Friday, January 31, 2014

We Add To Ourselves or Detract

We Add To Ourselves or Detract

Every time you open your mouth
and let a sound out, you alert the prey.
And who is not hunting
because of some hunger?

What you seek may run in different ways.

We add to ourselves or detract whenever we speak.
Our words turn into an entity and a magnetic field
someone has to reckon with.

I have found it is best to be on good terms with as
many as one can - so control the notes
from your flute, the body, that can rise.

Yes, we add to ourselves or detract, in some ways,
with each movement.
Know that you can increase your worth so much
a treasury you will become. 

                    We're judged by the value we bring to others' existence and the happiness we bring to our own, another way of saying this is we are the sum of our actions and words. We add to or detract from this sum with each interaction, which can seem like a daunting reality, except then you realize Hafiz's truth...this sum is infinite.

Nothing More (2013), The Alternate Routes 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Enthusiasm to Express Discovery

Enthusiasm to Express Discovery

Some painters were engaged in a passionate
conversation about the value of art.

It was an interesting discussion that I listened to
almost an hour without speaking.

Then a young woman turned to me and said,
"Any comments, Hafiz?"
And these thoughts came to mind that I spoke:

"The greatest and most lasting art,
the impetus of it, I feel, always comes from a wanting to help.
A wanting to free, and an enthusiasm to express discovery.

Each soul at some point will begin to feel all is
within it and then attends, as it were, to its own
inner world. That attendance may not result in
anything considered tangible reaching the masses.

But the artist also becomes aware of inner spheres
and mingles with them, and then puts those
experiences into what they most care about for the
world to see and touch if the world wants." 

               I love the line about "each soul will begin to feel all is within...and then its own inner world". He even cautions us "that attendeance may not result in anything considered tangible reaching the masses". It did not stop Michelangelo from painting the Sistine Chapel, or Mozart from writing symphonies, or Whitman from penning poems. No, fame was something that evaded them. They did not work for something tangible or for the pleasures the world told them to go and chase. They worked because they had something inside of them they felt such conviction to share. They carved and composed and wrote to "set the angel in the marble free" (as Michelangelo said). They daringly pursued their road against criticism and even praise, because praise can hault a path as well. Ultimately, the path that becomes your legacy will what you care about most, what stirs your soul. "Whence and how these ideas come I know not nor can I force them" (Mozart), but "as to me, I know nothing else but miracles” (Whitman).

               Very fitting is Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.” 

Yellow Woods 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Your Sight Embracing All

Your Sight Embracing All

I sometimes watch the movement in an egg,
in a nest on a cliff no one has ever neared,
in a world that has not even been named.

The purity of all, its wonder, and your sight
embracing everything, how could that ever be?
Some kind of real omniscience?

You will never be able to work that extraordinary
piece of the puzzle into your ken

believing so strongly in - and even being such
an advocate at times...of right and wrong,
as you probably are.

           I just learned that word, ken. It means "one's range of knowledge or sight". As in, "such determination is beyond my ken". I think many of the Sufi poets wrote for the world beyond our ken.
Rumi wrote: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there." This field is a world that has not even been named, it could be Heaven or it could just be a place where your heart is content. Actually, those may be one and the same.
         Here is a poem by Rumi called "A Gathering of Lovers":

This is a gathering of Lovers.
In this gathering
there is no high, no low,
no smart, no ignorant,
no special assembly,
no grand discourse,
no proper schooling required.
There is no master,
no disciple.
Love said to me,
there is nothing that is not me.
To Love is to reach God.
          What a beautiful thought! 

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) Trailer 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Barely One You Wish To Harm

Barely One You Wish To Harm

There are only so many people you can carry
in your small boat before their weight sinks you.

A hundred you can carry whom you love.
But barely one you wish to harm. 

          This poem reminded me of two things. The first is the book Life of Pi, as the boy (Pi) escaped a sinking ship via a lifeboat, only to learn that the boat also holds a spotted hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger. Throughout the book, the tiger (Richard Parker) and Pi "fight" for survival "but barely one you wish to harm".
          We learn that Pi was raised a Hindu who practices vegetarianism. At 14 he investigated Christianity and Islam and decided to become an adherent of all three religions, having said he "just wants to love God." The author, Yann Martel, said Life of Pi can be summarized in three statements - "Life is a story... You can choose your story... A story with God is the better story."
          A recurring theme throughout the novel seems to be believability. Pi at the end of the book asks: "If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
          That's one of my favorite lines. Just believe. 
          The second thing this poem reminded me of was A Visit To William Blake's Inn  which is an attempt by Nancy Willard at writing in the style of Blake for children. You can see one of the poems and illustrations below. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Only The Rose

Only The Rose

The wind then whispered something in code.
and I started clapping.

As lively as things can get around me -
and all the friends I have, truth is:

I live in a dimension where there is only the Rose. 

           What is this dimension? Do we have it here, in this world? Sufi poetry included a great amount of mysticism. The Great Poet Attar (also known as Farid ud-Din Attar, Attar of Nishapur, and فریدالدین عطار ) penned, in his notable The Conference Of The Birds: “He who would know the secret of both worlds will find that the secret of them both is Love.”
            In this collection, Attar writes of the Simurgh - a benevolent, mythical flying creature (similar to the Western association of the Phoenix). The figure can be found in all periods of Greater Iranian art and literature and classical and modern Persian literature, particularly as a metaphor for God.

Simurgh Art
Nadir Divan-Beghi Madrasah, Bukhara

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Bed Of The Sick

The Bed Of The Sick

God is always there,
beside the bed of the sick.
So many times He holds a cup to their mouths
and strokes their head.

If you don’t believe me,
try picturing that in your mind,
happening to you.

Enact this beautiful scene if you ever feel in need
of the Beloved’s presence.

That is what an imagination is for.
Can you think of anything better to do with it?
And who is to say it won’t become real
somewhere along your path.

          Angelo Merendino captured the love and loss of his wife to metastatic breast cancer beautifully, well perhaps that's not the word, but these photographs humanize loss, they make real the intimate private struggle people face during illness. It's a difficult time that we all hope to never experience, but then again, "who is to say it won't become real somewhere along your path". I think the only reason to keep this in mind for those who are fortunate enough to be healthy is because it increases our gratitude, good health is a blessing.
          The following video "If Only For A Second" really made an impact. Please always be thankful for your health. 

If Only For A Second
The Mimi Foundation 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Falling On A Soft Mat

Falling On A Soft Mat

More attentive than any lover or parent
is really God to us, but our gauge of judgment
is impaired by the world’s values, and our bodies’
often dominance over our spirit realm.

A young child first learning to walk
and very likely to fall
may be allowed to do so
by a wise guardian or teacher

if there is a soft mat beneath its body
that will cushion it from harm.

There is a soft rug you can place around others
It is forgiveness, it is charity.

We are all still learning to walk in ways,

so help each other.

            This is a wonderful sentiment. We are still evolving, we are still learning to walk, and some of us - to fly. We need others to do it, a teacher, a parent, a friend, someone who believes in us. We need to get rid of the things that weigh us down - old grudges (practice forgiveness) and greed (practice charity). Envelop the world with your goodness and your own inner values, and the world will give you wings.

Hallmark Valentine's Card 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

Remember A Song You Know

Remember A Song You Know

If you are sad, remember a beautiful song
you know.
It is really something living.

It can bring you to the place where it was
created, out of light,
and you can feel that for a moment.

If you do not wish to sing,
if you are feeling shy or just too low,
picture me doing so,

while sitting at a table with you,
toasting something you would like,

to clink a cup about, my dear.

      There are some songs that transcend both time and emotions. Music is a powerful and evocative force that nearly all cultures have celebrated the rhythms and dances of life by it. And yes, there are certain songs that just stay with you for whatever reason - because they remind you of a former love, of your current flame, or of some future hope.

      Here's a wonderful message that I read back when I played french horn for my high school band, "Why We Teach Music".

      Here are two joyous quites about music.

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”
― Victor Hugo

“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
― Kurt Vonnegut
Ode To Joy, Symphony 9, Beethoven
London Philharmonic Orchestra

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Never Say It Is Not Me

Never Say It Is Not Me

I taste what you taste,
I know the kind of lyrics that you most like,

I know which sounds will become resplendent
in your mind 
and bring such pleasure to your feet
that they will need to jump or whirl. 

When anything touches or enter your body, 
Never say it is not me,

My lips are now burning and everywhere. 
I am running from every corner of this earth and sky -
just wanting to kiss you.

I am every particle of wheat and dust -
I am rioting at your soul's door,
I am spinning midair like golden, fallen leaves
Trying to win your glance. 

I am sweetly rolling against your walls and shores all night
even though you are asleep. 
I am singing from the mouth of animals and birds 

My dear, when anything ever touches or enters your body
never say that it is not me - for God is just trying,
the Beloved is just trying, to get close. 

Rushing to your side from every corner
of existence, needing to say,
"I am yours." 

           I can appreciate this ecstatic proclamation of love - the urgency, the visceral need. Hafiz had his dramatically romantic moments and other romantic poets (Neruda, Blake, Byron, Poe, Shelley, Wordsworth) of course have had theirs. And this is phenomenal, ecstasy has its place in Eros.
         Conversely, when the initial passion and euphoria fade away, that is when (in my opinion) love answers the question of its own longevity. Is what you have eternal? Will you continue to run from all corners of existence and nooks of the world to say "I am yours", one thousand times over? And over again? And if the answer is yes, what is the "formula" for that? Obviously, there is no one right response, but Rilke offered a good one.
        “Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, greet, and protect each other. The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
         I hope I always see the one I love as a shooting star against the universe.

A Thousand Years (2011), Christina Perri

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Skinned Knee Is Better Off

The Skinned Knee Is Better Off

Since the Beloved is involved in everything,
it has to be this way: 

The skinned knee is better off for having ached. 

And a face that has known a tear's movement,
it may not show right away any signs of change, 

but a magnificent inner canyon is being formed
from the currents of sacred elements touching - 
shaping us. 

When will tenderness reign? When will love govern? 
There is a court you rule that affects any you near,
so you tell me. 

Something became apparent a while back: 
Listening to others deeply is vital to human development. 

The heart cannot deny the law of action and reaction.
It will give in proportion to what it has cherished. 

Some great thermal force is within us that can warm 
and comfort many. 

The hand will give in proportion to what the eye has seen.
So study my face, share the bounty 
of other worlds in a look my countenance holds. 

         When Hafiz writes: "And a face that has known a tear's movement, it may not show right away any signs of change, but a magnificent inner canyon is being formed."  it provides a lot of hope that saddness (or any other undesirable emotion) is transitory. This reminds me of Rainer Maria Rilke's words: “Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror; just keep going, no feeling is final.” Sometimes it's difficult to accept those words as truth when you're personally going through a trying time. I think Rilke understood this well, for he offered up a passage that I've since realized is necessary to understand: “Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find these words.”
         Rilke is one of my favorite poets (I highly recommend Letters To A Young Poet) and I want to focus on something else he said as well: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
         Hafiz ends the poem: "So study my face, share the bounty of other worlds in a look my countenance holds." Wow. The prize of life is otherworldly, depsite the difficulties and our unresolved determination to "figure things" out, to know why, and even to fail in that pursuit...but we "may live along some distant day into the answer".
        I plan on featuring Rilke again tomorrow. He's just that great!

93 Million Miles (2012), Jason Mraz

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Child's Mere Pencil Sketch

A Child's Mere Pencil Sketch 

A child's mere pencil sketch is every religion's
best description of God. 

Who then will ever take issue or argue over
such a naive and innocent portrait? 

Surely the intelligent, compassionate, and wise
would not bother with such. 

And who with a living heart would not encourage 
a child's art in hopes that someday,

someday a great truth and work might be gifted 
to our world through their soul's strenghth, 
insights and talents

and liberate and unite the spheres within a body,
for inherent in true art is emancipation.

And do you have worlds within yourself? Indeed.
The night sky a microcosm of you.

The oil in the lamp the sun burns come from 
forests you once were, from rich deposits you left. 

             I love Kahlil Gibran and especially his epic work, The Prophet. Below is what he wrote on children:

On Children
Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

             There is an angelic quality to all children that I believe transcends all cultures, religions, languanges, etc. We get together to champion their accomplishments and their loses seem collectively more detrimental. I've always been partciularly interested in child prodigies, and have been following Jacob Barnett's story since he was 9. Recently I watched a THNKR (an awesomely cerebral YouTube channel if you aren't familiar with it) video (below), on Kevin Doe and it really showcases the tremendous power of children - both creative and transformative.

Kevin Doe (2012), TNHKR

Monday, January 20, 2014

It Was Beautiful One Night

It Was Beautiful One Night

It was beautiful, it was so beautiful one night
we all began to expect God would speak 

from the waves reaching towards 
the millet fields, 

from the mouths of the hanging sky
ornaments crooning in light's infinite codes,

from the glance of children and plants
and hills playing with effulgent life.

It was beautiful, it was so beautiful one night
we all began to expect God would speak. 

          In the Bible, God literally spoke to humans. Nowadays, for whatever reason, and at least to my knowledge, this does not "literally" occur. Conversely, I do believe God speaks "through" humans - through their messages or actions, through certain feelings that just seem so compelling and thoughts that seem ethereal. Throughout history, it is safe to say that a few treasured souls have come into this world, leaving us with more grace. One of them was Martin Luther King Jr.

            In his final speech, I've Been To The Mountaintop, he recounts the story of the Good Samaritan. "And so the first question that the priest asked - the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question."

       It's difficult to comprehend exactly how beautiful this notion is. Here is a man who has known suffering, who could "expect" reparation from this world. But no, he believed "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?”

       So each year, Americans around the country attempt to answer that question today - on MLK Day, a day of service. “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

       Furthermore, King's message(s) can be lived every day. In his aforementioned speech, King went on to say that when they turned the fire hoses on, all they knew was conventional physics, but what they didn't know is that there is a "certain kind of fire that no water could put out". We begin to live when we recognize this fire in our own life, the one that we'll go up in flames to join. 

MLK At Home
Photograph by Flip Schulke

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coax Your Mind

Coax Your Mind

Who can look each day at a beautiful landscape in the distance 
and not at some point want to explore it? 

Who can look out at the ocean every morning 
and never venture beyond your common horizon 

when a boat I am offering you, 
and even willing to do most most of the paddling? 

It is good if something gnaws at your innards 
The Holy, like a good poem, may enter you and coax your mind

to wade out to more interesting internal space
until you come to real terms with your potential. 

              This poem implies that you are the beautiful landscape and that life should awaken you to explore yourself. I read that Judith Jameson, director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, would tell her dancers: "You are not defined by your fingertips, or the top of your head, or the bottom of your feet. You are defined by you. You are the expanse. You are the infinity."And she went on to explain that this was really important for girls to hear because "somwhere between gym and lunch period, every girl has wanted to look pretty and have the moment she looks in the mirror and believes it". I suspect that was a nice thing to hear in a field (ballet) that is very much rigidly defined by the outward body, as opposed to the interal space - the potential infinity.

Photograph (2012) by Elena Shumilova 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

And Words Like These

And Words Like These 

Tilled ground the soft heart,
and words like these the seeds 

and words like these the water,
and words like these a sun,

Beneath the surface of this game,
all is working on your behalf 

Surely then you will rise up and 
embrace what will make you most happy. 

             The phrase "words like these" made me think of the words "I love you", and how much value we place on those three words. We place value on them at the beginning of a relationship, as they are considered to put the person who said them first in a position of vulnerability. And later in life, after our relationship has both security and endurance, we never grow tired of hearing them. I remembered that I wrote a poem about the former "struggle" a while ago, which I will share below.

Almost Love by Arden Gewirtz 

Shouldn't I have demanded he say those words?
Or is the space between a void redundant? 

In hoping to hear those special three syllables 
These moments are close to prayers 

You use the same thousands of words
With meanings no one has known before 

Share with me the scars of your soul
And why you enjoy the smell of pumpkin 

As for my soul, 
It's glow-in-the-dark splatter paint 
Littered with dragon breath 
and chocolate chip sweetness 

But I can say "I love you" 

Enjoy this sweet song "Alright Already" by August York. One of the lyrics is: "Honey, I'd rather keep love our compass and guide." Love does seem like an awesome tool to navigate the waters of life by.