Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beyond Words


talking about    what's beyond talk
        presents certain challenges

look! here it isn't               again...

the grass grows back each year
                            without a word

the sun
       doesn't need a big vocabulary

and dusk    haven't you noticed
                       how quietly it falls

we're always making such a racket
every tiniest crack of silence
              gets crammed with noise

          but one day
Light will open and take us inside

   then we'll gladly stop all that


The great masters' entire teaching
can be found on the tips
of the ten thousand grasses.



     Ever since I can remember, grass has been my friend. As a boy, going off by myself or with other friends to a park in summer was a limitless passport to fun, freedom, exploration and adventure. It seemed the sky was always a clear, dazzling blue; the unchanging sun shone benevolently, forever at high noon, and those endless fields of rippling grass spread away invitingly on all sides. I discovered then that life was infinite, and so was I.

     Such are the tricks which memory plays--especially when, as C.S. Lewis put it, we're incontestably "surprised by joy!" I carry these timeless, crystalline hours inside me still, a healing spring of fresh, cold water I can drink from, even on the driest desert days. But my most intimate communion, I realize now, was with the grass. Sooner or later there I was, stretched out on my back under a tree, eyes closed, heart wide open, lolling on an enormous bed that was itself a breathing, living, growing thing!

     There were no words to this experience, and really no words I use now can possibly describe it. It was a primal connection completely bypassing my word-besotted brain, reaching right down through my blood, my bones, all the way into my soul. Out of utter innocence and inexperience, I'd managed to stumble onto a world of pure being, a state of sheer, luminous, inexplicable grace. There no longer was any distinction between the sky and me, the sun and me, the earth and me, the grass and me. We were all One.

     I can't help but contrast my recollection of those radiant moments with our postmodern addiction to television, cell phones, Blackberries, I-Pods, Face Book, Twitter. What an endless, incessant, overwhelming, benumbing babble--and Babel! Words about everything, and nothing. Words unhinged from facts, meaning, reality. Words confusing, seducing, cajoling, lambasting, deceiving, threatening, parading, pleading, insisting, outraging.

     Words infest our consciousness like billions of swarming nano-robots. Words never stopping, never leaving us alone, never allowing room for privacy, reflection, solitude. Words dragging us further and further from the truth--only in a Silence beyond words can we come home to our real selves.

     Here's the priceless lesson the grass taught me. I felt it there, knew it there, closer than my own fascinating thoughts, most original ideas or grandest imaginings! The grass was wordless, humble, open, real, unresisting, as if we'd known each other forever--and we have.

     This transforming encounter never could have happened though, without the benediction of Silence. I wasn't talking at anybody. Nobody was talking at me. I wasn't even talking to myself! For once, I was simply, deeply, genuinely listening. That's when Light opened and took me inside...



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Mystic Rose

                 A ROSE

does it matter that I loved a rose
     trying to hold on with words
                  it always dies
what's left                 only ashes

we tell ourselves there's
                  some deathless thing
The Rose       eternal symbol
   fixed forever in the mind's eye

but that's a lie
           paltry consolation at best

all we have finally     this glorious
             heartbreaking instant
a bud  the blossoming  then decay

so don't gabble on about Beauty
splitting hairs over "real" or "ideal"

just thrust into these living hands
rose after rose after rose after rose

even if the thorns make them bleed


In the driest white stretch
of pain's infinite desert
I lost my sanity
and found this rose.



     What business does a writer have anymore, prattling about a rose? If ever a subject was done to death by poets, dreamers, lovers, surely it's this one. And if literary overkill isn't reason enough, the heart-crushing genocides of the 20th century, not to mention those so far in the 21st, spew sufficient horror to obliterate the last tawdry shreds of romantic idealism.

     Try imagining a rose growing inside the gas chambers of Auschwitz, or sprouting from the killing fields of Cambodia, of Darfur. The visions are blasphemous! Nor will some doe-eyed flower child redeem them, playfully sheathing her blossom in the barrel of a terrorist's AK-47. She's that bullet-riddled corpse sprawled on the sidewalk.

     We're forced to admit--our naive illusions have been destroyed forever, and along with them it seems, we've lost the childlike innocence and unquestioning trust essential if we're to be inspired by a rose's almost otherworldly beauty. In fact, the very notion of "beauty" itself has been dumped on the postmodern trash heap, and numberless idols of surpassing ugliness are now paraded in its wake.

     Nietzsche wrote: "If you stare into an abyss long enough, the abyss stares back into you." Anyone who's truly awake today has stared long enough into that abyss. What do we do when the abyss stares back? Everything depends on whether we can achieve the transformed and renewed heart to once more fall in love with a rose.

     How is it possible, despite the holocausts I've learned about; despite those others which have blasted my own soul, I can nevertheless still shed purging tears when I nakedly encounter a rose? It must be because the survived ordeals of those outer and inner devastations are an inextricable part of all that makes up my overwhelmed response. But this response, as a consequence, can no longer be to an ideal of beauty, an image of romance, or even a symbol of heavenly bliss. None of those hollow, worn-out abstractions can stand in the blast--they've all been blown away by a hurricane of violence, hatred and death.

     All that remains, all there really ever was, is this untranslatable encounter; this intimate, never-repeated convergence of two living, breathing, perishing creations; this serene, exquisite communion which now and now and now--only and forever now--liberates my spirit from its blinding trance of separation, awakening me at last to a transcendent Reality. The rose and I are One.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010



the lilac bush   the redbud tree   they're back
so am I it seems    blooming one more spring

each time around gets harder    yet freer too
the differences between     smaller     smaller

a spring will come I won't be here     walking
talking    still hungry for a breath       a touch

find me then in the purest explosions of joy
buds    every size   shape   color   blossoming



     My bones are pierced by winter but my heart's always waiting for spring. When I first hear the mourning dove's cry, first see the raw green tip of the crocus spearing above ground, a pang of joy shivers through me. Leaden ice, after thickening and hardening inside for months, at last begins to thaw. I'm an inseparable part of this awakening; an unquenchable rebirth unfurls from the innermost core!

     Yet what a bruising resurrection--this dying animal already feels the famished gravity of a terminal winter it will not survive. I am, after all, just an animated skeleton in fancy dress. On some future PBS Special, that could be my skull the archaeologist holds up to the camera, pointing out an intriguing pattern of telltale cracks. This is the inescapable human condition: I'm born to die, as sure as the sun goes down each day; and yet, even while pondering my own mortality, I become aware of something infinite within me which brooks no intercourse with death.

     Such awareness is not a matter of theory, or even faith. It's an experience, a knowing, an existential Reality. Once we attain it, we don't need anything else to beacon our being's Omega Point. Lose it, and nothing in this whole, extravagant universe can take its place. Here's the tragic affliction of a secular age. We've chucked away a priceless Diamond, a scintillating diadem of consciousness, and in its place erected ten thousand glittering idols compacted from ashes and dust.

     Spring not only releases my senses from constricting cold and ice; it liberates my spirit from the illusion that the essence of who and what I am must inevitably perish, just because my body does. Look! Look at those irrepressible new grass blades thrusting up, right through the ice and snow; and there--the first taut buds of the daffodil bursting open! Listen! Listen to the cardinal proclaiming his brash hullabaloo from the highest branch! How can I deny a resounding response from my own primal depths? Here's the bedrock bottom line. Winter dying? It's only the indispensable womb of spring.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Colored Blocks


is all that's left to tell what I know
not this     not that

just sitting alone in a bright room

being one raindrop of a spring shower

when we put away our colored blocks
the whole space is empty
mind blank       nothing to do

now a real life begins



     When I was a small child I had a set of colored blocks I loved to play with. They were made of wood, and each one had a different large, bright letter of the alphabet printed on all six sides. I can still see those letters, glowing so vividly in my mind's eye! And I still play with them in imagination, then mark down their fascinating combinations on a page, as I'm doing right this moment.

     But just as it was empty space then that provided the playground in which I built my towers of colored blocks, so it's perfect silence now which comprises the canvas on which I paint these intricate patterns of words. They grow from that silence; thrust up through feeling's fertile soil into the quickening light of consciousness; bud, blossom, bear fruit--and then decay, adding in turn their own tiny part to that endlessly renewing resource, that infinite soil of silence.

     We all have our sets of colored blocks, don't we--those magnificent obsessions which, at our best, we transform into creative achievements? Fully expressed, these self-actualizations are the very warp and woof of our culture--of civilization! By them, through them, if we're truly lucky, and blessed, we not only serve others; we also evolve in wisdom, compassion and character. They become spiritual callings through which we realize our destiny.

     Yet our greatest gifts and powers are also our most dangerous seductions and traps. To return to the metaphor of those colored blocks: if I become too mesmerized by them; too enthralled at the marvelous towers I can raise up; too enamored of my own amazing ingenuity, then I'm surely heading for a fall. Sooner or later, those over-elaborate constructs must come tumbling down. They were, after all, only temporary arrangements of perfectly empty space. But I'd forgotten all about the unqualified primacy of the void.

     I suppose this in another way of saying "Being Trumps Doing." Or, to perpetrate a reverse Descartes: "I am. Therefore I think." Being is the empty space, the perfect silence, the infinite soil from which grow all our bravest and finest labors of love. Unless I learn to define my identity, my self-worth, my innermost essence, in unconditional terms of sheer Being first, I'll inevitably attach excessive importance to my achieve- ments. "Look! Look! I can build the tallest, most intricate and dazzling towers of colored blocks! I must be the greatest blockhead of all!" Unfortunately--too true!

     Our real life only begins when we finally surrender equating even a scintilla of self-worth with anything we can do--no matter how unique and astonishing. Total emptiness engulfs even the most ambitious towers of colored blocks. Perfect silence is the womb birthing even the most extraordinary string of eloquent words. Pure Being is all...


Monday, March 1, 2010

The Beginning Place


gruff and needy, jumbled but sparse
which way back to the beginning place
strange to be this walking blank wall

so many cracks in it some small others
huge--let's explore one

here's a boy with his face on crooked
alert yet unconscious at the same time
squally and loud, caged by shadows

he loved to collect glittering stones

there's a girl with an X on her forehead
a dying tree--marked for the chainsaw

red rover red rover let night come over

that was one way to invoke the Powers
another was lying awake in a narrow bed
darkness crowding the corners of the room

secretly awesomely
They towered around
invisible silent summoning

what took him by the hand then

will never let go



I get lost every day. Lost in my fears, my needs, my wounds, my angers, my ego. Lost through the thousand and one ways our world seduces, distracts, demands, cajoles. I flail around all over the map, but I still can't figure out how to get back home.

Which way back to the Beginning Place, to that bright, clear, calm Eye at the center of my life's often furious storm? How do I return to the free, innocent, joyous Child of the Universe I was, and am, and ultimately will always be?

Stripping down bare naked in public is easy these days, and can even earn you a fortune--just ask Lady Ga Ga. Or go to any of a gazillion Internet porn sites. Somebody's getting rich! But the flip side of all this blatant flaunting of exposed bodies, is just how closed off and rigidly armored we are when it comes to honestly, openly, vulnerably, experiencing and revealing our own estranged souls.

Yet this is the only way I know to reconnect to that Beginning Place inside me. Although the further I wander into confusion--running from phantoms of terror, chasing after mirages of desire--the harder it is to find my way back, because the more layers of ego-armor I must painfully strip off first before I can do so.

My ego has one overriding obsession: to prevent me from consciously facing the truth about just how wrong-headed and absurd my false, preening posture of self-importance is. The surefire way to do this, my ego figures, is to perpetrate a dazzling con job on everybody else, then vaunt my paraded magnificence while gazing into the mesmerizing mirror of their presumed adulation.

This flimflam, however, only pulls me further and further from my Beginning Place, since it compels me, more and more, to project the ratification of my identity outside myself, thereby making me utterly dependent on the adulation of others. Whereas the true essence of my being, my real identity, my indestructible self-worth, can only be discovered inside me--paradoxically, only when the noisy, turbulent river of "I" finally disappears at last, emptied into the infinite cosmic ocean of All-That-Is.

Here is my Beginning Place! Here's where the innocent, open, naked, trusting child at the bull's eye of my whole being is always at Home--not separate, isolated, distrustful, enslaved; but connected, embraced, joyful, free! This child knows a secret my ego stubbornly denies: at the primal core of all creation, there is no "I"; there's only WE.

Whatever the cost, however many fears, wounds, rages and resistances I must encounter, nothing's more important than rediscovering that Child of the Universe inside me! As long as I can still do this, then, no matter how far I've strayed, how lost I've become, I'll always be able to find my way back Home. I always know I can begin again.