Browsing Category "Poems"
28 Nov
2017
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Like an Arrow of Salt

Advice that’s Hard to Take
by Mark Nepo

When you pace at the edge of life,
worried and afraid, mount your will
like an arrow of salt
and plunge into
the ocean of experience.

27 Nov
2017
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Exactly What We Need

Tell Me You Have Come
by Mark Nepo

There is a timing
larger than any of us, a
readiness that comes and goes
like the heat that makes
our secret walls melt.

How many times have I passed
exactly what I need, only
noticing the stream
when troubled by thirst.

The mystery is that
whoever shows up
when we dare to give
has exactly what we need
hidden in their trouble.

31 Oct
2017
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Learning How

Joining the Circus
by Mark Nepo

I just saw a handwritten note from
Galileo. He was under house arrest
for believing we’re not the center of
everything. Now behind me, in the park,
a dozen beginners, of all ages, learning how
to juggle. We have to start somewhere. The
young man who’s so magical at this is asked
to instruct. He smiles, “You have to keep
trying. Just not the same thing.” Earlier,
I leaned over a letter from Lincoln to a
dead soldier’s mother. This, just weeks
after losing Susan’s mother, sweet
Eleanor. I keep saying her name to
strangers. You see, we all have to
juggle joy and sorrow. Not to do it
well–we always drop something–but
when the up and down of life are
leaving one hand and not yet landing
in the other, then we glow, like
a mystical molecule hovering between
birth and death, ready to kiss anything.

30 Oct
2017
Posted in: Poems, Talks
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Still. And Moving.

As part of getting myself ready for the long retreat I’ll be taking at the end of December (which I posted about here), I’ve been re-listening to talks that were particularly meaningful to me during previous long retreats, especially the talk Phillip Moffitt gave at the end of the March 2016 retreat titled, Awareness: The Still/Flowing Water.

He begins with a teaching from Ajahn Chah, which uses the metaphor of water that is both still and flowing to point to the seemingly paradoxical nature of awareness (not the momentary nature of awareness of a particular object, but the awareness that’s “behind” the awareness of an object — the “knowing that you know” quality of mind that Phillip often talks about.)

He then quotes Ajahn Amaro on the same subject: “The aim of practice is subjectless, objectless awareness. The heart rests in the awareness — the quality of open, spacious knowing. There is the recognition of the mind’s own intrinsic nature: it is empty, lucid, awake, and bright.”

This is quite a profound teaching, which I won’t attempt to paraphrase here. Instead, let me strongly encourage you to listen deeply to this talk.

Consider these questions, which Phillip raises near the end of the talk: “How do we live with the ultimate insult to the ego: that we’re all going to die. That everyone we love will die, and that we too will die. How do we live with that? Where is there a refuge? Where is there a rest for the ego?

The answer, of course, is what Phillip has been pointing to all along, and which he continues to point to through poetry:

First from Rilke:
I am the rest between two notes,
Which struck together sound discordant
Because death’s note would claim a higher key.
But in the dark pause, trembling,
The notes meet harmonious.
And the song continues,
Sweet.

Then from T.S. Eliot:
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.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination…”

***

(erhebung is a German word that means “an ennobling elevation”)

26 Oct
2017
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The Leaves are Not the Ground

Being Here
by Mark Nepo

Transcending down into
the ground of things is akin
to sweeping the leaves that
cover a path. There will always
be more leaves. And the heart
of the journey, the heart of our
awakening, is to discover for
ourselves that the leaves are not
the ground, and that sweeping
them aside will reveal a path,
and finally, that to fully live,
we must take the path and
keep sweeping it.

24 Oct
2017
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Life Meanders

Brevity
by Mark Nepo

When someone says, “Get to the point,”
I stop talking. It was Mumon in China in
the summer of 1228 who said, “to test real
gold you must see it through fire.” So we
must walk what matters through fire. And
there is no bevity in what we learn from
fire. Or in retrieving what is worth sharing.
Or in what we bring up from the deep like
the pearl diver who painfully tells of the
shell that cut his hand as he scooped the
pearl and how his blood blossomed
underwater like a red net he keeps
dreaming of.

Life meanders to insure we are listen-
ing. Take the birder I met who tells me
of the blackpoll warbler who weighs as
much as a ball point pen, who migrates
every year from Nova Scotia to Venezuela,
pumping its tiny wings for 90 hours without
rest, without food, without touching down,
because the water will cause its wings to sleep
and it will die. The point, to keep winging.

The thrill of the birder makes me go home
and sit very still for a long time till the finch
I know thinks I’m a pole. I open my palm and
wait. It takes forty minutes but she hops into
my hand. I am stunned. She feels like a warm
breeze. I can feel her tiny heart, so fast it stops
my mind. She is soft and uncontainable. My
own heart starts to beat faster. Both of us–
so soft, so necessary, beyond any point.
She flies from my hand as she must–
leaving me bereft of all knowing,
just slightly aglow.

20 Oct
2017
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Ease Into the Conversation

I listened to a great talk last night by Jack Kornfield, given at the Fall Insight Retreat that’s going on right now at Spirit Rock. The title of the talk is Liberation and Mindfulness and in it he touches on the nature of consciousness and liberation in ways that I don’t think I’ve heard from him before.

Of course he does repeat many of his favorite quotes and tells several of his more familiar stories, but he also talks about three levels of mindfulness — Mindfulness of Content, Mindfulness of Process, and Mindfulness of Consciousness — which is definitely different language than I’ve heard him use.

The teachings, of course, are not different. But now Jack seems freer to talk about consciousness — extraordinary states of consciousness, especially — and to speak more directly about the experience of liberation. (Or maybe it’s just that now I’m more able to hear what he’s been saying all along.)

Listen and see for yourself. As Jack quotes at the end of the talk:

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

— from Everything is Waiting for You, by David Whyte 

18 Oct
2017
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And Yet It Is

It & Co.
by Tracy K. Smith

We are a part of It. Not guests.

Is It us, or what contains us?

How can It be anything but an idea,

Something teetering on the spine

Of the number i? It is elegant

But coy. It avoids the blunt ends

Of our fingers as we point. We

Have gone looking for It everywhere:

In Bibles and bandwidth, blooming

Like a wound from the ocean floor.

Still, It resists the matter of false vs. real.

Unconvinced by our zeal, It is un-

Appeasable. It is like some novels:

Vast and unreadable.

***

(I would add: And yet, It is experienceable.)

9 Oct
2017
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Standing Under

The Buddha taught that suffering is to be understood. We understand suffering by allowing ourselves to feel the truth of it — that is, we “stand under” it — and in doing so, we see its nature, its cause, and perhaps come to a new relationship with the unavoidable fact of it in our lives, one that does not add to that suffering, but instead, leads to its end.

***

At Cafe Sangha on Saturday, Lingli shared with me these two poems written by her professor Rock Cottone, about his son Torre, who was born with muscular dystrophy 17 years ago and who passed away suddenly last week.

Madonna
by Rock Cottone

She held him in her arms.
Thin, frail, weak,
But alive,
Like a sheet draped gently across her arms,
Her Duchenne child,
Dystrophic,
Transformed,
Transfigured,
As the body of Christ
Of Michelangelo’s Pieta,
Yet different,
Because he smiled up at her,
Loved her,
And showed her life.

***

Angle’s Song to Mother
by Rock Cottone

Place your cheek by mine
And look up to the stars that shine,
For you are the mother of an angle child.

Take comfort here.
Relinquish all your fear.
The promise of a healthy child I cannot give.

But know that I have been restyled
To rise up to the brightest start
Against the darkest night.

And as my body fails,
My wings will sprout
To take me on a journey
To a place where spirits soar,
And earthly limits are no more.

I feel your warmth nearby.
Rejoice in knowing I will fly
Unfettered by a corporal cast,
As time relieves me of its grasp.

And though you may feel little solace,
It’s important that you know this:
An eyelash wisp, and angle feather,
We are one, now and forever. 

***

(poems published in “High Romance”, 2012)

5 Oct
2017
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Sound and Silence

Music
by Jane Hirshfield

Why should they please us so,
those impossible runs,

or the knowledge
that the pianist’s hand
has spanned an inhuman distance?

That someone years ago conceived
this might be true
and once again it’s proved?

Light bends in water,
breaks inside cut glass;
I watched this endlessly as a child.

And now do not know which one
I want more
when sometimes I hear the sound,

sometimes the silence,
and they are equally beautiful
and bare.