Category Archives: spirituality

Winter Renga

img_2959Feathers in the Basket

 

Through my sunglasses

the world’s turned copper and blue

a wild year’s last roar

 

flotsam of ice washed up

in the ash trees’ shadow

 

dotted along the verges

domes of fine earth

lifting my mood

 

shredded honesty

mooncatchers

 

mirrored swans

harmony

on surface tension

 

make time for what matters

the cover of John’s notebook

 

amid the canter of horses

I see my father again

blurred by years of warm sunshine

 

when your mind goes blank

enjoy the silence

 

Hotbank, Harnham, Holy Island

Whin Sill outcropping

still resonant volcanic flow

 

her cello

stays at home

 

at the Blacksmith’s

ordering tea in Italian

swearing in English

 

the rabbit managed ten holes

during my absence

 

so much of our days

is this – hands opening

and closing

 

grey meets white

a line carefully not drawn

 

would you cut the wood?

would you chop the wood?

would you burn the wood?

 

feathers in the basket

flightless

 

a mouthful of mint

like swallowing

the moon

 

imagine Kusala conservatory

full of scented hyacinths

 

Nanna always said

the days get longer

by the stride of the cock

 

two months’ news fast

relief for the heart.

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A genius loci renga

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on 28th December 2016.

 

Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor

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In Two Minds

Another mind is moving in me, a second nature that is as inseparable from me as my shadow, except that in relation to it I am the shadow and it the light. The dilemma I find myself in (if I find myself at all) is that this other is hidden from me in the same way that seeing is hidden from things that are seen. The work of meditative thinking is a collaboration between these two natures—the seer that remembers and the seen that always forgets. As in rowing, if you pull more on one oar than the other, you go round in circles, and, as in rowing, all I can see is what I have passed as I press forward toward a point that is hidden behind me.

Carl Lehmann-Haupt

 

The Double

I am tired, but she is not tired.

I am wordless;

she, who has never spoken a word of her own,

is full of thoughts as precise and impassioned

as the yellow and black exchanges of a wasp’s striped body.

 

For a long time I thought her imposter.

Then realized:

her jokes, even her puns, are only too subtle for me to follow.

 

And so we go on, mostly ignoring each other,

though what I cook, she eats with seeming gusto,

and letters intended for her alone I open with curious ease,

as if I, not she, were the long-accomplished thief.

 

Jane Hirshfield

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The Silk Road

You’re sitting here with us, but you’re also out walking

in a field at dawn.  You are yourself

the animal we hunt when you come with us on the chase.

You’re in your body like a plant is solid in the ground,

yet you’re wind.  You’re the diver’s clothes

lying empty on the beach.  You’re the fish.

In the ocean are many bright strands
and many dark strands like veins that are seen
when a wing is lifted up.
Your hidden self is blood in those, those veins
that are lute strings that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of surf, but the sound of no shore.

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Quietness

imageInside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.

Escape.

Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side.  Die,

and be quiet.  Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

 

 

Rumi

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Monks’ Valley, Cappadocia

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Midsummer Renga

 

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The Unlit Stove

 

 

At midsummer’s tipping point –

the translation of green

into fruit, seed

 

a canopy of sycamore

over the swings at Burnlaw

 

light tread of hooves

muzzling

for favourite grasses

 

a round hole

in the roof of the temple

 

so much depends

upon a black hen

running after its chick

 

the broken hose

left her drenched, laughing

 

baskets of petals

gathered, infused

to scent small wrists

 

a rust-winged moth

on our mullioned window

 

practise patience

wait for a spark

from the unlit stove

 

what wisdom

will the shamans reveal tonight?

 

tracking love’s origin

from eyes to hands

throat to heart

 

copper in the veg patch

shock tactics for slugs

 

restless dog, biting

going round in circles

we are all dying

 

shallows at the jetty

a mirror for the tree house

 

who is she?

head on the table

tilted forward

 

the kite’s tail trembles

an orange wish in the blue

 

enter Puck

who steals

the moon

 

held in each leaf

a gleaming bead

 

the growl of haymaking

nudges the curlews

onward

 

apples fattening

on the orchard trees.

 

 

 

 

 

A genius loci renga

at Burnlaw

on 28th June 2014.

 

 

 

Participants:

 

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Holly Clay

Linda France

Linda Kent

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor

 

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Chippewa Song Pictures

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From Shaking the Pumpkin
Edited by Jerome Rothenberg

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Poetry & Zen

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Meditation is not just a rest or retreat from the turmoil of the stream or the impurity of the world. It is a way of being the stream, so that one can be at home in both the white water and the eddies. Meditation may take one out of the world, but it also puts one totally into it. Poems are a bit like this too. The experience of a poem gives both distance and involvement: one is closer and farther at the same time.

Traditions of deliberate attention to consciousness, and of making poems, are as old as humankind. Meditation looks inward, poetry holds forth. One is private, the other is out in the world. One enters the moment, the other shares it. But in practice it is never entirely clear which is doing which. In any case, we do know that in spite of the contemporary public perception of meditation and poetry as special, exotic, and difficult, they are both as old and as common as grass. The one goes back to essential moments of stillness and deep inwardness, and the other to the fundamental impulse of expression and presentation.

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I started writing poetry in my adolescence, to give voice to some powerful experiences that I had while doing snowpeak mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest. At first I wrote “directly as I felt.” Then I discovered the work of Robinson Jeffers and D.H. Lawrence. Aha, I thought, there is more to poetry. I became aware of poetry as a craft—a matter of working with materials and tools—that has a history, with different applications and strategies all over the world over tens of thousands of years. I came to understand poetry as a furthering of language. (Language is not something you learn in school, it is a world you’re born into. It is part of the wildness of Mind. You master your home tongue without conscious effort by the age of five. Language with its sinuous syntax is not unlike the thermal dynamics of weather systems, or energy exchanges in the food chain—completely natural and vital, part of what and who we are. Poetry is the leap off of [or into] that.)

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I think I had come to understand something about play: to be truly serious you have to play. That’s on the side of poetry, and of meditation, too. In fact, play is essential to everything we do—working on cars, cooking, raising children, running corporations—and poetry is nothing special. Language is no big deal. Mind is no big deal. Meaning or no-meaning, it’s perfectly okay. We take what’s given us, with gratitude.

The poet in us can be seen at both the beginning and the end of a life. Everybody knows a child can come up with a rhyme, a song, a poem that will delight us. At the same time, the old priest on his deathbed will write a poem, his last act. The most refined and accomplished people will express their deepest understanding in a poem—and the absolute beginner will not hesitate to try to express a transient transcendent moment. There is no sure way to predict which poem will be better than the other.

Poetry is democratic, Zen is elite. No! Zen is democratic, poetry is is elite. Which is it? Everybody can do zazen, but only a few do poetry. Everybody can do poetry but only a few can really do zazen. Poetry (and the literary world) has sometimes been perceived as dangerous to the spirit career, but also poems have been called upon to express the most delicate and profound spiritual understanding.

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Beyond wild. This can indeed include language. Poetry is how language experiences itself. It’s not that the deepest spiritual insights cannot be expressed in words (they can, in fact) but that words cannot be expressed in words. So our poems are full of real presences. “Save a ghost,” you might be asked by your teacher—or an owl, or a rainforest, or a demon. Walking that through and then putting a poem to it is a step on the way toward realization. But the path has many switchbacks and a spiritual journey is strewn with almost as many land mines as a poet’s path. Let us all be careful (and loose as a goose) together.

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Spending time with your own mind is humbling and broadening. One finds that there’s no one in charge, and is reminded that no thought lasts for long. The marks of the Buddhist teachings are impermanence, no-self, the inevitability of suffering, interconnectedness, emptiness, the vastness of mind, and the provision of a Way to realization. An accomplished poem, like an exemplary life, is a brief presentation, a uniqueness in the oneness, a complete expression, and a kind gift exchange in the mind-energy webs.

Gary Snyder

Gary Snyder lives in the northern Sierra Nevada and practices in the Linji Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist tradition.  Pulitzer prize-winning poet and essayist, his most recent book is Practice of the Wild (North Point Press).

An extract from the Introduction to Beneath a Single Moon: Legacies of Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry. Edited by Kent Johnson and Craig Paulenich (Shambhala Publications).

The first image is a detail from Felicity Aylieff’s Lotus Flowers (2006) at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, and the second and third are from Akio Suzuki’s wonderful show at the Globe Gallery, Newcastle, part of this year’s AV Festival.  The fourth and fifth are Alstromerias and a reclining Buddha on my window sills at home.

 

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How To Get Through The Winter

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A friend brought me three pomegranates, a traditional New Year’s gift in Greece.  I can’t remember how many years ago I last ate one.  When I was a kid, we used to eat the seeds with a pin, which seemed like great fun.  Apart from the fat shiny russet globes warming up my winter kitchen, it’s been an intense pleasure spooning out the garnet seeds to eat raw, add to yogurt or scatter onto salads.

photoI can’t agree with Jane Grigson, who calls them ‘unrewarding fruit’: no more than a closet of juicy seeds, each one gold in a deep pink jelly, the sections held firmly in a yellow astringent pith.  She quotes an extract from André Gide’s Les Nourritures Terrestres (1895), a long poem in praise of pleasure, dedicated to the pomegranate.

A little sour is the juice of the pomegranate like the juice of unripe raspberries.

Wax-like is the flower

Coloured as the fruit is coloured

Close-guarded this item of treasure, beehive partitioned,

Richness of savour,

Architecture of pentagons.

The rind splits; out tumble the seeds,

In cups of azure, some seeds are blood;

On plates of enamelled bronze, others are drops of gold.

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The story of Persephone tells us that the maiden, abducted to the Underworld by Hades, made the mistake of eating six pomegranate seeds while she was there.  According to a law decreed by the Fates, this meant she had to stay there for six months; only then could she return to the surface of the earth for the other six months of the year.  Her mother Demeter’s grief explained the alternating seasons – decay, barrenness, growth and harvest – the cycle of life.

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Image from collaboration with Hexham Embroiderers’ Guild for Hexham Hospital

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) literally means ‘seeded apple’ and it’s easy to see how eating them might feel like sympathetic magic.  Winter will pass. Things will start growing again soon.  Early agricultural communities, after many thousands of years’ hunter-gathering, utterly dependent on a good crop, created stories and rituals (like that of Persephone and Demeter within the Eleusinian mysteries) to affirm the rhythms of their labours to survive and flourish.  What do we look to encourage us through the winter?  A well-stocked larder, a good book by a roaring fire?  Don’t we all have our own talismans to help us get through and out the other side of the dark?

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In some Jewish traditions it is thought the pomegranate was the ‘forbidden fruit’ of the Garden of Eden.  In the light of the vast mythological lore surrounding this remarkable fruit, that would make sense.  In Tamil the name for it – maadulampazhum – means ‘woman’s mind’.  The seeds (between 200 and 1400 in one fruit) represent the multifaceted way the female mind works, apparently unfathomable to the male, as the pomegranate seeds are hidden by the skin.  Persephone, Demeter and Hecate were all seeds of the same fruit but it fell to Eve to claim free-will for human beings, making grown-ups and gardeners of us all.

The summer had been ended for some time

If not officially

Before the shock of greyness, blanketing,

Pressed the blind season up against our faces.

Winter, my God, a familiar I had forgotten:

That’s all I needed.

The portcullis dropped and locked around our houses.

The long worthwhile campaign to build the town up

Surrounding it with fruitful fields was seen

To have been only a little flourish; frivolous –

The house of straw of the pig before the wolf.

‘The dark is back’ the eyeless morning said..

From Persephone by Jenny Joseph (Bloodaxe 1986)

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Perfection

photoA renga from Harnham Buddhist Monastery yesterday; the genius loci schema adapted to incorporate the Ten Perfections (paramis – positive qualities to cultivate as part of the Buddhist path – generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, resolve, kindness, equanimity).  Ajahn Sucitto calls them ‘ways to cross life’s floods’:

The parami take spiritual practice into areas of our lives where we get confused, are subject to social pressure and are often strongly influenced by stress or stress-forming assumptions.  Providing alternative ways to orient the mind in the stream of daily events, the ‘perfections’ can derail obstructive inner activities and leave the mind clear .  Cultivating parami means you get to steer your life out of the floods.

Tomorrow night we’ll gather for our ritual of Forgiveness and Aspiration – the best way I know to begin a new year.  The New Moon, traditionally a good time for setting fresh intentions, falls on 31st so this year our usually rather arbitrary ‘new’ beginning should have added resonance.  May you have a peaceful and clear crossing of the threshold at the dark of the moon.

Getting Used To Darkness

Brief blue scatterings

lighten the limbo

at the end of the year

*

cold gates clunking

mark the way in

*

the open water

receives sun, breeze

and a lone swan

*
getting used to darkness

I know you are there

*

how even the body relaxes

when you enter a house

full of good people

*

Emma watched the pull

to text back many times

*

fear’s sour taste –

not having

not being enough

*

we sit with the impossibility

of nothing

*

these walls built from stone

out of the fields

they now enclose

*

two gardeners

on their hands and knees

*

the bleached tree guards

stake out a promise

of soft glade and birdsong

*

crossed fingers behind your back

won’t do it

*
spines on cacti

fine and scarlet

beneath dim light

*

grant me a spider’s skill

her slow spun wheel

*

he listened

with complete attention

to the difficult guest

*

geese graze tight-in

amongst the Cheviot ewes

*

dark clouds

arced glow

rippling at the shore

*

a rumour of snowdrops

instead of first snow

*

the young oak

have yet to learn

to shed their leaf

*

two hundred kilos of salt

awaiting the weather.

 

A genius loci/parami renga

at Harnham Buddhist Monastery

on 29th December, 2013.

 

 

Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Chandra Candiani

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Linda Kent

Eileen Ridley

Tim Rubidge

Christine Taylor

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Spring Forward, Fall Back

Beaty Rubens has woven a wonderful tapestry of sound and voices out of the NCLA’s  recent project based on Lindisfarne.  I’ve just listened to it on Radio 4 and it should be available to ‘listen again’ (and is repeated next Saturday evening at 11.30).  Although our last visit in April seems a very long time ago, hearing the words, the sea and the general hubbub brought it all back – in the way only a recording can.

Twelve poets were commissioned to write a poem marking this summer’s return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the North East.  I wrote mine in response to the gift of a photo of some Silverweed growing on the sea shore from Ajahn Sucitto, a monk in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition.  His discipline, although less austere than St Cuthbert’s, is still impressive in its rigour and integrity.  I find such counter-cultural commitment and restraint very moving – a good model but hard to follow.

Aren’t we all pilgrims?  One step forward, two steps back?

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Silverweed

Argentina anserina

You send me a pilgrim-monk’s-eye view –

our lord’s footsteps, cinquefoil – gold and silver

sprung out of the sand, leaves like feathers, spray.

Crimson runners are lines on a manuscript,

join what needs to be joined, arteries

of earth and heart: the shudder of the sea

not far away; a sadness in the stretch

and snap of the waves, the way they suck themselves

back, sadder.  You steer your course with such grace,

a brother’s footsteps I try to follow,

asking for nothing – amazed when what blooms

in the imprint of each carefully planted heel

and toe is a sudden illumination

of silver and gold, home for the mutual,

that amniotic salt we’ve been berthed in

over and over.  All I need to do

is open the book of my heart and keep on

looking.  Here, traveller – goosewort, richette

tuck some fresh leaves inside your shoes

to leaven the crossing, our long walking.

 

You can hear more – live – later in November…

Antiphonal

A talk and poetry reading

Location: St Edmunds Chapel, High Street, Gateshead
Time/Date: 15th November 2013, 19:15

There will be a talk by Professor Clare Lees, King’s College London, about the Antiphonal project, a performance by poets involved and a chance to experience the installation created by sound and interaction artist, Tom Schofield. A published pamphlet of the specially commissioned poems, Shadow Script, will be available to buy on the night. The exhibition runs from 15 to 21 November.

Tickets for this event are free, but should be booked in advance from the NCLA site.

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