This collection of handpicked poems is for you, as a torch we are passing on to continue feeding the integration of mindful living into your life. In the classes we teach, in the retreats we lead, we share these words, as treasures of humanity, expressing lineage of human conditions and experiences throughout the ages. May the seeing of our commonality guide us, support us, and inspire us in living our humanity.
Use the + and – signs or simply click on the title to read the poem. Enjoy!
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
Caretake This Moment
Caretake this moment.
Immerse yourself in its particulars.
Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed.
Quit the evasions.
Stop giving yourself needless trouble.
It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.
You are not some disinterested bystander.
Respect your partnership with providence.
Ask yourself often, How may I perform this particular deed
such that it would be consistent with and acceptable to the divine will?
Heed the answer and get to work.
When your doors are shut and your room is dark you are not alone.
The will of nature is within you as your natural genius is within.
Listen to its importunings.
Follow its directives.
As concerns the art of living, the material is your own life.
No great thing is created suddenly.
There must be time.
Give your best and always be kind.
Suddenly it is August again, so hot,
I sit on the ground
in the garden of Carmel,
picking ripe cherry tomatoes
and eating them.
They are so ripe that the skin is split,
so warm and sweet
from the attentions of the sun,
the juice bursts in my mouth,
an ecstatic taste,
and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer,
sloshing in the saliva of August.
Hummingbirds halo me there,
in the great green silence,
and my own bursting heart
splits me with life.
A woman was waiting at the airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see,
That the man beside her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene
She read, munched cookies, and watched the clock,
As the gustly “cookie thief” diminished her stock
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!”
With each cookie she took, he took one too.
When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do.
with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, and he ate the other.
She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh brother,
This guy has some nerve, and he’s also so rude,
Why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!”
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate,
Refusing to look at the “thieving ingrate”.
She boarded the plane and sank in her seat,
Then sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise.
There were her bag of cookies in front of her eyes!
“If mine are here,” she moaned with despair.
“Then the others were his and he tried to share!”
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief!!!!
You who always have
so many things to do
so many places to be
your mind spinning like
fan blades at high speed
each moment always a blur
because you’re never still.
I know you’re tired.
I also know it’s not your fault.
The constant brain-buzz is like
a swarm of bees threatening
to sting if you close your eyes.
You’ve forgotten something again.
You need to prepare for that or else.
You should have done that differently.
What if you closed your eyes?
Would the world fall
apart without you?
Or would your mind
become the open sky
flock of thoughts
flying across the sunrise
as you just watched and smiled.
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
We have refused again and again
Framework for Longevity
What is the secret of Longevity
Invest in bonds
Bond with love
Parental marital filial people spiritual
Love thy neighbor as thyself
No greater love hath man
Than he give up his life for another
Bond with nature
With its broad range of animal plant and mineral life
With its sun moon stars land sea and air
And all the creatures thereon and therein
With its solitude music challenge reverence
Bond with a positive mindset
Aim high and you won’t hit low
If things go your way don’t get too high
If things go against you don’t get too low
Bond with an upbeat lifestyle
Engage in spiritual intellectual social recreational pursuits
That guarantee health strength and daily bread
Woo the positive spurn the negative
Bond with existence
An existence that you deem worthy of your worship
Daily lift up some thought word and deed
To Him to Her to It
On each future birthday
Check your investments
If you can look at each bond and say
“Been there Done that”
You will end up dancing on the top rung
Of Longevity’s ladder
Keep faith in the surrounding
the beautiful, unfurled
Under the snow
Seeds have been sown
In the apparent dormant earth, hidden
And yet to wake the world,
Grows a garden
Walk SlowlyIt only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still and just like that, something in me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection. The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race; that we will all cross the finish line; that waking up to life is what we were born for. As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I am going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, to be and walk slowly into the mystery.
Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says everyone of us is a child,
everyone of us is ancient,
everyone of us has a body.
He says everyone of us is frightened.
He says everyone of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive–
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.
Go Among Trees and Sit Still
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
Around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle…
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
I Said To The Wanting-Creature Inside Me
I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or nesting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no tow rope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!
And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will make the
soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.
Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of
and stand firm in that which you are.
If You Would Grow – Shine the Light Of Loving Self-Care On Yourself
If you would grow to your best self
Be patient, not demanding
Accepting, not condemning
Nurturing, not withholding
Self-marveling, not belittling
Gently guiding, not pushing and punishing
For you are more sensitive than you know
Mankind is as tough as war yet delicate as flowers
We can endure agonies but we open fully only to warmth and light
And our need to grow Is as fragile as a fragrance dispersed by storms of will
To return only when those storm are still
So, accept, respect, and attend your sensitivity
A flower cannot be opened with a hammer.
“We hurry through the so-called boring things
in order to attend to that which we deem
more important, interesting.
Perhaps the final freedom will be a recognition that
everything in every moment is “essential”
and that nothing at all is “important.”
It Felt Love
How did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,
We all remain
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead in winter
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
Keep Your Faith
Keep your faith in beautiful things;
in the sun when it is hidden,
in the spring when it is gone.
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 sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
Love After Love
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 your 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 own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Making friends is like baking a cake ingredients must be added in the right proportions. Respect is the flour– without it, you could not even have a biscuit. Love is the sugar, a sweet and happy hug. As baking powder helps a cake to rise, communication bridges gaps and helps a relationship to grow. And understanding is the egg holding it all together.
This tree exists because I am here to see. My mind gives it treeness. And through its leaves, I come to understand soft and green.
Empty spaces between the leaves are filled with shimmering light. The tree seems green and moves like a cloud, but it has no form except in my eyes.
Ah, the emptiness, the shimmering light! I feel myself scattering, opened by this emptiness into my own possibility.
Now is the time to know
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God?
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
That this is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Places in Our Hearts
The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size
In gratitude to K & G
Stop moving. Stand in
one place – this place.
Breathe slowly; in, then out. Repeat.
Repeat again. Let your
shoulders sink and relax. Unclench
your jaw; slowly close your eyes.
Listen for your heartbeat; really
listen. Feel it pulse in
Lessen expectations. Under-do all your
efforts. Requisition the time
for your soul
to catch up. Lean
into the wind; feel it
like a tree and test the ground.
Learn to trust the resilience.
It would be treason
to move quickly – left or right –
from this place. It is alright to be exactly
what you are, who you are, where you are.
Right here, right now.
And I drop in
At first, agitation.
And I breathe in
At last, meditation.
Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for
the birds that will come–six, a dozen–to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow?
We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us, that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.
Vancouver in the Rain
Vancouver is famous for its rain. It can rain here for weeks on end, but it does not usually bother me. However, several years ago I found myself coming close to being thoroughly disgusted by the rain.
I walked home from work one evening in the pouring rain, mumbling under my breath the whole way that this weather was only suited to ducks. The building I lived in was large and square, and it surrounded a brick courtyard. I came around the corner into the courtyard and there, to my amazement was a beautiful Peking duck in a huge puddle in the middle of the courtyard, quacking and splashing with obvious delight. I had to smile, glad that such joy could be found in the gray wetness of such a day.
I have often thought that we do not have nearly enough words for rain, especially as this was once a rainforest. There is booming rain, whispery rain, rain that lulls you to sleep, and rain on the leaves which sings you awake; there is soft rain, hard rain, sideways rain, rain that makes you instantly wet, and rain that leaves soft kisses on your cheek, like the wings of a butterfly.
Rain brings us all the shades of gray, but it also brings us the wonderful greenery that surrounds us and blesses us all.
The Breeze at Dawn
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
The Five Remembrances
I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. I cannot escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature of change. I cannot escape being separated from them.
My deeds are my closest companions. I am the beneficiary of my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
The Small Ruby
The small ruby everyone wants has fallen out on
Some think it is east of us, others west of us.
Some say, “among the primitive earth rocks,” others,
“in the deep waters.”
Kabir’s instinct told him it was inside, and what it
and he wrapped it up carefully in his heart cloth.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
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.
Your History Is Here Inside Your Body
Your history is here inside your body.
Your body is your storehouse
Of learning’s, feelings,
thoughts, and experiences.
Only waiting to be invited to
reveal your treasures to yourself.
As you let the learning emerge
and take shape, you can
Appreciate the wisdom of the body.
Each cell alive with
spirit, emotion, and intelligence.
Ready to help you at any moment,
always with you and for you.
I have swallowed repeatedly.
I have thought about eating a piece of dark chocolate.
I have moved my leg because I couldn’t endure the pain in my knee.
I have wondered whether I left the oven on.
I have tried to slow my breathing.
I have looked at my watch before the meditation bell rang.
I have thought about whether to register for a retreat this coming summer.
I have thought about kissing the woman sitting on the cushion to my left.
I have thought about shushing the heavy-breathing man on the cushion to my right.
I have wanted the teacher to notice how well I am meditating.
I have wondered how the teacher can really meditate while constantly checking if it is time to ring the bell.
I have missed my old girlfriend.
I have remembered why I broke up with my old girlfriend.
I have thought I can’t date anyone who isn’t a meditator.
I have listened to the sound of the rain.
I have worried if I closed the windows of my car.
I have wondered if living in the moment means I don’t have to put money in a retirement account.
I have imagined going to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize in Meditation.
I have thought about how my goddaughter laughs when I turn her upside down.
I have wanted this feeling of joy to continue.
I have focused on the rising and falling of my stomach while breathing when I was trying to focus on the sensation of my breath going in and out at my nostrils.
I have decided meditation retreats are a waste of time.
I have wanted to ring the bell at the end of the group sitting.
I have opened my eyes to look if the teacher’s eyes are open.
I have been annoyed at the bird outside that won’t stop cawing.
I have wondered whether it is time to buy a new meditation cushion.
I have thought about making up items for this list.
I have wondered if I could ever complete this list.
I have decided I will never achieve enlightenment.
I have told myself I am a bad meditator.
When your world moves too fast
and you lose yourself in the chaos,
to each color of the sunset.
Reacquaint yourself with the earth
beneath your feet.
Thank the air that surrounds you
with every breath you take.
Find yourself in the appreciation of life.