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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"The Whole of Life" by Jiddu Krishnamurti

“You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life.”
~  Jiddu Krishnamurti

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Poem by Mary Oliver

Says a country legend told every year: Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see what the creatures do as that long night tips over. Down on their knees they will go, the fire of an old memory whistling through their minds! So I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold I creaked back the barn door and peered in. From town the church bells spilled their midnight music, and the beasts listened – yet they lay in their stalls like stone. Oh the heretics! Not to remember Bethlehem, or the star as bright as a sun, or the child born on a bed of straw! To know only of the dissolving Now! Still they drowsed on – citizens of the pure, the physical world, they loomed in the dark: powerful of body, peaceful of mind, innocent of history. Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas! And you are no heretics, but a miracle, immaculate still as when you thundered forth on the morning of creation! As for Bethlehem, that blazing star still sailed the dark, but only looked for me. Caught in its light, listening again to its story, I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me the best it could all night.
~ Mary Oliver, "Christmas Poem"

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

I Go Among The Trees by Wendell Berry

 go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

~ Wendell Berry 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Contemplatives in Action

"I believe that the only really valid thing that can be accomplished in the direction of world peace and unity at the moment is the preparation of the way by the formation of people who, isolated, perhaps not accepted or understood by any “movement,” are able to unite in themselves and experience in their own lives all that is best and most true in the various great spiritual traditions. Such people can become as it were ‘sacraments’ or signs of peace, at least. They can do much to open up the minds of their contemporaries to receive, in the future, new seeds of thought. Our task is one of very remote preparation, a kind of arduous and unthanked pioneering."
~Thomas Merton

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Guiding Presence" Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw

"How often have I lost my way? More times than I can remember. Even when I thought the path ahead was clear, when I felt confident in all that I believed, still I would discover I had been sleepwalking into confusion, wandering in places far from the direction I thought I had chosen. And that may be the problem: the idea that I choose my own destiny. I make choices, but I am not the only source of options. We all inhabit histories, long histories, complex and layered. Our lives are not straight lines, but ant-like trails of starts and stops, encounters unexpected, impacts undeserved, emotions moving like currents deep beneath the surface of appearance. The surprise is not that we may lose our way, or that other forces push us like the winds at sea, but that when we are confused there is a presence that can guide us, a love that can sustain us, a vision of light that parts the mists and shows us how to navigate to safer shores. How often has this holy friend found me when I most needed it? More times than I can remember. "

~ Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw

"Close to the Ground II" Lao Tzu

"In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present."

~ Lao Tzu

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Patience" Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, October 9, 2015

"I Awaken Before Dawn"

I awaken before dawn, go into the kitchen and fix a cup of tea.
I light the candle and sit in its glow on the meditation cushion.
Taking my cup in both hands, I lift it to my Lord and give thanks.
The feel of the cup against my palms brings the potter to mind
and I offer a blessing for his hands.
I give thanks for the clay, the glaze and the kiln.
I take a sip and follow the warmth into my body.
I offer a blessing for those who brought electricity to my home,
who dug the ditches for the lines,
who built my home and put in the wires,
who made my tea kettle and brought me water to fill it.
I take a sip and bless the people in India or China who grew the tea,
cultivated it, picked and dried the leaves, took it to market,
handled it through the many transactions to bring it to my home.
I take a sip and bless those people in Florida, California or Central America
who grew the tree that blossomed into flowers.
I give thanks for the warmth of the sun and the rain which turned the blossoms into lemons,
and I bless the hands that picked the fruit, sorted it, touched it as it traveled from the orchard to my table.
I take another sip and bless the hands of those who provided the sugar
which sweetened the tea, harvested the cane, processed it,
bagged it and sent it on its way to me.
I take another sip and lift my cup in gratitude as I feel the interconnection of my body now with theirs,
my blood now with theirs,
my bones now with theirs,
and my heart fills with love for all of creation.
I give thanks.

~ Helen Moore, "I Awaken Before Dawn" 

Monday, August 10, 2015

"The Light of Invisible Bodies"

Day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down,
consider your altered state:
has this day changed you?
Are the corners sharper or rounded off? 
Did you live with death?
Make decisions that quieted?
Find one clear word that fit?
At the sun’s midpoint did you notice a pitch of absence,
bewilderment that invites the possible?
What did you learn from things you dropped
and picked up and dropped again?
Did you set a straw parallel to the river,
let the flow carry you downstream?
~ Jeanne Lohmann, “The Light of Invisible Bodies”

Friday, August 7, 2015

St. Francis And The Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
~ Galway Kinnel, "St. Francis And The Sow"

Friday, June 5, 2015

"Solitide" May Sarton

“There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.”

~ Mary Sarton, "Journey of a Solitude"

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Bright is the Day" Steven Charleston

“Bright is the day that dawns with new life, casting death’s grim shadow from the garden. Bright is the future for even the most humble soul, rising up in the arms of angels. Bright is the promise to all the Earth, sharing peace among the children of light. Let every voice sing this shining song, for we have been set free, we have been ransomed from our own history, given a chance to live again, to hope again, and to see the healing of God spread like sunlight into the rooms of time. It does not matter how you pray, this day is for you, it is the bright day, the birth day, the day when nothing will ever be the same, save the love that rolls back the stone.”

~ Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Choctaw, written for Easter 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"How To Be A Poet" by Wendell Berry

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
~ Wendell Berry ,"How to be a Poet" from Given.

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Let Mystery Have It's Place In You" Henri Frederic Amiel

"Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the ploughshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring."
~ Henri Frederic Amiel

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"The Mother of All Arts" Gene Logsdon

“As a working definition of art, I lean toward Tolstoy's: "Art is a human activity having for it's purpose the transmission to other of the highest and best feelings to which mankind has risen." It seems to me that, regarding agrarian art, the farther it moves away from the natural world, especially when the main goal is money profits, the more difficult it becomes for it to reflect "the highest and best feelings" of humanity. The same is true of, of course, of agriculture itself. The farther it tries to remove itself from nature in search of money, the more it moves away from the highest and healthiest kinds of food.”
~ Gene Logsdon, The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse

"You Are The Only Faithful Student You Have" Rumi

You are the only faithful student you have.
All the others leave eventually.
Have you been making yourself shallow
with making others eminent?
Just remember, when you're in union,
you don't have to fear
that you'll be drained.
The command comes to speak,
and you feel the ocean
moving through you.
Then comes, Be silent,
as when the rain stops,
and the trees in the orchard
begin to draw moisture
up into themselves.
~ Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, "You Are the Only Student You Have"

"Birth, Breath and Death" Amy Wright Glenn

"Wisdom and insight are born when we stay close to the birthing and dying. Wounds from the past can be healed. Forgiveness and perspective dawn. Our culture is currently fragmented from much of this wisdom. The training of doulas represents a healing shift. By holding compassionate and nonjudgmental space, doulas support families as they make room for the generations to enter and exit this world. As we attend to birth and death, we touch upon a great mystery and deeply benefit from being starkly reminded of our own mortality...While the birth/postpartum doula movement makes important inroads in our maternity care system, great commitment and insight are needed to bring doula care to the dying. The elderly are easily disregarded in a culture that worships youthfulness, independence and productivity. Like infants, the dying remind us of our fragility, our dependency and our need for each other. When we sequester either birth or death, we lose touch with the truth of our interdependence, the nesting of generations, and what Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls our “interbeing.”
~ Amy Wright Glenn

"You are capable of love, and so need not despair of insignificance." Yorke Brown

"...you are most certainly an infinitesimal in the cold vastness of the cosmos, and yes, you are only one of billions of humans and other creatures who have come before and will come after, and your life is barely a mathematical instant in the span of time. But you are also--just as certainly--a miracle: you are a creature capable of thought, of wonder, of awe. You are a creature capable of recognizing that you are not the center of the Universe. And it is because of that very capacity that you can see in other people the same intrinsic value that you see in yourself. You are a miracle. You are capable of love, and so need not despair of insignificance."
~ Yorke Brown, Dartmouth Professor of Physics and Astronomy

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Late March" Richard Schiffman

Again the trees remembered
to make leaves.
In the forest of their recollection
many birds returned
They sang, they sang
because they forgave themselves
the winter, and all that remained
still bitter.
Yet it was early spring,
when the days were touch and go,
and a late snow could nip a shoot,
or freeze a fledgling in its nest.
And where would we be then?
But that’s not the point.
Do you think the magpie doesn’t know
that its chicks are at risk,
or the peach trees, their too-frail blossoms,
the new-awakened bees, all that is
incipient within us?
We know, but we can’t help ourselves
any more than they can,
any more than the earth can
stop hurtling through the night
of its own absence.
Must be something in the sap,
the blood, a force like gravity,
a trick called memory.
You name it. Or leave it nameless
that’s better—
how something returns
and keeps on returning
through a gap,
through a dimensional gate,
through a tear in the veil.
And there it is again.
Another spring.
To woo loss into song.
~ Richard Schiffman "Late March"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Standing Ground by Wendell Berry

However just and anxious I have been
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say, and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without an aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet berries in a cup.
~ Wendell Berry, "A Standing Ground"

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The True Storymaking Events of our Lives by Douglas Copeland (from Nadia Lovegrove)

“My mind then wandered. I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments—we hear a word that sticks in our mind—or maybe we have a small experience that pulls us out of ourselves, if only briefly—we share a hotel elevator with a bride in her veils, say, or a stranger gives us a piece of bread to feed to the mallard ducks in the lagoon; a small child starts a conversation with us in a Dairy Queen—or we have an episode like the one I had with the M&M cars back at the Husky station.
And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection—certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realize that we have been having another life altogether; one we didn’t even know was going on inside us. And maybe this other life is more important than the one we think of as being real—this clunky day-to-day world of furniture and noise and metal. So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives.”

~ Douglas Coupland, Life After God

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Gospel" Philip Levine

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher 
to where the road gives up and there's
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don't
ask myself what I'm looking for.
I didn't come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I've said to myself,
although it greets me with last year's
dead thistles and this year's
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider's cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I've never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. "Soughing" we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.
~ Philip Levine, "Gospel"

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Don't Scorn Your Life" Phillip Levine

"Don't scorn your life just because it's not dramatic, or it's impoverished, or it looks dull, or it's workaday. Don't scorn it. It is where poetry is taking place if you've got the sensitivity to see it, if your eyes are open."
~ Philip Levine, describing what he learned from William Carlos Williams

Phillip Levine, Detroit native, former poet laureate of the United States,  died 15 February 2015, 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Withdrawal" David Whyte

"Withdrawal can be the very best way of stepping forward and done well, a beautiful freeing act of mercy and as an art form, underestimated in this time of constant action and engagement. So much of what we are involved with, in even the highest cause, becomes involvement at the busy periphery, where the central conversation has been lost to the outer edges of what was to begin with, a very simple central invitation. Withdrawal is often not what it looks like - a disappearance - no, to withdraw from entanglement can be to appear again in the world in a very real way and begin the process of renewing the primary, essential invitation again.
Though life does seem determined to be a beautiful, and entrancing distraction - just as we ourselves are a distraction to others, testing them as we test ourselves and our mutual sincerity - our participation in this dance of distraction also makes more real, and more necessary, our ability to return to essential ground, to an essential person or an essential work.
We stick to the wrong thing quite often, not because it will come to fruition by further effort, but because we cannot let go of the way we have decided to tell the story and we become further enmeshed even by trying to make sense of what entraps us, when what is needed is a simple, clean breaking away.
To remove our selves entirely and absolutely, abruptly and at times un-compromisingly is often the real and radically courageous break for freedom. Unsticking ourselves from the mythical Tar Baby, seemingly set up, just for us, right in the middle of our path, we start the process of losing our false enemies, and even our false friends, and most especially the false sense of self we have manufactured to live with them: we make ourselves available for the simple purification of seeing our selves and our world more elementally and therefore more clearly again. We withdraw not to disappear, but to find another ground from which to see; a solid ground from which to step, and from which to speak again, in a different way, a clear, rested, embodied voice, our life as a sudden, emphatic statement, one we can recognize as our own and one from which now, we have absolutely no wish to withdraw."
~ David Whyte, ‘Withdrawal’ From Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

Nature and Wisdom are One

"Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another."
~ Juvenal

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"All these are things we can do." Herman Hesse

"To hold our tongues when everyone is gossiping, to smile without hostility at people and institutions, to compensate for the shortage of love in the world with more love in small, private matters; to be more faithful in our work, to show greater patience, to forgo the cheap revenge obtainable from mockery and criticism: all these are things we can do. "

~ Herman Hesse

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Practical Advice for Beginning Poets" Ted Kooser

“Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems? After all, there’s a significant service to humanity in spending time doing no harm. While you’re writing your poem, there’s one less scoundrel in the world. And I’d like a world, wouldn’t you, in which people actually took time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I’m certain, a more peaceful, more reasonable place. I don’t think there could ever be too many poets. By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.” 
Ted KooserThe Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets