18 October 2010

All I Was Doing

All I was doing was being, and the Dancing Energy
           came by my house.
His face looks curiously like the moon, I saw it
           from the side, smiling.
             --Mirabai  "All I Was Doing Was Breathing"

Fresh out of joy? Put together a playlist:  a little Ravi Shankar kicking it over to The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, the latest from Mavis Staples, some big brass funk on the bottom from the Soul Rebels...hit shuffle, crank it up, get your groove on and open the door!  You've got company, and his face looks curiously like the moon!

11 October 2010

Common Question

Today the bright blue October sky sinks into a pile of pink and gold clouds at dusk.  There's a ghostly slip of a crescent moon already dangling just above that same western horizon, so early, so soon.  As my dog Macy and I stroll about in this beautiful evening light sifting down through the maples out back (more orange leaves than green now), I recall a favorite May Swenson poem,  "Question".   In it Swenson considers what existence might be like without a body, asking, at the poem's conclusion

How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye

With cloud for shift
how will I hide?

Most will read the poem as a little meditation on death (oh great...I know, I know...another autumnal mediation on death...), but I think it's also concerned with notions of attachment and non-attachment. How funny to think of a modest little soul trying to cover itself up with a bit of cirrus cloud!  Of course we know that there is no hiding from this final transformation out of the body, but I am quite amused by the prospect of that pale naked soul still figuring out what it means to be free of the body's boundary! The poet imagines that soul wondering how to exist without the protection of an earthly shell (a house, a body), and feeling itself merge into all creation ("wind for an eye"). There's no explicit suggestion here that a soul transformed by death joins some larger divinity.  Without the body, asks Swenson, what really becomes of us? Do we just melt into the sky?

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna offers Arjuna an answer:

Whoever knows, profoundly,
my divine presence on earth
is not reborn when he leaves
the body, but comes to me.

Released from greed, fear, anger,
absorbed in me and made pure
by the practice of wisdom, many
have attained my own state of being.

So, I guess, no matter what, when faced with that ultimate transformation of our earthly energy into something else, we needn't worry about what to wear.

05 October 2010

Autumnal Upanisad & Shelley's West Wind

Autumn.  The ever-shortening days, the falling leaves swirled up and dropped by ghostly gusts, bleak skies framed by black branches, that chill -- winter's harbinger, settling in, seeping under the door.  No wonder those melancholy poets, in their eternal contemplations of mortality, can't resist it.  Go ahead, look 'em up and you'll likely find every poet you have ever liked has written a poem about autumn!

One of my favorites is Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind". Instead of being a simple contemplation of mortality, the poem becomes a celebration of change.  Shelley's west wind energizes the landscape; it's a transformational force, shaping and reshaping the planet, the mind, the soul.  The speaker addresses the wind as
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere,
Destroyer and Preserver
Many poets see this turning season as a summons to death lurking on the other end of November in winter's deep freeze, but Shelley's autumn isn't that at all; it's a reminder that immortality exists in the eternal cycle of destruction and renewal, that what destroys, preserves as well.  Or, to frame it in terms of the Isa Upanisad
Whoever knows becoming and destruction--
     Both of them, together --
By destruction crosses over death
     And by becoming reaches immortality.