Temet Nosce (Know Thyself)

This page exists as what used to be known as a "Commonplace Book" for the purpose of maintaining a log of the poetry and philosophy that inspires and propels much of my own thought and writing, and to share, with fellow sojourners, a collection of the beauty and wisdom of kindred souls throughout time. My hope is that we will collectively work towards the goal of a deep and sustaining self-knowledge that will, then, inspire and guide us to pursue beauty, peace and justice in our world.

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.”

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Friendship" by David Whyte

"Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die…
Friendship is the great hidden transmuter of all relationship: it can transform a troubled marriage, make honorable a professional rivalry, make sense of heartbreak and unrequited love and become the newly discovered ground for a mature parent-child relationship.
The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence…
Friendship transcends disappearance: an enduring friendship goes on after death, the exchange only transmuted by absence, the relationship advancing and maturing in a silent internal conversational way even after one half of the bond has passed on.
But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the self nor of the other, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone."
~ David Whyte, "Friendship" from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"The Winter Of Listening"

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.
What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,
what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.
What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.
All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.
All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.
All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.
And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.
~ David Whyte, "The Winter Of Listening"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Winter Roots

"And don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous. ~ Rumi"

Monday, December 1, 2014

Living True

"I learned long ago that in order for me to be complete; I have to do real work. As predisposed as I am to doing not much more than sitting still, watching the world, lost in close observation of something, or someone; finding the questions, seeing the hidden beauty, or the fear, the longing, or passion, mentally nosing around in the dark corners and rooting through cluttered up closets--I am lost without putting my hands to something; I have to engage my senses; my body. I have to knead bread, make soup, attend a laboring woman, love a person, sit with the dying, and the bereaved, plant and tend a garden, play my piano, sing, dance; mother my children. Someone once said that "work is love made visible" and while I don't like the slightly oozy sentimentality of the phrase, there is a simple truth in it; work is our art. Finding our work is finding our peace and our joy!" ~ Michelle Wilbert

Looking For The Differences by Tom Hennen

I am struck with the otherness of things, rather than their same-
ness. The way a tiny pile of snow perches in the crook of a
branch in the tall pine, away by itself, high enough not to be
noticed by people, out of reach of stray dogs. It leans against
the scaly pine bark, busy at some existence that does not 
need me.

It is the differences of objects that I love, that lift me toward
the rest of the universe, that amaze me. That each thing on
earth has its own soul, its own life, that each tree, each clod is
filled with the mud of its own star. I watch where I step and see
that the fallen leaf, old broken glass, an icy stone are placed in
exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully, royalty in their
own country.
~ Tom Hennen, "Looking For The Differences" from Darkness Sticks To Everything: Collected and New Poems.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"I Believe" from the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw

"I believe in goodness as the ground of being. I believe in kindness as a way of life. I believe the poor are my partners in change, the hungry are my personal responsibility, the homeless are my relatives. I believe hope is stronger than fear, truth more enduring than lies, love more powerful than force. I believe there is a calling for every person, a vocation she is invited to fulfill, a purpose only he can realize. I believe in the sanctity of compassion, the blessing of simply showing up. I believe in the right to courageous tears and the empowerment of divine laughter. I believe in you. I believe in us. I believe to believe is why we live."
~ The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cultivating Practical Wisdom

"We need to appreciate that cultivating wisdom is not only good for society but is, as Aristotle thought, a key to our own happiness. Wisdom isn't just something we "ought" to have. It's something we want to have to flourish.

At the heart of practical wisdom is the ability to contemplate our choices and discern the best course of action in the context of a particular set of circumstances, and in order to do that, we rely on framing the situation, telling good and relevant stories about it, and enlisting empathy--the ability to imagine another's thoughts and feelings--to grasp the full dimensions of the situation.

We can experience fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity and generally any kind of pleasure and pain either too much or too little, and in either case not properly. But to experience all this at the right time, toward the right objects, toward the right people, for the right reason, and in the right manner--that is the median and the best course, the course that is a mark of virtue."

~ Barry Schwartz, "Practical Wisdom: The Right Way To Do The Right Thing

Monday, April 21, 2014

The New Song by W.S. Merwin

For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then
there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song.
~ W.S. Merwin, "The New Song" from The Moon Before Morning.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

~ William Carlos Williams

"Demeter" by Genevieve Taggard

In your dream you met Demeter
Splendid and severe, who said: Endure.
Study the art of seeds,
The nativity of caves.
Dance your body to the poise of waves;
Die out of the world to bring forth the obscure
Into blisses, into needs.
In all resources
Belong to love. Bless,
Join, fashion the deep forces,
Asserting your nature, priceless and feminine.
Peace, daughter. Find your true kin.
--then you felt her kiss.

~ Genevieve Taggard, "Demeter" from "Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women's Poetry
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” 

~ Thomas Merton

"What I Have Learned So Far" by Mary Oliver

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don't think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of -- indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

~ Mary Oliver, "What I Have Learned So Far"
A noiseless, patient spider, 
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated; 
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding, 
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself; 
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them. 

And you, O my Soul, where you stand, 
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space, 
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

~ Walt Whitman "A Noiseless Patient Spider"

"Be A Person Here" by William Stafford

Be a person here. Stand by the river, invoke
the owls. Invoke winter, then spring.
Let any season that wants to come here make its own call.
After that sound goes away, wait. 
A slow bubble rises through the earth
and beings to include sky, stars, all space
even the outracing, expanding thought.
Come back and hear the little sound again. 
Suddenly this dream you are having matches
everyone's dream, and the result is the world.
...How you stand here is important.
How you listen for the next things to happen.
How you breathe.

~ William Stafford, "Being A person"

Monday, April 14, 2014

"The Painter" by Robert Arthur Lewis (for my husband, Benjamin)

I put color on walls, then leave and let light tell its own story. Strange how our vague ambitions lead to such particular situations, like these white overalls with the brass clips, this collection of brushes and buckets. It was never my intention to join the order of caps and rags, but here I am.
One summer evening I knelt in a shed cleaning brushes. Light streamed through the splintered boards and I was there to see how it landed, how it made the shovel and the rake and the dirt floor all count. I stopped and listened. Wind swept dry grass against the dryer siding. The sound was as close as my own breath and my kneeling went deeper into thankfulness
for this strange and lonely craft which makes me love so many things.
~ Robert Arthur Lewis "The Painter"

Friday, March 28, 2014

Before You Know What Kindness Is by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naom Shihab Nye, "Before You Know What Kindness Is"

Ask Me by William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say. 
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
~ William Stafford, "Ask Me"

"Going To Sleep" (Beim Schlafengehen) by Herman Hesse

Now that I am wearied of the day,
I will let the friendly, starry night
greet all my ardent desires
like a sleepy child.
Hands, stop all your work.
Brow, forget all your thinking.
All my senses now
yearn to sink into slumber.
And my unfettered soul
wishes to soar up freely
into night's magic sphere
to live there deeply and thousandfold.
~ Herman Hesse "Going To Sleep"

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cutting Loose by William Stafford

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose from
all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.
Arbitrary, sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell where it is, and you
can slide your way past trouble.
Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path—but that's when
you get going best, glad to be
lost, learning how real it is
here on the earth, again and again.

~ William Stafford, "Cutting Loose"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Broken Vessels" by Andre Dubus II

We receive and we lose, and we must try to
achieve gratitude; and with that gratitude to
embrace with whole hearts whatever of life that
remains after the losses. 

~ Andre Dubus II, Broken Vessels

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Wildness" By Thoreau

"We need the tonic of wildness"
~ Henry David Thoreau, "Walden"

"Emotional Life" by Martha Nussbaum

"Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them. Perhaps males, in our society, are especially likely to be ashamed of being incomplete and dependent, because a dominant image of masculinity tells them that they should be self-sufficient and dominant. So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences. What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings."

~ Martha Nussbaum "Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions"

"Truth" by Tagore

"In the apprehension of truth there is an eternal conflict between the universal human mind and the same mind confined in the individual."

~ Rabindranath Tagore in a conversation with Albert Einstein on the nature of the universe July 14, 1930,

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Education by Wendell Berry

“Education in the true sense, of course, is an enablement to serve—both the living human community in its natural household or neighborhood and the precious cultural possessions that the living community inherits or should inherit.” 

~ Wendell Berry

The Well Rising by William Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through deep ground
everywhere in the field—

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer—

The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world.

~ William Stafford “The Well Rising” from, 'The Darkness Around Us Is Deep'

"The Fragility of Goodness" by Martha Nussbaum

"To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility."

~ Martha Nussbaum from The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Fierce with Reality" by Florida Scott-Maxwell

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done … you are fierce with reality.” 
Florida Scott-MaxwellThe Measure of My Days

The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune by William Stafford

Wisdom is having things right in your life 
and knowing why. 
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you do have things right in your life
but do not know why
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune. 

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self--
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

~ William Stafford, "The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune"

"A Timbered Choir" by Wendell Berry

No, no there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

~ Wendell Berry, "A Timbered Choir"

"Inner Wisdom" by Lee van Laer

"Wisdom does not loom large in the modern psyche. It has been replaced by knowledge, which does not pretend to emotive value; in its least appealing forms, it even eschews such associations. It is strictly about things and the manipulation of them; and, unsurprisingly, it’s directed outwardly, towards the technologies of life and not their meanings. So we have many people who, externally speaking, are able but not wise; active but not prudent.

And perhaps this defines our society and our age as much as any other set of words: activity without prudence, or, imprudent doing.

To have prudence is to have foresight, to attend to. But attention is born from within, not from outward circumstances; and in the great esoteric traditions, as well as the traditional religions, attention is of a divine origin, not a worldly one."

~ Lee van Laer, on "Inner Wisdom

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"In Defense of Gentleness" by Kristen McHenry

Those who move among us in frailty, those who are broken by their first suffering, those who cannot swim, who will not take their share, those who balk at the confounding wisdom of violence, of the bloodlust force required to muscle into the world, to merely live upright, are the ones we come to in the end, begging for gentleness, for proof of mercy, however tenuous. All along, they have guarded the power of our fragility, like a sword we are yet untrained to wield. All along, they have known, and suffered for it. They have held up love like the world itself, thin arms straining to contain its lightness. They are in the end the most resilient, the way the soft bones of a willow triumph by deferring to the storm: Shaking loose their sorrow. Allowing, allowing, allowing.
~ Kristen McHenry "In Defense of Gentleness" I

Thursday, March 6, 2014

You Reading This, Be Ready by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift to this world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

~ William Stafford, "You Reading This, Be Ready" from "Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"A skein of geese..." Aldo Leopold

“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.” 

~ Aldo Leopold

Rilke, "I Love The Dark Hours of My Being

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.
So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, (untitled) "I Love the Dark Hours of My Being" from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is My Soul Asleep by Antonia Machado

Is my soul asleep?
Have those beehives that labor
at night stopped? And the water
wheel of thought,
is it dry, the cups empty,
wheeling, carrying only shadows?
No my soul is not asleep. 
It is awake, wide awake, 
It neither sleeps nor dreams but watches,
its clear eyes open
far-off things,
and listens
at the shores of the great silence.

~ Antonia Machado, "Is My Soul Asleep"

"...fierce with reality." ~ Florida Scott-Maxwell

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done … you are fierce with reality.” 

~ Florida Scott-Maxwell, 'The Measure of My Days'

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Keeping A Journal" by William Stafford

At night it was easy for me with my little candle
to sit late recording what happened that day. Sometimes
rain breathing in from the dark would begin softly
across the roof and then drum wildly for attention. 
The candle flame would hunger after each wafting
of air. My pen inscribed thin shadows that leaned
forward and hurried their lines along the wall. 

More important than what was recorded, these evenings
deepened my life: they framed every event
or thought and placed it with care by the others.
As time went on, that scribbled wall--even if
it stayed blank--became where everything
recognized itself and passed into meaning.

~ William Stafford, "Keeping A Journal" from Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Famous" by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. 

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems