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The Meaning of Existence

I think this was a theme for the past week. What is existence? It is just being in the world and experiencing it in the most direct and pre-reflective way possible.

Les Murray writes about the impact that language has on how humans experience the world. Existentially, there is a difference between saying how we experience and saying how to experience. The former is just being and the latter is like a how-to manual.

When I just am, that is often the most rewarding moments I experience without realizing it and there is no way to intentionally recapture the moment. To just be is its own reward. When I try to express the feeling in words, it is indescribable. I use metaphoric, mythic, and poetic language to point at it, but always I fall short.

Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

 Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.

Song for Nobody

Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk and prolific spiritual writer of the mid-20th Century with many works published posthumously. He passed away in an accident at a relative young age so it is hard to say how much more writing he had in him. He is best known for his essays, journals, and letters, but wrote poetry and was an artist as well.

He included as one of his key themes the key concept of activism as a form of violence on one’s self. He drew on Eastern philosophies and mindfulness in describing contemplation as a human necessity in the 20th Century with its busyness and distractions. One can only imagine what he would think today.

I thought of the biblical passages about how lilies grow and just do what comes naturally. The flowers sing their songs without words by themselves without spin and toil. We find their  music in their simplicity.

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)
A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

The Fist

Mary Oliver has a way of starting with an idea and then she shifts it so well. She asks questions that provoke more questions than certain answers. Wouldn’t the heavens not have shaken their fist? I think about the ways that the heavens could shake their fist, but Nature does not.

There is patience. What are the little with which the heavens speak of peace. They are countless and, when I open my heart, they find me so easily.

How do the heavens invite us as they open up and invite?

There are days

when the sun goes down

like a fist,

though of course

 if you see anything

in the heavens

in this way

you had better get

 your eyes checked

or, better, still,

your diminished spirit.

The heavens

have no fist,

or wouldn’t they have been

shaking it

for a thousand years now,

 and even

longer than that,

at the dull, brutish

ways of mankind—

 heaven’s own

creation?

Instead: such patience!

Such willingness

 to let us continue!

To hear,

little by little,

the voices—

only, so far, in

pockets of the world—

suggesting

the possibilities

 of peace?

Keep looking.

Behold, how the fist opens

with invitation.

What Happens

Hafiz was the pen name for a Persian poet and mystic who lived about 700 years ago. As we mature, we see the world in new ways. It is an awakening and our eyes open to see new vistas that were always there.

Perhaps like small children, we can learn to just be in the world where everything is new. Several months ago, our grandson played with the little boy in the mirror for about 10 minutes. It was him, but he did not know that and explored the world, because of all its newness.

Somewhere on the journey, we lose that immaturity that allowed us to play with the little boy in the mirror. Maturity is an opportunity to find it again.

What happens when your soul
Begins to awaken
Your eyes
And your heart
And the cells of your body
To the great Journey of Love?

First there is wonderful laughter
And probably precious tears

And a hundred sweet promises
And those heroic vows
No one can ever keep.

But still God is delighted and amused
You once tried to be a saint.

What happens when your soul
Begins to awake in this world

To our deep need to love
And serve the Friend?

O the Beloved

Will send you
One of His wonderful, wild companions—

Like Hafiz.

You Are the Only Student You Have

Rumi wrote poetry that resonates over centuries. When we take time to be thankful and silent, we are one with the universe. We sense the right time to speak.

When we become our student, it is important to be silent and patient with the student. Without patience and compassion, the student does not learn. The teacher cannot teach and wisdom cannot be received.

When we receive ourselves as both teacher and student, questions open up not to be answered as inviting spaces. We move beyond change and transform who we are.

You are the only faithful student you have.
All the others leave eventually.

Have you been making yourself shallow
with making others eminent?

Just remember, when you’re in union,
you don’t have to fear
that you’ll be drained.

The command comes to speak,
and you feel the ocean
moving through you.
Then comes, Be silent,
as when the rain stops,
and the trees in the orchard
begin to draw moisture
up into themselves.

The Thread

Denise Levertov wrote this lovely poem that reminds me that there is something invisible that keeps us on track. I cannot see it, but I feel the thread and, when I listen quietly, I hear the call. The thread is part of who I am and is not some thing that catches me, but is some thing I become aware of over time.

I explore the world as I hold that invisible thread, hear it, and feel it. It is my pathway into the world that reminds me legacies are not created, but recalled by others.

I cannot plan this path. I walk it, sometimes alone and at other times fully in the company of others. Even when I am alone, am I? Are there those who I cannot see that walk with me with their hands gently placed on my shoulders guiding my journey.

Something is very gently,
invisibly, silently,
pulling at me—a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven’t tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.

Harmony

My mother is from a family of farmers so digging in the brown earth is symbolic for me today. She had a garden and flower beds until she sold the house and moved into an apartment, but, even there, she kept house plants.

Last night, I chatted with cousins on Facebook. My mother is the last of her generation on both sides of my family. When she gathered with her siblings, there was always tea, chatting (it was never called gossip) and laughter in the house. I think the laughter created the harmony Colleen Lineberry speaks about in her poem.

Thomas Merton wrote that life is about finding our voice through our calling in life, our vocation. My mom raised seven children and babysat many others. Her calling was to be a parent.

Memories and laughter remind us how good the day is.

One morning when I dig
brown earth with bare fingers and
listen to the light wind
shuffle through oak and elm,
I hear the silver of chimes
dangle from a thin wire,
the cadence of children
laugh themselves dizzy
like swirls of bubbles at play.

A choir of robins
trills gossip and questions,
a thicket of poems in the understory.
Each voice
from each perch
sings
through a window of sky.

I remember
to remember
how good this day is:
to slow through creation
along with the breeze
as it gentles and
praises the trees.

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