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Posted By Opening the Heart

One of the reasons I love the 'blogosphere' (in spite of its ugly name) is the way it can, with magical synchronicity, sound different but compatable variations on the same theme. In my last post here I was opining on how easy it is for me to view myself through a single, distorted, narrow focus lens. How interesting, then, to read this sentence from Barry Brigg's 'Ox Herding' blog: "there may be no other way of revealing ourselves to ourselves than through the apocalype of opposites."

Meanwhile, on Nigeness my attention was drawn to  'To Night', a sonnet by Blanco White (1775 - 1841.)  In its lines, the poet, noting that the bright sunlight of day obscures the majesty of the sky that is revealed at night, reminds us how easily we can be deceived by and trapped in appearances:

"Who could have thought such darkness lay concealed

Within thy beams, O Sun! or who could find..........

That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind!"

Yet, even though the distorting lens of habit and culture typically prevents us from seeing into our depths, we all sense the unexplored territory that lies beneath our surface. This sense is beautifully expressed in a poem by Kay Ryan (also posted this week on Nigeness.)

 

Carrying a Ladder

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it’s
invisible. We
only know
something’s
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there’s too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.

 

That sense of clumsily blundering through life as if carrying an unwealdy ladder is the wake up signal that alerts me to the fact that I need to spend some time and energy exploring exactly what the ladder is 'this time'.

Thank you fellow bloggers for a wealth of wisdom!


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

 

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

 John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

 

This ancient Indian story becomes particularly meaningful when applied to the process of self examination. Just how partial is our understanding of ourselves? How moulded by prevailing culture, science and pop-psychology are the stories our minds weave about the 'self' and our lives?

Looking back to my childhood in England I can laugh in embarrassment at the various notions I imbibed from my family, friends, schools and popular culture. Exposure to alternative world views has taught me how impossibly racist, sexist, jingoist, chauvinist, homophobic, fear-based and just plain wrong those notions were. With hindsite it is easy to see that just about all my perceptions of who I was in the world were way off base.

Hitch-hiking around Europe in the 60s, living in an ashram in India for three years in the 70s, becoming an immigrant to the US in the 80s were all salutary experiences that opened my eyes and busted many of the myths I was carrying about myself and my relationship to the world. But there's no doubt that new myths crept in along the way.
A quarter century later  the 'elephant' story prompts me to wonder what misunderstandings, distortions and failures to see the big picture I am currently indulging.

I remember spending a meditation intensive in India in 1977 sitting opposite a partner and responding to the suggestion: "Tell me who you are!" It took me a long time to get beyond the 'bio', the family, the career, the closely held beliefs. In essence these were just parts of the elephant - and even patching them all together produced only a piecemeal collage. What was being sought was something much deeper and more complete - something amorphous but much closer to truth.

The challenge then and now is to recognize and move beyond the narrow lens crafted by (unreliable) personal experience and 'culture'. It requires continually reminding ourselves that we are usually only experiencing a fraction of our whole being. Try this experiment: set your timer to beep every hour today - when you hear it ask yourself 'who am I right now? and spend just one minute meditating the answer.


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

Two days from now participants will be gathering at Kripalu in the Massachusetts Berkshire Hills for the Opening the Heart Workshop.  They will be coming home to their hearts,  reconnecting with themselves,  taking time out from  the challenges and stresses of workaday lives. We wish them all a safe journey to Kripalu. The migration brought to mind this poem by Mary Oliver:

 

Wild Geese

 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves.


Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.


Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,


the world offers itself to your imagination,


calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--


over and over announcing your place


in the family of things.

 

There is still time to register and there are still some places available,so - if you have been wavering, let  this be a gentle nudge to join us. I know that you won't be disappointed.

 

Peter


 
Posted By Opening the Heart

For as long as I can remember I have loved poetry and the power that words have to evoke deep feelings. Archibald Macleish said that a poem “should not mean, but be” and Kabir said the same thing 500 years earlier when he said that you should feel a poem in the “thump of the chest”. These poets, men and women for the past 2000 years, have written these words, this divine, or sacred poetry that pass all the evolved neuro-cerebral connections and go straight to the heart like an arrow to release the pain, sadness and ecstacy that bind us in our humanity. Through their words, they give us a glimpse of the Kingdom that they experienced.
Kabir, a 15th century Sufi poet said that when, for “fifteen seconds”, he heard the words of his master, Shams, it made him a disciple for life.
I believe that poetry, words, can open the heart instantly, heal us, open us to grief long-buried and change our very souls. Lao-Tzu, 2000 years ago tells us that “each separate being in the universe returns to the common source”. Jelaluddin Rumi wrote that “the clear bead at the center changes everything.” Kabir: “Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.”

The 17th century Zen poet Bunan wrote “Die while you’re still alive and be absolutely dead. Then do whatever you want: it’s all good.” And Kabir, again, tells us to “Wake up! Wake up! You have been sleeping for millions of years. Why not wake up this morning.”

All of these great beings on up through Walt Whitman, Rilke, Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver have been lovingly tapping us on the shoulder to remind us that beyond every wound, every doubt, every fear, that we are loved beyond measure - that we are blessed. May we open our hearts to one another and come to the knowledge of our true self.

“A poet is someone
Who can pour Light into a spoon,

Then raise it
To nourish 
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.”
 

 Hafiz 

With Love and Respect,

 

Jon