The Burning Bush

‘The Icon of Theotokos the Unburnt Bush’ (detail) – 19th AD, Museum of Radomysl Castle, Ukraine – Wikimedia

Don’t be shy. Come out of the bush. That bush which is of your own making. The hazy bush of your thoughts, feelings, and the ten thousand things perceived. All that you have invented to keep your self going, to give it a form and a lustrous appearance. This is a bush of endless confusion and deceit. Don’t get entangled in its thorny maze, to be kept here safe but miserable. Don’t be lured into the bush of your apparent self, with its intricate problems, and its endless, unresolvable knots. Don’t make that bush your prison, be it a golden one. Don’t let it dictate your life, to forever seek in the world all that can soothe and heal for a time. And don’t expect that you will find in other similar bushes the remedy to your entanglement. You can gather as many bushes you like, they will never make a marriage worth of the name. Any other thought-induced bush will be revealed as being lost in the same, inherent, desperate obscurity which your self is lost in.

Don’t be deceived once more. Don’t be shy. Come out of the bush. Put it on fire. Burn it to the ground. You’d be surprised of what is left behind. How do you burn a bush? Expose it to the sun of your being. How do you expose the false, but by seeing the truth? How do you fight the fear of death, but by realising your immortality? How do you disengage yourself from your endless suffering, but by recognising your true nature as peace and happiness? You have a sun at hand that is more than happy to help you in that enterprise. Expose the mirror of your separation to that sun and its burning rays will strip this idea naked of any true reality. Show yourself. Come out of the bush. Let that pure being do its job on you. Let it burn that bush of yours down to its roots.

And don’t expect a desolate land after that. There will be no carpet of black, sullen, malodorous ashes. Be audacious, for you will only burn the false that is in you. All that doesn’t truly stand on its own. All that which is not. All that you have made up. These sure will go to never return. These are the unburnt bush of your apparent self. For how do you burn something that isn’t there? How do you extricate something that wasn’t truly entangled in the first place? How do you spot the unseen? How do you kill the invisible? As for the burnt ground, you will only meet what truly is. As for the desolation, you will only be welcomed with opulent love and beauty. As for the loss and suffering, you will only be exposed to the profound peace of your essential being. You will be blessed to notice a self that was here all along but that you had been made blind to. This is where this fire is not a fire of destruction but one of creation. This is where this fire is a never ending fire where no bush, no seeds of folly can ever thrive.

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Text by Alain Joly

Painting by Museum of Ukrainian Home Icons

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Websites:
Museum of Ukrainian Home Icons
Radomysl Castle (Wikipedia)

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Other ‘Ways of Being’ from the blog…

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The Mystical Doctor

‘View of Toledo’ – El Greco, 1596 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) – Wikimedia

.During the night of 2 December 1577, in the city of Toledo in central Spain, a priest was imprisoned by a group of Carmelites who were refusing Teresa of Ávila’s reformation projects for their Order. He was jailed for 9 months in a monastery under brutal conditions. He was publicly beaten at least weekly, confined in a cell of barely 10 by 6 feet, with only a little light passing through a hole during the day, with bread and scraps of salt fish for a meal, and no change of clothes. But his burning love of god, along with his unfailing devotion and clarity of mind, allowed the 35 years old friar to compose, along with other shorter poems, the greater part of a sumptuous poem — ‘The Spiritual Canticle’ — about a bride’s search for her beloved. The poem, symbolising the soul seeking union with god, and inspired by the ‘Songs of Songs’ of the Bible, starts with these eloquent lines:.

Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone
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~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’

The name of this priest and poet was John of the Cross, a Spanish Catholic mystic born in 1542 near Ávila, to whom we owe some of the brightest exposition of truth in the Christian world. Thomas Merton, who held him in very high esteem, presented him as “one of the greatest as well as the safest mystical theologians God has given to His Church.” John of the Cross was born in a poor family of Jewish converts to Catholicism, and received a simple education. He entered the Carmelite Order, made his First Profession when 21, and met Teresa of Ávila a few years later, of whom he remained a faithful associate all his life. Although not a scholar, his studies in theology and philosophy allowed him to quote abundantly from the Bible, and be acquainted with the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Although I have chosen to quote here only from the poem ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, John of the Cross is the author of many other poems, among which the renowned ‘The Dark Night’ — better known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ — and ‘The Ascent of Mount Carmel’. His poems have a rich and powerful imagery and are considered to be masterpieces of Spanish poetry. Although they transpire with beauty and meaning, they are not to be readily understood. This is why John of the Cross wrote precise and extensive commentaries on them, some soaring pieces of teaching whose beauty and profundity is sometimes breathtaking. The most exquisite poetry is here going hand in hand with both a great depth of understanding, and the sweetest accents of devotion. The commentaries were written in prose but are here occasionally presented in a free verse form when they lent themselves to it. I am sharing the 1909 translation made by David Lewis, with corrections by Benedict Zimmerman. Listen with what tender accents of poetry and longing the bride is here conversing with her bridegroom, and how a suffering soul who has tasted of the divine is longing for “the secret chamber of God”, which is nothing but the pure consciousness that is hiding in our innermost being:

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O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures,
who so long to know the place where your Beloved is,
that you may seek Him, and be united to Him,
you know now that you are yourself
that very tabernacle where He dwells,
the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden.
Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good
and all your hope is so near you as to be within you;
or, to speak more accurately, that you can not be without it.”
~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, 1.8 (Commentaries)

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Discover the rich poetry and commentaries of John of the Cross… (READ MORE…)

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A Loss and a Gain

‘The Voyage of Life: Old Age’ – Thomas Cole, 1842 – WikiArt

Well, at some point in our lives, we may start to make a rapid calculation. It may dawn on us that if we had counted on this body and mind to represent us right through the end of life, well… let’s be blunt on this: that’s certainly not our best investment. Old age will make it clear that, after a certain time, if we wait long enough, everything begins to go wrong with our bodies — and so with our minds. We-our body are losing it. New pains arise. Strength diminishes. Memory capacity fades. And disease is lurking. There are threats accumulating, to say the least. We have to come to terms with this plain fact of existence: we will never go back to where we were. We cannot keep holding on to our body, continue having faith in it. This constant hoping for a better body, or a healthier mind, has to end, and this is now. In a way, it really is something to laugh about — a sort of cosmic joke. How could we have been so naïve? This simple and inescapable fact shows — if we needed that kind of confirmation — that this body and mind is not the place for a healthy sense of being. We need to find a way out of this faulty understanding.

We find health in our innermost being. That is the answer. And the body is not this being. It doesn’t represent it. It is not its temple. The body exists but it is not being. Only being has the right and capacity to be. The body is at best a distant vassal. A tool. It is not the home of our being, but rather, it finds its home in being. It rests there. It can borrow its qualities. It can make Being its beloved teacher, if it is wise and humble enough to espouse Being’s extraordinary traits. Then the body and its companion as mind might feel enlarged. They might find their true essence as infinity and eternity. They might acquire a soft and gentle making — less heaviness. And the body-mind will be lit with a strange transparency. It will slowly give up its hard matter-like making in favour of a more airy essence. It might surrender itself slowly while still being alive. Then the natural flaws of its ending will have very little meaning — not something to be afraid of. For its death has already been achieved in love — its true essence. Then its apparent shortcomings and loss will be found to be the supreme gain of life itself. We enter a new kingdom, where death can never be death. It is simply the extinction of everything that wasn’t truly ours in the first place. It is a gentle clarification, and the revelation of our essence. “You may die, my dear body, you may fail and disappear, with your companion-mind, but I will meet you on the burning ground and see you rise again as ‘I’”. This is the meaning of old age and death. This is the gift of our apparent failures. To be raised and revealed as essence. See… we won’t lose it.

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Text by Alain Joly

Painting by Thomas Cole (1801-1848)

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Website:
Thomas Cole (Wikipedia)

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Other ‘Ways of Being’ from the blog…

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The Way of Love

‘Madonna in Gloria’ (part) – Antoniazzo Romano – WikiArt

One of the oldest and most beautiful poem about love is found in the New Testament. This is a very human and touching piece, for both its modernity and universality. It was co-written 2000 years ago by Sosthenes and Paul. Paul, born Saul of Tarsus (5 – 64/65 AD), was one of Jesus’ apostles, who disseminated his teachings and founded some of the first Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe. The poem is excerpted from the book ‘1 Corinthians 13’, and is presented here in the ‘World English Bible’ translation. This soaring piece presents all the qualities found in love. Some of its verses became famous over the years. The quote “Through a glass darkly”, (not appearing in this translation) inspired the title of a film by Ingmar Bergman and many other artworks in fields as diverse as poetry, plays, novels, songs, essays or television series. Many other verses of the poems were also quoted in similar works. Behind its apparent simplicity, I find the poem to have a profound meaning that confers it the quality of a prayer. I hope you will enjoy

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If I speak with the languages of men and of angels,
but don’t have love, I have become
sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know
all mysteries and all knowledge;
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but don’t have love, I am nothing.

If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor,
and if I give my body to be burned,
but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy.
Love doesn’t brag, is not proud,
doesn’t behave itself inappropriately,
doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked,
takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in
unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

But where there are prophecies,
they will be done away with.
Where there are various languages,
they will cease.
Where there is knowledge,
it will be done away with.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part;
but when that which is complete has come,
then that which is partial will be done away with.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child,
I felt as a child, I thought as a child.
Now that I have become an adult,
I have put away childish things.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, [through a glass darkly]
but then face to face.
Now I know in part,
but then I will know fully,
even as I was also fully known.

But now faith, hope,
and love remain — these three.
The greatest of these is love.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (World English Bible)

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Poem by Sosthenes and Paul the Apostle (1st century AD)

Painting by Antoniazzo Romano (1430-1510)

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Websites:
1 Corinthians 13 (Wikipedia)
Paul the Apostle (Wikipedia)
Bible Gateway
Antoniazzo Romano (Wikipedia)

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Unconditional Love

I just happened to fall in love with my life recently. Don’t ask me how and why. I just did. That came surreptitiously after a long line of unfruitful attempts. I had given up the idea. Discarded the thought — too complicated! This happened when I simply stopped wanting, hoping, needing. These are the ways things get done, it seems, in this world. Life is not something that you can mould to your own convenience. You cannot love life if you set up conditions. If you want it to espouse the contours of your likes and dislikes. You might painstakingly get the life you want, but you will reduce love. You will wound it. That won’t be love anymore but bargain, economy. Love can never be found in the market place. Love shows up with its one fundamental, non-bargainable condition: it is unconditional. And I’ll tell you why:

I discovered that life is self. That the one constituent of life is simply being — who I am fundamentally. Not even a small portion of this life of mine stands outside myself. I love my life because my life is my self, and I cannot not love my self. We all love our self. To not love our self is an impossibility. We love our self dearly, because the nature of our self is love itself. Self is made of love. And everything in this world is made out of this very self of love. So we are bound to love this world unconditionally. To love our life unquestionably. To love people boundlessly. People are our brothers and sisters in love. They are made of the very same bright self that we are made of. Therefore the question of not loving life doesn’t even arise. Love is the very home where our life finds everything it could ever need or want. This is how life becomes a fountain of joy: when it is found to be entrenched in love. This fountain of love is sometimes referred as god’s self. Or ultimate being. Or simply happiness — without cause or condition.

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Text and photo by Alain Joly

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Other ‘Ways of Being’ from the blog…

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Humanity’s Healers

‘Clytie’ – Frederic Leighton, 1890 – WikiArt

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The moment I realise I am humanity,
that is the greatest action
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~ J. Krishnamurti

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Why has humanity left this whole field of knowing oneself — all the spiritual endeavour, the extraordinary adventure that it is — outside the conventional and widely accepted way of living? It is a difficult thing to understand, since the door to it is so wide open and evident. Of course, religions are there, and have taken an all too consuming place in the past, but yet to no real avail. For an immense majority of people, religious faith didn’t go very deep, and didn’t put much of a light on the everyday suffering of humanity other than being a widespread system of morals and rituals destined to give some rules to society, and to instil fear, consolation or respect. So why has this understanding been confined to only a few, scattered individuals? Why has it not yet become the one accepted and necessary endeavour of our lives?

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An essay exploring the place of humanity in our being… (READ MORE…)

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The Lazy Worker

Today, I went out to clean the streets of Copenhagen. I did it with my love. I hadn’t left it pristine, so it needed a little ordering. I had crowded it with my worrisome thoughts, had encumbered it with my train of escapes, had disseminated some of my many unhappy faces along its avenues — I sure need to clean my mess. So here I am, scanning its landscapes with the blooming of presence, cleansing its pavements with the gaze of beauty, bowing to its people with the healing power of love. This job is an easy endeavour. No need for special tools. Love is accessed through presence. This is how you see every friend, every passing person, as if a long-term companion of voyage. As if we were all coming back from a giant spiritual retreat. Clear and bright. Beautiful. Lovers of being.

Isn’t it extraordinary — how quickly you can repair a world? How easily you can erase the polluting influence of mind? With its thoughts rummaging constantly for a passing, occasional relief. How the litter of separation can be done away with one single sway of the broom of presence? I’m the chief worker wherever I go — which is nowhere but in the expanse of my present experience. I was made the one responsible for the cleanliness of my city-world. To verify that all the neons of presence were shining their light in every dark corner. To make sure that the transports of happiness were running smoothly in all directions. To ensure that behind every blasting horn or tempestuous engine was a silence in sufficient amount.

And guess what? There is! There is already everything that we and the world need! It has already been cleansed through its perfect, eternal, incorruptible making. That’s why this job is only for the lazy workers. Not for the busy ones, attached to their own projected outcomes. Not for the needy ones, expecting to find in their city-world what they think will make them fulfilled and happy. This is all our world ever needs: our presence-ing it — without the ‘it’. In other words, Being.

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Text and photo by Alain Joly

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Other ‘Ways of Being’ from the blog…

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