POEM: Promedica My Ass — Owed To Branding

Logos used
Too mean
Know ledge
Like that age owed ad vice
Would you jump off a bridge
If every won ails did
As in sayin’
Bye your good will
As money oozes from the non-prophet, health care (sic) system
The sores of philandering philanthropy
Well, come to PR medica
An unholy owned subsidiary
Of Tourette’s Industries
You will swear
Buy them
Weather you want to or not
Their marketing deportment is
As good as goaled
As black as poets inc
Greasing their wills
Stuck with irresistible pitch
As verbally contracted
Not worth the pay per
Printed upon
Yet this awe
Will in deed
Make it passable to live
As resistance is feudal
And being
Penned
Is what poets due
Indubitably
Sow branded
As live stock
For tolled
Too get a rise
The Tao jones
Working in our flavor
Over and over and over
Un-till bank rolled
In a dark ally
Buy and buy
Hour justifiable salivation
Attending too in trap meant anon
Agin and agin and agin
Fore the yoke is on-us
Awe the more
Fore the fire brand
Not with standing
In a flesh of genius
Is incensed
As won red scent
Becomes too
Until udderly crying out
In an unherd-of steer
I love the smell
Of nay palm
In the mourning
High noon
And too fly by night
Sullen this, sullen that
Soully worried
How irate
In some won ails size
Butt, its my skin in the game
Lonely hoping
Knot to be found
Within and without
My pants around my knees
As its only
My panties in a bunch
Over
Awe that madders
Poetic license
And corporate patronage
Some body
Has to
Pay the piper
To keep your roost ere plumbed
As upright as it comes
Why cant you
Say “uncle”
You know
Like that rich uncle
Who wants you
To sit on his lap
And tell you
Bed time
Stories
That will mark you for life
Butt kept mysteriously in a family weigh
As long
As in your genes
As in c’est la vie
Or sow, I’ve herd
As if
We are posed to be prod
Of being cattle
Scarred I’ll go
All Gandhi on you as
BE the beef
Awe the wile beating a different conundrum
Refraining that whole eat me thing
The mark of the best (sic)
Or rather sic sic sic’s
Sow fresh and hoary unholy revelations
Indulging vain wishes for dead presidents
And CEOs
Men of letters posterior to autograft
Ass-ever-rate
In playing defense
At my offense
With such propriety, proprietary and property
For my own good, posedly
Their mirror deflection
But, but, but, but, but
Except two a t
And so
I’m bare assed
And without
They’re money
You’re nothing butt
A bum
And the rush
Too be just
THAT

I am not a big fan of branding, whether it is of livestock or in corporate public relations. I was inspired to write this poem because at a regular monthly poetry reading they secured a small amount of funding to pay invited featured poets. Will Work For Universal Health Care POLITICAL BUTTONThe source of funding included local community foundations plus the nearly ubiquitous ProMedica, the largest health system within the Toledo region.  I have come to call Promedica, “PR Medica,” because of its often over-sized logo and branding in Toledo, aka ProMedica-ville, is nearly omnipresent in venues big and small.  I found its intrusion into the local poetry scene offensive, particularly because I am an iconoclastic, anti-commercial poet who specializes in addressing social justice issues.  This was a little too close to home for me.  I announced before my open mic reading that I did not want to be considered as an invited poet.  I suggested that to de-commercialize this reading, sending back the portion payed for by ProMedica, along with a strongly worded letter (might I suggest F and U), would be in order.

This is not the first time that I have unleashed my poetic visions against ProMedica.  The first time I devoted a poem to ProMedica was when they sponsored a state-wide poetry contest on the topic of anti-hunger with an honorarium to the winning poet that would befit and maintain the status of starving artist.  My unsubmitting, unremitting poem: Speaking With Spoken Sword: Owed To Hungering Fore Anew ProMedica.

Health Care is a Right Not a Privilege - PUBLIC HEALTH BUTTONSingle-Payer Health Care - Everybody In, Nobody Out POLITICAL BUTTONProMedica, if you want to combat hunger, pay all of your employees a living wage.  ProMedica, if you want to fulfill your mission and redeem your non-prophet status, devote 0.01% of your revenue toward advocating for universal health care, everybody in, nobody out.  Until then, you can bye this poet all you want.

MUST READ POEM: Incarcerated Truth

MUST READ POEM: Incarcerated Truth

But for the slip of the tongue
There could be
Having
Been given
The slip of paper
With a key
Too incarcerated truth
Knot to be
Read aloud
There is know God

Many of the simplest and most profound truths in life are best experienced in silence, where anything spoken would only detract from the experience.  If this poem is read out loud, it communicates the opposite meaning of that in silence: “There is no God” versus “There is know God.”  The reference to God sets up the conundrum of trying to communicate spiritual matters when words necessarily get in the way, often turning them into spiritual madders.  This poem is a big tip of the hat to the Tao Te Ching’s opening line: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”  I have longingly loved this opening paradox which offers the poetic challenge of improving on silence.

Truth may very well lie in the manor in which it is spoken or knot.  Free of words, we may experience the hole truth, going down that place from which hares split.  Down, down, down — nothing softer, nor closer to foul.  Sublime temptations beg the ineffable won, only to be housed in feat of clay.  Any peep would be, as if, to bring the roof roof down, that within ear shot of any eavesdropper.  Even the most dogged ear tome would knot avail the rabid homme, the whole as nothing, but hollowed ground.  To no end, as soil one self.  Making me, want to pop eye: I AM, what I AM?!

POEM: That Cursory Savor

Life
As present
Did not add up
As if
A zero
Sum game
The passed getting bigger
The future getting smaller
That good buy
That eminent lessen
As holy for gone
As refuse
As waive that fortune
Having only
Too come to wrest
With that cursory savor
The eternal
Now

That was Zen - This is Tao - FUNNY SPIRITUAL BUTTONHere is yet another poem on the theme of the eternal now. Life can seem to pass by so quickly with so many distractions, perhaps wondering where it all goes. Know madder how attached we are to things, they seem to pass.  The present, arisen from the past and cascading into the future, is awe we have.  And we find ourselves, moved by weigh of this exquisite mystery, in the mist of where the passed and the future are knot won or the other.  Long the weigh, most of us look for a savor of some sort, weather short and sweet or lingering and rarefied.  Not with standing, we are prone to cling on, fighting increasingly alien forces, light years beyond any measure of good taste.  Our salivation dries up before our face, caught in a scrunch, as whither every fecund moment reseeds in a parent mummification.  And in spite of everything, the Tao jones arises again and agin…

POEM: Of Coarseness

Don’t put won over me
F every won
Flunk sexism
Flunk racism
Flunk classism
Flunk nationalism
And sow on
And sow on
In effability
Of coarse
They say
Vulgarity vulgarity
Every ware
I look
In just US
The capital of the whirled
Spinning lies
Wile iniquity runs rampant
Fore public office
As up right
The riotous
Will be herd
If scuff law in order
To re-buff amoral cents
And counting dullards
Drilled simply for being crude
And unrepentantly unrefined
Tolled to keep off the crass
In a tour de farce
As if
In decency
Merely unappetizing crudités
Interrupting
Our place
At the table
Only too be taken away
Be for serving
The entree
To the winners of our discontent

This poem plays on the nominal vulgarity of swear words versus the substantial vulgarities of endemic sexism, racism, classism, amoral capitalism, nationalism and the unlike.  Civilized Nations Have Best Implements for War--ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONI am struck by the hugely disproportionate reactions by so-called civilized society to the nominal vulgarities of swear words and the substantial vulgarities of rampant iniquity and inequities.  This reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Tao Te Ching (chapter 38):

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety

CIVIL WAR - When Oxymorons Run Amok ANTI-WAR BUTTONThis passage captures the devolution of society and politics when propriety is the central reference point and standard for judgments, having devolved from simple morality and core virtues. Of course, even virtue and morality are devolutions of Tao, the ineffable and mysterious source from which life flows and finds its being.  Propriety is a pitiful veneer covering a morally bankrupt society, where unmoored virtue makes alienation the norm, and nothing is sacred.  What could be more coarse than a society where power, privilege and status are self-aggrandizing and injustice is but a chronic inconvenience?

I am proud to have written a poem about vulgarity without directly using verbal vulgarities — though the implied vulgarities may make the poem PG-13.  Vulgarities may not be necessary, but when our concern is over words rather than from the underlying realities which deserve much more attention, we get sucked into dangerous distraction.  My increasingly surreal experience of the gap between popular awareness and underlying injustices seems like a good basis for the full employment by this poet of awe words, vulgar or not.  May we see beyond the superficial proprieties of language to see clearly the grinding injustices which bespeak vulgarities.

POEM: Joining That Mystical Union

Having
Evolved
Too keep
Every last won
Of this sophisticated specious
Under opposable thumbs
Like a perch
In a stream of consciousness
Executing my porpoise
The best
I can do
A thwart on the phase of humanity
This avowing
That it is
Just us
And by what means
Can we make a diffidence
Of that a ledge
Too due
Joining the crowded
Signing off
On that
Collective bargain
As wee
All a greed
As far as we reckon
Bunching up
In a scanty throng
Of self-proclaimed wizzes
In the brook of life
Where awe is swill
In our out standing potable potty
In the heat of august
Quenched
Buy the patently falls
That is
Not so
Crappy
Requited in terminally wading
Who gets
The last ward
From what sores then
Only then
Where naught else fallows
To find oneself
In silence
A loan
Yet not feeling solo
In fact
Feeling unrivalled
Caching in
Empyreal cents
Fore that which is
Unfallible
Without rank
Revolting
Caste a side
Even without
Empty congregation
For going
As it is written
Upon stationery
In place of life
Wear awe is won
In a corporeal merger
Of all that is ardor
With all that is light
Enrolled into one
That mystical union
Joining arts
And boundless trades
Uniting awe
In a baptism of matchless flare
Emerging from water
Besting the supposed fin
By no less than two feet
Upright
On wholly ground
Accompanying sound sole
In the rarefied guardin’
Of one constitutional
Heartwarmingly vein to sum
Countless succeeding
With heir to breathe freely
Living in
The hear and now
Beyond what can be herd
No longer weighting
Only to expire
That which is fleeting
Trafficking in exclusion
Flailing to sea
The catch all
Recognizing each
To be won
Of a kind

Here is a poem that plays with themes of the oneness of consciousness, the oneness of humanity, and the merging of the spiritual and physical realms.  Of course, it begins with recognizing the sea of vanity that passes for much of so-called civilized life.  Seeing past this pollution is a necessary precondition to more fully experience life’s ever-present gifts and freely give our unique selves to the world.  This requires mastering letting go more-so than grasping.  Letting go prepares us to receive the perpetual, dare I say eternal, stream of gifts available to us at any given moment.  This process of freely receiving this veritable tsunami of presents is only possible when harmoniously matched with freely giving, letting go, which continues, reflects, and magnifies the true abundance in which we are awash.  The difference between this process and the close-minded, close-hearted clinging and collecting of much of daily life is the difference between heaven and hell — perhaps even heaven and hell!

Giving and receiving is one of the central yin and yang of our lives.  Much of the pain in life can be traced back to the felt need to keep account of all of the giving and receiving that is going on, and then expending precious energy (sometimes called ‘work’) attempting to make sure that the receiving side of our ledger is adequate.  Then, when we have ‘enough,’ we can be gracious on the giving side.  I suspect that how we answer the question with our lives, “how much is enough?” lies at the heart of how well we contribute to our shared humanity and shared reality.  The harmonious yin and yang of giving and taking is often befuddled and turned upside down by a predominant (and ultimately dominating) focus on receiving, aka taking.  This conundrum rests on how we answer the proverbial question of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” — in this case, giving or taking.  As any practiced Taoist would realize, these yin and yang questions are ultimately incomprehensible without a deep appreciation for balance, or, as the Taoist would say, complementariness.  I think this is also why Buddhists are not big on origin or creation stories (‘egg’ stories); what we have at any given moment is much more important than accounting for where it came from.  The Christian contribution to this dialogue is a focus on grace, that any giving on our part is only made possible by something outside our selves gracing us with anything to give.  In the human experience, grace, and the gratitude that evolves from living in it, quite universally leads to more harmonious (happy) living.  Our natural propensity toward accounting cannot escape the balance shit completely!

There Is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the WayAs a devotee of social justice, the problem of the balance sheet often consumes — or at least dominates — any conception of justice.  I prefer to frame justice as harmony and injustice as disharmony.  Both the way and the goal, the means and the ends, is peace (harmony).  As one of my favorite pacifists, and fellow Hope College alumnus, A.J. Muste proclaimed, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  I see the chicken and egg argument about which comes first, peace or justice, as the divide between self and other; that is, injustice is typically described as conditions of disharmony outside one’s self, amongst the human community and our shared reality. The role we contribute to bringing justice into the world is one of bringing harmony.  And as most any human would agree: you can’t give what you don’t have!

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quoteIf you are still convinced that justice is fundamentally a balance sheet then ponder this: how can you possibly experience injustice if you came into the world on no account of your own, experience a measure of life, and return to nothing (or at least certainly not something less than something) — how can you ever be in debt?  The only “debt” that we have is the positive reality that we have been given anything and everything we have.  This is well captured by Alice Walker who declared, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” I see this debt as the foundation for any ethical system, a shared debt owed with each and every human, setting up solidarity as a fundamental shared human reality. This was eminently stated by Albert Schweitzer: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”  Injustice can be viewed as some having more than others (earned/unearned more than others?) but any conception of this is still rooted (and must give just due) in the harmonious relationship between giving and receiving.  The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quoteTaking away, WAY different than receiving, is dishonoring the mystical ying-yang of giving and receiving, in whatever brand of accounting one might ascribe too.  Any thought that re-framing your account of justice as “giving” justice to others might be well served by meditating on your dependable feeling when others want to give you their justice.  While there are immature forms of resisting others actions “for our own good,” I suspect that resisting others taking our account is rightly and justly rooted (a gift of human nature) in the shared and absolute nature of each and every human being’s life as a sheer gift beyond merit.  Fights about whose debt is bigger are probably best resolved by demonstrating the recognition of our own immeasurable debt.  Albert Schweitzer also infamously said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”  Be the Change You Want to See in the World - Gandhi quoteThis is a close cousin to my favorite Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Hopefully, amidst such ponderings you will find this awe difficult to take!

May you join this mystical union, and whatever dues you may pay, may they be well worth it…

POEM: The Taoist Dowager

The Taoist dowager
Bends gently to that before her
Inclined to bless
Those below
Indivisible
To the high and mighty
Wholly touched
Braille beyond the see
Maid of tender harmonies
Composed
Of one, a chord
The maladies of life joyfully singing
Farming the music of our years
Covered by perfect lines
Of what may be
Momentarily forgotten
Only later recalled
By progeny
And prodigy
And even those
Occupying there posterity
Like some kind of bum
Or a baggy lady
Udderly fool of it
From cradle to grave
Fully pampered
Content
To cede generations
For a moment
For hour
A muse meant
This consummate ode lady
Siren from beyond hear
A thirst only quenched
By water on the rocks
Having strung out
Countless improbable moments
A mist
An impossible life
Beyond contemplation
Not getting bent
On 100% proof
With a taste that smacks of grace
A singular savor
Unpalletable to sum
Treated like a fragrant
Bye others
Having
Perfected that groovy hide
From a rash
Of uncommon sense
Fore hers
Such an inconceivable vehicle
As chary it
Like the wind borne
In quiet the mine
A sentience unabridged
Having awe ready arrived
A slow motion ninja
Only to be
In what will be
Carried away
In eternity

This poem emanated from the title phrase, Taoist dowager, that emerged from one of my many ruminations.  As is often the case, a phrase that is too good to pass up grows into a complete poem.  I am drawn to Taoist philosophy and Eastern thought in that it seems to quite reliably offer balance to Western modes of thought and being.  The dowager metaphor is apropos in that it is typically a feminine sensibility that is the antidote to afford balance to dominant and domineering Western male culture.  Plus, wisdom is often rightly associated with increasing age and experience, not the least of which is experiencing and reflecting on the vulnerability inherent in senescence.  Buddhists make a practice of meditating on their own inevitable death, not as popular a practice among the young and seemingly invulnerable.  Nonetheless, Taoism claims the ever-present and eternal as accessible in the now, a certain holy equality, a pathless path, perpetually wooing us with enlightenment experiences that cannot be grasped but hold the key to living in harmony with reality and all living beings.  The folly of every age is to try to reduce such knowledge and wisdom to some type of elixir that can be bought, or more to the point, sold.  Even after being taken countless times, the allure of the latest snake oil quite reliably rouses our more base instincts.  The basest instinct blocking our experience of the Tao, the Way, is to take, for our self to acquire something from an other.

Clearly, in the Way of things, things come our way.  However, being given, to receive something, and taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, are opposite perspectives.  Being given, receiving, is an attitude of gratitude and selflessness.  Taking is an attitude of greed and selfishness.  Now, Taoism is lauded for its mastery of complimentariness, the understanding that opposites interpenetrate each other and are only conceivable in contrast to one another; e.g., you can’t conceive of light without dark, or tall without short.  There is little doubt that a deep appreciation for the complimentary nature of reality is a powerful tool to keep us honest and on track in perceiving and aligning our life with reality.  Still, there are clues within each opposite to their relationship to the Whole, the Tao.  Its conceivable to me that people could live in perfect harmony, without contradiction, with an attitude of gratitude. It is inconceivable to me that people can live as greedy takers without contradictory and irreconcilable selves.  In the mysterious light of the Whole, gratitude is more consonant with reality.  Further, taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, without any claim upon it from elsewhere is simply self-assertion.

There seems to be a consensus among philosophers and theologians of all stripes and perspectives that human beings cannot be the ground of their own being.  On one end of the spectrum this was most famously articulated by John Paul Sartre in his book, nay tome, Being and Nothingness, which built the intellectual foundation of modern existentialism.  On the other end of the spectrum, most human beings throughout human history have claimed life to be a gift from God (or gods).  Sartre and some others are content to contend that human freedom is condemned to naked self-assertions, however well-clothed in rationalizations.  God-seeking humans have sought a source of life, a ground for their being, a giver who is also a subject, not a happenstance collection of stardust within a serendipitously profoundly ordered universe.  The harshest and most minimalist existentialists settle for an existence where subjects cannot truly meet, or, if taken most strictly, cannot even be confident that other subjects even exist.  Such a bizarre assertion is welcomed by God skeptics who cannot fathom a Subject, but the corollary laughable denial of other human subjects’ existence is kept conveniently and shamefully out of public consciousness.  Taoists and many philosophers of consciousness posit something akin to a Consciousness that all consciousnesses partake in, a whole in which each part is inescapably in relationship with, even if well-clothed in ignorance and plausible deniability.  Christians speak of being made in the image of God.  Taoists, perhaps the least literal in their claims, allude to a dynamic Whole that informs our being of the Way.

A beloved metaphor often employed by Taoists is water, with all of its life-giving and unusual properties yet part of daily, seemingly-mundane experience.  The one who lives fluidly like water moves easily around that which is hardened.  Yet water, given time (an equally mysterious aspect of life), wears down mountains [see patience as the mother of all virtues!].  This poem gives a tip of the hat to this water metaphor with the lines: A thirst only quenched/By water on the rocks.  Thirst cannot even be conceived without quenching — unless perhaps you have the brutally masochistic tendencies of an orthodox atheist existentialist who braves permanent and absolute alienation (from even one’s self).  The line, Siren from beyond hear, intimates the dangerous half of thirst.  The water on the rocks alludes to the sober attention needed to recognize that water and ice (on the rocks) are fundamentally the same stuff, just in a different form.  Having strung out/Countless improbable moments/A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation.  When faced with conundrums and uncertainties, there is a common tendency to hear beguiling Sirens and throw ourselves against the rocks.  Sober minds recognize this as A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation/Not getting bent/On 100% proof.  In embodying an attitude of gratitude and selflessness connected to the One, one can quiet the mine/A sentience unabridged/Having awe ready arrived/A slow motion ninja/Only to be/In what will be/Carried away
In eternity.  May it be so.

 

POEM: Cautionary Tail

Shadow pays homage to light
In a place beyond compare
And as a cautionary tail
May you not be doggedly wagged

This short poem is a tip of the hat to the Taoist idea of complimentariness or yin-yang, such as light/dark, good/evil.  That light can only be understood in relation or contrast to dark is a deeply embedded reality in human experience.  While the Tao, or the Way, is beyond compare, good and evil often show themselves in stark contrast.  In relation to human development and enlightenment, our dark side, our shadow, can provide powerful insights and cautionary tales as landmarks to help us to move along to a better place.  Of course, a fixation on or brooding over our dark side can imbalance the good it serves to enlighten and demarcate through contrast.  While good and evil have a complimentary aspect, good and evil are not equivalent.  If our perceptions, attention and will are not seeking the good, then the tale of woe and darkness may wag the dog.  Seek ye first the good and all else will follow — even that wagging evil so doggedly attached to all of human endeavors.

POEM: A Full Life

Charlie’s life was full
Every available space laden to wrest
His productivity well suited
To his interests
Taxidermy and robotics

This short poem offers a challenge to what it means to have a full life in modern Western civilization, where increasing speed and productivity are worshiped as the means to a good life.  I am a big fan of rest and empty spaces as an essential way to fully round out one’s life.  Our culture’s addiction to productivity, fitting in (“well suited”), and a focus on narrow interests has most of us bamboozled.  In this poem, the inane and the productive meet in the metaphor of taxidermy and robotics, representing the deadening and dehumanizing effects of an overfull life.  This metaphor also juxtaposes vocation and avocation, where it is unclear what is a job and what is a hobby.  While this may be confusing, it hints at the underlying connection that a capitalistic culture makes.  Capitalism works best when we devote ourselves to both work/productivity AND inane consumerism.  Capitalism wants to own both vocation and avocation.  Of course, an endless array of inane avocations are offered, as long as they support the consumption of some product or service, hopefully in the service of distracting you from the emptiness of your “full” life and the avaricious nature of endless “growth.”

Emptiness can be revolutionary.  This is why capitalism works best when it crams every available space with inane crap.  Capitalism’s very life depends on it.  Surely, capitalism must provide abundant avenues to distract us from our emptiness.  However, emptiness is not empty!  If we sit with our emptiness, in the sense of lack of fulfillment, this will foment unrest poorly suited for capitalism.  Even further, in experiencing empty spaces and silence, we expand our perspective, the framework upon which we see things, allowing us to truly grow.  Buddhists and Taoists are particularly adept at exploring such realities.  Deists might frame this as silence being the language of God, that small, still voice.

After experiencing a period of relaxation, have you ever then experienced increased anxiety or dread when “going back to work” appears on the horizon?  In a life abundant in balance and wisdom, while work requires effort, it does not require dread.  Dread is a sign of imbalance.  Chronic dread signifies a shortage of wisdom.  Dread speaks to us.  One of the central concepts (the first of the Four Noble Truths) of Buddhism is often stated in English as “Life is suffering.”  I have heard this elaborated upon as realizing that life requires effort (work).  Work is not the enemy.  Work is an integral part of life — as is rest .  The issue becomes how to achieve balance and minimize suffering.  I like the image of breathing in and out as a metaphor for balance.  Questioning whether breathing in or out is better misses the point — as is often the case in Western convergent thinking.  If you do ask which is better, the only sensible response is “what did you do last?”  If work causes anxiety, then rest.  If rest causes anxiety, then work.  If everything causes you anxiety, then look to emptiness.  Of course, emptiness often looks like rest, but there is good work to be done there…

POEM: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: As The Tao Plunges

As The Tao Plunges

I seek boundless horizons
Beyond what can be billed
What you can have
Fore walls
No bull work
A retainer for passable living
A cistern to dammed dreams
Reining upon you
Only knot to be brothered with
As some look out
Your winnows
Punctuating all that you can
A fort
Out to sea
A veritable glass menagerie
To one’s peers
Pipe dreams
Leading too
A fire place
Your hanker chief
Scant comfort you
As most daze
Facing a cold hearth
An exhausting flue
And ashen remains
Yet why carp it
When you can have
Your Parkay® floors
For butter or worse
As you slip
Pitter pottering a bout
Your life cast
Dangerously close to kiln
For my ran some
I seek the earth’s bounty
To rise up
To meet my feat
And when I fall
I shall look up
Sharing a ceiling with the stars
No guise worrying
A bout some prostrate iffy canopy
For without
You might lose your marble’s
Stony ledges looking good
As the Tao plunges
And to the great abyss plumb it
To one’s own depth

This poem explores the relationship between the commonplace cubicles of the workplace, both literally and figuratively, and the great abyss singing its siren song, daring skilled sailors to plumb it, risking one’s own depth.  A life, well, lived, requires effort.  Beyond that, I’m not a big fan of work.  This is particularly true in modern America, pawning itself off as the pinnacle of Western civilization.  You’d think that the timeless questions of humanity had been answered once and for all, and all that you had to do is buy (and sell) one of the many great brands available.  Well, in my book, brands are for cattle.  Plus, my preference for vegetarianism leaves me with little use for cattle — or sheep — or chickens.  These days, people expend huge amounts of energy, and cash, to dress themselves up with others’ brands, defining themselves by what they own — or what owns them — by what they consume — or by what consumes them!  The fact that many people will pay extra for essentially advertising another’s brand shows the vacuousness of our own unique lives.  Gee, at least get paid to be a walking billboard.  And as I like to say, if you are going to sell yourself, at least get a good price!  It seems that living vicariously through someone else’s image, identity, celebrity, or sheer familiarity in pop culture, commands more value than undamming our own dreams.

The Tao is a masterful critique of the superficial.  The Tao in Chinese history and culture plays, perfectly synchronously with itself, a balancing role in contrast to Confucianism with its focus on set rules, set roles, and the centrality of propriety.  Unfortunately, Western civilization suffers from the worst of both worlds.  Modern America lacks both the harmony and balance of the Tao, and suffers a sociopathy, even nihilism, that Confucianism holds in check.  Perhaps America can harness its restlessness to throw off the dehumanizing forces of greed and undue focus on economic necessity.  The Tao offers a vision of the rest that gives rise to all.  The Tao is more than serendipitously short.  The Tao is concise, poetic, and sparse on words precisely because reality and relentlessly emerging life cannot be reduced to any imperial plan assuring a particular outcome.  It surely cannot be reduced to a brand!  The awesome abundance of nature’s bounty and the beautiful openness of human experience invites us, even begs us, into continual re-birth and re-creation.  All of creation groans for our freedom and participation in its bounty.  So, if it should seem that your life is ever in the toil it, be mindful as the Tao plunges, bypassing technological fixes and vexations, your dammed dreams may very well be unplugged.

POEM: The Autobiography of Tao Rex

The opening lines
Of the autobiography
Of Tao Rex
Alias Not Neil:
Neil was a man of substance
Who was not waiting
For it to come into style
If in the course of life
He should cross
Kingmakers
And Job creators
He would not settle
For being a part
As sum illumine knotty
Though some might
Say naughty
Whatever could be said
Of such calamities
Or calumnies
It is not about kneel
Or similar conventions
The rest
Rights itself

This poem is a tip of the hat to the Tao, and a hybridization of the eternally one Tao with social activism.  An appreciation of the wisdom of the Tao recognizes the unique, ineffable, and dynamic way of life.  This way does not mistake mere style with deep truth of the Tao’s reality.  Living into the unity of the Tao does not settle for being a mere part of the whole of reality, but dynamically seeks harmony of the part and whole.  The Tao’s connection to social activism springs from this unity, giving rise to human rights shared by all.  Those who would parcel out reality for their own individual gain may be clever, and even powerful in their own right, but such behavior impugns the shared character of humanity.  Kneeling, or bowing, to such powers is often considered simple, conventional wisdom.  Nonetheless, the Tao is not about kneeling to convention, but seeking the deeper spring from which all life arises in harmony, even perfection.  And from The rest/Rights itself.”  Not surprisingly, The rest is a pun, meaning both “all else” and “the state of resting.”

The rest begs a spiritual perspective, a transcendent perspective, because reality can never be fully tapped by the mind and/or heart.  This endless reserve, The rest, can be viewed as the source of all being, a higher power, or God.  East and West meet with The rest of the Tao and the sabbath of Jewish and Christian spiritual practice.  Honoring the Sabbath is the fourth of the infamous ten commandments.  The sabbath commandment is the culmination of the three commandments; they go together.  The first three commandments are about a proper relationship with the one true God, the highest and most sacred reality.  Beyond the “I am” of the first commandment, we are instructed in the second commandment to not reduce the sacred to mere images, “graven images,” daring to reduce the whole truth to a partial truth.  The third commandment is similar in that it warns of taking God’s name/character in vain, to impugn the very power of God, the sacred source of all being and moving.  Trusting, putting your faith, in this sacred source, parallel to the Tao in Taoism, is demonstrated behaviorally by respecting/honoring rest, recognizing that there are far greater powers than ourselves from which life’s bounty rests and springs forth.  To disrespect the Sabbath by trying to rely exclusively on our own power is idolatry, putting ourselves above God, The rest.  Translating the Sabbath day commandment to modern-day capitalism and its relevance to social activism is basically God calling for a work-stoppage every week.  Honoring the Sabbath witnesses to the primacy of God, The rest.  This radical act, an apparent non-act to some, is a powerful threat to capitalism’s constant assertion of perpetual busyness to grow and thrive.  Capitalism’s worldview, basic operating assumptions are idolatrous.  Capitalism is idolatrous because it regularly discounts the sacred act of honoring The rest.  In capitalism’s equation, The rest, is a barrier to maximizing profits and productivity.  Even the more sophisticated view of recognizing that rest may be needed to maximize worker productivity reduces The rest to mere utility, a means to an end, not a honoring The rest as good in itself, a gift from God.

Related to the modern fixation on utility, the practical, secularized mindset of postmodern culture usually skips to the last six commandments which deal with more easily recognizable behavioral elements (though “honoring mother and father” seems a transitional commandment for moving from a proper understanding of the order of things in heaven to earth).  The remaining commandments deal with murder, adultery, theft, lying, and greed.  Of course, focusing even only on these commandments leaves plenty of critique for capitalism, with its inevitable warring over creation’s bounty, siphoning wealth from the weak, lying to self and others to cover one’s dishonorable tracks, and perhaps most infamously and audaciously arguing that greed is good!

May you find rest in the sacred source of all being.  And may you fight restively for justice from such a bounteous place.

POEM: Getting It Together

I see tragedy in the world
Not as the enemy
To be retreated from
Nor as an accident
Captivating my perverse stares
Rather a musing
These puzzling pieces
Of my heart
Shuttered into a million pieces
In chanting invitations
Entranced overtures
Moving beyond words
As a gait way
To the presents
Of an unbroken whole

This is yet another poem about hope, a familiar theme of mine.  With all of the tragedy in the world, it can be difficult to have a light heart.  I often muse that I have to laugh to keep from crying.  This seems to me to be a basic choice of perspective to bring to life.  How should I orient my attitude in life?  Staring at tragedy can become a perverse rubber-necking, like seeing a wreck that you can’t seem to take your eyes off.  My personality is built in such a way that I easily see the falling short of any given situation compared to some more perfect ideal, or even the being aware of multiple perspectives or choices that are equally inane, in some banal equivalency.  The former is a perspective of idealism.  The latter tempts infinite forms of nihilism, all leading the same place: nowhere.  Perhaps needless to say, I identify much more strongly with idealism.  I deal with -isms all the time!  For me, the decisive factor in choosing between idealism and nihilism is a devotion to a positive outlook.  Great minds have pondered the tally between good and evil, and it seems that it may be a close call.  Some try to escape the question by believing that it doesn’t matter, that it’s all the same.  Of course, it does matter what we believe.  Some times believing is seeing.  I’m betting my life that good is stronger than evil, or simply that I am going to try really hard to be on the side of good.  I see a major developmental task in life as sorting out my relationship with the One, which some may call God, perhaps Tao, or even hope.  This always takes place in context of the myriad of things, the many, the stuff of our everyday life.  This poem alludes to our hearts being shattered and shuttered into a million pieces.  The poem ends with the epic allure of an unbroken whole, or perhaps, within human capabilities, healing and reconciliation of broken and estranged people.  The transition, the path, the opening between, mere musings and such a desired positive state, is filled with invitations/overtures, most of which will go unanswered/unfulfilled, and movement beyond words to action.  This requires taking the lead.  This requires inviting people to be better when being worse seems much more plausible or practical.  This requires my own volition of acting better when being worse seems much more plausible or practical.  My best, most simple definition of leadership is this: bringing out the best in others.  I have hope because it brings the best out in me.  May our highest hopes incarnate hope for one another.  Make it so…

POEM: A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse

A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse (Tao Te Ching 38)

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety
Yet oddly
Even when
Awe is lost
Tao remains
The eternal rest
Giving rise to awe

The Tao Te Ching is the ancient Chinese sacred text of Taoism.  The authorship is attributed to Lao-Tse, which may have been an individual or a group.  There are many English translations of the Tao Te Ching, which seem to differ greatly.  The above poem is my take on chapter 38, which seems to have stuck in my mind.  I was struck by the truth of the progression, or deterioration, from the ineffable unity of Tao to virtue, then morality, then propriety, which is the beginning of chaos, with propriety being the shallowest foundation for life.  While the Tao Te Ching is necessarily perplexing, “the Tao that can be described is not the Tao,” this foundation which escapes our grasp is the very foundation which secures our hope.  No machinations, cruelty, nor any power on earth can overturn it or control it.  This irreducible hope persists as an untouchable in a world bent on holding and controlling way more than called for.  This irreducible hope gives rise to awe!

The Tao Te Ching is more of a comprehensive series of hints than a textbook.  I view it as an essential companion for any mystic. Of course, I see mysticism as the heart of any true religion.  The Tao Te Ching is very short read, especially when compared to the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, or especially the Hindu Vedas!  Plus, unlike perhaps most other religions and their sacred texts, a devoted Taoist would probably suggest burning your sacred text at some point!  This speaks of a truer reverence than the all-too-familiar Bibliolatry of Western civilization.  As a child of Western civilization, I would heartily recommend the Tao Te Ching as an antidote for many of the imbalances acutely present in modern society.  Western civilization’s addiction to scientific reductionism makes us hellbent on focusing on one thing in isolation, pressuring us to ever narrower contexts and ever greater specialization.  Central in the practice of Taoists is complimentariness, Yin and Yang, that the myriad of things that comprise our world, though arising from the unity of Tao, can only be comprehended by their opposites.  Perhaps the greatest formulation of this in Christianity is Jesus’ command to love our enemies.  Only by reconciliation with our enemies can we become whole.  Any demonization of the other necessarily degrades our own humanity.  We are defined by our enemies.  If our enemies don’t define us, then we are free, and in accord with Tao.  May it be so…because it is so…

Yin Yang

PEACE SYMBOL: Yin Yang Symbol 2–BUTTON

PEACE SYMBOL: Yin Yang Symbol 2--BUTTON

PEACE SYMBOL: Yin Yang Symbol 2–BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Peace Symbol Buttons.

You just have to love the yin yang symbol!  The concept of yin and yang is one of the central concepts in Eastern philosophy, a symbol of the Tao.  The idea of complementariness and interdependence of opposites is essential to understanding life and achieving balance.  Western civilization tends to look toward absolutes and focuses on one or the other side of opposites, that which is considered good.  This is perhaps the foundation of Western imperialism, which presumes an absolute good and then enforces it on the rest of the world.  Imperialism also feeds off demonizing the opposite.  What I find fascinating about complementariness and the interdependence of opposites that seems to naturally give rise to a transcendence of apparent opposites.  Western philosophy includes the idea of some kind of synthesis arising from dialectical conditions, though I think that Westerners tend to reduce this simply to some third absolute rather than what I think is more appropriate mystical other. I am eternally fascinated with the proposition of loving one’s enemies, and I find is perhaps the most challenging practical manifestation of the Tao.  My favorite simple story to illustrate this is about a farmer and his skepticism about being able to determine whether something is good or bad.  The farmer has a valuable horse which runs away, to which his neighbor comments, “that is bad.”  The farmer declares that he is not sure whether it’s good or bad.  The horse returned to the farm with a herd of wild horses.  The farmer’s neighbor comments, “this is good.”  The farmer declares that he is not sure whether it’s good or bad.  The farmer’s son, while trying to train one of the wild horses, is thrown from the horse and breaks his leg.  The farmer’s neighbor comments, “this is bad.”  The farmer declares that is not sure whether it’s good or bad.  The farmer’s nation declares war against the neighboring nation and as the gathering army passes through his province, they conscript many young men along the way; the farmer’s son is not conscripted since his leg is broken.  The farmer’s neighbor comments, “this is good.”   The farmer declares that he is not sure whether it’s good or bad.  Of course, this sequence of events can transpire forever.  I don’t think that such a story an argument against whether good or bad exist, rather it reinforces a deeper wisdom that require some skepticism about affixing unmovable labels of good or bad on any given situation.  What strikes me as the deeper truth is that bad situations can be redeemed and bring about good, and that there is a shadow to good situations that can degrade into bad.  Appreciating and aligning oneself with this flow seems to be the purpose of the Tao.  Of course the first line of the Tao Te Ching, is that the way that can be described is not the way.  Then, ironically, the Tao Te Ching does it’s best to try to describe the way.  Such is the paradox inherent in reality.  This is probably a good reason why a more abstract symbol is appropriate for reflecting the Tao than words.  Sometimes silence is the best.  Or, like I like to say, sometimes buttoning up says it best!