A Question to Walk With: Thank someone who struggles with what comes to you easily, for they have steadied the ground for you.
This excerpt is from my book of poems in progress, The Gods Visit.
It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
This excerpt is from my book of poems in progress, The Gods Visit.
Throughout history, those afraid of the life of feelings have undermined their power and dismissed their rightful role in experiencing truth. For much of my life, I’ve been called a Romantic, which is true, but not complete. It’s like defining the sea by its surface. Romantic is a term that has been diminished through the years. Today, it denotes a sentimental outlook on life fueled by unwarranted optimism. At heart, though, it has always been an outlook that assumes there’s something larger than the individual. All the energy surrounding such a view arises from a belief in the interconnectedness of all Life and the experience of Wholeness.
At its core, Romanticism suggests that we can become whole through inwardness, by feeling and inhabiting our “inscape,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins calls it. “Feeling is all,” as the German poet Goethe says.
When finding my way, I came home from college to have a classic argument with my father. Over dinner the first night, I declared to him with excitement that I was a poet. I hadn’t yet written anything but knew it was true. He was incredulous and frustrated and loudly asked, “How are you going to make a living?” I’m not sure where it came from in me, but I looked at him and said, “I’m going to live a making.” I confess that I’ve spent much of my life learning what that means. And it is living a making for so many years that has led me to the place of true meeting that waits under all our struggles.
I have learned that making a living is tending the assignments that come from “without” while living a making is tending the assignments that come from “within.” Making a living is how we survive, but living a making is how we thrive. We need the strength and resilience to do both.
Even if it takes years, it is important to heal the wounded places, so we can recover the full use of our heart. For the parts of our heart that are left wounded and unresolved remain preoccupied and not available for us to use in living. If unprocessed, the wounded places become dark and hard. Being vulnerable allows us to recover our heart, because being vulnerable and tender allows our wounds to soften and heal.
There was a particular moment of perception that transformed me completely. I had had a bone-marrow sampling and a spinal tap during the same hospital visit. Afterward, I was sent home a bit battered and told to lie still for six to eight hours, because moving before the spinal fluid had a chance to regenerate would cause a migraine. Well, it was hard for me to be still, and every time I moved, I was thrust back down on the couch in pain.
It was as if the force of life was insisting that I be still. When I was, I finally looked out the window to see an apple tree in my front yard. I had seen this tree a hundred times, yet never really looked at it. Now, unable to move without inducing pain, I was forced into a moment of indigenous perception. Seeing the apple tree freshly, it came alive, and I listened to the tree for the very first time.
Strange as it was, the apple tree spoke to me, not in words but with a bare presence that said, “When you survive this, there will be no more making things up. When you survive, you will only bear witness to the truth of things as they are.”
A tribe migrates west because they are being persecuted. They emigrate into the mountains. They settle on a plateau and, together, they clear that part of the forest and build their homes, creating a settlement, which the elder of the tribe names Crestview. In time, their children are born where they have arrived, into a place where they wake each day in a clearing with a view of the vastness.
The paradox at the center of this small story is that sometimes we have to make pilgrimage to live in the open in order to have a view of the vastness of life, and sometimes we are in debt to those before us for what we assume is a birthright. Sometimes, we have to stand on the commitment and hard work of others. Yet, there are other passages in life that everyone has to journey through by themselves.
Every life within every generation must struggle between the appearance of nothing and the appearance of everything. When hurt and unable to explain pain and loss, we are tempted to make a god of nothing, banishing all that is connective about light. Similarly, when touched by kindness and lifted by inexplicable grace, we are tempted to make a god of everything, wanting to exile the genuine difficulties of being alive. But the tides of life are always replete with both everything and nothing, as they mix within us and around us.
Poetry is a portal, a means of perception. All art is. And just as we can see the very energy of existence through a microscope, we can see the vibrancy at the center of all life through our heart or our mind, when we are clear of bias and noise. Under all the shaping of words, poetry is the threshold of perception through which we taste the shimmer of Spirit that informs everything.
The word “perceive” and the word “receive” have the same Latin root, percipere which means “to understand,” from per which means “entirely” and capere which means “to take.” To perceive, then, means “to take things in entirely, completely, in a way that covers us with understanding.”
But first, we must put down our screens and filters. Once life enters us, then it is useful to discern what has entered. But often we block the true gift of perception by sorting things before they reach us and touch us.
I take my time, looking for what [lasts]…
We are constantly challenged to marry what is with what can be. If we only bear witness to the trials of existence, we will be weighed down by the burdens of time. If we only pine after what is possible and ideal, we will become airy, romantic, and completely removed from the embodiment of life. So these questions of practice remain: What are the tools by which you stay grounded but not buried in the ground? And what are the tools by which you are lifted but not removed from all that is real? Staying grounded but not buried and lifted but not removed is how we repair, reimagine, and rebuild the world.
A Question to Walk With: Describe the boat that is your life, the lantern that is your heart, and the small flame within your very center that doesn’t go out.
This excerpt is from my book of poems, The Gods Visit.
One of the great truths in this life is that if we know love, we will know loss.
The more we love, the more the loss will hurt. Yet, if we don’t love, what’s the point in being here?
When we can courageously love with all our heart, the reward is that through that love we will know depths in our heart and being otherwise inaccessible. What a gift. Still, things will never be the same.
Since stepping out of the first cave, we have made pilgrimage, trying to find where we are going by opening our hearts to where we began. Yet how can any of us tell where the other has been? You, ahead of me in the checkout line, what have you lost and gained along the way that I will never know?
They say the great flamingos of India prefer to migrate in a cloudless sky. They can travel up to 400 miles a night and when they land, who can know what they have seen?
Once awake, an essential path of learning is the art of being sensitive. No one quite knows how to do this. And once open to the infinite sensations and enlivening encounters that experience brings, we are often overwhelmed by such aliveness. It is a common malady for the sensitive to become whatever they encounter. Yet though we are enlivened by our feelings, we are not our feelings, just as a tree brought alive by the wind is not the wind.
Inevitably, we all struggle in discerning the truth of the feelings we must follow from the grip of the feelings that oppress us and rule us. I have experienced the truth of feelings when I can face what is mine to face and have been held down in the grip of feelings when I avoid, deny, or run from them.
Over the years, I’ve been humbled to discover, time and again, that when I feel I have no more to give—just then, I am asked to give more.
And when I try, deeper gifts come out of me than I knew were there. In these unexpected excavations of my giving, I’ve been introduced to my deeper, foundational self that draws its fortitude and resilience from the Whole of Life.
I have also discovered that, try as we do to labor the mind to solve every circumstance, the mind can only go so far. And so, when stuck, give. For giving cleans all the stuck places and then we can see with new eyes, and perceive with a new mind, and listen with new ears.
I have always loved the café life where I can sit by the endless river without leaving the river, where I can remove myself from the sweeping current but still drink from life. Known as “schools of wisdom,” the first cafés were opened in Damascus, Mecca, and Istanbul in the 15th century, places to stop before making the trek across the continent.
The English word coffee comes from the Italian word caffè, which in turn comes from the Arabic term qahwa, which originally referred to a type of wine. But after wine was banned by Islam in the seventh century, the name referred to coffee.
I wonder: Who was the first to brew and open his door? Who was the first to stop and share his story? And what was that story? Was it one of wonder or betrayal? In 1640, a coffeehouse opened in Venice. Twelve years later, Pasqua Rosee opened the first café In London in St. Michael’s Alley. By 1739, there were 551 coffeehouses in London. They were known as “penny universities.” Patrons told stories, played checkers, sketched portraits, and read poetry. Weary travelers listened and laughed before picking up their burdens.
Keith Jarrett is a legendary pianist and composer who is part of the pantheon who have led us into new realms of music. His legendary ability to improvise is astonishing as are his renditions of classical music including Bach, Handel, and Mozart. Like so many, I have been both softened and strengthened by his company my entire life.
On January 24, 1975, you arrived from a long wet drive from Zurich. You had not slept well due to back pain. You kept shifting the brace in the car, only to find they had the wrong piano. You were going to cancel when the young promoter pleaded in the rain. So, at 11:30 p.m. you walked on stage at the Koln Opera House to a sold-out crowd of 1400 who each paid $1.72 to get in. For the next hour and three minutes you were a nameless spirit rippling in a musical wind, your hands fluttering up and down the keyboard in a more than human way.
I discovered the recording a few years later and your devotion to playing only what you hear helped me be the poet I was born to be. I have played the Koln Concert everywhere: jogging, swimming, walking in the woods, and on airplanes peering through the clouds. Then, in 1985, you released “Hourglass,” a waterfall on piano that you plucked from the gods. Like so many, I have let it unravel my soul countless times, including while huddled in the nook of a boulder on the edge of the Continental Divide. The mountain jays were swooping to the rhythm of your hands. Your disciplined abandon has taught me much about immersion.
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