POEMS TO LIVE BY
i thank You God for most this amazing by E. E. Cummings
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Unconditional by Jennifer Welwood
Willing to experience aloneness
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness, I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformedInto its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so, Who has crafted this Master Game.
To play it is purest delight;To honor its form–true devotion.
I want to be guided by older-ups. I want babies to be born where old people die. I want to be sandwiched in the middle of a messy togetherness. I want to be warned before I do something stupid. I want to be forgiven when I do it anyway. I want wisdoms to be tapped out on my eardrums and not Googled. I want transitions to be recognized by fire. I want gifts to be educed from children. And teenagers and adults and I want to mean something to my community. I want to get drunk on substance morning and night. I want to hear your dreams. I want to raise a revolution for gentleness. I want to call out the bullshit on consensus reality. I want to get rich so I can billboard the highways with validations.
I don’t want to be another faker. I don’t want to show you my good side and hide my humanity. I don’t want to dole you out my Self in digestible status-chunks. I want to challenge you in long, drawn-out rituals and still find you interested. I want to feed you seventeen course meals made with spices I crushed. I want to recite you circular poems, each beginning cutting a deeper grasp. I want to make you feel something, even if it’s awkward. I want to sing you songs which are ancient and new. I want to carve stories in trees with tools my elders fashioned. I want to keep sharpening them. I want to find places we’ve never been. And then, I want to return there, but backwards.
I want to shuffle up words so we don’t sleep through them. I want to learn things and then be splashed into never forgetting. I want to make you feel seen. I want to hold your pounding heart in my gentlest of hands. I want to make your thing feel like my thing. I don’t want to miss a moment. I want to dig at the bottom and find it false. I want to turn up unknown depths. I want to stand in this hurricane and sing the sweetest, most naked song you can bear. I want to be alive with you.
Belonging by Bernadette Miller
Belonging is a river
not a goal.
Every point is holy--
but you cannot linger there
without losing yourself
for you are the motion
of your journey.
which lives only as it dies
into new life.
Your are the pain--
let it go.
Your are the joy--
let it go.
You are actions taken and not taken--
let them go.
Your are the dream--
let it go.
Move with the mark
of the unknown upon you
and life will enter your blood like a river.
This world was always holy
and you were always a rising flame
upon its altar.
You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing Rilke Favorites Part One, Sonnet IV
You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.
Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.
Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.
The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.
Quiet friend who has come so far Rilke Favorites Part Two, Sonnet XXIX
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent Earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
The Way Under the Way by Mark Nepo
For all that has been written,
for all that has been read, we
are led to this instant where one
of us will speak and one of us will
listen, as if no one has ever placed
an oar into that water.
It doesn’t matter how we come
to this. We may jump to it or be
worn to it. Because of great pain.
Or a sudden raw feeling that this
is all very real. It may happen in a
parking lot when we break the eggs
in the rain. Or watching each other
in our grief.
But here we will come. With very
little left in the way.
When we meet like this, I may not
have the words, so let me say it now:
Nothing compares to the sensation
of being alive in the company of
another. It is God breathing on
the embers of our soul.
Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here—
in flawed abundance.
We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.
Like human fish,
we are asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.
There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
we can do everything
and go anywhere.
Love After Love by Derek Walcott
The time will come when, with elation
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here, eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine, give bread, give back you heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Found etched into a wall in a Jewish Ghetto after the Allies liberated Berlin:
I believe in the sun when it’s not shining,
I believe in love even when I feel it not,
I believe in God even when God is silent.
Yes, We Can Talk by Mark Nepo
Having loved enough and lost enough,
I am no longer searching,
No longer trying to make sense of pain,
but trying to be a soft and sturdy home
in which real things can land.
These are the irritations that rub into a pearl
So we can talk awhile
but then we must listen,
the way rocks listen to the sea
And we can churn at all that goes wrong
but then we must lay all distractions down,
and water every living seed.
And yes, on nights like tonight
I too feel alone. but seldom do I
face it squarely enough
to see that it is a door
into the endless breath
that has no breather
into the surf that human shells
Sweet Darkness by David Whyte
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting open and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
School Prayer by Diane Ackerman
In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs.
I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.
In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,
I will honor all life
–wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell–on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.
The Dakini Speaks by Jennifer Welwood
My friends, let’s grow up.Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.Look: Everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It’s simple — how could we have missed it for so long?Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,
But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.Let’s not act so betrayed,As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.To a child she seems cruel, but she is only wild,
And her compassion exquisitely precise:Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real.This is the true ride — let’s give ourselves to it!
Let’s stop making deals for a safe passage:
There isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high.
We are not children anymore.
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.
Let’s dance the wild dance of no hope!
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
A Poem for my Daughter by Teddy Macker
It seems we have made pain
some kind of mistake,
like having it
is somehow wrong.
Don’t let them fool you—
pain is a part of things.
But remember, dear Ellie,
the compost down in the field:
if the rank and dank and dark
are handled well, not merely discarded,
but turned and known and honored,
they one day come to beds of rich earth
home even to the most delicate rose.
God comes to you disguised as your life.
Blessings often arrive as trouble.
In French, the word blesser means to wound
and relates to the Old English bletsian—
to sprinkle with blood.
And in Sanskrit there is a phrase,
a phrase to carry with you
wherever you go:
everything is food.
Every last thing.
The Navajo people,
it is said,
obvious flaws into their sacred quilts …
It is there, they say,
in the “mistake,”
in the imperfection,
through which the Great Spirit moves.
Life is easy, yes.
And life is hard.
Life is simple, yes.
And life is complex.
We are tough, yes. But we are also fragile.
Everything’s eternally perfect
but help out if you can.
Work on becoming a native of mind, a native of heart.
No thought, no feeling, could ever be “bad.”
It’s just another creature
in the bestiary of Buddha,
the bestiary of Christ.
knowing this down to the marrow,
could save you, dear one,
much needless strife.
Remember that wild and strange animals
paused to drink at the pond
of the Buddha’s mind
even after he saw
the morning star.
No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
it is impossible to leave the path.
Let me say that one more time:
No matter what you do, no matter what happens,
it is impossible to leave the path.
Believe it or not, dear Ellie,
some folks carefully imagine
hideous gods tearing at flesh,
clawing at faces,
eating human hearts,
and drinking cups of blood …
To shake hands with the Whole Catastrophe,
to cultivate the Noble Idiot Yes.
According to their tradition,
there are 84,000 “skillful means,”
84,000 tactics of wakefulness,
84,000 ways to become spaciously alive,
84,000 ways to be at home in your life and in this world.
And many of those skillful means are like this one:
enlightenment through endarkment.
Life appears to be fundamentally ambiguous.
Wily, everycolored, unpindownable.
For evidence of this, spend time with trees.
Over and over they say,
There is no final word.
And big decisions—
relationships, concerning children,
are rarely made cleanly.
In general, be wary—
even if just a little—
of talk of purity,
To love everything, not just parts …
To love all of yourself, not just certain traits …
To rest in not knowing …
To carry the cross
and to lay your burden down …
To savor the medicine blue of moon,
the fierce sugar of tangerine …
To be a Christ unto others,
a Christ unto one’s self …
To laugh …
To be shameless, wild, and silly …
To know—fully, headlong,
without compunction—the ordinary magic
of our beautiful human bodies …
these seem worthwhile pursuits, life-long tasks.
By way of valediction, dear Ellie,
I pass along some words
from our many gracious teachers:
The imperfect is our paradise.
All is grace.
Christmas Morning, Teddy Macker
The miracle cannot be separated from the mess.
The Kingdom of God is not a place apart,
apart from your trauma, apart from your fear,
apart from your grief. When He said heaven is here,
now, among us, there were no caveats,
no exceptions, no fine print.
There is no need for further progress.
Truly, there is no need.
in the dirtiest of mangers,
your great beauty is being born.