HOPE POEM: Why God Invented Dark

God invented dark
As a respite
From high noon
That searing sun
Of which mortal men are made
To see
Sow much more
Innumerable lofty stars
Unseen in mere day dreams
Beyond won’s highest hopes
Awe at once
A mist unbelievably rare life
Thou dust hold together
Awe that matters
When noonday returns

Here is yet another poem about hope, just in case you may need to re-stock, or stock up.  Life is replete with cycles.  Only in the darkness can you see the stars. MLK QUOTE BUTTONDay and night, sleep and wakefulness.  Opposites teem in a paradox packed reality.  Belief and skepticism are life-long dance partners.  Our quest for unity requires acceptance of diversity.  The immeasurable value of life is most evident in the face of death.

Taoists seem to have the keenest awareness of the importance of opposites and their complimentary nature.  That the nature of something is inextricably bound to its opposite, or even comes from its opposite, is mind-boggling.  The mind reaches one of its natural limits when it comes to logical contradictions.  Of course, the Taoists’ purpose is not to jar the mind, but un-jar the mind — and free up the heart.

Hope is the purview of the heart.  Hope may not make cents for those demanding a foolproof return on their investment.  Delving into the vital depths of paradoxes and life’s necessary contradictions is not for the fainthearted.  Wholehearted living demands assent and even gusto in the thralls of uncertainty and unpredictability in order to make the most of life.  Hope is the life-blood of an entrepreneurial life spirit.  The attachment to conventional power — those well-known levers of control — and the insistence on dominion over others, is the nemesis of hope.  Hope arises from a place beyond mere control.  Hope, awash in possibility, is an existential reality ever-present on the threshold of human life.

For many, the contemporary context for this poem is a looming Donald Trump presidency.  Many fear that their existence may be taxed beyond bearing.  This is undoubtedly true for some.  Still, the contrasting values brought forth by the Don’s cartel will as surely offer high relief.  Once Game Over King and Pawn Go Back in Same Box -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONStarker choices can favor moral humans as much or more than amoral or immoral humans.  If you want presumed victory, take the sociopath, limiting the struggle to the well-worn levers of control.  If you want more, let your heart take hope, take time to see the light amidst the darkness, and listen intently to whatever maybe herd for the duration of human game.

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: I Will Join The One, There is No Other

Alone
Where is God in that?
Does salvation lie in community?
Wherever two or more gather
In character
At present will be God
Therefore, I will join the one
One who was left behind
The one who’s going places no one else wants to
The one
There is no other

This poem attempts to address the tensions between the mystical loftiness of spirituality, characterized by the elusive “oneness” present in many great faith traditions, and the palpable, practical, everyday realities of a broken and divided world.  I find this tension ever-present in the inward-outward journey.  We cannot be saved alone, as one, and be true to the demands of much larger realities, including the world we live in!  Personal purity and piety become empty in larger contexts.  One answer to this tension was demonstrated by Buddha, when he attained enlightenment and instead of “blowing out” — a literal translation of nirvana — he chose to return to earthly existence to help others on the path.  Compassion for all living beings, at the center of Buddhist living, requires developing relationships or community with one another.   Buddhists call their intentional community sangha, which includes monks or nuns, and laypeople.  Compassion is the prime characteristic developed in a relationship with The One.  This “inward” compassion is then matched with “outward” compassion, becoming whole, compassion manifest fully.  Compassionate living is most fully manifest when it enters into relationship with the most broken and divided aspects of all living beings’ realities.  Joining those “left behind” or “going places no one else wants to” represents the highest level of compassionate living.  Perhaps paradoxically, even sticking only to one’s community is a falling short.  Active spirituality, rooted in compassionate living, is ever seeking to connect with out-groups.  Spirituality inevitable creates a tension with one’s own in-groups, ever-seeking to expand, transcend, make more whole.  This is why solidarity with outcasts is so essential to building authentic community.  This is the very process where wholeness is nurtured, for both the individual, community, and beyond.  This is why I see spirituality as fundamentally counter-cultural.  Culture is what defines a particular group at any given time, with its particular norms and practices.  Spirituality pushes both cultures and individuals to be more than they are.  This is why spiritual “growth” is almost a redundancy.  The vitality and dynamism that spirituality uncovers is the very nature of life.  There is no such thing as static living — though perhaps reactionary.    The status quo and the powers that be must perpetually be engaged and redeemed, made more whole.  Jesus captured this perhaps most powerfully in his command to love your enemies.  This command, which I consider the pinnacle of spiritual genius, literally instructs us to reconcile (apparent) opposites.  Such an epic task can only be dared by developing a deep and abiding relationship with The One.  Truly, we reap what we sew!

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…

POEM: Free Will Compelling

I find the experience of free will very compelling.

I like this simple one line poem because it juxtaposes two seeming opposites.  Free will is often viewed as some kind of absolute.  Compulsion is on the other end of the spectrum, except that we also typically view it as some kind of absolute, that which one has no choice about.  Of course, this reminds me of perhaps the only quote I can recall from the complex, sophisticated and difficult-to-read author and philosopher, John Paul Sartre: “We are condemned to be free.”  I view neither free will nor compulsion as absolute.  Free will always has limits, and the very existence of free will and human beings bring some freedom to any situation no matter how compulsory we view it.  However, let’s get back to the poem.  What I mean by finding the experience of free will very compelling, is that it is predictably surprising how free we are, meaning that we always have a choice in any situation.  By exercising our free will, our awareness of this essential and irreducible freedom can grow.  We are faced with an infinite number of choices at any given moment.  If you don’t believe this, you may have just flunked the first question of a creativity test.  The reason I like Jean-Paul Sartre’s quote so much is that it also juxtaposes two apparent opposites.  Being condemned, or forced, to be free.  Of course, this is what drives John Paul Sartre into an existential frenzy, being unable to pin down any ground of our being, or God, he is left with a conundrum of being condemned by some unknown or unknowable reality, yet mystically or coincidentally, he happens to experience the good fortune of gaining freedom within this reality.  In fact, freedom can be viewed as a nuisance, in that facing that infinite number of choices at any given moment, and seeming to have no ultimate basis for making any particular choice, leaves us to our own subjective devices.  I actually find it kind of funny and ironic that Sartre felt so compelled to find the determinants (sic) of free will.  Of course, I’m teasing him a bit.  More fairly, he did groundbreaking work in epistemology, the study of the limits of human knowledge.  Quite obviously, one cannot find the determinants of free will.  However, one may be able to map out certain boundaries to where and how free will operates.  Since he won the Nobel prize for literature, I’ll assume that is genius exceeds mine in this respect, or perhaps, no one could understand what he was saying and thought that giving him a prize might be appropriate to not appear stupid.  In my own experiments with free will, I feel compelled to experiment more — to exercise my free will more and more.  This seems to be more practical than writing a 300+ page book about the structures of consciousness.  But that’s just my choice…

Yin Yang

PEACE SYMBOL: Yin Yang Symbol 2–BUTTON

PEACE SYMBOL: Yin Yang Symbol 2--BUTTON

PEACE SYMBOL: Yin Yang Symbol 2–BUTTON

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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!