contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Contemplative poetry

THE TAO OF URSULA K LE GUIN

“The Tao Te Ching is partly in prose, partly in verse; but as we define poetry now, not by rhyme and meter but as a patterned intensity of language, the whole thing is poetry. I wanted to catch that poetry, its terse, strange beauty. Most translations have caught meanings in their net, but prosily, letting the beauty slip through. And in poetry, beauty is no ornament; it is the meaning. It is the truth. We have that on good authority.

“Scholarly translations of the Tao Te Ching as a manual for rulers use a vocabulary that emphasises the uniqueness of the Taoist ‘sage’, his masculinity, his authority. This language is perpetuated, and degraded, in most modern versions. I wanted a Book of the Way accessible to a present-day, unwise, unpowerful, and perhaps unmale reader, not seeking esoteric secrets, but listening for a voice that speaks to the soul. I would like that reader to see why people have loved the book for twenty-five hundred years.

“It is the most lovable of all the great religious texts, funny, keen, kind, modest, indestructibly outrageous, and inexhaustibly refreshing. Of all the deep springs, this is the purest water. To me, it is also the deepest spring.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, introducing her own English version of the Tao Te Ching*

*Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Power and the Way Boston & London: Shambhala, 1998 (A new English version by Ursula K. Le Guin, with the collaboration of J.P. Seaton, Professor of Chinese, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

WILLIAM BLAKE: ETERNITY

He who binds himself to a joy

Doth the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

William Blake Complete Writings Oxford University Press, 1972 (edited by Geoffrey Keynes)

POEM: FROM LACK TO ABUNDANCE

Try to get

what you want,

and it’s already far away.

Be what you want,

know it in your heart,

and it’s already yours.

The rest is

details.

The rest,

you never really wanted anyway.

From lack to abundance,

in a heartbeat.

Jeff Foster The Way of Rest: Finding The Courage To Hold Everything In Love Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2016

WHEN I WAS A CREEK

When I was

a tree,

I sang and danced

with the wind

and offered

food and refuge

to all who came.

When I was

a cloud,

I floated freely,

bringing

shade and rain

wherever they

were needed.

When I was

a creek,

I flowed effortlessly

around stones

and nourished life

everywhere

I went.

When I was

a seed,

I held

the story

of what

I would become

inside me

until the sun

and rain

let me know

it was time

to share it.

When I was

a flower,

I opened up

to reveal

my beauty

and invited the bees

to share

the sweetness.

Now I am

human

and can do so many things,

yet I am

full of questions

about who I am

and why I’m here.

Kai Siedenburg Poems of Earth and Spirit: 70 Poems and 40 Practices to Deepen your Connection with Nature Our Nature Connection, 2017

CONTEMPLATION

I like this poem for its economy and simplicity, and for its gentle, shape-shifting animism – for the ease with which it moves between identities in nature. For me, there is power and beauty in this, all the better for a relative lack of ornament.

As a human, I do feel a bit set up. Whereas the rest of nature is awarded an innocence and generosity not always evident in the apparent world, we humans are implicitly stigmatised for our questions, and thereby separated from the rest of nature. In our mainstream culture (both religious and secular) we place ourselves above the rest of nature, so the polar opposite perspective does have a corrective value. But it leaves me unsatisfied.

My sense is that the writer is placing herself alongside me, the reader, and the other humans. She is not awarding herself a free pass on the grounds of her vividly present and enacted imaginative empathy. So I would say to her what I say to myself. As I read it, there’s a strong invitation to self-compassion in the last verse.

Our finite minds are as natural as anything on earth.. Our questions about who we are, why we’re here and what to do are part of us. For me, the only way through them is become more skilled in the process of inquiry and to learn to live by its fruits. I value this poem partly through what it evokes directly, and partly because it stimulates useful inquiry.

 

 

POEM: IN SILENCE

Be still

Listen to the stones of the wall.

Be silent, they try

To speak your

 

Name.

Listen

To the living walls.

Who are you?

Who

Are you? Whose

Silence are you?

 

Who (be quiet)

Are you (as these stones

Are quiet). Do not

Think of what you are

Still less of

What you may one day be.

Rather

Be what you are (but who?) be

The unthinkable one

You do not know.

 

Oh be still, while

You are still alive,

And all things live around you

Speaking (I do not hear)

To your own being,

Speaking by the Unknown

That is in you and in themselves.

 

“I will try, like them

To be my own silence:

And this is difficult. The whole

World is secretly on fire. The stones

Burn, even the stones

They burn me. How can  man be still or

Listen to all things burning? How can he dare

To sit with them when

All their silence

Is on fire?”

 

Thomas Merton Silence, Joy: A Selection of Writings New York: New Directions, 2018

 

POEM: A SPECIAL DAY (CHOSEN FOR ELAINE)

Today

is a very special day.

Today we celebrate

sun and rain,

light and dark,

the cycles of life,

the great turning

of the wheel.

Today we celebrate

every leaf on every tree,

every feather on every bird,

every drop of water in every stream.

Today we celebrate

green growing ones and winged ones,

two leggeds and four leggeds,

all who walk, crawl,

swim or fly.

We celebrate

each breath of air,

each morsel of food,

each beat of our hearts,

each healthy cell.

We celebrate

the profound miracle

of being alive

in this body

in this moment

on this planet.

Today,

like every other day,

is a very special day.

Kai Siedenburg Poems of Earth and Spirit: 70 Poems and 40 Practices to Deepen your Connection with Nature Our Nature Connection, 2017

(Poem shared on the occasion of my wife Elaine’s birthday. It was transcribed for me  on a card sent to me on my own birthday last month. It prompted me to buy the collection, which I recommend.)

 

HAIKU BY SARYU

Without a brush

The willow paints the wind

 

Zen Haiku, selected and translated by Jonathan Clements

London: Frances Lincoln, 2000

 

RUMI: BEING HUMAN

This being human is a guesthouse.

Every morning is a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all,

even if they’re a crowd of sorrows

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture.

Still, treat each guest as honourable.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

I discovered this poem when learning Focusing, a peer and reciprocal support system described by one group of practitioners as based on a ‘bio-spirituality’. As such ‘a guide from beyond’ would be described, rather, as ‘a guide from within’. From the perspective of the discursive mind, I find, it amounts to the same thing.

Focusing works on the understanding that we can hold every experience within a larger presence that is loving but not identified with the experience or lost in it. I am not ‘the dark thought, the shame, the malice’, but I can acknowledge it as something in me that I can lovingly welcome. I can keep it company. This welcoming and keeping company is the essence of the practice, discovering what unfolds – rather than trying to fix or banish the initially unwanted part. For there is a wisdom in the wound. As Leonard Cohen famously put it, ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s where the light comes in’.

For more information about Focusing, there are several useful websites:

https://focusingresources.com/

https://www.biospiritual.org/

http://www.focusing.org.uk/

https://www.livingfocusing.co.uk/

 

STILL POINT

My last post developed out of the phrase: the movement of the breath and stillness in the breath. My wondering about ‘stillness’ began when I was introduced to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets at the age of about sixteen,  finding its language and imagery clear and strong. They were a little beyond my reach, but continued to haunt me.

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor

fleshless.

Neither from not towards; at the still point where the dance

Is,

But neither arrest or movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered.

“Time past and time future

Allow but a little consciousness.

To be conscious is not to be in time

But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,

The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,

The moment in the draughty church at smokefall

Be remembered; involved with past and future.

Only through time time is conquered.”

 

1) https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress.com/2018/06/23/pneuma-the-divine-breath/

2) T. S. Eliot Four Quartets London: Faber & Faber, 1946 (Extract from Burnt Norton, the first quartet)

URSULA LE GUIN: HYMN TO TIME

Time says “Let there be”
every moment and instantly
there is space and the radiance
of each bright galaxy.

And eyes beholding radiance.
And the gnats’ flickering dance.
And the seas’ expanse.
And death, and chance.

Time makes room
for going and coming home
and in time’s womb
begins all ending.

Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.

Quoted by Maria Popova in https://www.brainpickings.org/newsletter/

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