbing experience. And I could go on to write many more words about my intense emotions; my concerns over nature and the environment, the wider implications of what this type of wantonly destructive, desecrating attitude means for the future of our planet. And all that would be well worth saying. But it could never get to the crux of the matter. It could never adequately articulate the void of loss, this grief over a severing, I now feel. There are no words for these.

     So yes, absolutely--let our marvelous languages frisk and cavort on the busy shore! May they continue to delight, challenge, instruct, amuse, suprise, provoke and engage us. As one who's called to create with words; who loves to work and play, quarry and build, explore and discover with them, I'm overwhelmingly grateful for such a transforming gift.

     But I've also had to learn inescapable limits--those times I'm forced to venture alone through uncharted waters, out to dangerous depths where even the bravest words finally panic, then grow cold, exhausted, and sink beneath the waves.

     After that, there's only silence, the unknown, and my naked, speechless soul...


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

True Seeing


not a world to possess but a way to see
looking slantwise at just the right angle
everything's the same yet utterly different
we must go blind to our everyday eyes

not a noise to make but a singing silence
we live by a music which can't be heard
when the ears inside my ears are opened
these chains that grip my heart will break


How do you know but every bird
that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight,
closed by your senses five?

-- William Blake --


     We live in many different worlds. One is the everyday, sensory, material experience of tangible things, practical activities, survival priorities, and inescapable laws of cause and effect. Another however, is eternal, invisible, mysterious and profound, a realm of Infinite Spirit interpenetrating our lives at every point--although we're usually blithely unaware of its existence, since it's hidden so transparently in plain sight.

     Our soul's primary challenge isn't simply to awaken this vital spiritual dimension; but also, through a long and arduous journey spanning many lifetimes, to learn at last to place the imperatives of Spirit uncompromisingly first, no matter what. This is the soul's supreme task and everything depends on our accomplishing it--even as we lurch distractedly along, enmeshed in the most secular, cynical and drastically materialistic civilization in history.

     Here's the reason we must become deaf to our everyday ears and go blind to our everyday eyes. Our ultra-commercialized culture bombards our minds, senses, emotions and instincts relentlessly through the overwhelming and ubiquitous assault of the Information Superhighway. By every advanced technological means available we're seduced and manipulated to focus our undivided attention on external rewards and addictive possessions--to such an extent that the very existence of an internal, transcendent, Spiritual Reality is largely forgotten or even outright rejected.

     As the poet/artist William Blake wrote: "We always believe a lie/ When we see with, not through, the eye." What he meant was this: our true locus of meaning, value and wisdom doesn't originate in what we perceive with our senses, as vivid and even enthralling as that can be. Rather, significance only evolves from inner vision, that limitless universe of our unfettered, far-ranging creative imagination. This interior cosmos, at its highest, most intimate source of illumination, is the essence of the Eternal Spirit.

     The polar opposite direction from the material, sensory, pragmatic, everyday world--that's where I must go to acquire the distance, perspective and insight I need to ratify my own identity and engage more effectively with the events and forces constantly impacting it. Otherwise, as the saying goes, I can't even see the forest because of all the trees.

     Invisible Spirit is the messenger of content, meaning, purpose, direction, pattern, relationship and understanding. Without its wise teaching and clear guidance I first flounder and then drown in a chaotic sea of objects, hungers and sensations destitute of all those indispensable qualities. Only when the ears inside my ears are radically opened, will I discover a music which can't be heard. Only after I go blind to my everyday eyes, will I finally begin to see...


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Staring Into The Abyss


Is it a choice then       to stop rappeling
deeper and deeper into the dark   to say

I will halt here               turn back now

yet the rapture of the void's so powerful
the sucking pull to plunge down   down
crooning the shivery anthem of oblivion

part of me's in love with that      always
no one could ever find me there     hurt
me there  flung beyond fear   rage  pain
snuggled between gone and nothingness

but I think I'll stop here   turn back now
my last frayed lifeline just might    snap

this is no place to strand a human heart


We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
for a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold
And the empty desolation.

-- T.S. Eliot --


     When we suffer a grievous soul wound, especially as a child, the psyche splinters into many pieces, and we become those pieces. For the rest of our lives, we may careen back and forth from one jagged shard of our being to another, struggling to achieve through a precarious, sequential balancing act the barest minimum personal coherence to replace that original wholeness and integration we've lost.

     So it was with me. And like all broken ones, I had a certain "favorite" fragment of myself, a compartmentalized aspect of my identity where I felt strongest, safest, most protected and secure. This seeming security was an illusion of course--an ultimately sterile, polarized, self-defeating dead end. Yet at the same time, for a terrified and desperate child, that secret hideout provided an indispensable refuge. It was the lonely, pitch-black, storm cellar where he could hunker down to survive an otherwise devouring tornado of horror, anguish and despair.

     I speak of the void. Not just the wilderness, the desert, or the untamed frontier. The Void. Off the planet. Outside the solar system. Beyond the galaxy. A sliver of my being launched itself like a rocket toward the coldest, darkest, emptiest reaches of the universe, escaping into a dimension as physically, emotionally and spiritually alienated as possible from the intimate, suffocating family cocoon--that ground zero of my scathing trauma and brutal shattering. No one would ever find me here, I thought. No one could ever hurt me like that again--not here.

     In one sense, I was right. I'd plumbed the nadir, discovered the absolute antithesis of all interpersonal relationship. Not only this, but in doing so I also experienced a species of perverse epiphany. Except instead of uniting in transcendent Oneness with all creation, I felt almost completely obliterated by blasting Nothingness--and learned to my chagrin there was a side of me which craved just that. Make no mistake--the compulsion toward heroic extinction can be profound, powerful, addictive, even ecstatic. We'll never fully come to grips with the deepest realities of our existence unless we comprehend this.

     Here's the great danger of a pathological isolation which strains to break all emotional bonds in order to insulate the self against any threat of vulnerability and every devastation of grief and loss. If my drastically solitary soul can no longer fulfill its intrinsic need for healing connection with others, inexorably it will plummet into the bottomless abyss gaping at the core of all such radical estrangement.

     But since the essence of the soul is always to worship, and always to seek ultimate oneness with whatever it worships, this psychological disintegration must inevitably devolve into a torrid love affair with death--a hypnotic seduction by the rapture of the void.

     I said "almost" completely obliterated. That "almost" has been my salvation. Wounded and terrified as I was, nonetheless I never totally surrendered my thirst for authentic communion, my hunger for consoling companionship. The relational bond I could not salvage with my family, somehow I managed to forge anew with my friends. They became my surrogate family, a Godsend which literally made the difference between life and death.

     So it's come to pass that my closest, most trusted friends are now my staunch and irreplaceable spiritual lifelines--for we each understand a painfully hard-won truth: the void is no place to strand a human heart...


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Code Of Nothingness

                    BLIND SPOT

logic tumbles into it     common sense
even warning sirens which should howl

snap out of it stupid--that way's disaster!

it's the black hole devouring my galaxy
the shifty bermuda triangle I drown in

no matter how hard I try     I can't see
the train wreck      can't see I can't see

how do I crack the code of nothingness

bless me father for I have sinned  sinned
knowing      not knowing      this heart

blundering and dangerous     this heart
unable to leap even the smallest chasm

not in a single bound    not in a lifetime



     No one could ever accuse me of not being passionate and impulsive in my affections. When my heart's engaged, my imagination inspired and my desires aroused, I become obsessive, projecting the most optimistic outcomes on the most unrealistic relationships. Once in the grip of such self-delusion I throw caution--not to mention common sense--to the winds.

     This happened again just recently when I tried to rekindle a connection I myself had severed many months before. Nevertheless, I could not get the person out of my head. Lonely, frustrated, looking for someone special to love, I rationalized away the reasons I'd ended the relationship in the first place--even convinced myself the mistakes, the issues, were mostly all my own. Yikes! Did I ever get slam-dunked--emphatically rejected so fast and furiously I'm still feeling bruised.

     What did Pogo say? "We have met the enemy, and they are us." I brought this minor but painful emotional catastrophe on myself, because I still hadn't bridged the dangerous divide between the intensity of my passions and the vulnerability of my soul. Additionally, I permitted my extravagant imagination to overwhelm my careful attention to the cold, hard, elementary facts. In short, I got pulled off my spiritual center, skewered out of psychological harmony. The universe responded with a sharp and virtually instantaneous correction.

     Have I learned anything--finally? Can I now avoid making the same addictive blunder in the future which I've made so many times in the past? Surely, even the densest personal blind spot can be penetrated if we become desperate enough--battered into surrender from beating our beings bloody over and over again against the same, unbudgeable brick wall. What's the secret to transcending this excruciating impasse?

     The only answer that comes to me: balance, Balance, BALANCE--finding the essential balance between my emotion and my action; my imagination and my perception; my desire and my intelligence; the freedom of my spirit and the imperative of my flesh.

     Like everyone, I have stronger aspects of my personality, and weaker ones. Like everyone, I tend to over-invest in the former, while shortchanging the latter. Seeing with unvarnished clarity just how and why these imbalances play out in my own psyche is one crucial step; taking effective measures to correct these imbalances as a result of such illumination--that's the next.

     I have to face it--I'll always be a romantic idealist, believing against all odds and repeated adverse experiences that "love conquers all." My heart will always be eager to plunge recklessly ahead, following its deepest longings and keenest visions, all flags flying. This will never change. What must change however, is my assumption that just because I'm wired that way--through the convergence of inherited nature and parental nurture (or lack thereof)--I can unreservedly charge forward on those terms. I can't. I've tried. It hurts too much.

     With this realization, won so dearly, I reach the threshold of a greater wisdom. The pivotal point where everything pouring out so uniquely from my inner universe encounters everything unknown and uncontrollable approaching it from the world outside--that's my indispensable locus of true balance, adult empowerment and realistic transformation. It's the only arena where this particular romantic idealist can both meaningfully influence, and sensibly adjust to, the indisputable facts of life.