Poem of Delfi

November 19, 2017

Hildesheim Nov 2017

During a wintery, rain-swept circular journey around Germany I’ve found such amazing friendship, warmth and connection of heart to finish a poem about my trip to Delfi. The scenery there couldn’t be more contrasting with the damp soil and towering forests of the German countryside, the dark afternoons and efficient streets of the cities… but it took me back to this treasure of the ancient, which I was reminded is an architectural symbol of the feminine, the ancient Greek name Delfi meaning ‘womb’ 

Apollos Temple Delfi Oct 17

Sea-level:
Delfi valley Oct 17
From Galaxidi, an Apollionian sky
Shifts, plumes and beckons
Over where distant Delfi glitters,
Pulsing gently under the dazzle;
White egg-shell crumbled
Into a red and olive palm,
A giant up-turned hand,
Hanging legs of fertile valley.

Mountain village:
Me Delfi Oct 17
Old broken porcelain
Of discarded doll’s house;
This childish image swims
Through a smudge of tears,
Rainbowed by the lens
Of the rumbling bus window;
The bumping road a stairway
To my own forgotten attic.

The ruins:
Oracle Delfi Oct 17
At the life-size peak
It is nothing of the kind;
A lobster-burnt woman,
Fat as a Russian babushka
Swears in Manhattan slang
At a model Korean tourist
Whose selfies are blocking
Her view of the Oracle.

Birdseye view:
Stadium Delfi Oct 17
Is it my stereotype
That scrabbles out
Beyond the boundary fence
To a scrub of no-mans-land?
Here perched, a foreign bird,
Silently scanning the lofty rift,
I watch a throng of ravens
Set sail on the lifting heat.

The call:
Sphinx Delfi Oct 17
Black then grey then black,
The wing and underwing
Throw shadows against
The light, a unison of flight,
One seraphim of sound,
Spilling messy, drunken swirls
Onto the dedicated ground;
Nature’s own dancing shaman.

The offering:
Crocuses Delfi Oct 17
Temple, amphitheatre, stadium,
And the thousand treasures
Borne up from the ancient soil;
All cast a flame of praise –
My votive appearing at my feet,
As if cast from the heavens –
A shock of golden crocuses,
Racing torches of nature’s glory.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν: *
Chariot rider Delfi Oct 17
To feel under foot and heart
A culture unmade to dust,
Is to descend to earth;
To see a livelihood or love
Blown as a feather ‘gainst sky
Is to know thyself again,
These the hands upon the plough,
This the voice that doesn’t turn back.

Stone carving Delfi Oct 17

*The ancient greek aphorism “know thyself” or “gnothi seauton” is one of the Delphic maxims and was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek writer Pausanias. The phrase was later expounded upon by the philosopher Socrates who taught that: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Wikipedia)

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Otherwise *

October 25, 2017

Delfi and crocuses Oct 17

I have met ones
Or other wise two
Who see the world
As though through
My other pair of eyes
And here dwells
The gaze-lifting might
Of moving mountains
The chasms deep blue
Of the teeming ocean
And maybe I should not
Hope to meet more
As it is the beyond-hope
That humbles us
To the edge of Now
That fierce crumbling
Patience with truth.

These forms may have
Disappeared from view
But they have
Taken a seat
Behind my lids
Lit a flame
In my heart
And every day
Another word
Makes flesh of
Their presence
Giving me courage
To keep saying this
Be unabashed
In my native wonder
Keep crafting a path
With space to each side…

Where grief joins
Hands with joy
Light whispers its
Secrets to darkness
Freedom arches brushing
Beauteous wings over
The faces of fear
Kindness offers up
Its heart to power
And love, well love!
That is what roots
The foot again
Again and again
For the other to reach
And what directs
What is lost in us
To become found.

*Poem inspired by my recent visit to ancient Olympia and Delfi, and some lines by Rilke

‘I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones—
or alone.’

The Mole Story

September 18, 2017

The Mole Story – an elegy to molefulness
(Dartmoor Camp 2017)

Mole Story image - Dartmoor August 2017

The more I delve and dig
Into the dazzling and dense,
Distant and delicate world,
The more this not-seeing reveals itself;
So much so that today I thought,
Why not close your eyes, forever,
And simply dive? The smell, taste,
The moaning sound of the loam;
Fold deeper into your own
Disappearance,
Tunnel into the great unknown,
Become a mystery,
Wait to be found?

But that day I met a mole.
It had surfaced onto the long grass,
Splayed out its enormous hands,
Strewn aside its fantastical spectacles,
Tipped its pink all-feeling nose
Toward the afternoon sun,
And, invisibly, died.
The mystery was here: borne
From the earth where, unbeknown to me,
I chose a spot for my own descent;
Yes, as though invited, like Alice,
To the wonder land and strangeness
Of an underworld drama,
I sat down on the still-warm animal skin,
A tiny velvet cushion of after-life
That breathed into my dark belly
This blind and silent whisper:

This is the once upon time,
To surface and wriggle free and,
Like a seed, burst and shed this skin;
Time to see your hypnosis break open,
And delight in the contours, the mounds
Of your hidden pick-and-shovel work.
It is time, o pilgrim, to live again,
To walk the pregnant bumps of earth,
And as a child, risk love in each step,
That extraction of shadow and soul
Where head pushes through,
Heart, then arms, hands and feet,
Into the shimmering, seeming beyond;
Where the human-being rises up
From timeless mother of ground,
Eyes meek, mouth tilted open in hope.

A good friend joined me for the burial;
Tummy-down in Holy Brook meadow,
We gazed at the mole-ful-ness wonder,
Kissed and studied the velvety beauty, the
O-so-sweet pinkness of snout and paws,
And under the willowy windy trees,
Dug and delved a leafy hole of love,
Returning this soul to its home,
Lenses flushed clean by sudden tears,
Blindness falling on the tiny grave.

This is not the end of the story.
The wisdom of the mole lives on;
It is tunnelling beneath you now,
Through the unseen leaves and soil,
As you turn the leaf of this poem,
Can you hear the turning ground?

SALT

September 18, 2017

This new poem Salt is one that I shared as part of a poetry and music evening in an autumnal candlelit garden in Frome. Each line of the poem is an acronym of SALT, inspired by journeys in France and Greece this summer, which together make up all the mineral grains of wisdom we need to be as salt in the world. The poem says it all really, and is dedicated to the countless people who are, and have been for me ‘salt of the earth’ during this year’s journey through loss; walked and pilgrimed with me, swam the big waves with me, offered me a shoulder to cry on, home to live in, words to soothe and also some times sting to bring out a taste for life I was yet to find; and joy and love that has purified and healed. You know who you are. Thank you.

Finally, by the end of the poem, the layered stack of sentences leaves us with a ‘pillar of salt’, a symbol from ancient folklore and the Jewish old testament account of Lot, a story reminiscent of the Greek myth of Orpheus, and the current refugee crisis. As Sodom falls into chaos around them, angels plead for him to take his family, leave the city and everything they own, and not look back. But his wife (Ado or Edith in some traditions) turns back to look, and is turned into a pillar of salt. The Hebrew for “looked back” means more than to glance over one’s shoulder. It means “to regard, to consider, to pay attention to”. So lines of the poem also stand as a reminder and encouragement; to purify where we put our gaze in the face of loss and, hard as it may be, to not cling on with nostalgia to what needs to be left behind, to make space to taste what is new.

salt running through hands

SALT

Shadow and light, treading
Softly after loss, tenderly
Stepping a lucid trail,
Steady anchor, lifting tug,
Sometimes asking layers to
Shed and loosen thought,
Space allowing love through;
So acceptance leads the
Soul, action leaps to
Serve and, lessening the
Self, a lofty, terrifying
Sweep across lost time,
Sacred and lowly, tells –
Self absorption likes to
Suggest awakening; lock the
Shutter and let the
Smugness attach less too!
Solitude and loneliness taste
Similar, ah, lighten the
Senses and listen, they
Seem, although lean totally
Separate, apart. Little tiny
Sparks appear, lighting this
Subterranean air, loudly trumpeting –
Such abandonment lies, trickery
Swoons awful, lessens truth,
Sticks and lurches to
Stultify anyone lingering there.
Salt, applied lovingly, turns
Sore acidic limpness towards
Sweetness, appreciation, like the
Song a lute tunes…
So after loss there
Swells a love that
Sings and lifts the
Soul above, leaving trauma,
Sadness, all lifeless terror!
Soulfriends and lovers, take
Solace; abundant life triumphs
Swiftly and leaps through
Sleeping; and leafy trees,
Silence, a looking that
Settles and licks the
Sting away, like the
Saliva licks a tear,
Surrounds all longing trespassers!
Sea and land together,
Shadow and light together,
Surrendering all life, together.
So allow loss to
Swing around like the
Seasons and lark’s trill;
Shattering alters love’s tale,
Simplicity and lusciousness taking
Shape around limbs, torso,
Senses, arms, legs, toes,
Secretly, artfully; lightest touch…

This poem was inspired by the non-duality (advaita) retreat I was part of at Kissos in the Pelion with Michael A. Rodriguez and friends. Another attempt to express the learning of living and diving in the liminal 

me naked swim plaka jul 17

BOUNDLESS

That day I saw
There was no division
Between the sea and sky –
The haze quivered alive
And illuminated a wonder;
Whilst I walk the divining line
Where dance these elements,
Holding their opposing poles
In my arms, my chest
I also disappear, here, there
Into what cannot be divided.

Your withdrawl, O my soul
Gives me the eyes to see
I am wholly part of you;
I am the total sensation
Of what I truly seek.
To know you, to touch you,
To draw you with my pen.
To shape my beingness
Into this nonexistent edge;
The door that has shut you out,
Has shuttered you into beliefs,
Filtered your image through
Perfection and imperfection,
Through safe and unsafe,
O the constant push and pull…

Suddenly this very threshold
Stirs and opens; light spills in
And a shadow takes on form;
It is a human being walking,
Through the shining haze,
Shimmering, appearing,
Disappearing and
Interrupting
These lines
Word into
Silence

me naked swim 3 plaka jul 17

Flourish – August 2017

August 9, 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo my poem below is about questioning, a word that begins with ‘quest’, which is going out into the unknown, with a question we want to ask of the universe. Questioning is such a deep motivation of the human spirit, the fact that there may not or ever be an answer does not deter us; we swim out and at times risk even drowning in the not-knowing because it is in the end the only way to live, to grow, to love. Here is a line from a beautiful poem of Rilke… ‘for where I am closed I am false’… When we allow our self to be taken by the ocean of un-knowing, the unanswerable somehow becomes the way, the opening, the truth. So the poem really comes from opening to my own lostness, and I woke a few mornings ago experiencing my body in the curled shape of a question-mark. The dot at the bottom became all the unanswered questions and unfinished sentences, the humiliation of it all… and yet the surprising joy of this lingering in liminal space where the human resides. I then saw dear soul friends and friends and acquaintances and those I’ve seen or don’t yet know or will never know, spanning out to everyone who’s risked this journey of life, all as bobbing curled little question-marks, each finding ways to tread water or swim in the unanswerable, because deep down we want to be and meet others and be known in this un-knowing. The quote by William Blake then came to me, and the sense that perhaps the ‘deities’ are the deepest questions that we ask of ourselves or others from the heart; the deity waiting to be seen, heard, touched. In all its shapes and forms. In here is the knowing and in turning towards is the flourishing.

FLOURISH

I lay and wondered,
Is there an answer to this?
My body is curled, without question,
Whilst my head marks out this line…

I am a lone dot who, like you,
Is some times treading water
At the bottom of my unknowing,
And some times a swimmer,
Fold and reach within the wave,
Carving streams in sweat and salt,
In oceans of other curling bodies,
Each with their unanswerable,
Un-joined sentences and dots,
Yet these, all deities and mystery
Residing in the human breast!*

My body lifts its eyes
And thinks, now for itself,
Today it is fine to hope,
Rise, walk into the garden,
All wetted by the tide of night,
And curl your toes,
Open out your arms,
Not for rescue but to
Be O so all-human,
Humbled, divine,
And flourish.

** ‘All deities reside in the human breast’ – William Blake

pickaxe roundhouse kissos july 2017

The round house at Kissos is a really beautiful space; all variety of workshops and gatherings, meditation and dialogue happen between its bamboo walls, where the rising and setting sun casts stripy glints and shadows on the floor. On one side a view of the vegetables growing on the terraces and on the other a panoramic masterpiece over the stone-slated roofs to the forests and glittering sea; on a clear day it’s possible to see the mountains of Evia and the Halkidiki peninsula, ending in Mount Athos. Over past days however, as a final resort to be rid of an infestation of ants, we had to dig up the foundations, remove everything apart from the roof, to reveal this unsightly mud floor… and a plethora of wriggling nests! So all hands to the pickaxe, and like so much of life when I take the time to look and listen, this mundane task became surprisingly symbolic. Because through the season here I’ve been struck again and again by the words and imperative of this poem by Rumi called The Pickaxe. Its language is a powerful blow to our ego preoccupation and tendencies to spiritualize, waft around, disassociate, waste time and energy with frittering and not being true… so to be read with care. But in the end this is where the treasure is; when the ground we know is pulled from under our feet, exposing our weak foundations, and we are drawn to look beyond, into the fertile, broken, new earth. I’m left questioning, what are my ‘two glints in the dirt’? What are yours…?

Rumi: The Pickaxe

Some commentary on I was a hidden treasure, and I desired to be known:
Tear down this house.

A hundred thousand new houses can be built from the transparent yellow carnelian buried beneath it, and the only way to get to that is to do the work of demolishing and then digging under the foundations.

With that value in hand all the new construction will be done without effort.

And anyway, sooner or later this house will fall on its own. The jewel treasure will be uncovered, but it won’t be yours then.

The buried wealth is your pay for doing the demolition, the pick and shovel work.

If you wait and just let it happen, you’d bite your hand and say, “I didn’t do as I knew I should have.”

This is a rented house. You don’t own the deed.

You have a lease, and you’ve set up a little shop, where you barely make a living sewing patches on torn clothing.

Yet only a few feet underneath are two veins, pure red and bright gold carnelian.

Quick!

Take the pickaxe and pry the foundation.
You’ve got to quit this seamstress work.

What does the patch-sewing mean? you ask. Eating and drinking. The heavy cloak of the body is always getting torn. You patch it with food, and other restless ego-satisfactions.

Rip up one board from the shop floor and look into the basement. You’ll see two glints in the dirt.

sunset forest kissos july 17

Saturday night there was a huge Greek wedding here in Kissos village. We are in tents on a garden terrace yards away from the village platia; every night, deep into the cooler dark hours, sleep is accompanied by people chatting over honey tsiparo (local liqueur), music, children laughing, dogs barking, cats fighting, crickets purring. Sometimes guttural chanting rising from the ancient church. It is a theatre of surround sound that after ten weeks feels as natural as my own skin; miraculously we slumber through its landscape. But Saturday night was different; it was a wedding and for Greeks it’s a finger up, stuff you, to tip toeing around; it’s time to celebrate full throttle. Unapologetically greek music full of drama, nostalgia, passion, followed by synthesized heavy-bass dance pop, trashed and thrashed through the mountain, breaking through the stars, smothering every other sound, way beyond the dawn. So at 3am I rose bewildered like a sleep walker, picked up my sleeping bag, and stumbled my way onto the pitch black forest path. The darker it got, the more the quietness enveloped the noise, layer by layer. I realised that rather than the clatter disturbing the silence, it was the other way round; its like these noiseless hands were reaching further and further into the hubbub, hushing it to a whispering lullaby. And when I felt fully enwrapped by its touch, I lay relieved on the forest floor. Sunk in under a tree on the side of this mountain teeming with every imaginable form of life, its breath and sound rising and falling from palpable stillness, simplicity. Against this backdrop, the raging party, the marriage in the square was suddenly for me profoundly sacred, full of fecundity and folklore; humanity, sweetness and potential. I fell into dreams injected by life’s longing to know and express its essence, extraordinary. And then this was the view I woke up to, with the words of this poem. It’s true; interruption can come to us in the form of a truth; the shape of our silence may have grown too small for us; through disturbance we might wake up to a horizon that can really contain what we are growing in to, what we are called to gift to the world… “What you can plan is too small for you to live… What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep.”

WHAT TO REMEMBER WHEN WAKING

In that first
hardly noticed
moment
in which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
moveable
and frighteningly
honest
world
where everything
began,
there is a small
opening
into the new day
that closes
the moment
you begin your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans
enough
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To become human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
night
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
presence
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?

What shape waits
in the seed of you
to grow and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting
in the fertile waters,?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?

In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?

David Whyte

‘…denser and denser the pattern becomes…Take your well-disciplined strengths and stretch them between two opposing poles… Because inside human beings is where God learns.’ – RM Rilke

hands anilio 2017

The word sacrament isn’t used much now and mostly has religious connotations. But I’ve been thinking about it in the context of community; for every intentional group of people there is a sacrament, a glue, that holds the members together and for which each person offers up themselves to some extent for the greater whole. Whether this glue ‘holds water’ for us depends most probably on our individual core values or soma; the experience of our own core emotional and spiritual needs within the physical body.

I guess (in my experience, not trying to speak for the whole) what I see as the sacrament of the community here at Anilio (part of the Kalikalos network) is the sharing circle. Every morning before the day’s work we gather to share part of ourselves, how we feel, what we are experiencing with whoever is in the community that day. One of the wonderful gifts and challenges here is that the members of the circle are constantly changing; different presences, voices, values and contributions ebb and flow in and out, some times indecipherable, some times with a ruffle. But the circle remains, this space. And over time (I’ve been here for almost two months) it’s as though the layers of the personal start to peel back, to reveal what is more true. A web of trust that somewhere deep down we know it is safe to surrender all the mechanisms we have built to survive.

As Rilke suggests in the poem, the pattern gets denser, more entangled… This can be startling to begin with, terrifying even; it can come in the form of vulnerability; sadness or fear or anger. Or boundless joy. The ego has a hard time with such simple levels of feeling and will kick up a fight. This is the painful bit; the sense of losing your individuality in the communal brings up all these default patterns of fight, flight or freeze; we seek out conflict, disappearance or numb out to maintain what we’ve known of ourselves, our role. In my experience, this is when the ‘well disciplined strengths’ come in. For a circle to maintain its shape, it needs a certain tension, opposites, people prepared to witness, listen and hold a mirror up to their own and each others patterns playing themselves out, and to nurture the gifts and strengths each person has to become more fully themselves.

The attitude we try to do this with (not always possible!) is in love, compassion, generosity and free from personal projections. Holding our own gravity and truth whilst being in relation to another is probably the biggest lesson of becoming a human being. Without this balance of care and attentiveness, members either collapse into each other in an unhealthy merging; or the circle falls apart. I’ve seen so many variations along this spectrum over my time living in various communities. So the question is, why bother? Again for me the answer is in the poem; the divine lives through our humanity, we are the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin of God. So our task is to find not some form of angelic perfection, but the fullness of our humanity.

I remember a Franciscan monk summing this up thus: ‘We are not human beings trying to become more spiritual. We are spiritual beings trying to become more human.’ When we open out our hands, whether its in a close-knit group or across a great distance, and say ‘yes, send me’, I think we are doing something simple but radical for a world where such values could so easily be smothered by consumerism and personality politics.

With Pip HammondMarina MalthouseSabine SchröpelMichael GaleGabi GoganEmma AppleCorey Tyler

Here’s the full poem:

Just as the winged energy of delight
carried you over many chasms early on,
now rise the daringly imagined arch
holding up the astounding bridges.
Miracle doesn’t lie only in the amazing
living through and defeat of danger;
miracles become miracles in the clear
achievement that is earned.
To work with things is not hubris
when building the association beyond words;
denser and denser the pattern becomes–
becoming carried along is not enough.
Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
opposing poles.
Because inside human beings
is where God learns.

Rainer Maria Rilke

— translated by Robert Bly
— in The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

tortoise greece 2017

Met another adorable tortoise yesterday, this time on one of the ‘caldorini’ (ancient stone donkey paths that zig zag through the mountain), leading down to the sweet chestnut and oak tree-lined sparkling beach here in the Pelion. I love these creatures, their nibbly mouths shaped in a smile, dinosaur legs and slow ungainly movements.

Some times in Yoga I invite people to lie on top of each other spine-to-spine; one person curled underneath, face down, in ‘the child’. The other lying long and extended, chest, heart and belly open to the sky, head resting in the curve of their partners neck. Observing two bodies joined like this is like looking at a tortoise; the heavy encasing shell pressing down on the soft body folded inside. When being the one squashed underneath, maybe it’s the closest we’ll get to actually feeling like a tortoise; heavy, slow but strangely delicious and serene!

tortoise poise greece 2017

The mutual benefit of this posture is amazing and expresses two sides of our human need; to feel containment and safety, gravity pressing us into the earth where we can release historic tensions, breathe into the deeper skin and feel held, that primal sense of belonging and connection. And then to lift and open, extend and feel strong in our capacity to reach and move into the world, the potential to explore and grow into spacious autonomy.

In fact these two positions mimic our first entry into the world, from the timeless, still, silent fold of the womb into the time-bound constellation of our moving life on earth. Maybe find a friend and give this a try! Students report the experience of feeling more grounded and connected to themselves and the earth, and more expansive and light at the same time. Another reminder of the animal body, that nature offers its treasures to us every day, and our shared gravity with the whole universe is how we learn to love and have compassion for all creatures great and small, including ourselves. And how we find that balance of closeness and freedom in our relationships.