Brushing the Dust Off

I live in Portland and I’m surrounded by artists. Painters, poets, musicians, shamans, dancers, blacksmiths, bakers, clothing designers, woodworkers. Friends who shape and reshape their world of contemplation, history and future, hurt and joy, and make an invitation of their love in motion.

Some friends created an art gallery in their garage, called 1122 Gallery, and it’s wonderful. They host artists and great opening parties, and there are readings of poems and other pieces, and wine, and cheese, and kids playing in the grass.

Recently the AWP was in Portland, and the friends at 1122 hosted a bonanza of readings in relation to it. Folks from all over the country came to the mic and offered their voices, while the walls held the great art of Stacy Elaine Dacheux.

All of this is to say that I’m so grateful to be surrounded by people who are doing such exciting work, and the sheer radiance of it pierces the haze around my own practice and inspires me to to dive back in.

So, here I am again, sending a few words at a time into the ether. Perhaps some of this will organized around my work. And some of this will be in service of honoring others’ work. I haven’t posted here in years, but I’m going to offer two posts back to back, if the rusty gears of my wordpress can handle it.

The first one, this one, will end by letting you know that my friend Melissa Reeser Poulin is a fantastic poet who recently published a fantastic book of poetry called Rupture, Light.

My second post, coming in a few minutes, will be my review and reading of that book.

These words don’t exist in darkness – thank you for offering them light. 

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Practicing Lucidity

One of the assignments for the Catholic and Orthodox Christianity Module at the Chaplaincy Institute, where I’m still a seminarian, was to practice one of the Christian forms of prayer. I opted for Father Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer with a sacred word. One selects a word as symbol for consenting to Divine presence and action within, then brings it into sitting in silence. I invoked the word repeatedly over the course of a week. Below is the text that emerged, interspersed with photographs I took while I was in Rome one year earlier.

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Lucidity

I am here in the sounding dark. I am the presence and the void. I am the flame and the velvet black. I lead you into form and offer you the gift of formlessness. I am close as the embers in your chest and vast as the fires of the night sky.

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I anchor this moment, I make it a ruby woven into your robes, I mark it on the body of your life. You sit and call and your wings open from your shoulders and your crown wears its gold and your body hums and you will be here whenever you desire, beyond the fleeting cruelty of time. You call this moment companion, and name it thus: the mountain towering above you, holding you in its embrace of snow; the fire murmurs and tells stories to your blood; your love beside you, sharing your table and bed and going out with you into the swirling white. You are here in love, now and evermore.
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You ask to be the vessel and so you are. From deck to mast strung with golden chains, you ply the night seas, luminous. Your bow stirs moonlight, your breath fills the sails. You are honored and captain. Angels alight on the deck, they wear the garland roses you bestow. Your word sends a wave of intention. The lion head emerges from your chest and the billion stars remind you, you are no small thing.

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Thank you for dipping my wings in gold. Thank you for placing the crown on my head, that I may bow to serve.

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Be with the man blessed with such pain. He sits in the gravel edge of his voice, he wears thunderheads of bitter mistake and self-hatred but today he’ll speak to you of angels and when you lay hands upon his furrowed brow he’ll soften into the sunlight of his smile. His pain is yours and yours, his. You are each portal to the other.
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This is my home, the water moving in air, the spill of oak hills down toward frigid sea. I know what’s out there, beneath the blanket of grey. I’ve walked here for a thousand lives.

I’m on fire with my life. I’m the wheel in my chest, luminescent spokes spinning off sparks.

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I remember the rain that bent the leaves of grass as it bent the hairs of my head. I remember feeling it swallowed by the open ground. I remember the loamy smell, the wet rock, the streaks of it down my chest. I remember the sound of it on leaves pulling me from my bed, to stand under a falling sky with mouth open to drink. I stripped and ran wild with it through scrub and oak. I floated on the lake, droplets like notes of music all around me, lightning on the ring of mountains. I remember it all. What a wonderful time I’ve had here, experiencing rain.

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You dwell in all the forms of your dreams, you are actor, scene, and Creator Director. As within, so without. How could it be otherwise?

In-between combustions a crow calls to a child and the child answers in joy. Coffee steams in ceramic curves, scones crumble, heels click on concrete. I’m in love with the world.

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I watch the moon rise into mystery, I listen for the Earth dreaming of redwoods. I pour out an offering of wine and turn to the darkened hills. My heart sings with gratitude for the climbing trail.

 

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A Sip of Hinduism

Continuing my interfaith studies at the Chaplaincy Institute, I attended a module on Hinduism this month. I loved it, and find myself more confused about what Hinduism is than before I went. I count that as a good thing. I learned how to pronounce Ganesha correctly (Ga-nay-sha) and that Hinduism is considered a monotheistic religion. I ate delicious food, I sang kirtan with my classmates, and I caught a blink of a glimpse at the millennia of cultivated wisdom that this tradition holds. Phenomenal. The work of Brant Cortright in his work Integral Psychology, and the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, are profound. My reflections, light and small as a snowflake, are below.

 

“There comes a time when one asks even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, is this all?” -Aldous Huxley, referenced by Huston Smith in The World’s Religions

The more I’ve read of Hinduism, the less I’ve understood. With every step the ground gives way on either side: the path narrows, the cosmos widens. It will consume all the love I am and make me more.

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Sanskrit sings in me much the way Arabic did, an ocean of meaning where I float, fingers trailing the surface. My heart is still cracked open from the soaring depths of our kirtan. To speak Shiva is not to talk about Shiva, but to invoke him.

The mind struggles for order and at best finds mandala: a form suggesting a ladder of comprehension that invokes the unknowable. We lodged on Mt. Hood in a snow storm last weekend: hiked on pristine powder, sat outside in a hot tub of water, stood by a fire and looked upon the mountain shrouding itself in winter.

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Every pane a perception of water. Every crystal a vast history and potential for stillness and torrent.

I looked through the glass and saw a thousand Hindu gods in a thousand forms emerging into our world and re-entering Brahman.

The Celestial Ganges cascading down on Vishnu’s head,

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flowing onto earth.

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To gaze lovingly at an avatar of tenderness

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before it’s carried back.

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Millennia of wisdom in sage bright eyes. They are all here.

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My Soul of Atman.

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My Spirit of Brahman.

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Kirtan didn’t sing in me until Amma hugged me. Traveling to India hadn’t strongly appealed to me until this module, where I studied, tasted, smelled, witnessed devotions to Brahman in a thousand faces. Kali has always attracted and repulsed me, but I find the balance being in attraction now. I love the swords, the colors, the blood, the sharp edges and life in death.

Kali

A follower of Kali, and more broadly, Shakti, often devotes oneself to the five M’s: Madya (alcohol), Mamsa (meat), Matsya (fish), Mudra (parched grain and symbolic hand gestures), and Maithuna (sexual intercourse). My studies continue.

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