Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Sound Of No Shore

In the ocean are many bright strands
and many dark strands like veins that are seen
when a wing is lifted up.
Your hidden self is blood in those, those veins
that are lute strings that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of surf,
                            but the sound of no shore.

                                           -- Rumi

     We never come home to the essence of who we are until we experience boundlessness--"the sound of no shore." Our creaturely self must submit to limits, the ultimate of which is physical death. No one, as they say, gets out of this life alive. But there's another way to read the truism: it's only when we become precisely "no one" that we consciously unite with our Eternal Source and so transcend mortality. Yet it can be utterly terrifying to lose not only the sight, but even the sound of the shore! To do so I must surrender everything which represents that familiar, reassuring shore to me--.all my assumptions, attachments, addictions. I must painfully peel away every last layer of self-importance, every last shred of bogus identity, until I reach a condition of perfect emptiness. The silence of that inner ocean is the sound of no shore.


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


     At the innermost core of ourselves, where the emptiness shines, we are boundless beings. There, and only there, are we quintessentially free. The sound of no shore is also the music of the spheres, the susurration of the universe. How can we bear our burdens and find our way here, in this Earth Plane labyrinth of cause and effect, trial and error, struggle and death? Only if we maintain an indestructable toehold in Eternity! Don't be blasted and confounded by the storm of time. Rediscover the Sanctuary of the eye at the heart of the hurricane.


Three a.m. and the psychic storm was raging--
something around the hugeness of a galaxy but
dead black, twisted inside out, and ravenous.

I was scuttling beneath it, a stupified crab,
lurching this way and that,
                                     scrambling for cover.
So I came at last to the shimmering cliffs.

Not cliffs really, more like the fringes of
some titanic robe, shot through with Radiance;
more like the hem of a garment of Light.

I stopped in my tracks. What would you do?
What would you do if the Inconceivable
swept its scintillant Edge across your soul?

Dazed and punch-drunk I dropped to my knees.
I clothed my quaking terror with nakedness.
I wrapped my anguish in Eternity's Flame.


    If I sacrifice my privacy, solitude, introspection and self-emptying through a Faustian bargain with materialism, consumption, and the glittering allure of digital technology, I won't be gaining greater freedom but rather insuring deeper slavery. There's no way I can hear "the sound of no shore" except by leaving behind the cacophony of things, forms, powers, illusions and desires. My irreducible freedom is defined by "not this, not that." The wormhole to Infinity is a bull's-eye beaconing from the center of my soul!

A secret turning in us
makes the universe turn.
Head unaware of feet,
and feet head. Neither cares.
They keep turning.

                         -- Rumi



Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where Freedom Begins

                                                                                                                                      Freedom is really a spiritual state, although it can be reflected at lesser levels. And it is only in freedom in the deepest sense that the riches of the Spirit can manifest themselves.

                                           -- Sri Ram

     No nation has ever made a louder hullabaloo about "Freedom" than The United States. It's our justification for military intervention around the globe; our troops are lauded as "heroes defending our freedom," no matter in what fractious, oppressed, poverty-stricken corner of the Third World they're deployed. Freedom of expression provides the legal rationale through which the pornography of violence and the violence of pornography inundate our media and infect our consciousness. Unregulated freedom from all constraint or control is the unrelenting rallying cry of ruthless, uber-competitive corporate capitalism. And yet, by the profoundest definition of freedom, in reality most of us are abject slaves.

     If my spirit is in chains, what does it matter if I have license to exercise all these other so-called "freedoms" and a hundred more? As Kabir said "...you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death." Where does true freedom begin? Paradoxically, only with complete surrender. One of the numberless names of the God I encounter at the innermost core of my being is FREEDOM! Unless I achieve unity with this Radiant Source; orient my fundamental indentity to this Universal Truth, I will always remain a slave, a craven addict of soul-devouring idols. True freedom can never be won by any political means if it's not first awakened  in the liberated soul.

      There is only one way to be truly Free--become supremely empty. As long as the little, deluded, superficial "I" of worldly self-importance runs the show--projecting its fears, promoting its desires, defending its image--you remain a slave, whatever seeming power and prestige you possess.

      Real Freedom means utter surrender to That which alone is utterly Free--the Eternal Spirit streaming invisibly through all created things. Here is the Source and Center of your deepest Self, the Cosmic Breath that fills your whole being, until it stretches out tautly like a great sail billowing in the wind!

        -- from my book As The Spirit Moves: Teachings of the Angels, 1999.

     Consumer society materialism is one of the greatest obstacles to real spiritual freedom. Let's say I'm standing in front of the toothpaste section at my local supermarket. Look at all the different brands, sizes, prices, flavors, special features, so many possible choices--what freedom! No, only the delusion of freedom--like those "painted cakes" which can never satisfy hunger. Meanwhile, as ever, my attention is seduced and focused outside myself--momentarily possessed by but one of ten thousand ersatz epiphanies in this All-American "scrimmage of appetite" we call "the pursuit of happiness." But the American modernist poet Marianne Moore wrote this:

       "The very bird,
   grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
        This is mortality,
        this is eternity."

     How pure a thing is joy! Here's how I know that at last I'm truly free--I'm infused with sheer Joy! Such Joy is never secondary and contingent--dependent on anyone or anything in the world outside me. On the contrary, it is always primary and unconditional, beaming forth from the Divine Beacon at the secret epicenter of my soul. Once we've tasted this ultimate Freedom, anything less which masquerades by the same name will be exposed as what it always was--just another glitzy disguise for slavery.

     Joy gave birth to the galaxies. It is the Source of every atom of your being. All creation exists because of Joy. Joy is where you come from. Joy is where you are going. Joy is the triumphal hymn of the universe! Your deepest agony is the distance you have traveled from Joy. Your highest hope is the promise of return.

     You have heard the sparrow. It sings for Joy! Joy curls in the wave breaking, and Joy is the glistening of the shore. Sunlight blazes down for Joy, and with Joy the earth receives it. The eagle soars, the mole burrows, the deer leaps, the fish swims, the grass grows, the bud opens, the seed begins--for Joy, Joy uncontainable, eternal Joy!

                           -- from As The Spirit Moves.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Keeping Hope Alive

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death's great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

                               -- Anna Akhmatova

     Why then, indeed? Right now I'm facing into the abyss of my brother's possibly fatal illness. It's part of a Perfect Storm which also threatens the loss of his job and foreclosure on his house. Even if he eventually makes it out of the hospital, he might not have a home to come home to. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg! Here I am, half a continent away, struggling to do whatever I can to help, but I feel like I'm trying to siphon an ocean of trouble with a flimsy straw. Lying in bed sleepless again last night, staring at the ceiling, it seemed to me his situation was hopeless, and that I was helpless to change that. Finally, I did manage to drift off to sleep; and when I awoke this morning I realized there's yet one more thing I can do; one more reason not to give up hope. I'd looked into the gaping maw of the abyss, but something inside me still cried "Nevertheless!"

                     THE PASSWORD

"Nevertheless" is what I meant to say
                           when the worst came down,
after the Scud Missile of pain
                      struck its target zero in your soul.
"Nevertheless"--a defiant quip
just as the firing squad raises its guns.
It's that storm-battered tree
                                 far above the timberline,
the grin on the face of the homeless outcast,
the salmon's leap against the thundering falls.

"Nevertheless" is the cry I meant to praise
          no matter how many haters curse you out,
                  how many hammers bruise your bones.
It's a death row reprieve at the final hour,
the worm that turns, the impossible comeback,
                                  the incurable healed.
"Nevertheless" befuddles logic, hornswoggles fate.
It's the heroic password I meant to teach you.
            The Spirit's anthem.
                                   Destiny sealed.


     One of the hardest lessons to learn is that no matter how dire the circumstances, how daunting the odds, my ultimate power doesn't depend on any outer vicissitudes. The source of my true power to transcend, and therefore of my unquenchable hope, resides within me. The human spirit is indomitable!

                     RALLYING CRY

Begin now, begin in the teeth of the worst loss
you've suffered, begin to praise. Begin now, begin
anew, no matter what. Take the first, hard step
and then take another, and still another, until
the Spirit chimes within your bones, indomitable.

Start over, from the bitterest taste of ashes
burning your tongue. Start over, though clearly
everything you've hoped, prayed, yearned for,
lies crushed. Start over, grope without a clue,
buoyed by what disdains surrender, indomitable.

Keep growing, when nothing left seems alive,
not even your heart. Keep growing, break free
from that old, petrified shell, the dead past
clogged by phantoms and shadows. Keep growing--
beyond whoever you dreamed you were, indomitable.

Love again, despite the grief gutting your soul.
Quarry it out, rage after rage, tear after tear.
Love again, love unflinchingly, till you reach
a place where love consumes your cruellest fear.
Love again, and you will rise again, indomitable.


     I don't know if my brother's going to make it. I don't know how much I can do for him, how much is even humanly possible. But I do know now that, nevertheless, I will never stop trying. Am I not my brother's keeper? Aren't we all?

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.

                                 -- Jesus  (Matt. 25:36)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Following The Tao

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

                               --  Lao-Tzu

     Everything's complicated for me until I return to The Source of my being. But I cannot find my way back there until, layer by accreted layer, I peel off those addictive complications--which always represent polarized aspects of my own psyche--to recover a unitive state of innocence, openness and simplicity. This is a very scary process however, because it also means I must surrender all control--and without that control I feel naked, exposed, defenseless, vulnerable. Yet once more in harmony with The Tao, there is no egoistic "I" to feel those things. Fear, grief, anger, desire, despair--these all vanish. What remains is nobody, doing nothing, going nowhere, heart at peace, filled with joy.


The intoxicating, all-pervasive buzz is always there
like those cosmic rays still left over from the Big Bang.

And some days I just lean back, let myself go, and
                                                float blissfully along,
savoring each sweet or bitter swallow of existence,
careening rapturously around my own stunned soul,
                                                   plastered with joy.

I can't fathom how I manage to stumble into paradise,
     or why I perpetually seem to get banished from it.

But when, by chance, I do recover my witless way --
    Astonishment! Gratitude! Freedom! Homecoming!

Wonderingly, I drink once more from the
                                            Incomparable Secret --
          that purest, rarest, Holiest Fountain,
                the deathless Source of all I know, all
                                                            I love, all
                                                                       I am.


     Lao-Tzu's second teaching is patience. This might be the hardest one of all for me to learn. Wherever I go, I always seem to arrive too early. A characteristic saying from my time spent in the army comes to mind: "Hurry up and wait." Whatever I want, I always want it now. But there's a greater pattern, a timeless flow, an elemental cycling, and my individual life and needs are merely a tiny part of that infinitude. Aligning my will with the breath of the cosmos, I "accord with the way things are." As Lao-Tzu also said:

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mind settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

     Finally, Lao-Tzu emphasizes the great wisdom of compassion--but he also has the insight to realize that compassion toward others must start with compassion toward oneself. In effect, this provides the complimentary reversal to Christ's teaching: "Love they neighbor as thyself." Both are true. But how much damage has been done by "do-gooders" because they try to impose charity on others, although inside they have never forgiven or accepted themselves? Another ancient saying: "If you would change the world, start with a small garden." That small garden is my own soul. Let me be unconditionally compassionate first there; then I will know how to healingly offer compassion to others.


I see one being--the Earth--who
is broken like bread into many
pieces. I see a billion faces
that are your face, and mine.

I see the stray dog gassed, and
a chainsaw rip at the willow's
heart. I see children starving,
bloated bellies, skin and bone.

I see this carnival flicker of
the sun; how it gleams fitfully
for a second, or an hour, then
vanishes. I see terror, and joy.

I see a smile or touch, a look
that stuns my soul--an instant
when time and space fall away,
the silence blazing like a star.

I see your hunger in my blood,
your waking in my death. I see
those eyes you turn to me now--
my eyes; their longing--my own.


     Like the great mystical teachings from all traditions, The Tao Te Ching implicitly and explicitly points to Oneness -- the Reality that beyond the extravagant variety and diversity of life, the undeniable uniqueness of each individual, we are in essence all One. Here is the root of compassion: truly, what happens to you, happens to me. We're part of one Soul, one Spirit, one Source, one Eternity.

      "Maybe a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big soul--
the one big soul that belongs to ever'body."

                          -- John Steinbeck

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Inner Life

There is a force within that gives you life--
                      seek that.
In your body there lies a priceless jewel--
                      seek that.
Oh, wandering Sufi,
if you are in search of the greatest treasure,
                      don't look outside,
Look within, and seek that.

                                            -- Rumi

      The wisdom teachings of all the great spiritual paths stress the vital importance of the inner life. We're not just a body with senses, appetites, desires; nor simply a mind calculating how to satisfy them. We're also soul, heart, imagination, conscience and reason. These qualities aren't optional aspects of our humanity, they're the essence of what it means to be fully human. Yet almost anyone growing up today is automatically drafted into the "wired" generation--Face Book, Twitter, I-Pods, cell phones, texting, video games, etc. Statistics reveal most teenagers multi-task on the average many hours every day, totally wired to The Information Superhighway. Unquestionably, a number of amazing benefits accrue--but what about the alarming cost to their inner life? What happens to solitude, privacy, introspection, "soul searching"--in short, to that sometimes disturbing but also indispensable aloneness, without which no transformative inner life is even possible? At what point does our obsession with technology become a Faustian bargain made at the price of our souls?


A friend says he doesn't like the word "solitude"
that's cropped up recently in one of my poems.
"Tough shit!" I shoot back, and sulk grouchily.
What's the big deal? Somehow, this goes beyond
my usual overblown poet's vanity. It strikes
a nerve, it pierces to the core of what I love.

Solitude! Not loneliness. Not isolation, paranoia,
aloofness or despair. Not escape from this world,
but crossing the threshold of another, a dimension
so vast the soul shudders with awe to conceive it.
Our greatest alienation is to drown in humankind,
to be severed from the angels and the archetypes.

Solitude! So crowded with their unseen presences!
Never have I felt less alone! A pure cosmic wind
whistles from the wide open portal to eternity,
scouring me clean, stripping my life to the bone!
The treasure I hoard in my poet's bag of tricks?
Just this! A universe cascading from solitude!


     What most enriches us as human beings flows from the inner life of the Spirit. If we abandon this profound part of ourselves we'll ultimately experience a poverty of meaning which will make a poverty of possessions seem trivial by comparison. What does it matter if we can communicate with every corner of the planet if we have nothing original or compelling to say? There are truths we know, believe, understand, decide and express which can never be learned through the senses or from others. Intuition, compassion, imagination, moral vision, creative inspiration--none of these can really be bought or sold on E-Bay. We can only discover them by exploring alone through the uncharted dimensions of that infinite universe within.


Poised on the razor's edge,
beyond every safe battlement,
I stood alone beneath the sky,
unfurled vast, impossible wings

and rose upon the whirling air,
arrowed straight for the heart
of the sun. My one purpose
was set--to vanish into God.

How can I describe the terror
of that flight, or its ecstasy?
Whom I worshipped, I became.
What I dreamed, enveloped me.

Like a leaf swept on the wind
I tumbled down the atmosphere,
stunned to the core with Light,
stripped of all dread, amazed.

But such is unspeakable. Words
stutter and fail. Only...I
have breathed the Infinite,
and my soul is soaring there.


     I cherish those times when I'm alone, but never lonely. At such moments, I am indeed "wired"--but not to our hectic, noisy, distracting, addicting Information Superhighway. Instead, I'm cabled to the cosmos, attuned to a rich, vibrant inner life where I can explore the mystery of who I truly am and what my life is really all about. This isn't a clever new option I can take or leave like an I-Pod Ap. This is how I align my consciousness with the soul of the universe.

...everything is part of that diverse
and mirroring memory, the universe;
there is no end to its exigent corridors
and the doors that close behind you as you go;
only the far side of the sunset's glow
will show you at last the Archetypes
                                            and Splendors.

                                       -- Jorges Borges

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Breath Of The Eternal

Thou art the dark butterfly,
Thou are the green parrot with red eyes,
Thou art the thunder cloud,
                    the seasons, the seas.
Without beginning art thou,
Beyond time, beyond space...

                             -- The Upanishads

     Here is ancient wisdom, from among the oldest of the world's sacred texts. This ancient wisdom will never die. Do we know this, or don't we? Everything hinges on that question. There is a Seed of Singing Light; a deathless, Holy Source; a Fount of Joy, Grace, Wisdom and Truth, which streams forth eternally from the soul of every created thing--butterflies and parrots, thunderclouds, seasons and seas, as well as from you and from me. The sages who wrote The Upanishads named this divine essence The Self--not the little self of the ego, but the Higher Self transcending all differences, all separation. Once we experience our Oneness with this Higher Self, once we realize I Am That! -- only then can we evolve beyond fear, grief, anger and despair. This is the only path of ultimate liberation.


Cannot die. Perched on
a phone wire, the wren
trills it. Truth flares
in the quick flex of
the cat's claw, or from
a sheen of raindrops
on the white iris, their
cool fragrance, beckoning...

Listen. The whole Earth is
breathing, in and out;
night flows through us
like the flag of some
unknowable world. Who
have the winds come for?
What is the secret name
that all things cry?

Open yourself to the far
whirling of the universe.
We begin from a seed
but our home is Everywhere.
The wren, the cat, the iris--
each are different faces
of our love. The Light of
Ancient Wisdom cannot die.


     Don't be distracted, confused and deluded by the ten thousand things--or even the ten billion things of our intrusive, competitive, materialistic, consumer society. You'll never find an answer out there. You'll never find true joy, peace, wholeness or fulfillment out there. Your innermost identity is not defined by this transitory world; it's part of an unconditional, primal, Eternal Spirit existing before, beyond and after this world. That's where we start from. We don't extract Joy from people, events, activities, possessions, achievements. We bring that Joy with us and infuse it into them. That Joy is our birthright--not contingent but original. Its source is our Higher Self--The Breath Of The Eternal--inspiring all things.

         SHEER JOY

Watching a lone bluejay
suddenly launch out, free,
into immense bright air,
I felt cleansed and reborn.
All life I sensed bursting
with Spirit, invincible!

At our innermost core
the primal Source of Being
fountains upward, flooding
through matter's opacity,
streaming pure bliss
from another world.

Here is the Hidden One
I adore--matchless,
indomitable--a Mystery
beyond imagining, nearer
than bone, sweeter even
than love's caress.

What opposes sheer Joy
perishes...Learning this
we blaze like suns, illumed
by Heaven's Holy Light.
An unquenchable child
dances in the soul of God!


     What are the keys to Original Joy, to union with this Higher Self? Simplicity, humility, openness, silence, solitude, self-discipline, inner surrender, pure intention, unwavering devotion, impeccable alertness, childlike wonder and yes, sometimes even sheer desperation. When we discover that every idol, obsession, addiction and presumption inevitably fails us and leads us only further astray, then, finally, we might turn to the one answer which never fails us, never leads us astray--the hidden, primal, holy, invisible Light shining eternally at the center of our souls...

Ah, from the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
          Enveloping the Earth--
And from the soul itself must there be sent
A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,
Of all sweet sounds the life and element!

                     -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge  


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Holy Fool

When it's cold and raining
You are more beautiful.

And the snow brings me
even closer to Your lips.

The Inner Secret,
that which was never born,

You are That Freshness,
and I am with You now.

I can't explain the goings
or the comings. You enter suddenly,

and I am nowhere again,
Inside the Majesty.

                   -- Rumi

        Last night I found myself once again "Inside the Majesty." I had been far outside it for a long time. Rejection by a close friend had wounded me deeply. Then I believed my job was being threatened because of unjust criticism and accusation. I felt old, hurting, angry and afraid, and could not stop obsessing about mistakes and wrongs of the past, dangers and difficulties of the future. I was lurching all over the psychological map--everywhere except here, now, in the Reality of the immediate present, the Eternal Presence.

       Yet from past experience I know that that Reality is always here, now, unchanging, incorruptible, a Beacon of Singing Light at the innermost core of my being, of all being. When Rumi writes "I can't explain the goings, / or the comings..." I don't take that to mean the goings or the comings of God, or Grace. Those goings and comings are my own; they expose how I chronically become obsessed by, then addicted to, my hurt, fear, anger, desire or despair. These delusions are the "goings"--my willful or clueless estrangement and alienation from my Higher Self. That's where I found myself last night--lying awake, staring into the dark, beseiged by my demons.


the ferocious piranhas of raw dread are tearing
bite-sized chunks right from my mind    a chair
is now the ridiculous pawn in a power struggle
the Nextel keeps shutting down in my pocket
DeWayne's pissed off because I've blamed him
I'm worried viral gossip could cost me my job

you'd think after so many years I'd have won it--
this endless pitched battle with chronic demons
you'd think a terrified little boy would grow up
stop cringing at those monsters under the bed
you'd think enough time was wasted    enough
chances blown    then you'd have to think again

you can't look at a life and judge: success/failure
not until you've suffered the same bitter wounds
wrestled with the same nightmarish obsessions
tasted the same bile of horror coating the tongue
but after that all judgement goes out the window
what's left is a naked mirror reflecting your soul


     After going round and round in my head, harried with insomnia, I became transfixed by that naked mirror reflecting my soul. Staring into it intently I understood that I have a choice, I always have a choice. I could continue to gaze--obsessed, addicted, spellbound--at the endlessly seductive or obscenely horrifying contortions of my demons, riddled with cosmic dread. Or by a drastic, purging, unconditional surrender; a profound, wholehearted metanoia penetrating right down to the naked core of my being, I could radically Focus Elsewhere. But not just any "Elsewhere." I could, and I did, uncompromisingly re-orient my soul's single-pointed attention to the radiant, joyous, serene, eternal, transcendent Light, the illuminating Presence which is always there and which never changes, falters or fails.

                       PIVOT POINT

the journey from one edge of an eyelash to another
                                how infinitely far!

and the time it takes--that microsecond's an eternity

but ride the next express between heaven and hell
either direction        now there's hair-raising speed!
               you'll arrive even before you depart

I know a breath    inside a breath    inside the breath

I know the pivot point for swirling clouds of worlds

tell me    are you awake yet    see what you can't see
hear what you can't hear      feel what you can't feel

there's a   pure   cold   stream   that's always flowing

if you find it don't hesitate    kneel    kneel and drink


     Paul wrote: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men..." (1Co 1.25). The choice I made last night to "focus elsewhere" felt at the time like a foolish thing to do. The issues I'm struggling with are real, damaging, serious. There are no easy fixes. Don't I need to focus exclusively on them, worry incessantly about them, constantly be humping to troubleshoot them? Yet when  I'm caught in a hurricane, it's impossible to cope effectively while I'm being blasted by 100-mile-an-hour winds! Only from the safety of the calm, clear, luminous eye of the storm can I get my spiritual bearings, find my essential balance, and discern the means of wise action. Coming back Home to my Higher Self was a choice to seek refuge in the Divine Eye of the profane storm. There's a difference between a blind fool and a Holy Fool. The blind fool sticks his head in the sand. The Holy Fool wraps her soul in the Light. 

     The Inner Light is beyond both praise and blame, like unto space it knows no boundaries; yet it is right here with us, ever returning to serenity and fullness...You remain silent and it speaks; you speak and it is silent. The Gate of Heaven is wide open, with not a single obstruction before it.

                                              -- Yung Chia



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Unseen

     This world is but a bridge, cross it, but build no home upon it. The world endures but for an hour. Spend it in devotion. The rest is unseen.

                      -- Akbar the Great

     I spent a good part of my life longing, even lusting, for fame. I would become  a Great Poet, lionized by millions! Even a great Spiritual Teacher! My self-worth was dependent on my becoming widely recognized and applauded, a Major Player in the only Game that really counted--this Earth Plane ego dance; this shimmy-shake of vainglory and public spectacle; this endless, shadowy hall of glittering funhouse mirrors.

      But simultaneously, a higher, wiser Spirit was pulling me in exactly the opposite direction--toward deeper interiority, painfully acquired humility, purging emptiness. I began to realize that what's truly important is invisible, a transcendent sphere of being not directly detectable by the senses, and therefore mostly ignored by our overwhelmingly materialistic civilization. I fell in love with silence, solitude, mystery, the Unknown. I learned that to be a real "Player in the Game" meant I had to wean myself from my addiction to the chimera of worldly success, the mirage of ephemeral fame.

            A STRANGE WIND

The face turned away from the feast --
       learn that, be
             that one.

A strange wind is blowing
              through the black rectangle
         of the open doorway,

beyond which, night
      smells of unappeasable distance,
             and the narrow steps

lead down to no street
                  you can remember...

The heart weaned away from the world --
       earn that, free
              that one.

Let desire expand
          until it transcends
               all objects.

Possessing nothing,
          possessed by nothing,

in the perfection
        of such emptiness
                         make your Home.


      My ultimate Home is in the no-time and no-place of an infinite and eternal consciousness where "I" cease to exist. My own consciousness is only fully awake there for the first time; and what it's awake to is a Oneness beyond all separation. That is Reality. Beside it the tawdry child's play of worldly fame and glory is exposed as ludicrous and absurd.

                     THE WAY IN

Whoever you are: some evening take a step
out of your house, which you know so well.
Enormous space is near, your house lies
where it begins, whoever you are.
Your eyes find it hard to tear themselves
from the sloping threshold, but with your eyes
slowly, slowly, lift one black tree
up, so it stands against the sky: skinny, alone.
With that you have made the world...

                               -- Rainer Maria Rilke

      My greatest challenge is to take that crucial step out of the familiar house of my ego, which I know so well. "Enormous space is near." That's where the deepest meaning of my life suddenly breaks open. Dumbstruck, I experience my soul illuminated at last against the scale of the stars...

   Out beyond ideas of
wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

                 -- Rumi


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Soul Wounds

There are some blows in life so hard...
                            I don't know!
Blows that seem to come from God's hatred;
                            as if before them,
the backwash of all suffering
were welling up in my soul...I don't know!

                            -- Cesar Vallejo

     If I love with radical openness from my soul, sometimes I will radically suffer. There's no way to avoid this. At least I've not found one. If the ultimate goal of the spiritual path is to attain a pure and constant state of utterly blissful detachment, exempt from "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," then I still have many lifetimes of learning to go.

      Yesterday I lost a beloved friend--suddenly, shockingly, irretrievably. And today I'm a walking wound. How can I escape from this terrible grief, which after all is only the opposite face of that once joyous love? It's the risk I had to take for opening my soul unconditionally to the beloved; it's the price I must pay now, now that that love has shattered beyond all mending.


There are crimes so bad
                       I can't find words,
wrongs too obscene to bear.
If you think I'm lying
we've got nothing to talk about--
you inhabit
              a different universe.

There's an inferno of hate
         the human mind
                       can't encompass--
like a flame thrower
                    incinerating a rose.
Nothing's left
              but ashes that scream.

At such times
                all love can do
seems less than zero.
      We gaze dumbstruck
                    on Medusa's face,
       scorching us to stone...


     Do you know what I mean? How can you not know--here and now in 2011--either by direct experience, or from what you've seen and heard about the suffering of others? What I understand of "enlightenment" is the choice, every single moment, to keep my soul wide open and profoundly awake to the incalculable winds of the whole universe. The corrolary must be immense courage--for I can never predict or control what those winds will bring. So my soul is also a cosmic window, and to remain alive and growing there, in my naked soul, means to accept that absolutely anything may potentially enter  and profoundly transform the innermost sanctum of my being.

             WHAT THE WIND SAID

We agreed to meet this hour so I'm here
wind, faithful to the promise. As are you,
gusting with biting urgency on my face.

Then let our palaver begin. But mostly I'll
listen, hoping to grasp what you're trying
to say. Thus far, this is what I understand:

Don't clutch at even the barest "certainty."
It blows away like shingles in a hurricane.
Everything's provisional, forever changing.

That's all. The rest is theme and variation.
Which still leaves me alone with my heart--
its loves and fears, its longing not to die.

Wind, I concede; you're older and wiser.
You prowled before the icecaps formed!
Spellbound shamans conjured your voice.

But I'm so small. The dark's so immense.
Isn't there an axiom I can hold and save,
some truth that doesn't always confound?

I'm the free quintessence of who you are--
the Spirit's breath transforming all things!
Surrender your crutches. Fly home to me.


        What I hear that Spirit's breath telling my soul is not "don't let everything in," but rather "don't try to hold on to one bit of it," because that's impossible anyway. As Heraclitus wrote: "Nothing is permanent in the world, except change." There are so many priceless moments my friend and I shared. They're enshrined in my heart forever. But I can't bring them back, because I can't bring her back. I can't even hold on to our love as a living, breathing, astonishing and immediate experience. All I can do is to be wholeheartedly grateful for what we once had, and to know that it's a part of me now, and has changed my life forever.

     We see clearly...that there is suffering in life, that the suffering is inherent in it, that the cause of it for us is our grasping or our identification. When we learn to be free in that way, nothing can touch us. We discover that there is a real liberation that is possible for every human being. We come to understand the teachings of the heart, and see that it is possible for the heart to open and to contain the entire universe.

                                   --- Jack Kornfield

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Still Small Voice

  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

      Are we listening attentively? Unless we are, we'll miss the summoning, the wake-up call, the beaconing voice of a New Consciousness which is struggling to birth right now, right here, at any moment of our lives. But what could be harder, while careening along on our globalized, digitalized, information superhighway, than to take the next exit and pull over; to simply stop and truly listen? And listen for what? For nothing out there, "amid the uproar of empires and nations." But rather--for a still, small voice like the faintest fluttering of wings--whispering from the innermost depths of our souls.


Not the barest swaying of a small branch
in the breeze this morning, not that. Not
a starling stretching out one wing, pecking
at its feathers. Not the thought of you
with both hands cradled around your
first cup of coffee. Not even the silence.
No, none of these...Not a single ant
crawling across the tabletop. And not
the farthest galaxy wildly cartwheeling
from the Big Bang! Not any kiss. Not
every tear. It can't be named by these...


      Another name we might use for this mysterious voice, however, is "intuition" -- a knowing which transcends emotion, imagination, conscience, intellect, will, senses, desire, instinct and experience, yet somehow encompasses all of them. There's only  a single, interior "bull's-eye" where the contradictory priorities of each of these many different poles of our beings can ever finally be integrated and reconciled--the human soul. Here alone the Timeless intersects time, the Infinite overarches space. Yet in a supremely materialistic age such as ours, in which the soul itself has been virtually rationalized out of existence, our task of radical rediscovery can scarcely be more difficult, or more essential. 

At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshness;
Neither from nor towards:
At the still point, there the dance is.
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.

                      -- T. S. Eliot

     It's from Eliot's "still point of the turning world," where the dance is, that the still small voice of our intuition addresses us. And just as only a condition of completely open and attentive stillness may enable us at last to participate in that intuitive dance, so a comparable state of completely open and attentive silence is necessary before we can truly hear and respond to that intuitive inner voice. 


What we have no words for, never
stops speaking to us strangely inside,
although its voice is so terribly small,
so easily drowned out by the clamor
of pain, desire, or even some brief,
minor irritation, like a fly in the soup.

But there comes a moment when,
despite ourselves, awe spills across
every barricade we erect to repel it.
The ecstatic murmur of the universe
swells subversively, waking our souls,
and we shudder, flooded by grace!

Here's the huge, scandalous secret
we sleepwalkers still carry around.
Bit by bit, an incomparable lodestar--
our luminous wisdom, a holy gift!--
got shunted aside. Now we worship
things, money, power, status, self.

Ever since I realized this, I began to
die, over and over. And each time
I'm changed, reborn! The only way
I could recover the treasure I'd lost
was to break free from possession--
that suffocating armor of my fears.


     Nothing drowns out that still, small voice more drastically than fear. As long as I'm mesmerized and obsessed by my own particular demons of terror--or repressing them such that they control my life from the shadows--I can never hear the gentle, wise, intimate, redemptive, divine voice of my soul. So part of the unavoidable spiritual spade work I must do, is first to honestly face and then to courageously come to grips with, my worst, most crippling and addictive fears. As Carl Jung wrote: "There is no coming to consciousness without pain." But this also is true:

The pain was great when the strings
were being tuned, my Master!
Begin your music, and let me forget
the pain, let me feel in beauty
what you had in your mind
through those pitiless days.

        --Rabindranath Tagore


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Brings Us To God

The heat of midnight tears
 will bring you to God.

                                         -- Mirabai

     The personal pathways to God are unique, individual, countless, but in each there's a Turning Point--the Ancient Greeks called this Metanoia. Sometimes we recognize it instantly; or the discovery may only dawn in retrospect, after a lifetime   of experience and   reflection.   For me, the revelation was
instantaneous, mind-boggling, overwhelming! And as Mirabai understood so many centuries ago, it was "the heat of midnight tears" which brought me to God.

      In my early thirties I found myself "lost in a dark wood"--more specifically, I was
hunched up on a closed toilet lid one night wailing my guts out. All the unfinished deaths in my life up till then had finally coalesced into a monstrous abyss of anguish inside me which seemed bottomless. My sister's death, my father's death, and now the death of my marriage--there weren't enough tears to grieve them all at once, not after shutting out their reality for so long. I was stripped bare to the emotional bone, helpless, hopeless, bereft.

      One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

                            -- Joseph Campbell

     These words describe what happened then. In my aching despair I prayed for the first time in my adult life. But since I'd long abandoned any belief in God, all I could conceive to pray to were the sentient atoms of my own dead father, which I envisioned still floating around somewhere far out in the interstellar void. What happened then still staggers my being. Instaneously, I was catapulted from agony to ecstasy--as if my soul were a pebble pulled all the way down to the depths in a Cosmic Slingshot, then abruptly released and sent soaring into the Heavens! I was transfixed by a laser beam of invisible Light; embraced in a profoundly compassionate, transcendent Presence, and irradiated with an irrepressible, all-encompassing Joy!  Mere words simply cannot express it. I had encountered an unfathomable Reality beyond any I'd ever known--ever imagined even existed!--and I knew at once that my life was changed forever.

                   KANSAS CITY RENGA

April still conjures blossoms   but the house is long gone
where I prayed to the far-flung atoms of my dead father
glittering like a sentient constellation at the galaxy's core

instantaneously    from hair tips to heel ends    I was split
wide open    riddled by a blinding strobe of cosmic Light
that yanked me inside out      catapulting grief to ecstasy

I was sitting on the toilet lid weeping in a rickety house
while my hollow marriage collapsed around me    when
all heaven suddenly broke loose and everything changed

one timeless night     at 47th and Jarboe    in Kansas City


     I wrote this poem earlier this year as my 10-line contribution to a 30-poet Renga titled Ghosts Over Water; and the Renga in turn was one facet of the AMERICA NOW AND HERE national celebration of all the arts which kicked off here in Kansas City. The unifying thematic thread for the Renga was Kansas City itself. But while most poets wrote more or less evocatively atmospheric urban slice of life pieces, I decided to go for broke and spectacularly fail by trying to compress into 10 lines--in a chain of 29 other 10-line links--the most overwhelming spiritual turning point and soul-transformative experience of my life. Impossible of course, but once the inspiration seized me, I felt I had no choice but to go for it.

      Since that astounding night so long ago I've amassed a whole collection of spectacular failures--poems which attempt to square the circle by presuming to put into words something that's truly unspeakable. Nevertheless, isn't it time we begin to risk more courageously the scandalous absurdity of such heroic failures by opening out our personal and literary dialogues to encompass the invisible, ecstatic, transcendent dimensions of our lives? We're so glutted with suffocating information, but so poverty-stricken for insight, wisdom, revelation! As Emerson wrote: "We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that Divine Idea which each of us represents."

                  SONG OF THE SUPERNOVA







     Let's be talking more about this-- both the depths and the heights, and about how one can be threshold to the other. Let's break out of the toxic, soul-deadening trance to which our materialistic, post-modern dystopia addicts us. Let's swing the doors of our beings wide open once again to rediscover the vaster dimensions stretching beyond, around and within us

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 the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
             Don't go back to sleep.

                                   -- Rumi