A Tower of Watchfulness

‘Still Life, Pink Roses’ – Vincent van Gogh, 1890 – WikiArt

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We keep receiving invitations
from presence all the time.
But we turn them away
too often — and it’s a shame.

They could take care of our path
with the elegance of
their coming into being.
Paving it as it were.
Illuminating it.

For they are graceful messengers
blooming from the depth
of our innermost being.
They abhor objectivity.
They form surreptitiously
above and amongst
all that is unconscious
in ourself.
They are prodding little bells
that are here for a mission:
To wake us up.
To lure us into presence.

They may come suddenly as
the insistent call of a blackbird.
Its song a joyful reminder —
Stop it! Come back! —
so that you may let yourself
fall back into presence.
So that you may be reminded
of the intimacy of your
most tender being.

Honouring these invitations
is an ever present Sadhana.
One that requires very little effort.
For this is the effort of just
being — Being presence.
A tower of watchfulness.

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Text by Alain Joly

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

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Website:
Vincent Van Gogh (Wikipedia)

Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems 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)

[…]

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

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The Craving

Why do you keep falling, my heart
To all that impart an immediate pleasure
Truth is not an easy catch that can be met
In the petty, neither one that you can grab
In the temporal and all its passing hues
There is more to it than mock or parody

You have to only stay where you are, to
Not take that first step ahead, allured by
The fire of thoughts, elated by feelings
Be only so present so as to sight
A calm within a space, a space within a calm
That nothing can stir or move or shake

And you shall stay there, not concerned
By all that in you shout and scream
By all these thieves that claim your fall
And beg in the usual, the false order restored
A peace so cheap as to be no peace at all
You know what an imitation of truth is

This is an endeavour of unbounded courage
You need some heart to inhabit your heart
You’ll be surrounded by liars and impostors
All these preachers of facile commands
They too dwell where you truly dwell
They go only by effort or indulgence

Presence is a magnetic field that attracts
Always only itself. No need for exertion
No need to launch a campaign for truth
Desire is their last treacherous injunction
So repulsive when it comes to being home
You are already where you crave to be

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Text and photo by Alain Joly

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Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems from the blog)

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The Coronation

I want to be all alone with you.
Who cares of these hundreds
relentless thoughts. I’ll let them
be and live their own thinking-life.
I’m not concerned with them.
They’re none of my business.
Have a good journey folks!
I’ll just stay here alone
with my silent friend.

I want to be all alone with you.
I have nothing to do with these
endless stories and beliefs.
All these far-fetched ideas
that keep giving birth to
that constant flow of suffering.
Waves after waves of feelings.
Don’t involve me. I want to be
in unaccompanied solitude.

I want to be all alone with you.
I won’t busy myself with these
ten thousand things. Not this time.
They have helped me well, with
pleasures and necessities.
To fight my fears off and
seek a hidden peace.
But god they’re clumsy! So
please, leave me alone for now.

I want to be all alone with you.
And when I’ll feel your presence
in me, so as to be just only you,
then I’ll return to all and everything;
To the feelings and the spicy;
To the world and its troubled affairs.
I shall welcome the weird and the inept,
and the thinking rendered innocuous.
I’ll make them my loyal attendants
And I’ll crown them with glory.

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Text and photo by Alain Joly

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Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems 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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The Graceful Way

‘Soaring’ – Andrew Wyeth – WikiArt

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I would like to live that way.
In the graceful way
Of a wild animal.
Attentive, on the watch,
Present — Always.
Present in an absolute way.
Which means wholly present.
Not in a sneaky way.
But elegantly, naturally.
In a princely way.
This is what presence is about.

And I want to be wholly myself.
To eat when I eat.
To watch when I watch.
To rest when I rest.
To abide in the peace of just being.
What else is there to be done?
To add anything to the experience
Of being is to sully it.
A wild animal is incorruptible.
It cannot even conceive
Of wasting presence.

I would like to be never yearning
To change my experience.
Such idea is unknown
To a wild animal — This is called
Silence; Humility; Vulnerability.
Each has being as its home,
And abides in changelessness.
Being has the supreme advantage
Of being always only itself;
Owned by a strange necessity.
Ah! — To live as king. As eagles do.

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Text by Alain Joly

Painting by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

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Website:
Andrew Wyeth (Wikipedia)

Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems from the blog)

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The Fate of Me

‘Ink Landscape’ – Kanō Motonobu, 16th AD (Art Institute of Chicago) – Wikimedia

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I saw you rise so many times,
Invade the space of my being,
To occupy my whole presence,
Take everything, leaving nothing,
Not a corner of emptiness
Where I could recognise my self.

I saw you rise so many times
Acquire my whole, my essential
To leave me lost, truly yearning
For that silence now filled by you;
To leave me sad, truly longing
For the one here just before you.

I saw you rise so many times
T’was impudent, how did you dare
Burying light in obscurity,
Dimming joy with your avid search,
Thinking it right to lead my life
When you are but a malign ghost.

But more than once, you did vanish
I’ll tell you why, listen to this:
I found you had no consistence
The reason is: you are not found
Your reality imagined
Your existence: your insistence.

Look at yourself, you are not here
You’re not the one you claim to be
You’re just a thought that’s tossed about
In an ocean of presence;
That sea is not a place to be
When you are but a lump of salt.

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Text by Alain Joly

Painting by Kanō Motonobu (1476–1559)

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Website:
Kanō Motonobu (Wikipedia)

Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems from the blog)

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