contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: December, 2017

POEM: A WINTER EDEN

Warmest wishes to everyone for the festive season and the coming year. Here and now I don’t have a ‘deep midwinter’ feeling, despite the short days. I’ve been walking by my local canal in a largely green world, with a defining image of sunlight on ivy. Alders are growing catkins. Midges abound. Robert Frost’s poem below, in a snowy New England setting, celebrates the exuberance of life whenever it gets a chance.

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.

Robert Frost

SHADOW

“We identify our shadow … with that visible shape we see projected on the pavement or the whitewashed wall. Since what we glimpse there is a being without depth, we naturally assume that shadows themselves are basically flat – and if we are asked, by a curious child, about the life of shadows we are apt to reply that their lives exist only in two dimensions.

“Suppose, however, that on the same afternoon a bumblebee is making its way from a clutch of clover blossoms on one side of the road to another cluster of blooms in an overgrown weedlot across the street, and that as it does so the bee happens to pass between me and the flat shape that my body casts upon the pavement. The sunlit bee buzzes toward me, streaking like an erratic, drunken comet against the asphalt sky, and then it crosses an unseen boundary in the air: instantly its glow dims, the sun is no longer upon it – it has moved into a precisely bounded zone of darkness that floats between my opaque flesh and that vaguely humanoid silhouette laid out upon the pavement – until a moment later the bee buzzes out the opposite side of that zone and emerges back into the day’s radiance.

“Although it was zipping along several feet above the street, the bumblebee had passed into and out of my real shadow. Its visible trajectory – gleaming, then muted, then gleaming again – shows that my actual shadow is an enigma more substantial than that flat shape on the paved ground. That silhouette is only my shadow’s outermost surface. The actual shadow does not reside primarily on the ground; it is a voluminous being of thickness and depth, a mostly unseen presence that dwells in the air between my body and that ground. The dusky shape on the asphalt touches me only at my feet, and hence seems largely separate from me, even independent from me – a kind of doppelganger. The apparent gap between myself and that flat swath of darkness is what prompts me, now and then to accept its invitation to dance, the two of us then strutting and ducking in an improvised pas de deux wherein it’s never very clear which one of us is leading and which is following. It is now obvious, however, that that shape slinking along on the pavement is merely the outermost edge of a thick volume of shade, an umbral depth that extends from the pavement right up to my knees, torso, and head – a shadow touching me not just at my feet, but at every point of my person.”

David Abram Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology New York: Vintage Books, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: THE WAY OF THE LOVER

Highly recommended. The full title is: The Way of the Lover: Sufism, Shamanism and the Spiritual Art of Love. For me, the strength of this book is its successful synthesis of apparently diverse influences. As a road map for the spiritual journey throughout the life course, it has coherence, power and integrity.

Sufism is the ground. We are introduced to a cosmos saturated in divinity both in origin and manifestation. As Syed Hamraz Ahsan says in his introduction, “Sufis are divine lovers … the path begins at the heart and ends at the heart”. Yet “the pathway to love and the divine may not always be simple or clear”. Since everyone and everything embodies divinity, any relationship is a relationship with the divine.

Ross Heaven uses a medicine wheel structure for the human journey of life and love. Beginning at (or before) birth (East) it moves through youth (South) and mid-life (West) to age (North). Each stage has challenges. Fear can become a distorting part of the picture very early. As we grow up, we are challenged to discover our authentic power and its skillful use. Throughout our adult lives we are under pressure to navigate with clarity and vision through the stress and confusion that go with loving and being loved, and to evolve through loving service. At the Centre is the “true soul, the wise Elder and the newborn”. Within this structure he offers teaching stories; insights from humanistic, developmental and transpersonal psychology; personal anecdotes; and awareness exercises.

The stages of the journey, and several psychological models, are clearly spelled out. They are saved from over-prescription through the use of stories and their rich ambiguity, and by the over-arching presentation of an exploratory, free-spirited and non-controlling spirituality. The Way of the Lover offers something to readers with specific issues of concern and those with a more open and generalized interest in the journey. Ross Heaven distils considerable wisdom and experience within this book, not least when he ends by reminding us to move on and rely on our own experience.

Ross Heaven The Way of the Lover: Sufism, Shamanism and the Spiritual Art of Love Winchester UK & Washington USA: Moon Books, 2017 (Moon Books Classic)

 

KABIR: ECSTATIC FLUTE

I know the sound of the ecstatic flute,

But I don’t know whose flute it is.

A lamp burns and has neither wick nor oil.

A lily pad blossoms and is not attached to the bottom!

Where one flower opens, ordinarily dozens open.

The moon bird’s head is filled with nothing but thoughts of the moon,

And when the next rain will come is all that the rain bird thinks of.

Who is it we spend our entire life loving?

Kabir Ecstatic poems Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992 (The English translations are free enough for Robert Bly to call them ‘versions by Robert Bly’. There is an earlier set of translations published by MacMillan in New York in 1915 by Rabindranath Tagore assisted by Evelyn Underhill under the title Songs of Kabir. Whilst I don’t follow Bly in calling the English of the earlier work “useless”, I do find that Bly’s interpretation has more passion and power. The Bly work includes an insightful afterword Kabir and the transcendental Bly by John Stratton Hawley).

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