All the meditative traditions encourage us to be still and to drop our thoughts and feelings, so we can breathe our way below all trouble into the flow of life-force that carries us. This is wise counsel. It gives us perspective and sometimes peace. But being a poet, I enter that Universal space and just take notes. I lean into the stillness with an open heart and listen to everything, including my thoughts and feelings and the entanglements of life. For I believe the mutual goal of meditation and poetry is not to have us remove ourselves from our human journey, but to have us live our lives more completely in relationship to the flow of life-force that carries us.
The poems and all that I write are simply the trail and record of what I see and feel in the meditative space. All my writings arise from peering from the edge of our humanness into the bareness of being that permeates all life. I have intuitively worked this way, even as a boy, long before I knew about meditation or poetry. I believe that poetry itself resides at the holy juncture where our humanness touches the bareness of being that holds the Universe together. This is the only place I write from, whether I’m alone in the woods or being jostled on a crowded subway. It is the lens through which I meet life. It is the place I return to in order to renew this endless conversation. It is listening in this space that keeps me fresh and sane.
He was thirteen before he knew what a hand drill was. His father saved and bought him one for 75 cents. Before that, he made holes in wood by twisting coal-fired nails into the grain. It was his job to throw wood in the fire after school. When red hot, he’d pinch a nail with a pair of pliers and twist it through the wood, which went soft and dark until there was an opening. Now his skin is thin and just last week he stumbled out of bed and landed hard on the radiator, his forearm tearing like a thin curtain. It took an hour to stop bleeding.
He just took care of it himself. We are held this way in the fire of time where we go soft and dark till our skin goes thin and just waking tears us open.
A Question to Walk With: Ask an elder in your life for a story about the first tool they learned how to use.
This excerpt is from a new book in progress, Compass Work: Finding Our Fathers While Finding Ourselves.
The old painter tells me that he loves to drive through small towns, so he can sketch the light and strike up conversations with the young woman who pumps his gas and the lobster fisherman who lets him bait his traps. He loves to meet life as it bubbles up between troubles. Last summer, he wanted to meet that poet from Nebraska, the one who speaks so simply of all that matters. He didn’t want to bother him, just to say how grateful he is for what his poems open. Eight hundred miles later, he was asking for the poet in the old bookstore. Then he drifted into the antique store in Garland where he bought four lanterns. It’s there the owner said, “Oh Ted, he lives in Dwight.” So the painter took his lanterns and drove the back road to Dwight where he left a note on Ted’s window that read, “Your poems matter.” Once home, he set up the lanterns and confessed that he needs more light as he talks to death. The next day, he painted a barn he saw in Dwight and sent it to Ted. In telling me this, he’s all aglow, a lantern himself. He takes my hand and wells up, “I love this life.”
In many ways, writing is listening and simply taking notes. One of the reasons I love the process of writing is that it enables me to listen until my loneliness opens into a blessed sense of aloneness. The gift of deep silence is that it allows us to let go of what we want so we can receive what we have.
I’ve always been a learner of the heart, not a specialist of the mind. I can dissect and hone and prune away the excess. But the shimmer of Wholeness and the dynamics of Oneness show themselves when we can absorb and integrate rather than sort and choose.
As a young writer, I would try so hard to be a mirror, to reflect back to everything its color and verve. But as a more experienced writer, I try to be a window now, to open a threshold between people and the inner world.
Being still and listening allows us to behold what is before us. The deepest form of bearing witness is to behold another in all their innocence. This is the key to love. To listen until the noise of the world subsides. To listen until the noise of the mind subsides. To listen until the noise of our wounds subsides. To listen until we only hear the life before us.
A Question to Walk With: Describe a time when you have been caretaker and when you have been a gatekeeper and what led you to each position. How do you understand the difference in what led you to each position?All life depends on water. As such, access to water has become a universal right in the world, regardless of faith, country, privilege, or poverty. Throughout the world, in a legal and common law way, people, corporations, and countries have access to water, but no one owns the water. What this means is that if a river passes through your land, you can use it, but not divert it, dam it, stop its flow, or damage its purity as it passes through your land to another.
This says a great deal about our responsibility as guardians of what passes through our care. It says that the deepest resources are not ownable, but shared and passed on. As such, we can easily equate water with Spirit, wisdom, and the communal ways of being. We can also call that deeper stream which no one owns, the common good. For all life depends on the common good, which passes like a river through the land of our care. Just like water, we can use each other and honor each other, but not divert one another, dam one another up, stop each other’s flow, or pollute the common good as it passes through our hands to another.