"A few years ago, I went into the Shinto shrine of Fushimi-Inari in the lovely city of Kyoto for the first time. It was a warm and humid summer visit to this thousand-year-old shrine, and a few of us made the pilgrimage together. A lovely spiritual guide led us through the experience. We walked mostly in silence, as one should, on this journey. We walked under thousands of torii Japanese gates that marked the path.
After about an hour of walking, I kept wondering when we would get to the shrine itself. Eventually, a little bit tired and impatient, I turned to the guide and asked, "Where is the shrine?"
He stopped, paused, and smiled in that knowing way that some guides do. With the most graceful motion, his right hand turned heavenward, he motioned his hand from right to left, pointing to everything in sight, and said: "Friend, the whole mountain is the shrine."
The torii, the Japanese gate, is said to mark the threshold between the sacred and the profane. Yet the torii is famously open. Sacred on this side, sacred on that side. Sacred to the right, sacred to the left. And while the thousands of torii do mark the path that one is encouraged to stay on, there are also hundreds if not thousands of sideway paths into other shrines, other bamboo-filled forests to wander and reflect. Ultimately, all is sacred, all is illuminated.
For the ones who walk on the path, it is all sacred."
- Omid Safi
The On Being Project
Among the Multitudes
I am who I am.
A coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.
I could have different
ancestors, after all.
I could have fluttered
from another nest
or crawled bescaled
from under another tree.
holds a fair supply of costumes:
spider, seagull, field mouse.
Each fits perfectly right off
and is dutifully worn
I didn't get a choice either,
but I can't complain.
I could have been someone
much less separate.
Someone from an anthill, shoal, or buzzing swarm,
an inch of landscape tousled by the wind.
Someone much less fortunate,
bred for my fur
or Christmas dinner,
something swimming under a square of glass.
A tree rooted to the ground
as the fire draws near.
A grass blade trampled by a stampede
of incomprehensible events.
A shady type whose darkness
What if I'd prompted only fear,
If I'd been born
in the wrong tribe,
with all roads closed before me?
Fate has been kind
to me thus far.
I might never have been given
the memory of happy moments.
My yen for comparison
might have been taken away.
I might have been myself minus amazement,
someone completely different.
- Wisława Szymborska
"According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness. Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear, and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify. People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them. This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices. In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realize how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing - joy, anger, boredom, lust - but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasizing about what might have been. The resulting serenity is so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it. It is like a man standing for decades on the seashore, embracing certain 'good' waves and trying to prevent them from disintegrating, while simultaneously pushing back 'bad' waves to prevent them from getting near him. Day in, day out, the man stands on the beach, driving himself crazy with this fruitless exercise. Eventually, he sits down on the sand and just allows the waves to come and go as they please. How peaceful!"
- Yuval Noah Harari
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
On Meditating, Sort Of
Meditation, so I've heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place - half asleep - where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter -
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.
So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints -
all that glorious, temporary stuff.
- Mary Oliver
"Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there's no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls."
- Robert M. Pirsig
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
"We are often told, that in the critical periods of history it is the national soul which counts: that "where there is no vision, the people perish." No nation is truly defeated which retains its spiritual self-possession. No nation is truly victorious which does not emerge with soul unstained. If this be so, it becomes a part of true patriotism to keep the spiritual life, both of the individual citizen and of the social group, active and vigorous; its vision of realities unsullied by the entangled interests and passions of the time. This is a task in which all may do their part. The spiritual life is not a special career, involving abstraction from the world of things. It is a part of every man's life; and until he has realized it he is not a complete human being, has not entered into possession of all his powers. "
- Evelyn Underhill
After All This
After all this love, after the birds rip like scissors
through the morning sky, after we leave, when the empty
bed appears like a collapsed galaxy, or the wake of
disturbed air behind a plane, after that, as the wind turns
to stone, as the leaves shriek, you are still breathing
inside my own breath. The lighthouse on the far point
still sweeps away the darkness with the brush of an arm.
The tides inside your heart still pull me towards you.
After all this, what are these words but mollusk shells
a child plays with? What could say more than the eloquence
of last night's constellations? or the storm anchored by
its own flashes behind the far mountains? I remember
the way your body wavers under my touch like the northern
lights. After all this, I want the certainty of hidden roots
spreading in all directions from their tree. I want to hear
again the sky tangled in your voice. Some nights I can
hear the footsteps of the stars. How can these words
ever reveal the secret that waits in their sleeping light?
The words that walk through my mind say only what has
already passed. Beyond, the swallows are still knitting
the wind. After a while, the smokebush will turn to fire.
After a while, the thin moon will grow like a tear in a curtain.
Under it, a small boy kicks a ball against the wall of
a burned out house. He is too young to remember the war.
He hardly knows the emptiness that kindles around him.
He can speak the language of early birds outside our window.
Someday he will know this kind of love that changes
the color of the sky, and frees the earth from its moorings.
Sometimes I kiss your eyes to see beyond what I can imagine.
Sometimes I think I can speak the language of unborn stars.
I think the whole earth breathes with you. After all this,
these words are all I have to say what is impossible to think,
what shy dreams hide in the rafters of my heart, because
these words are only a form of touch, only tell you I have no life
that isn't yours, and no death you couldn't turn into a life.
- Richard Jackson
"Buddhism is negative. It will tell you what it is not. When you insist that it must be something it merely allows for an open space, which you can fill in as you like. It is only specific about its method. It tells you to meditate, to be conscious of what you are doing, to do your best. It tells you to earn your daily food in a decent manner. It prescribes kind speech and thought. It suggests that you should create your own situations, rather than being pushed around by yourself and others. It warns that you should not avoid your own doubts. It recommends trying things out for yourself. It abhors all dogma. It doesn't like you to impose your opinions on others. And it stresses that you should know yourself, your own laziness, pride and greed which, together, constitute the power which turns the wheel of life."
- Janwillem van de Wetering
A Glimpse of Nothingness
alive on all channels
"This is some advice I got from a priest mentor of mine years back. He said: "Here's the rule, the airtight rule. Criticize someone precisely in the measure that you are willing to help him or her deal with the problem you're raising.
The point is that if you are 100% willing to commit yourself to helping the person deal with the problem you're raising, off you go. Critique 'til the cows come home.
If you're totally unwilling to take even one little step to help the person deal with the problem, then keep your mouth shut. Don't say anything.
Maybe a little bit of commitment? Maybe a little bit of critique.
That has never left my mind, that little piece of advice. When I feel the urge to criticize someone, 'alright Barron, are you willing to commit yourself to helping him deal with his problems? If not, keep your mouth shut."
- Robert Barron
4. Minor Miracles
Taking the empty air
Deep in our lungs,
Warming it there,
Extracting from it
What our blood needs,
Then breathing it back
Out as sound
We've added meaning to.
- Gregory Orr
from Ode to Words
Sometimes a voice - have you heard this? -
wants not to be voice any longer, wants something
whispering between the words, some
rumour of its former life. Sometimes, even
in the midst of making sense or conversation, it will
hearken back to breath, or even farther,
to the wind, and recognize itself
as troubled air, a flight path still
looking for its bird.
- Don McKay
from Sometimes a Voice
"Each of us has a sophisticated system that throws away most of our experiences, keeps only a few choice samples, mixes them up with bits from movies we've seen, novels we've read, speeches we've heard, and daydreams we've savoured, and out of all that jumble it weaves a seemingly coherent story about who I am, where I came from and where I am going. This story tells me what to love, whom to hate and what to do with myself. This story may even cause me to sacrifice my life, if that's what the plot requires. We all have our genre. Some people live a tragedy, others inhabit a never-ending religious drama, some approach life as if it were an action film, and not a few act as if in a comedy. But in the end, they are all just stories."
- Yuval Noah Harari
"When I suddenly see myself in the depths of the mirror, I take fright. I can scarcely believe that I have limits, that I am outlined and defined. I feel myself to be dispersed in the atmosphere, thinking inside other creatures, living inside things beyond myself. When I suddenly see myself in the mirror, I am not startled because I find myself ugly or beautiful. I discover, in fact, that I possess another quality. When I haven't looked at myself for some time, I almost forget that I am human, I tend to forget my past, and I find myself with the same deliverance from purpose and conscience as something that is barely alive. I am also surprised to find as I gaze into the pale mirror with open eyes that there is so much in me beyond what is known, so much that remains ever silent."
- Clarice Lispector
Near to the Wild Heart
"My house here is painted the yellow colour of fresh butter on the outside, with glaringly green shutters; it stands in full sunlight in a square that has a green garden with plain trees, oleanders and acacias. It is completely whitewashed inside, with a floor made of red bricks. And over it there is the intensely blue sky. In this house I can love and breathe, meditate and paint."
- Vincent van Gogh
"Painters have a knowledge which goes beyond words. They are where musicians are. When someone blows the saxophone the sky is made of copper. When you make a watercolor you know how it feels to be the sea lying early in the day in the proximity of light."
- Etel Adnan
Journey to Mount Tamalpais