I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
the one who remains silent while I talk,
the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
the one who takes a walk when I am indoors,
the one who will remain standing when I die.
-Juan Ramon Jimenez (1881-1958)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
-Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
Your deepest presence
Is in every small contraction and
Expansion. The two as beautifully
Balanced and coordinated as
-Bird Wings by Rumi
This is an excerpt of a longer poem by the Sufi poet Rumi. I feel that this passage speaks to the awakening found in subtlety- feeling the stretch on one side of your spine in Janu Sirsasana or noticing the change in your breath as you move into a challenging pose…
The thought manifests as the word
The word manifests as the deed
The deed develops into habit and habit hardens into character
So watch the thought and its ways with care
And let it spring out of love
Born out of concern for all beings.
As the Shadow follows the body as we think, so we become.
– From the Dhammapada, sayings of the Buddha
Practice is the process of first observing your patterning or samskaras, learning to accept yourself as you are… then the teachings serve as a guide for change. The twisting asanas (yoga postures) serve to first illuminate your unique relationship (and likely imbalance) between the left and right sides of your spine and through repeated practice, bring congruency. Similarly the sitting practice can highlight habitual ways of thinking without judgment, and help to trace the path from thought to word or deed and on to character.
“It is not possible to have an adequate image of how inexhaustible the expansiveness and possibilities of life are. No fate, no rejection, no hardship is entirely without prospects; somewhere the densest shrub can yield leaves, a flower, and fruit…”
“Actually there is no such thing as a good habit: everything good, no matter how often and how unintentionally such a deed is repeated, is new and spontaneous each time.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters on Life translated by Ulrich Baer
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.
The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.
What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.
If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.
Now I will count to twelve
And you keep quiet and I will go.
–Pablo Neruda, Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon
LOVE AFTER LOVE
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you have ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
–Derek Walcott, Collected Poems 1948-1984, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986
This poem embodies metta or lovingkindness directed inward. Possibly the most healing practice I have encountered...
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
– David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet
This line from Kabir, the Indian mystic poet and saint, distills the experience of pranayama or meditation. As we mature in these practices we realize that although we train our mind to focus on the breath, eventually the mind and breath are fused so the distinction of watching and breathing is lost and all that is left is the movement of prana, God, or life force. What we seek to encounter is within us; we are never divorced from it except in our thoughts.
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer,
and I did not die.
had his hand in this,
as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,
was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?
Have you heard
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
to which there is no reply?
–Mary Oliver, Thirst
Practice can be viewed as a commitment to remaining open. Rather than abandoning or busying ourselves in times of despair, hurt, shame, or fear, we actually breath these emotions in and out, feel them gripping and pulsing through the body; we watch as the painful thoughts surface, sting, and eventually fade. As Mary Oliver writes, we do not put down our experience, but embrace it.
“The darkness of night is coming along fast, and the shadows of love close in the body and the mind. Open the window to the west, and disappear into the air inside you. Near your breast bone there is an open flower. Drink the honey that is around that flower.” –Kabir
Again Kabir, encouraging us to turn into and towards the heart, it’s tenderness and ability to understand that which confounds the mind.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
–Mary Oliver, Thirst
The truth of the green tree
in spring and of Earth’s crust
is proven beyond a doubt:
the planets nourish us
and the sea offers us fish
despite her quaking:
we are slaves of the earth
that is also governess of air.
Walking around an orange
I spent more than one life
echoing the earth’s sphere:
geography and ambrosia:
juices the color of hyacinth
and the white scent of woman
like blossoms of flour.
Nothing is gained by flying
to escape this globe
that trapped you at birth.
And we need to confess our hope
that understanding and love
come from below, climb
and grow inside us
like onions, like oak trees,
like tortoises or flowers,
like countries, like races,
like roads and destinations.
UNTIL ONE IS COMMITTED
Until one is committed,
there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)
there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then Providence moves too.
All sort of things occur
to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor
all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do,
or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius,
power and magic in it.
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Your intelligence is always with you,
overseeing your body, even though
you may not be aware of its work.
if you start doing something against
your health, your intelligence
will eventually scold you.
If it hadn’t been so lovingly close by,
and so constantly monitoring,
how could it rebuke?
You and your intelligence
are like the beauty and the precision
of a astrolabe.
Together, you calculate how near
existence is to the sun!
Your intelligence is marvelously intimate.
It’s not in front of you or behind,
or to the left or the right.
Now try, my friend, to describe how near
is the creator of your intellect!
Intellectual searching will not find
the way to that king!
The movement of your finger
is not separate from your finger.
You go to sleep or you die,
and there’s no intelligent motion.
Then you wake and your fingers
fill with meanings.
Now consider the jewel-lights in your eyes.
How do they work?
This visible universe has many
weathers and variations.
But uncle, O uncle,
the universe of the creation-word,
the divine command to Be, that universe
of qualities is beyond any pointing to.
More intelligent than intellect
and more spiritual than spirit.
No being is unconnected to that reality,
and that connection cannot be said.
There, there’s no separation and no return.
There are guides who can show you the way.
Use them. But they will not satisfy your longing.
Keep wanting that connection
with all your pulsating energy.
The throbbing vein
will take you further
than any thinking.
Observe the wonders as they occur around you.
Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry
moving through, and be silent.
–Rumi, The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks
So we’re dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I’m lucky,
she’ll remember a recent dream and tell me.
One day we’ll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.
Until then, we’ll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn’t for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I’ll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.
– Li-Young Lee
It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.
Even in this
you will have to choose.
That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.