Cave painter

Rembrandt_The_Artist_in_his_studio Rembrandt | The Artist in His Studio

Cave painter

in his studio
his eyes
are black

self portrait
requires
hand on

balanced
brush or
dust for

blowing
and an
inward

turned eye
the depth
of parietal

art’s mirror
to espy and
translate

to white
canvas
or cave

wall to
speak of
community’s

necessity
without
which there

is no
life or
growing

neurological
pathfinding
at all

in his studio
Rembrandt’s
eyes are

black as
also the
cave painter’s

forty
thousand
long years

before his
yet no
insight

do they
then or
today

our own
inward
eyes seeing

to the
back of
our soul’s

deep caves
ever
lack

SRM

stone-age-2115388_1280-1.jpg

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Allegiances

american-river-1590010_1280
photo at pixabay

Allegiances

It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.

Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked –
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders: – we
encounter them in dread and wonder,

But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.

Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

William Stafford
The Way It Is – New & Selected Poems

A few key dates in William Stafford’s life: born in Kansas in 1914. A conscientious objector in World War II. A man whose habit was to write something daily, who would rise at 4.30am to ‘sit and wait’ for what he knew lay within to be written. His volume West of Your City published by Talisman Press in 1960; Allegiances published by Harper in New York in 1970; the author of over fifty books, he died at his home in Oregon in 1993.

William Stafford thoroughly understood that once we have tasted far streams … / found some limit beyond the waterfall, / a season changes, and we come back, changed …

And therein lies our hope for this old world in our own time and season.

Dreadful elves, goblins, trolls and spiders have always existed. Some of them, some of us too, have sought to be ‘heroes’ – fenced around by their and our own ignorance. It is time for all the heroes to go home.

How then may I and we locate ourselves by the real things / we live by – ?

Perhaps – having tasted – it has always to start with me, with what I now clearly see: that instead of kidding myself it’s my job to change the entire world (whoever I am, whatever my place of birth, gender, skin colour, creed or lack thereof, and wherever on earth I think myself called to be the hero, the unsolicited ‘saviour of the world’) my best contribution to that same world will be to allow seasons and experience to change me.

While strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

Note sturdy. Not wimps without cogniscence of – or willingness sometimes to act upon – right or wrong. Not people who turn blind eyes to goblins and trolls. Not people who do not grieve, or hope, or offer healing or hospitality, or pray, or live and die. But sturdy. Believing in the possibility of being positively changed. Experienced in the quiet and slow methods and the poetry of seasons.

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New aeons

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Photo at Pixabay

On the morning of a momentous decision in the US

asleep in her little cot now
softly breathing the calm of the
nursery
twinkling stars picture-framed – close by
her box of toys – and story-book
open at

the page wherein her eyes closed and
she entered the world of little
ones’ dreams where
there’s no noise save for soft echoes
of the tale about bluebirds and
rivers and

great mountains and fountains and girls
and boys and doll houses and train
sets and the
cuddly teddy bear’s rising high
above his fear of giants and huge
disasters

camping close by a lake in a
wilderness space where his silent
revelling
in nature’s spacious truths reminds
him that this old world is not much
given to

over-reacting but keeps turning
in her course and the vast silence
of many
billions of aeons unfolding
before his marvelling eyes and
awed wonder

asleep in her little cot now
but when she wakes we shall recall
the teddy
bear’s knowing and growing in the
bluebird’s mountainous wilderness
together

SRM

At the base of a tree

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Photo at Pixabay

A friend has just acquired a book I’ve loved for a long time and – as is the way with such things – her interest in it has me turning the pages of my copy, years after the first of my many readings of it. And I have entranced all over again. Quaker, Palmer J Palmer always hits the spot for me.

The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek …

… And I hope that the reader who sits with this book can hear the silence that always surrounds us in the writing and reading of words. It is a silence that forever invites us to fathom the meaning of our lives – and forever reminds us of depths of meaning that words will never touch.

Parker J Palmer
Let Your Life Speak

Gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful

Many people have favoured books they return to again and again. Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness, 2006, is one of mine. Sometimes it just jumps off the bookcase next to my fireside chair. And each reading offers new love and new light.

This evening I’m resting in some words from Parker J Palmer’s Foreword to the book:

Jerry’s last words were spoken to his daughter, Julie, but they could have been spoken to any and all of us: “Trust in Love, Trust in God.”

With Jerry May’s death, we have suffered a great loss. With this book – forged in his living and refined in the crucible of his dying – we have received a great gift. I think Jerry would say that painful but promising paradoxes such as this are at the heart of the wilderness experience, and of the wisdom traditions that have merged from our encounters with wilderness, both inner and outer. I think Jerry would urge us to go beyond our simple-minded dualism about death and life, to see into – and live into – the wild unity of it all.

Jerry opened his now-classic Will and Spirit with these words: “We all have secrets in our hearts. I will tell you one of mine. All my life I have longed to say yes, to give myself completely, to some Ultimate Someone or Something.”

I believe that Jerry’s longing has been fulfilled. Thanks to this gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful man, our stores of significant thought, authentic prayer, and shake-the-rafters laughter have been replenished, on earth as they now are in heaven.

Parker J Palmer
Foreword to Gerald G May
The Wisdom of Wilderness

We’re living, in many parts of the world in 2016, in bewildering and turbulent times. Few of us, if any, have much faith in politicians assuring us of their ability to “make us the greatest …” Many more of us are turned off by such language. How, for heaven’s sake, could we measure what being “the greatest” would look like anyway? By whose definition?

In the midst of the world’s clamour Gerald May’s words resonate still: “Trust in Love. Trust in God.” Simple “last words” that led into new beginnings – for Jerry, for Parker Palmer, and for innumerable readers of his wilderness experiences. What would I give, what would any of us give, to be able to imagine that maybe, some day, some blessed friend or loved one might truly be able to speak of us as gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful – ?

An axiom

I have an abiding image of the late, great Irish poet John O’Donohue sitting at his peat fireside, notebook and pen at hand, apparently completely at peace with the world. A big man with a big and generous heart. Again and again his words are a tonic to me.

The great law of life is to be yourself. Though this axiom sounds simple it is often a difficult task. To be yourself you have to learn how to become the person you were dreamed to be. Each person has a unique destiny. To be born is to be chosen. There is something special that each of us has to do in the world. If someone else could do it they would be here and not us. One of the fascinating questions is to decipher what one’s destiny is. At the heart of each destiny is hidden a unique life calling. What are you called to do? In old-fashioned language: what is your vocation in life? When you find that what you are doing is what you love, what you were brought here to do, it makes for a rich and contented life. You have come into the rhythm with your longing. Your work and your action emerge naturally: you don’t have to force yourself. Your energy is immediate. Your passion is clear and creative. A new calling can open the door into the house of your vision and belonging. You feel at home in your life. Heart and hearth at one.

John O’Donohue

Yes: a big man – whose heart was – and remains – a hearth.

Substance

I thought that the substance of poetry
does not lie in the sound value of the word,
nor in its colour, nor in the metric line,
nor in the complex of sensations, but in
the deep pulse of the spirit; and this deep
pulse is what the soul contributes, if it
contributes anything, or what it says, if it
says anything, with its own voice, in a
courageous answer to the touch of the world.

Antonio Machado
Introductory piece for Soledades, Madrid, 1917

It is this “deep pulse”, I think, this resonance, this courage to put one’s inner-self out there, responding deeply to “the touch of the world”, that has oft-inspirited Angela Locke, a poet friend of mine, with exquisite poems that “came to me complete.”

… so we turn and turn
the atoms of the world in the sea’s hand
in the wind’s hand in form and gravity
and fire
atom and atom
so we love and from our loving
from the drawing of the deep earth place
some god    some creator
some mathematician
draws down

the beginning
of the rose

Angela Locke
from Rose and Stone
Whale Language: Songs of Iona

And that is why I come before poetry in reverence and in awe.

Untouchable serenity

So many things which once had distressed
or revolted him — the speeches and
pronouncements of the learned, their
assertions and their prohibitions, their
refusal to allow the universe to move —
all seemed to him now merely ridiculous,
non-existent, compared with the majestic
reality, the flood of energy, which now
revealed itself to him: omnipresent,
unalterable in its truth, relentless in
its development, untouchable in its
serenity, maternal and unfailing in its
protectiveness.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Hymn of the Universe

There’ll be a hard frost again tonight. The air is sharp, the mind possessed of clarity and recall unusual for this time of day: depths above, around, beneath and within. Silence. Serenity. Resting place. Soul space.

Velcro or Teflon?

I’m a long-term devotee of Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s many books and (enthusiastically recommended) daily meditations. He’s currently writing a series under the banner Alternative Orthodoxy and today’s piece hits a large nail squarely on the head. I hope that this “taster” will encourage readers (of all faith traditions or none) to follow the link to the full piece, and maybe go on to subscribe to the daily emailed Meditations.

Dan O’Grady, a psychologist and Living School student,
told me recently that our negative and critical thoughts
are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive
and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. We
have to deliberately choose to hold onto positive thoughts
before they “imprint” …

Neuroscience can now demonstrate the brain indeed
has a negative bias; the brain prefers to constellate
around fearful, negative, or problematic situations. In
fact, when a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing
comes your way, you have to savor it consciously for at
least fifteen seconds before it can harbor and store
itself in your “implicit memory”; otherwise it doesn’t
stick. We must indeed savor the good in order to
significantly change our regular attitudes and moods.
And we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro”
negative thoughts.

Excerpt from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Alternative Orthodoxy: Week 2 – Turning toward the Good
Thursday, February 18, 2016

This is game-changing stuff, I think, if we reflect a bit on the fact that the world’s contemplative and / or praying traditions have long intuited instinctively what sticks – and what doesn’t, what makes human persons feel positive, happy and fully awake – and what doesn’t.

Whilst some undoubtedly continue to think of prayer as ceremonial, or as a shopping list, or “Life” insurance policy, many, many others around the world have recognised, and are recognising the literally immeasurable benefits of savouring something ‘consciously for at least fifteen seconds’ so that ‘it can harbor and store itself in your “implicit memory”; otherwise it doesn’t stick.’

What a difference 15 seconds, or 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes-worth of conscious savouring could make to everyone’s daily life. How did humankind manage to get something so fundamental to personal and corporate peace and concord holed up in exclusive religious institutions and complex commandments for so long? Consciousness-capability is an already-present charism or gift, in and for everyone. Let’s teach our children that, early.

It’s truly no wonder that the great teachers – the Prophets, the Buddha, the Eastern mystics and Jesus of Nazareth, together with the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis in our own time, and all the other great bodhisattvas, gurus, natives and sages through the ages – have been a bit suspicious of religiosity. Each, in their own way, has pointed humankind to the obvious fact of our evolving and growing.

Loving “success” in the growing process will involve appreciating (giving worth to or worshipping), considering, contemplating, feeling, hearing, knowing, meditating, praying, remembering, seeing, sensing, smelling, tasting, touching, uniting and velcro-ing-in goodness!

Inner work

Self-transformation

Would you like to save the world from the degradation
and destruction it seems destined for? Then step away
from shallow mass movements and quietly go to work on
your own self-awareness. If you want to awaken all of
humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to
eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate
all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the
greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-
transformation.

Lao Tzu
Chinese philosopher, circa 6th century BC

As early as the 6th century BC philosophers and religionists were thinking and concerned about world “degradation and destruction” – and that thought alone invites me to a bit of silent reflection. It’s in the quieting of the mind, the “getting out of our heads”, the reaching deeper than our incessantly interrupting monkey thoughts, that we begin to have a sense of who we really are – awakening self-awareness, silently knowing our place within the great scheme of the Universe. Lao Tzu was keen that seekers after truth should “step away from shallow mass movements and quietly go to work …”

Day by day in the gym I’m intrigued by the sights and sounds of those hooked into the latest short-term health fads – readily identifiable because of the frowns on their faces, resentful grunting, and the hammer-driven eight minutes they “give up” for distracted “workouts”. And then there are the peaceful souls, there early each morning, who give no impression of being in a hurry. They’ll maybe spend an hour in their same familiar little routines of preference. Quiet smile, bright eyes and gentle pace suggest they’re not too pre-occupied with “degradation and destruction”, apparently seeing something of a higher order – outer AND inner workouts “saving” their work and their worlds.

The Other Kingdoms

Consider the other kingdoms. The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals. Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be. Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

Mary Oliver
The Other Kingdoms
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures

A blogging friend I admire shares my delight in the works of Mary Oliver and – on different continents – we’ve both been pondering her The Other Kingdoms, each especially attracted, apparently, by the same lines: Their / infallible sense of what their lives / are meant to be. Ivon’s piece is here. I wonder how many others have carried this poem with them through the hours of this past day alone? Poetry breathes a life of its own and is, in a sense, one of The Other Kingdoms.

Life is ineffably rich. Yesterday I contemplated the farthest reaches of the universe. Today, early, I meditated long upon the agility of the tiniest of wrens – fleet of foot, not just upon the wing; and later on the slant of the sunlight through the window at the gym; still later upon the bravery of snowdrops nodding cheerfully above frost-covered earth; later again upon a vase of Cornish daffodils come North! And upon the miraculous and perpetual developments taking place every day in the lives of my loved ones near and far, scattered family, and dear, dear friends.

And of course I pray for a healing touch upon the innumerable tragedies of the world – but, by poetry’s insistence perhaps, from a space within that holds on to what I can only describe as “love’s perspective” – an indefatigable faith that, ultimately, as Mother Julian has it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and yea, all manner of things shall be well.” My baby grand-daughter is developing a fondness for little animals – “lambie”, and her family’s dog, and teddy bears. I hope she’ll come to know poetry’s other kingdoms, and

creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze. Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be.

And I reach out, hoping daily that such a sense might ever grow, and grow, in me.

Elements of belonging

Last evening I got lost in a reverie with David Whyte’s poem Working Together: master teacher of the arts of evocation and of invocation, his poems “haunt” me, hovering in and around me, in much the same way Mary Oliver’s do, or May Sarton’s, or William Stafford’s. Poets who become our favourites do so, I guess, because something of their form, heart, precision and soul takes up residency somewhere deep, deep, deep within us.

… may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine

David Whyte
from Working Together
The House of Belonging

Though I knew of the late John O’Donohue’s sublime works (Anam Cara – soul friend; Divine Beauty etc) before I discovered David Whyte, I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised when I learned that the two were the closest of friends. Each, consciously or unconsciously, writes blessing. The poetic voice of each – the sound, the timbre, the vibration – are heard once, never to be forgotten … may we, in this life / trust …

Some lovely video footage of John, writing at home, comfortably seated beside an Irish peat fire, has left me with a burning desire some day to visit The Burren [YouTube], perhaps to encounter the soul of the great man in the vast and ancient open spaces there, and maybe, by some miracle, to bump into his old friend David Whyte who, I like to imagine, still walks and remembers there from time to time … to those elements / we have yet to see …

But the actual going there, to The Burren, will not, I think, be necessary, even if someday achieved and delighted in. For the poetry of life has already done its work, and friendships I delight in – some of whom I’ve set eyes on, and some of whom I haven’t, have already been shown to be gifts and graces of that ultimate Oneness for which we instinctively reach. All that’s necessary each day is for me to meditate, remember or imagine.

Great intangibles

… may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine,
and look for the true

shape of our own self,
by forming it well

to the great
intangibles about us.

David Whyte
from Working Together
The House of Belonging

David Whyte speaks authoritatively, and with gentle voice, rather like that of Colin AmlĂ´t, one of my school-teachers over forty years ago, whose aim, he said, was “to teach you everything you need to know,” (to pass the examinations in his subject) “whilst asking you to remember, at every stage of your lives, that there’ll always be vastly more that you don’t know.” He signed my youthful Autograph book with an exhortation: “Read widely. Think deeply”.

May we, in this life / trust / to the elements / we have yet to see / or imagine

These words, part of a poem written to mark the introduction of the Boeing 777 jet, pray that WE might take flight – forming (our “wings”) to the great / intangibles about us.

And – as so often with a David Whyte poem – I find myself able to respond (to him, as to Colin AmlĂ´t) with only the one word: AMEN (or “may it be so”).

A very small tree

A special friend wrote to me very movingly a few days ago about a process of “packing and purging” currently going on in her life. These are the “fire” moments in all our lives aren’t they? – the searing moments – and we’re none of us overly keen to think about them too much, though, deep down, we have memories of many a fiery occasion that turned out to be a quite out-of-the-ordinary grace. We absolutely can’t help but ask “Why?” – and we’ve all said heaven-only-knows-how-many-times: “I don’t ask for it. It just happens …”

Anyway, all my musing and pondering about purging, and searing, and life’s moving we-know-not-quite-where, reminded me of a Psalm Down-Under written, rather hopefully, by someone called Joy! –

The Burning Bush

I am a very small tree in a desert
and I am touched by the breath of God.

I don’t ask for it. It just happens,
a suddenness inside me and then a presence
of wind and flame, burning, burning,
and I cover my eyes with my fears,
knowing that I am too small and too frail
to bear this firestorm of love.

I cry out, ‘God, God, what are you doing?
I have always needed your Sunday warmth
but I can’t cope with this searing
which feels like both heaven and hell.
You leave no part of me untouched.
That’s not what I planned.
Please go away!’

There is no answer in the wind and flower,
but little by little, the blindness of my fear
is dissolved and I see with clear eyes
that the desert round me is no longer a desert.
It has been lit by the strong flame of love,
every bush, every tree transformed beyond itself.
I am not alone in this. I never was.
Every living thing has been summoned
to be on fire with the love of God
and to turn all barren places
into sacred ground.

Joy Cowley
Psalms Down-Under