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