“What is a soul?”

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Recently saw “Choice,” a wonderful new play by Winnie Holzman, which asks us to consider: What is a soul? (That the playwright has the most boring and least powerful character of the play pose this question—whereupon he/his question are immediately snickered at and then ignored—strikes me as a brilliant piece of writing!) So I have.

And as these things work sometimes, while searching for something else, stumbled across this ancient poem which attempts to answer that boring man’s poignant, probing, right-on question:

Song of the Soul, by Shankarachary

(788-820 CE, mystic saint of India)

I am neither ego nor reason,
I am neither mind nor thought,
I cannot be heard nor cast into words,
nor by smell nor sight ever caught:
In light and wind I am not found,
nor yet in earth and sky –
Consciousness and joy incarnate,
Bliss of the Blissful am I.

I have no name, I have no life, I breathe no vital air,
No elements have molded me, no bodily sheath is my lair:
I have no speech, no hands and feet, nor means of evolution –
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss in dissolution.

I cast aside hatred and passion, I conquered delusion and greed;
No touch of pride caressed me, so envy never did breed:
Beyond all faiths, past reach of wealth, past freedom, past desire
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss is my attire.

Virtue and vice, or pleasure and pain are not my heritage,
Nor sacred texts, nor offerings, nor prayer, nor pilgrimage:
I am neither food nor eating, nor yet the eater am I –
Consciousness and joy incarnate, Bliss of the Blissful am I.

I have no misgivings of death, no chasms of race divide me,
No parent ever called me child, no bond of birth ever tied me:
I am neither disciple nor master, I have no kin, no friend –
Consciousness and joy am I, and merging in Bliss is my end.

Neither knowable, knowledge, nor knower am I, formless is my form,
I dwell within the senses but they are not my home:
Ever serenely balanced, I am neither free nor bound –
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss is where I am found.

 

 

 

The Words Beneath the Words

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I’ve been thinking about the words beneath the words. About how sometimes what is not spoken aloud is, “I’m sad.” or “I’m scared.” or “If you knew my backstory, you’d understand me so much better! Forgive me. But I can’t/won’t tell you why I am the way I am. Although I wish with all my heart that I could.”

And I’ve been thinking about something a dear Friend, Cathy Whitmire, once told me: “Everyone’s doing the best they can.” ( I immediately replied, “No, they’re NOT!”) But I am slowly coming to believe she was right. Slowly.

forgiving my father

lucille clifton



it is friday. we have come


to the paying of the bills.

all week you have stood in my dreams


like a ghost, asking for more time

but today is payday, payday old man;

my mother’s hand opens in her early grave

and i hold it out like a good daughter.

there is no more time for you. there will


never be time enough daddy daddy old lecher


old liar. i wish you were rich so i could take it all

and give the lady what she was due


but you were the only son of a needy father,

the father of a needy son;

you gave her all you had


which was nothing. you have already given her


all you had.

you are the pocket that was going to open

and come up empty any friday.

you were each other’s bad bargain, not mine.


daddy old pauper old prisoner, old dead man

what am i doing here collecting?

you lie side by side in debtors’ boxes

and no accounting will open them up.

 

 

“Namaste*”

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B.K.S Iyengar, a beloved and inspired teacher, and credited by many as the person who brought yoga to this country, died last week in India at the age of ninety-five. According to my teacher, Annie Hoffman, Iyengar’s first East Coast yoga “novitiate” was Patricia Walden—my first teacher. And who has studied—and continues to study—with Patricia? Annie.

So, maybe not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking about lines. About how my connection to a present-day spiritual leader has been elegantly straight and simple. And about how the line between me and, say, Jesus, ain’t. (More a “tangled web,” I’m afraid.) And about how blessed we are whenever we can experience the depth and the wisdom and the Truths of another person in person. Soul Time, not “facetime.” A straight and direct line.

Namaste.

*An ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India and especially on the trail in the Nepal Himalaya. Translated roughly, it means “I bow to the God within you”, or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you” – a knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness.

“Arching Prayers”*

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[A quiet place at Frost Valley YMCA Camp, Claryville, NY]

Delighted to announce that beginning this week, I’ll be posting blogs for a new, online publication, First Day Press.

Here’s why:

The First Day is a quarterly journal featuring in-depth articles, essays, and creative writing related to the arts, culture, faith and practice for people of all traditions and beliefs. We are guided by the principles and values of the Quaker tradition, which we think are more relevant than ever in the 21st century. These principles include finding spiritual growth through silent reflection, acting with integrity, practicing nonviolence, and believing there is “that of God” in every human being.

Our mission is to break down walls between faith traditions and cultural backgrounds to form a common space to share individual stories of spiritual struggle and triumph amid all the technology and complexity of a busy, noisy world.

The First Day comes out four times a year, with the first issue appearing in Fall 2013. For both print and web, we accept submissions from people of all faith-traditions and those trying to find a spiritual home in the 21st century. We publish a range of articles about spiritual journeys as well as cultural commentary, creative writing, book and movie reviews, and regular columns.

While this project emerges from the Quaker tradition and will serve a diverse Quaker audience, we are not interested in converting anyone or expressing a creed-based theology. We believe that there are many paths to the divine, and Quakerism is only one. We want to hear stories of hope, inspiration, journey, and discovery, whether you’re Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, or Confused.

Yes, m’dears, I will continue to post here, too.

 

* [taken from the song, “Green Cathedral”]

“I know a green cathedral,
a shadowed forest shrine.Where leaves in love join hands above
to arch your prayer and mine.”

 

God Talk

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Reading Adam Gopnik’s excellent Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life and came across this: (Gopnik is paraphrasing Alfred Kazin) “[For Lincoln], God. . . is the stenographic name for the absolute mystery of being alive and watching men suffer while still holding in mind ideals that ennoble the suffering and in some strange way make sense of it.”

Here’s what Kazin wrote: “It is clear that the terrible war has overwhelmed the Lincoln who identified himself as the man of reason. It has brought him to his knees, so to speak, in heartbreaking awareness of the restrictions imposed by a mystery so encompassing it can only be called ‘God.’ Lincoln could find no other other word for it.”

Wow.