After meditating or going out on a long walk, I often sit with a poem and allow the words to seep into the heart of my present moment experience.
The theme of the piece could be centered on the dissemination of historical events or an evocative articulation of the oozing nature of time, either way, the poem often fits with what is happening now—both within and without. It falls into place like a puzzle piece without there having to be any logic involved with the process of it at all. Here is a verse I sat with recently that fit a moment of Buddha’s “thusness“:
“A Touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.”
~ T.E. Hulme, “Autumn”[i]
The brilliancy of the moonrise, the intimacy of greeting the universe, a personification of a glowing beauty, and the nod: that unknowable deep gesture of understanding and gratitude, of taking the scenery of life in and digesting vastness without having to do a thing. As I read, the words of “Autumn” were here, and Hulme was reaching out over time and space to touch my life as I sought to feel the texture of the world and rest on the back of its overarching vibrancy.
Yet at that same time, life is full of trials and tribulations too. Joyfulness recedes into melancholic undertones and the inherent connection to the world fades into darkness, self-centeredness, and the fortress of the small mind. In these instances when the tides have gone out to sea and I am left with the muck of jumping back into my mindfulness practice, when other works make their way into the now:
“I found this jawbone at the sea’s edge:
There crabs, dogfish, broken by the breakers or tossed
To flap for half an hour and turn to a crust
Continue the beginning. The deeps are cold:
In that darkness camaraderie does not hold”
~ Ted Hughes, “Relic”[ii]
Sifting through the muck of down times is a wonderful opportunity to get our hands into the soulful mud of what it means to be human. There is a chance for a deeper kind of understanding, one that pervades both darkness and light, leading toward equanimity. The interplay of emotions and events, and the way the mind discriminates the one flow of life, slicing it into individual pieces to be cooked, sautéed and judged is something to look into, particularly as it is happening in the moment.
In Ted Hughes’ “Relic,” you can feel the harshness of his words and the way they break and crush into rock and bone—punching through a wall or ripping out the seams. The rawness of the poem enters into the rawness of what is here. The unknown nature of life as well as the seeming harshness of the wilderness of the world meets how I am feeling, where, “The deeps are cold: In that darkness camaraderie does not hold.” But in this meeting there is a breaking down of separation. A sense of camaraderie between the words of the past and the experience of the now fuses, creating its own crushing down of the mind-made walls between infinity and me. Though Hughes’ work is a dark one, I feel my place in the breaking down of things and the evolution that comes hand-in-hand with impermanence, whether it is a state of mind, or the passage of a chapter of life into the catacombs of time.
And then there are the moments when moving through life melts into experience. The connection of infinity—the interconnected web—pulsates throughout the entirety of the now; a spaciousness settles and we lean out to greet the universe whether it is a blade of grass or the wind in the trees.
“Every day, priests minutely examine the Dharma
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and
~ Ikkyu, “Untitled”[iii]
Ikkyu’s verse cuts things down to basics. No matter how much we practice or delve into the streams of ups and downs, there is nothing quite like unraveling our smaller selves in nature. That we sprung from the same moist soil that holds our feet as well as the roots of towering redwood monoliths represents something primordially vital—a nourishing truth, the tantalizing wafts of which break down the borders of small mind and open the passageways into vastness.
Bring poetry into your daily mindfulness practice. Place it against the scenery of the world or let it permeate into the depths of the mind. It might just be a wonderful thing to do.
[i] T.E. Hulme was a member of the Imagists, an early 20th century group of poets who modeled their poetry on the haiku and sought to convey what was here without sentimentality – achieving a maximum effect of experience/vision with minimal use of language.
[ii] Ted Hughes served as the poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1984 – 1998, the year of his death.