An Inner Monastery

Part One

The abbot speaks:
“All the world is maya,
but that word originally meant
‘standing in for,’ not ‘illusion.’ ”

These words leave his lips,
then quietly reverberate through the hall.
The monks realize what that means
        (a deeper, richer world, behind,
        living within, this one).
They see it right in front of them,
inside themselves too,
the joy of recognition dawning.

They go down the stairs for tea.
The steps come up to greet them.
The walls lovingly hold them in their embrace.
The plum blossoms in the courtyard
whisper sweet nothingness in their ears.
The air crisp,
yet almost liquid at the same time.
Time slowing down,
hearts rising up
to greet the next moment’s offering.

Time for real
(but real quiet)
celebration!

Part Two

Later, the monks glide down the hall,
looks of gratitude on their faces,
exchanging glances of recognition
of their shared good fortune to be here.

They seem to know a secret about the world—
perhaps that our normal view
of life is two-dimensional, flat,
or thin, like the gruel given to prisoners,
as we remain locked inside
our everyday minds.

But within these walls,
surrendering,
the monks reside in a special glow
that shines through everything,
even themselves­.

They pray, they chant, they sit,
they breathe together,
they bring the world behind this one
closer to the surface,
slowly but inexorably replacing
the broken-down, throw-away world
we have left as our legacy.

As we sit with them,
we absorb the peace they emanate,
and an understanding—
that the moments of full awareness
given to us are never wasted.

They endure,
forever blossoming,
like love.

Internal Movements

He left his dream lying on the floor.
He kicked it once—it moaned.
When it finally expired, instead of being
devastated, he actually felt relieved.
People, in all their ordinariness,
seemed more like his brothers and sisters,
once he wasn’t trying to scrabble up above the crowd.

                        *

The wind whipped at his back,
pushing him in its own direction.
Walking without much of an aim anyway,
this was not of great concern
until he found himself at the edge of a cliff,
the bones of previous travelers far below.

                        *

Hungry for more, he ends up precariously
perched on the end of a limb, inside himself.
No recourse but to clamber down,
take a deep breath, brush off, and start over.
Simply feeling his need, he stands chastened—
hands empty, arms open, heart ablaze.

                        *

Clearly unable to live up to its advertised ability
to be able to figure everything out, sooner or later,
the mind decides to fire itself—to no ill effect
that we can tell.

                        *

Early one morning—his reborn consciousness
unobstructed, buoyant, receptive to instruction—
a realization suddenly dawned that he didn’t need
anything else from the world; that his life was
(and always had been) more than sufficient. Beaming
like a wee one waking up on Christmas morning,
his concerns about any possible shortages
simply became irrelevant. . . and vanished.

                        *

Like a blind sculptor exploring every contour of a
face with delicate fingertips, he feels each tension,
each emotion, the mass of himself inside—
all creating a three-dimensional portrait,
ever-shifting, deepening over time.

                        *

One day, looking deep into his internal mirror,
shocked to find that he did not particularly like
the person there—at least at that moment. The sign
said, ‘No Exchanges Allowed,’ leaving him quizzical,
but determined not to bury the impression.

                        *

At any point, he realized, he could either pursue happiness
or—by genuine acceptance—see down into each moment.
But he could not do both at the same time.
Pondering the implications, internal shifts began.

The Runaway

He looked up the railroad tracks,
melancholy descending onto his shoulders,
like blackbirds on a power line.

Running away, trading one set
of ambiguities for another,
was no solution, he knew.
Yet no worse than slowly suffocating—
gossamer threads binding him
ever tighter, heading inevitably
toward a death-like visage,
frozen, immobile.

Stepping outside his own situation,
just a pace, just enough to see
the intractability of it,
the uselessness of struggle,
he felt something like hope emerge.
A new vision—silent, stronger, free—
began to take its rightful place
among his array of selves. . .

But as he walked along the tracks,
the sense of possibilities now lost
welled up, and a tear slowly
dropped down to his feet. . .
then the crunch of boots in the silence,
embers glowing behind him,
lighting his way forward,
into the dark.

A Great Fountain

There is in man a great fountain.
It bubbles underground, underneath our lives,
until one day we feel it swirling there and
know we have to find the means to set it free.

If you can speak, fountain, reveal to us truths
too subtle for tongue to tell. Speak to us
of the source of things, the sweetness of waters
waiting to be willed into life. Tell us of a sky
full of balloons too full to be kept from flying free,
of wonderment suspended in silence.

We hear too much of parched lands from starched spines
decrying—denying us our birthright. Tell us what we
know resides beneath the crippling weight of our history.
Tell us of the beauty we can be, that we are, that we
will be after this desert dream has dreamed its last.
Then speak to us of what might be, if we dare—
of a new past, a new history one day,
a richer realm, deep down—
underneath, inside,
here, waiting,
awakening.

A Natural Dance

Subtly, tensions gather force inside,
            tied to charged memories,
            or future imaginings.
They come to the surface,
            release their energy, descend again.
A natural dance—beautiful, the way anything in nature is,
            if seen in quiet,
            from inside, yet still a short distance away.

A gate shuts.
A dog howls.
Someone complains.

From our internal perch,
            we see these outside forces
            creating other movements
            of tension and release.
We put them in their
            own separate channel inside,
            like different density substances in a lava lamp,
            rising and falling.

No longer an impingement, just interplay,
and a feeling of freedom—
            as we dance with it,
            as in nature,
            as in who we are underneath.

Veteran of Internal Wars

The mood descends.
It flows into his body,
as it has before,
like a grey gas,
filling his pores,
wrapping him in its cocoon,
shutting down other emotions,
quietly turning off the alarm
so no one will see it appear.

The veteran sees anyway.
Resistance forms.
A struggle ensues,
the veteran fighting
to keep himself separate,
watching, unengulfed.
They both stake out their positions.
Inside, he remains awake.

The grey gas doesn’t like
being in the searchlight.
It withdraws to its hiding place.

The veteran is relieved to have
the upper hand, even temporarily.
He dreams of happier times.
The dream puts him to sleep again.

Under cover of his slumber,
the mood gathers its forces,
its troops of psychic vampires—
self-pity, resignation, victimization—
waiting to drain his spirit dry.

The veteran sees that too, now.
There are skirmishes
on the edges of consciousness. . .

The veteran has a crucial ally—
his wish to be here,
as he is, present, alive,
and not chased away,
hypnotized by fears
conjured up, salvos
sent from the other side.

This wish takes up residence
in another corner of his being,
keeping an eye on its enemy.

The smoke clears.
Another day starts,
calling him to sally forth.

Even as he is called
to other battlefields,
he watches and waits
on this one.

Meanwhile, he stores up
munitions for the next round—
munitions which are the fruits
of his awareness,
of these experiences of seeing,
of his wish—regardless of the opposition—
to meet life
facing forward.

Illumination

Night time, without light I am left
stranded, immobilized in the darkness.
I need illumination, like breath.

Internal lights too,
the source of their power
lying beyond my view.
A callous word, a thoughtless act—
these lights flicker, darken—and my heart sinks.
As conscience awakens, the lights surge—
and my world is revealed to me.

I know that light bulbs with loose debris,
rattling, can guide me no longer.
Inside, too, I sense forces
—body, mind, heart, spirit—
unrelated to each other, orphaned,
unable to light my way until they are
aligned, interwoven, synchronous.

I can only take baby steps
toward this vision,
but I have no recourse:
I align them as I can,
in the dark—reaching out
beyond my knowing,
in the direction of where
my own light’s source
might be. . .
must be. . .
is.

Triptych

Part I – Attending

I see myself move through the world,
move through time.
It’s clear that there are only a finite number
of moments allotted to me,
each one irreplaceable—good, bad,
or indifferent does not matter.
It only matters that they do not pass by unattended.
Judgment simply dissolves into silence—
life being lived, experienced, one frame into the next.
   
Part II – Unfolding Inside

In the crisp Dutch air, I see row after row
of gorgeous tulips bending in the breeze—
red ones, gold, lemon-yellow, shouting out
their silent songs of gratitude for life.
As I stand watching, the feeling of being
in the presence of perfect beauty wells up—
ecstasy swirls around me.
The softest of bells rings.

Then, like a Russian doll within a doll,
another level unfolds inside—allowing me
to feel, from the inside, who I am, over and over,
to see my deep connections with everything around me,
to know that I have a right to exist that cannot
be taken from me, that I am my own kind of flower,
unique, alive and perfect, even the imperfections.

Silent reverberations hang in the air. . .
Time stops.
The softest of bells rings, and rings.
   
Part III – The Part That’s Never Gone

There’s a person inside me who’s always here—
the thread connecting one moment to the next.
He’s hidden in plain sight,
so if I know what to look for,
there he is (I am) again.

He’s not my strong self, not my happy self,
not my worried self, not my enlightened self.
He’s none of them and all of them.
He’s everything I am—and all I need.
He’s there just for the asking, anytime,
every time, because he’s the Me inside of me.

He does not replace my various personalities.
They are still here, as always.
Yet they feel more free to be who they are,
knowing they are not my final destination.

Once I’ve seen him, it’s OK to lose him—
he’ll be at the end of this sequence of events, too—
the part of me that’s never gone,
the Being inside my being,
the Life inside my life.

Now is All We Have

Somewhere inside, here,
everything we’ve learned resides.
Like looking for the car keys
when they are in our other hand,
do we have to keep searching
for what we already have?

Or can we simply feel
the existence of our inner world,
know that we can trust it to live and grow—
if we just get out of the way?

Like re-booting a computer,
but instantaneous,
this re-dedication of ourselves,
this knowing that Now is all we have—
all we will ever need.

Snapshots

     
Dinner, the sun setting, multiple currents swirling around,
pulling us, leaving us feeling torn between elation
at being alive and melancholy from the inkling that
we’ve been given tickets for the winding down of the world.

                        *

The angels are homeless tonight,
waiting for humanity to wake up,
to see the invisible writing on the wall,
feel the messengers around us,
helping us be true to a vision of grace
which we know exists inside.

                        *

I don’t have a face—one available to my vision, anyway.
Others see me, but I am in the dark
and have to uncover an image from the inside.
A picture emerges momentarily, then fades again—
waiting until the carousel’s next time around
to dig a little deeper into who I am.

                        *

He had strayed from the path just a bit too far,
and now found himself in odd, unfamiliar surroundings.
Yet his heart was also buoyed by a feeling
of being enveloped, protected even,
as he proceeded on some necessary mission—
but one whose goal was unknown, unknowable.

                        *

Cracks in the psyche expand, then contract.
We need to see what repairs them,
and what leaves them open—exposing
their inner workings to air, to the bustle around us—
when what they need is sanctuary,
stillness, in order to heal.

                        *

He stood in the courtyard at Buchenwald,
reciting every poem he could recall. Men gathered
around him, hearts opening like the beaks of baby birds,
murmuring, weeping, his words their lifeline.

                        *

The tender-hearted woman gently probes
beneath the surface of her life, gingerly extricating
shards and their surrounding circumstances.
Like an expert surgeon, she must be careful
to remove them without hooking onto
delicate tissue, too easily torn.

                        *

Like going to the theater with a loved one,
can I accompany myself from one moment to the next?
First, a simple ‘being with,’ then the quiet
dissolution of internal walls, barriers to being,
erected in the distant past for unknown purposes.
No security, no final answers, no assurances
of what will be found there, just an endless unfolding—
yet worth bearing anything, as long as we are arm in arm.

A Hint of Freedom

The smile of a future recognition comes to his face.
He feels the beginnings of a different kind of life—
like a just-opened book, full of great emotion,
but whose ending has yet to be written.

He looks around his internal room—
hope and uncertainty lying there, each waiting
their turn to dress him up in their likeness.
He sees the bed of his past that he lies in,
feels the fetid, overused air around it.
Rising, he opens the shutters, takes in the loveliness
of the flowers outside his window.
As he opens it, currents pull at him—one backwards,
down gullies, unsteady as it careens around corners.
Another one pulling him up, allowing him to lift off
the floor, toes waving goodbye to earth, heart full
of intimations of burdens easing, long-standing restraints
starting to recede, leaving a new feeling—like freedom,
but just the hint, the possibility, the smell of freedom
in the air, the sweet taste of a coming newness.

The old view, the ‘what could have been’ one, its regrets,
starts to recede like a tide going out, taking tensions with it,
even ones long-held, slipping further away as some other self
starts to take shape—slowly, oh so slowly, holding onto
its life by sheer desire, sheer hope in these thin
threads emerging from a decades-long sleep,
as they begin to give birth to. . . just me,
just a simple human being,
but this particular one—
this new, old self,
this feeling of
being reborn,

as myself,
at last.

No Atheists in a Foxhole

(Upon the arising of yet another untenable situation,
we find ourselves. . .)

Enslaved, trapped in a cauldron of boiling reactions—
both of us thrown hither and yon, welts rising
from the impact with immovable walls, insides
squeezed by the relentless pressure of these forces.
Coping mechanisms in place, sure,
but that doesn’t release us
from the bondage that ties us down,
ropes burning into all-too-tender skin—
deadly sins not just words on paper anymore. . .

In a moment of respite, we see that
toughening up is a welcome by-product
of these internal battles, but still,
not the keystone that could hold
our flesh and spirit building aloft.

But as soon as we enter the Venetian cathedral,
we are stunned, transported, and gradually see
that it points to its own way out of our common
dilemma—the vaulted ceilings, angels flying
in mid-air, halos sending beams of pure light
down on us, pulling us up—up out of our
bondage, up into more rarefied air, allowing us
to see the illusory nature of the chains
that have long held us in seeming slavery,
allowing us to stand tall, stand in awe
of the nobility our kind can possess.

Even down here on the ground, we can
see that a context for surety exists,
something that actually is our own,
that will be our staff, hold us up,
so we can face what we have long avoided—
our punishment? our liberation? ourselves?

Surrounded by an aura of stillness, we leave
the sanctuary feeling cleansed, sobered, resolute;
perhaps chastened, too,
but now intimate with forces equal to the task
of being our own cornerstone,
from which our own cathedral can be built.

Like a sculpture coming to life, chipping away
at the rock surrounding who we really are,
leaving us pointing both upward and
towards our own kingdom of heaven within.

The Abandoned Workshop

Terminally unprepared for public speaking,
the safety glass of my invisibility shattered by
the lasers of a hundred eyes focused in­,
what was beauty fragmenting into useless shards.
Simply one insult too many—and a dam breaks.

An optimistic self, then a reflective one,
next a determined one, others in sequence—
all start to unravel inside, springs uncoiling
in super-slow motion. . .
At first, glorying in the self-destructive
pleasure of their dissolution, then an
unsettled sour-smile appears as they spiral apart—
abandoning years of painstaking work
cobbling together a self worth inhabiting,
leaving a workshop full of little gears,
sheared, coiled metal lying on the floor.
Would anyone mind if they were just swept up,
instead of attempting to reassemble them?
And what to do with the parts that need to be discarded,
like old Kleenex, but stick to your fingers
even as you try to throw them away?. . .

Instead, what are the odds of simply
walking outside into the fresh air,
putting all the debris onto a little boat,
then letting it float downstream, the losses unmourned?
And what if this process took a minute instead of a day?
There’s something to head for, it seems.
Or is that just another distraction from what is true now,
another little boat stuck to clinging fingers?

Instructions Inside

I am a human being,
fresh out of the box of my past,
ready to be brand new, yet again.

It is best to refrain from judgment
or manipulation in an attempt
to turn me into the someone else
you might have been hoping for.

My registration papers say that,
since we are all created out of the same mold,
I have an exactly equal right to exist as anyone else,
to develop along the path I’ve been given.
This is a fact worth contemplating,
beneath the surface of the words.

Although I can do otherwise,
I function best when I am seen,
then accepted, for what I am—
limited, but beautiful,
a whole world of feelings,
carrying out my part
of this universal project,
just like you.

We both came from the same factory—
earth, water, DNA—a most flexible,
yet delicate mechanism,
put in motion by
a spark of our common creator,
whomever that might turn out to be.

Seeing our common humanity,
and in deference to our common source—
it is requested that you treat me as if
it were you on the receiving end.
Simple enough in theory,
but supremely easy to ignore in practice.
You are hereby encouraged
to help me reciprocate.

I am a human being,
the subject of my world,
just as you are the subject of yours.
It is hard to overemphasize
the importance of this,
and the rarity of it being seen
and acted upon.

Enjoy our interchanges,
as long as they last,
which we understand
will not be forever.

Beyond Words

Just as with great music,
insights granted us
need to be perceived, held,
by something more
than just the surface mind.
Otherwise, we find them too quickly gone—
as at a train station,
watching a loved one depart.

In response, can we think beyond words?
Can we hold a thought, a question inside,
not pin it down with language,
like a butterfly on a board?

Can we open up room in our inner world
for a place where words simply dissolve—
but awareness remains?
Then sense its subtle presence,
lighting our way forward?

If so, when a realization,
or even a word
—an echo of a truth perceived—
comes as a reminder,
let the door swing open,
and keep on walking,
into that silent place inside,
where meaning and light
can permeate through us,
into our day.

A Card-Carrying Old Person

Medicare card in hand,
my body slowly aging.
I watch brown spots appear,
goatee now white,
energies inside downshift,
bones a bit creaky, tendons stiff,
hands worn by time.

My mind, too, is sliding down
a long downhill slope,
synapses simulating a lighter
now low on fuel, clicking.

Yet something inside is not merely
resigned to all this, it loves it—
because it loves everything.

It loves slowing down,
feeling maturity settle in,
having the years needed
for a long-range view.

It loves the sense of dignity
gained from lessons learned—
knowing what’s important,
and what can be let go of.

It loves each stage of being alive,
regardless of diminishments.

A quiet joy comes,
realizing that it will be here
to my last breath—this Self of mine—
inside me (and you, too)
watching all the changes,
thrilled with the gift of life, in any form—
an inner compass, teaching me slowly
where true North is.

And in the end,
no matter what transpires,
we’ll go down together,
my Self and I,
and go down swinging,
          singing,
It was good to the very last drop.

Flight Preparation

Wings open, testing their tensile strength,
seeing if spirit is ready to fly beyond our world.
Like a baby chick’s, they beat the air
to no avail, then settle back down into flesh.
Her breath catches, but otherwise she remains
unaware of this aborted flight.

Sitting back in her rocker,
she finds herself being carried off to a realm
far removed from this one—Depression-era
De Sotos in the yard, rockers on rickety porches,
fireflies lighting the way as a jalopy
brings supplies back from town.

Feeling her connection to this world
diminishing, the wings start beating again.
Flesh and spirit both make
innumerable unseen calculations.
Sputtering flames look for air to breathe,
all systems on alert for subtle signs
of impending motion forward.

She only feels the end result of all this
internal movement—exhaustion—
as she lays her head down on the pillow.
Willingly consigning her future to whatever
must happen, she closes her eyes.
Grateful for the felt sense that forces
beyond her control are taking care of her,
all her muscles begin to let go,
her spirit quietly flutters, moth-like,
as it peruses its long-time abode,
as it prepares for its departure.

His Final Gift

The old man looked up, his rheumy eyes glistening.
With labored breath, but full of passion nonetheless,
he spoke. I sat listening, watching
his wizened face crinkle in the light
filtering through his bedroom window.

“Let me relay a few things to you, if that’s OK,
so you’ll know what lies in store for you
at the end of the road.
Your body will start to shut down,
way before the very end.
Try to not mind the pain.
(Maybe that’s why God created poppies, eh?)
Don’t mind your abilities winding
down—finally only being able to lie here,
see your room, call for water.
Don’t mind the blank slate that often appears
where your memories once were.
Don’t mind the longing for the laughter,
the gaiety of earlier times.”

He paused while his past flooded in on him,
overwhelming him with pictures of his childhood,
his adult years, his long-suffering yet joyous wife,
his personal achievements, his love of being alive.

He slowly came back into the room.
As he opened his eyes and looked at me,
something inside him glowed.
Almost on fire, he continued.

“Listen. While you still can, store up moments,
like a squirrel stores up nuts for the winter.
Store up moments of deep feeling,
good or bad doesn’t matter.
Store up moments of clear vision;
of genuine questioning;
of real connection with people;
times of being completely at home
in your own life, exactly as you are.
Store them up inside, here,” he said,
patting his chest. “This is your real wealth,
more important than your bank account.”

He managed a grin, knowing he’d caught me on that one.

“I ask myself every day, ‘When was the last time
I felt completely alive, completely here,
absorbing everything?’
Don’t let the minutes turn into hours,
don’t let the hours turn into days,
before you open your heart and pray,
however you can,
to be let into the light
shining on the other side
of some veil inside you.”

His strength was being pushed to its limits now
by being the messenger for these words
which seemed to come from somewhere beyond him.
But he finally went on:

“When you are in your last bed,
in your last room,
these treasures stored up
will come back­—
not the memories, even,
but the soul of them.
They will come back and feed your soul,
nourishment you’ll need more than anything else.

Don’t wait.
Don’t procrastinate.
Don’t put off digging down into
what this day might hold for you.
Because by tomorrow, today will have
simply disappeared.
And one day there will be no tomorrow.
Don’t wait.”

Then he gently closed his eyes.

Three Views of a Secret

(with thanks to Jaco)

The four-year-old aims, then shoots a plane
out of the sky. As it explodes, he is both thrilled
and terrified by his power.
He tells no one.

The grown-up white-knuckles his way
through the airplane’s turbulence,
secretly harboring the four-year-old inside.
Thoughts of crashing are forcibly sequestered
in subterranean caverns, too far away
to work their grisly magic. But then he sees
the price he pays for being their jailer,
for allowing the four-year-old to go unchallenged.
Smiling, he repeats the words, like a mantra,
“Personally, I want a nice, smooth flight.”
His hands unclench, breathing releases,
his fears simply vanishing into the very thin air
at 35,000 feet.

Wise with years, the elder sits,
chuckling or grimacing, as the case may be,
at his thoughts and emotions.
He lets them all pass through him, unimpeded.
With nothing to ensnare him,
in love with life,
he soars free inside himself,
blue skies above.

There are Two Kinds

There are two kinds of happiness.
One at the top of the Ferris wheel,
and one happy to be riding at all.

There are two kinds of ‘ready for anything.’
One, like a tiger, hunting, eyes blazing.
And one, like the Zen master, given LSD,
at its peak saying, ‘Ahh, this!’

There are two kinds of ‘not caring.’
One, a wall built around
the tender places inside,
inviolable. And one because
no matter what comes,
it is yet another chance to feel alive.

There are two kinds of ache in the heart.
One a weeping for ourselves,
for others, our pain.
And one the ache of beauty,
knowing the finitude of things,
that all must pass.

There are two kinds of quiet inside.
One achieved by force of will, like a monk
sitting silently for endless hours.
And one reached by simply accepting what is,
without comment.

There are two kinds of love.
One where we complete each other.
And one a spontaneous giving of
something already complete inside.

But are there two kinds of awakening?
Or is there just awake,
and then awakening yet again
to the beauty and mystery of life?

Who’s Looking Out of My Eyes?

Who’s looking out of my eyes?
Sometimes it’s a person full of worry,
then later, amusement;
someone enthralled with himself,
or not.

Sometimes it’s a disenchanted soul,
then an inquisitive one.
It could be a person captivated
by a sudden realization,
or someone’s eyes.

The longer I watch the procession,
the clearer it is that the content
doesn’t matter very much,
since it’s all going to change anyway—
even subtle changes, second to second.

For the moment, just keeping track of
who’s looking out of my eyes this time,
seems to be all that’s needed
to feel like myself,
alive.

Homeless

The man holds out his hat, waves of sorrow
breaking along the shorelines of his grizzled face.
As people avoid his glance, he sees
—just for a moment—with the eyes of
a god. He sees us afraid
of simple human contact,
as if his afflictions were contagious.
He pities us for our weakness.

Another man, also without shelter,
bedraggled, alone,
nods his head to the first man,
bums a cigarette, asks about beds for the night.
The two share an understanding of the frailties
of life, of the weaknesses of the flesh,
of the burning of bridges, of hopes
—quiet or wild­—beyond what we might
be able to reach if we were in their shoes.

We see them talking. We do not understand
what subtleties pass between them,
our animal fear trumping human feeling.
Then, like dominoes, some long-standing barriers
within us suddenly dissolve.
We momentarily see
with god-like eyes ourselves—
see the prisons we carry inside,
see that opening to the unknown
in a simple daily occurrence like this
is actually within our grasp.

We know that if God exists,
then He exists in this moment, this encounter—
that there is no scenario we couldn’t handle
with dignity, if our eyes were not averted,
if we knew that what we have been
looking for
all our lives
might come in just
this unexpected package,
waiting for us to unwrap it
with Christmas eyes.

Rebirthday

Sitting in a hotel room in Milwaukee one afternoon,
suddenly knowing I had absolutely
no control over anything
of any importance
in my life,
at all.

Not the whirling thoughts;
nor the continuously recycled,
short list of emotions;
not the impressions that
the assemblage of persons inside me made on others;
and, catalyst for this crisis,
certainly not over my own flesh and blood,
spiraling down their young, self-destructive paths.

“Then who is running the show?” I asked. . .
“I am,” It answered—the hard, knotted nub
of neuroses entrenched in my psyche—
the shock of it shaking me to the core.
Then its image appears—a bird of prey,
its myriad talons stuck in my skull
making my head go this way and that,
looking out of my eyes,
talking out of my mouth,
using my life energy to play out its obsessions.

But miraculously, simultaneously, inside,
a deep knowledge emerged
—that the power of this vision of
The Way Things Are
contained within itself
the seeds of freedom from it;
that there was, lo and behold,
someone actually here experiencing this tableau,
someone somehow separate from all that, watching.

In the act of seeing,
in that moment,
hope and resolution were both born,
the beginning of the lifetimes-long,
painstakingly slow process
of gently
pulling the talons out,
one
by
one.

Pen in Hand

The call to write arises,
as if people were emerging
out of a cloud in a steam room,
asking where you’ve been, saying
they have something to tell you.
Then, with your blessings,
they walk right inside you,
telling their stories, but using your mind,
your wellspring of emotions,
your memories, your life energy.
The words flow out of you,
sometimes dripping slowly,
like honey poured from a jar,
sometimes electrified, rushing so fast that
your hand cramps with the need to keep up.

An inexhaustible storehouse of beauty,
these visitors, calling forth deep care,
reverence even, inside—as you
fulfill your obligation, and privilege,
to assist these denizens from another world,
to help them come alive here—
so we can feel their breath
and flesh and smiles and wisdom,
their sinews climbing up impassable
mountains, struggling to be born—
until they finally unfurl themselves,
spread their wings, and sail
onto the paper
under your fingers.

The Terrain

The terrain is rough. Days go by.
He clambers over rocks in his path.
Gnarled, overgrown branches above him
snag his shirt, cut into already scarred skin.
He knows only that he must forge ahead.
He sees that the creek he’s been following
is drying up and wonders what other way
forward will be possible.

Leaning into the next boulder, he sees
that he is not without choices, even here
in the wilderness. He starts to enjoy the struggle—
the sensation of sweat rising on skin,
the sudden clarity of vision as he grasps
the way past this particular impasse.
He gets the intimation that the hardships he faces
were designed specifically for him, somehow—
to give spirit something to push against,
to help muscles grow to meet the challenge.

Finally, he rests.
He sees that this is his home,
these trials are what he was made for.
Still lost, but not discouraged in the least,
he gets up and heads onward,
as he knows he must.

The Wind-Up Mouse

The mind scurries from place to place,
like a wind-up mouse in a labyrinth,
nibbling away at problems,
finding patterns, forever fixing things,
filing away solutions.

But then it runs into bigger questions:
‘Why am I here?’ ‘What about God?’
‘How to feel continually present?’
It bounces against these walls,
then falls down, over and over.
It is simply not designed
to comprehend such things,
much less climb up them to the top.

Someone else inside needs to be woken up,
someone able to breathe these questions
into life, clear that he can’t do anything
but sit, and surrender—then slowly start
to circumnavigate these eternal conundrums.

Wake him up—but then. . .
just let him be,
little mouse.

Gratitude on Principle

I have one eye that works well enough.
I eat every day.
The Nazis aren’t coming tonight
            to knock down my door.
The air is breathable.
My feet are just the right size
            to fit inside my socks.
I am not mentally ill.
The birds aren’t falling out of the sky
            for no reason. . .

This list could go on and on.

And even if each of them were taken away,
            one by one,
I bet it would be possible
to start a new list that would still give me
sufficient reason to wake up
            (and not just first thing in the morning),
and simply be grateful
            that I exist
            and get to partake in this world,
            for a little while.

And when the challenges start mounting up,
            is there still a way
            to lift my inner eyes to heaven in thanks?
Even for the absurdities of life,
            and my own imperfections—
            ­for the opportunity they present?
Even for my chains—
            for the freedom lying in wait there?

Dangling, Surrender

He saw himself
        dangling, shackled,
            twisting in the wind,
                hopelessly ensnared
                        by a thousand subtle needs,
                                a thousand entanglements—
                        his only chance of escape
                being complete surrender,
            (not once, but ongoing),
        leaving just himself. . .
silent, open, listening.

A Natural High

(Seeing the world with psychedelic eyes,
but totally ‘on the natch,’ just high on life.)

Standing in the kitchen,
my perspective shifting,
constantly re-setting itself:
            here, inside—there, the room,
            the palpable realness of both,
each thing exactly itself—
crunching, squeaking, vibrating,
whispering, sighing relief.

Hearing bells in the distance,
feeling that distance as home, as friend,
as an extension of me—expanding
and contracting, like breath,
yet always connected to a place
further inside than I can follow.

Feeling gratitude for the simplest things—
for my heart, mostly,
for its ability to repair itself,
to climb up out of the wreckage
of mistakes made, bruised, but undaunted.

Then another gift—the multi-layered emotions
of you coming near, touching me—
the attractions, electric,
the feelings of deep bond from years of
sharing the grit and juice and sweetness
of two lives inextricably intertwined.

Then sensing the circles we are part of—
larger and larger circles—
dozens, then hundreds, then millions of us,
the complete newness,
the uniqueness of each one,
yet our common strivings,
our need for each other,
our love of being alive.

Alive until the day when we are called on
to finally let it all go—each one of us
disappearing into the void.
Yet, as this happens, simultaneously,
the absolute ecstasy of it,
like being shot out of a cannon,
expanding,
immediately filling the entire Universe,
and more,
becoming
the Everything
we always were.

An Invitation

The outside world impinges.
We either close off or puff up.
Keeping track of the space around us,
ourselves in the middle,
creates a third possibility—
myself, fully existing in my world,
unassailable, so I can invite you in.
“Tea?”

Non-Judgment Day is Coming

What if, following the Sermon on the Mount,
we proclaimed one day a year
to be Non-Judgment Day?

Sponsored by
‘The Total Acceptance League,’
we would, on principle, say
‘That’s cool,’ or ‘I understand,’
or ‘If that’s true, then we’ll just deal with it
as best we can,’ to whatever anyone
thought, or felt, or said, or did,
        especially ourselves.

If someone was a drag, then they’d
get dragged off to the station house,
or be duly chastised,
        but without any rancor whatsoever.

My guess, though, is that
if we all completely accepted
the reality of who we were, minute by minute,
and felt that same acceptance by others,
        then this would be a heaven on earth.

Fantasy? Not necessarily.
What’s to prevent us from starting today,
right here at home,
        even for just this next moment?

The Crew

(As our personal ship of state heads out for another voyage,
let’s take a look at some of the crew members:)

George, having wrapped himself in resignation,
like a flag, peeks around the corner,
then waves, but without much enthusiasm.

Bobby exhilarates in the challenge of taking bumps
in the road in stride, avoiding derailment simply by
sheer will and a subtle joy in reaching the next moment
with something intangible inside him still intact.

We see Betty pushing around a shopping cart
filled to the top with memories of hurts sustained.
One lodges inside her chest, slowly dissolves,
dripping into a puddle, then is endlessly recycled,
like water in a fountain.

Joined to her by unseen forces, but turned around
180 degrees, Ali can sense the presence of sacred
forces helping him—with even simple advice like,
“Watch the road now,” or “Feel what she feels here,”
or “Shhh!”

Frederica catches herself daydreaming,
sees its uselessness—then stops, remains silent
inside for a minute, motionless in her mind. . .
Refreshed, she continues on into her day,
but with a bit more dignity, presence.

Still, real questions remain:
Is there a Captain of this ship­—someone who can use
all of the crew’s various energies and still be himself,
someone who is himself,
regardless of storms breaking around him?

Can the foreknowledge of his existence hasten his arrival?
Or is he already here, waiting,
inside each of the partial facets revealed?
(And if so, waiting for what?)

An Agnostic Approaches God

He wondered about God.
Not to deny or assent to Him, necessarily,
but how to approach the questions
that rolled around inside him.

He knew first-hand that there was something
greater than himself afoot in the Universe.
But his own relation to that Something
remained a mystery.

So he asked himself:

“Can I have contact with God without ‘religion’?
(no slick TV preachers, please)
Am I already being called, but just can’t hear it?

Does God need my praise and thanks?
Do I need to give it?

Can I get the help I need here?
How might I ask for this help?
What is in the way of my asking?

How can I pray when I don’t know
if there’s anyone on the receiving end?

What happens if I simply ignore these musings?
What happens if I don’t?”
       
       
Finally, he just gave thanks for the questions,
as he kept them alive inside himself.

Four Haiku

Three Pillars
The world, my state, me.
All completely different,
See all three at once.

The Perfect Time
Despite the chaos,
right now is the perfect time
to sit, see clearly.

Change With It
Friendly, sad, puzzled.
No resistance to each one.
All gifts, who I am.

What’s Underneath
Behind restlessness,
unanswerable questions.
Stay with not knowing.