Browsing Category "Poems"
2 Jan
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New Year, New Moon

Yesterday was not only the first day of the New Year, it was also the first New Moon of the New Year…so in addition to my usual New/Full Moon Practice of keeping the 8 Precepts and extending my evening meditation till midnight, I added a little “selfie” retreat by listening to a set of 3 tapes from a day-long Phillip Moffitt led on the Awareness of Awareness at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in April. (You can find the tapes on Phillip’s website here.)

It was a wonderful way to start the New Year. In celebration of which I offer these lines from Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot…lines that Phillip refers to again and again when he teaches:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
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. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say,
there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time.

Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always–
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after. 


(image: set design for the entrance of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, by Karl Friedrich Thiele)

17 Dec
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Here’s another poem Phillip Moffitt used at the day-long retreat I “attended” by live web-cast:

Patience by Tony Hoagland

“Success is the worst possible thing that could happen
to a man like you,” she said,
“because the shiny shoes of affluence would mean
you’d never have to face your failure as a human being.”

There was a rude remark I could have made to her right there
and I watched it go by like a bright blue sailboat on a long gray river of silence,
watching it until it disappeared around the bend

while I smiled and listened to her talk,
thinking it was good to let myself be stabbed by her little spears,
because I wanted to see what I was made of

besides fear and the desire to be liked
by every person on the goddamn face of the earth–

To tell the truth, I felt a certain satisfaction in taking it,

letting her believe that I was just a little bird
opening my mouth and swallowing
the medicine she wanted to administer

— a mixture of good advice combined with slow-acting poison.

Is it strange to say that there was something beautiful
in the sight of her running wild, cut loose in an epileptic fit of telling the truth?

And anyway, she was right about me,
that I am prone to certain misconceptions,

that I should never get so big or fat that I
can’t look down and see my own naked dirty feet,

which is why I kept smiling and smiling as she talked–

It was a beautiful day. I felt like crying.

I knew that if I could succeed at being demolished,
I could succeed at anything. 

16 Dec
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Look Around

On Saturday, I “attended” (by live webcast) Phillip Moffitt‘s day-long retreat on the Three Levels of Knowing. I thought it would be something that I’d just log onto and then pop in and out of, but it had snowed the night before…and was continuing to snow all day long….and there was really “nowhere to go and nothing to do,” so I turned my upstairs study into a little meditation hall. From 11:30 am to 6:30 pm, I sat and walked and sat and listened to Phillip, and it was wonderful….and really very much like being on retreat!

Here is one of the poems Phillip used in his talks:

Look Around, by Mark Nepo

If you try to comprehend air
before breathing it,
you will die.

If you try to understand love,
before being held,
you will never feel compassion.

If you insist on bringing God to others
before opening your very small window of life,
you will never have honest friends.

If you try to teach before you learn
or leave before you stay,
you will lose your ability to try.

No matter what anyone promises–
to never feel compassion,
to never have honest friends,
to lose your ability to try–
these are desperate ways to die.

A dog loves the world through its nose.
A fish through its gills.
A bat through its deep sense of blindness.
An eagle through its glide.

And a human life
through its spirit. 

18 Nov
Posted in: Poems, Teachers
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Because the Moon was Full

There was a Full Moon yesterday, which I celebrated by listening to several of the talks (you can find them here) given by Ajhan Sucitto at the month-long retreat going on right now at the Forest Refuge, in Barre, Mass. It’s a retreat I applied for, but didn’t get into. There are only 30 spaces at the Forest Refuge, so for popular retreats like this one, they hold a lottery to see who gets in. And I didn’t. But it’s OK, because I’m going to sit an 8-day retreat with him at IMS next April.

In further full-moon celebration, I offer this poem by W. S. Merwin:


Lunar Landscape

Nobody can tell you
anything new about
moonlight you have seen it
for yourself as many
times as necessary

nobody else ever saw
it as it appeared to you
you have heard all about it
but in the words of others
so that you fell asleep

it was photographed but
somewhere else and without
what was happening inside
its light and whenever it
was rhymed it disappeared

you cannot depend on
it use it for much send
it anywhere sell it
keep it for yourself bring
it back when it has left

and while it is lighting
the ocean like a name while
it is awake in the leaves
you do not need to look at it
to know it is not there 

13 Aug
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Maybe I Overdid It

Last night the Dharma Seed KM group listened to a great talk by Phillip Moffitt called The Metta of Awareness and the Awareness of Metta. It was the final talk given at the Nature of Awareness retreat at IMS earlier this year. This is the second time I’ve listened to this talk and, well, let’s just say I’m pretty sure I’ll be listening to it again and again.

Phillip uses poetry quite a lot in this talk, especially selections from the Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot. But he also uses more “conversational” poems, including this one, which I offer as an incentive to click here and listen to Phillip’s talk!

Phone Call by Tony Hoagland

Maybe I overdid it
when I called my father
an enemy of humanity.

That might have been a little strongly put,
a slight over exaggeration,
an immoderate description
of the person who at that moment,
two thousand miles away,
holding the telephone receiver six inches from his ear,
must have regretted paying for my therapy.

What I meant was
that my father was an enemy of my humanity.

And what I meant behind that was that
my father was split into two people.
One of them, living deep inside of me,
like a bad king, or an incurable disease,
blighting my crops, striking down my herds, poisoning my wells.

The other, standing in another time zone,
in a kitchen in Wyoming,
with bad knees
and white hairs sprouting from his ears.

I don’t want to scream forever.
I don’t want to live without proportion,
like some kind of infection from the past.

So I have to remember the second father,
the one whose TV dinner is getting cold
while he holds the phone in his left hand
and stares blankly out the window

where just now,
the sun is going down
and the last fingertips of sunlight
are withdrawing from the hills
they once touched like a child.

7 Aug
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Back in Dharma Town

I’m back from visiting with family in the woods of Wisconsin, but buried in emails and catching-up details. So for today, I’ll just say I’m back!….and leave you with another poem:

by Mary Oliver

I was walking by. He was sitting there.

It was full morning, so the heat was heavy on his sand-colored head and his webbed feet. I squatted beside him, at the edge of the path. He didn’t move.

I began to talk. I talked about summer, and about time. the pleasure of eating, the terrors of the night. About this cup we call a life. About happiness. And how good it feels, the heat of the sun between the shoulder blades.

He looked neither up nor down, which didn’t necessarily mean he was either afraid or asleep. I felt his energy, stored under his tongue perhaps, and behind his bulging eyes.

I talked about how the world seems to me, five feet tall, the blue sky all around my head. I said, I wondered how it seemed to him, down there, intimate with the dust.

He might have been a Buddha–did not move, blink, or frown, not a tear fell from those gold-rimmed eyes as the refined anguish of language passed over him.

24 Jul
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Just Traveling Through

I listened to a beautiful talk last night by Jack Kornfield called Mystery and the Graciousness of Uncertainty. It’s a talk he gave after visiting with my friend, Steve, who recently had a stroke and as a result, discovered that he has advanced and terminal cancer. Jack begins with this quote from a poem by Hafiz:

The impermanence of the body
Should give us great clarity,
Deepening the wonder in our senses and eyes

Of this mysterious existence we share
And are surely just traveling through.

Jack talks about visiting Steve in the hospital and says, “…it was like visiting some saint in India…it was like darshan…we looked at each other…his eyes were just gleaming bright…and his heart was so open like some miraculous…” ……and here words being to fail even Jack.

In honor of Steve, here is the full text of the poem Jack quoted in his talk. Deepening the Wonder by Hafiz:

Death is a favor to us,
But our scales have lost their balance.

The impermanence of the body
Should give us great clarity,
Deepening the wonder in our sense and eyes

Of this mysterious existence we share
And are surely just traveling through.

If I were in the Tavern tonight,
Hafiz would call for drinks

And as the Master poured, I would be reminded
That all I know of life and myself is that

We are just a midair flight of golden wine
Between His Pitcher and His Cup.

If I were in the Tavern tonight,
I would buy freely for everyone in this world

Because our marriage with the Cruel Beauty
Of time and space cannot endure very long.

Death is a favor to us,
But our minds have lost their balance.

The miraculous existence and impermanence of Form
Always makes the illuminated ones
Laugh and Sing.

(image from: Tarot Espanol)


22 Jul
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One More Mary Oliver Monday

In Praise of Craziness, of a Certain Kind by Mary Oliver

On cold evenings
my grandmother,
with ownership of half her mind–
the other half having flown back to Bohemia–

spread newspapers over the porch floor
so, she said, the garden ants could crawl beneath,
as under a blanket, and keep warm,

and what shall I wish for, for myself,
but, being so struck by the lightning of years,
to be like her with what is left, that loving. 

(image from: A Whole World, by Couprie and Louchard)

15 Jul
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Mary Oliver Monday, Again

What Is There Beyond Knowing by Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can’t

turn in any direction
but it’s there. I don’t mean

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that’s always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same–what shall I say–

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass and the weeds.

(image from: A Whole World, by Couprie and Louchard)

8 Jul
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Another Mary Oliver Monday

Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light,
are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,
the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over the blue
shoulders of the ponds,
and every pond, no matter what its name is,
is nameless now.
Every year everything I have ever learned in my lifetime leads back to this:
the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation,
whose meaning none of us will ever know.
To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go. 

(image from: Slope in a Forest on Attersee Lake, by Gustav Klimt)