The path

“Some might ask whether the path is before us or within us. The answer is: Yes. We are both driven from within by our resident spirit and something outside calls forth the genius within us. The genius is what we aim to know and it is the force that drives us to awaken. What truly calls to us speaks to the personal myth and the innate purpose seeded in our soul from the beginning.”

~ Michael Meade, “The Genius Myth

PathInTheWoods

Shoveling snow with Buddha

“In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over the mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm and slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside the generous pocket of his silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck,
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.”

~ Billy Collins

buddha_snow

Forgetfulness

“The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.”

Billy Collins, 1941

old hands 2

What work is

“We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is–if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.”
~ Philip Levine

cadillac

 

Zero Circle

“Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
To gather us up.

We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us
And shut tight our window onto spirit.

So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Besides ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence, Lead us.
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.”

~ Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

teaching-kindness

Start close in

“Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.”

~ David Whyte in River Flow
New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press

The_Long_Journey

Forgetfulness

“The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.”

~ Billy Collins

forgetfulness

 

Winter harvest

“Bringing home the fruits of our preparation, our thought and our labor at the right time has always been one of the very great necessities of a human life. As any harvest time approaches, and what we have worked for so diligently begins to ripen, the stakes rise dramatically. The forces and the elements of nature and weather become magnified in their effect, and as the appointed days arrive, everything suddenly seems to become fully allied to our hopes or a mortal enemy to our future happiness. As things approach ripeness the rest of the world, human or animal, also takes notice, and moves in for a share of our bounty. Just being present at the right time is perhaps the most important thing of all. This year saw me bring in a very good harvest of walnuts to dry by the fire, put on the table and see me through the holiday season, mostly because I was able to stay at home during the crucial week. Other years, missing that one stretch of five days in some foreign place, the Squirrels, the Blue Jays and the Crows have left me only a desolation of empty shells scattered from one end of the garden to the other, as if to say, “we were here, and you were not, and so who deserved the bounty?”

Being present is one thing; acting at the right time is another. Whether it be walnuts or apples or wheat, a new business set in motion, or a relationship deepening after its exciting romantic inception, we seem to spend an enormous amount of time in thinking, imagining, preparing, working and worrying things into fullness. Our great difficulty is keeping alive an attentive identity that knows firstly, how to be present and then secondly, to recognize when the season has come to its apogee, when the commitment must be made and the harvest brought in. Often the busy identity that set things going and kept them going is too overloaded and besieged to be able to get its head up from the work and win the fruits of our long hours, or too caught up in the early version of the story, to recognize how the story is reaching its conclusion and must be acted upon, and then at other times, to know when the season of our interest has fully turned and it is now time to move on to other fields of endeavor, no matter the price we get for what we have achieved so far.

Bringing in what we have worked for seems to get more difficult the less it has to do with what is recognizable in the outer world and the more it has to do with a hidden harvest of inner possibility. We would often rather stay in false impossibilities that look good from the outside and that we set for ourselves in the early abstract than choose a really possible happiness in the ripening and very real now. In work we keep on working because it keeps what is seeable in place, meanwhile our ambitions and our interests may have taken a different axis of possible fruitfulness. In relationship we may choose a man or woman who represents an original but impossible ideal, but who has no actual chemistry with our real and particular life and who does nothing but bring us into an intimate encounter with frustration, rather than choosing a possible and reciprocal intimacy with a real chance of future happiness.

All the more difficult then for us to recognize those internal opportunities that present themselves when no outer harvests seem present or possible. We look out at the wintry landscape and feel as if nothing is happening, no growth or fullness is occurring and fail to see the subtler gifts that arrive inside us in times of darkness or disappearance. In the natural world we might be comforted to see there are improbable winter harvests all the time: a late and perfect apple hanging above the frost, the proverbial winter rose, comforting root vegetables, brassicas and even from that most sun associated harvest of the grape, ice wine.

It takes patience, time and attention and perhaps a proper friendship with silence to understand the gifts of winter that make themselves known only to begin with, far inside us, or to properly harvest a metaphorical inner darkness that might be experienced, even at the height of an outside summer. In winter, the outer world may seem to have come to a halt, but inside there is a beautiful hidden intelligence, which left to itself creates its own new birth and arrival, even in the most difficult times. This winter harvest depends on stillness, a learned patience, a radical letting alone of the self, a radical simplification of that self, a giving up of the old light filled certainties and a willingness in the midst of it all, to start again, even when we do not know exactly where to place our feet in the faint light.

All around our world many people experience the fearfulness and uncertainties, the invasion of individual lives by vast abstract government and commercial entities, and the ecological losses of our time as a great besieging darkness, a winter of the individual human soul. It might be that one of the great and beautiful questions we can ask ourselves in times of loss, confusion or exile, as individuals, as citizens of a slowly coalescing planetary imagination, irrespective of national boundaries, irrespective of how we actually would like things to look right now: What is coming to light, far inside us, even in the deep winter of our discontent, and where is the point where our sense of presence, our insight and our understanding, will coalesce far inside us into outer action?”

~ David Whyte

Winter Harvest

Morning poem

“Every morning
the world is created.

Under the orange sticks of the sun
the heaped ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves
to the high branches-

If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.

And if your spirit carries within it
the thorn that is heavier than lead-
if it is all you can do to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted.

Each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.”

~ Mary Oliver – New and Selected Poems

water-lily

 

Messenger

“My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.”

~  Mary Oliver

my_old_worn_boots