Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out in the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
–Naomi Shihab Nye
When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv’d
with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for
me that follow’d,
And else, when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d, still
I was not happy,
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health,
refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in
the morning light,
When I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing bathed,
laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his way
coming, O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food
nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening
came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly
continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me
whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in
the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast — and that night I was
— Walt Whitman
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the massman will mock it right way.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you
when you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making
sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter,
now, arriving in magic, flying,
and, finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.
Today I visited the Japanese maple that is in my front yard. I stood alongside it for a good ten minutes. I wanted the tree to sense how much I appreciated its radiance, the incendiary tinge of the red and orange leaves. And with a clear sky, like today’s, the backdrop set the tree’s beauty into high relief.
Earlier I’d been with sheeny black creatures. Coming home from a walk I spied on a gathering of crows, about eight of them, swooping from their spot on a pine branch to take prime pickings from the neighbor’s recycling pile. One of the birds was so huge it resembled an infant, in a way — pitch black and hopping on all fours — with wings. Very disconcerting.
The crow’s coloring is so deep, it’s slightly metallic black and hypnotic. The blackness is as deep as their persistence. And I thought of a poem by the Hindi poet Mirabai that talks about her love for the Beloved’s black hair. She’s always writing about his hair. The vivid blackness — the sheen of it, and her getting lost in it.
The birds would argue about who got the choice bits from the bin, with the victor flying off to stash the picking in her nest. Eventually they got angry at my staring and started cawing aggressively. I laughed and walked down to see my maple and snapped the photo above. I hadn’t dressed warm enough so I finally went back into the house.
Perhaps because Pluto sits near my ascendant and with the moon and Saturn in Scorpio in my natal chart, I become vitalized as the season shifts towards the death space that typifies mid-Autumn. The Sun’s ingress into Scorpio.
Summer for me was like fathoms of void. Was there sun? And when the equinox came in September I hardly took notice. My heart was burgled and cut in June — and when the heart’s sore and shuttered there can be such an eerie disconnect from beauty. Dry. I could lean towards beauty, but beauty didn’t, wouldn’t, lean towards me. I think beauty could sense the veil and felt unwelcome. Or so the mind says — in reality when the heart, the eye of beauty is shut, beauty simply is not. Is asleep.
There’s a great Leonard Cohen song that tells about the frustration of trying to contrive one’s way towards beauty. Making beauty an object rather than seeing it as an essential expression of the Self.
I came so far for beauty.
I left so much behind.
My patience and my family.
My masterpiece unsigned.
I thought I’d be rewarded.
For such a lonely choice.
And surely she would answer
To such a very hopeless voice.
I practiced all my sainthood.
I gave to one and all.
But the rumours of my virtue
They moved her not at all.
The Sufis talk about reaching a place, after long pining and making efforts toward the Beloved, where the Beloved actually makes a turning — and suddenly the seeker becomes the sought. The notion is lovely except this process, where the Beloved comes after the seeker, is painful. Barren. Disorienting. One is dropped into a wasteland. The Sufis’ term for this phase, this displacement is called: constraint. Read more
These spiritual windowshoppers,
who idly ask, How much is that? Oh, I’m just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.
What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.
Where did you go? “Nowhere.”
What did you have to eat? “Nothing much.”
Even if you don’t know what you want, buy something,
to be part of the general exchange.
Start a huge, foolish, project,
It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.