Beautiful Poem - You Darkness - By David Whyte

A Translation of a poem originally by Rainer Maria Rilke

 

You darkness from which I come,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence out the world,
for the fire makes a circle
for everyone
so that no one sees you anymore.
But darkness holds it all:
the shape and the flame,
the animal and myself,
how it holds them,
all powers, all sight —

and it is possible: its great strength
is breaking into my body.
I have faith in the night.

A Poem for National Poetry Day: Enough

Enough

 

Though the road is long and I am far from the end

I have a glimpse of what it means to be the man I dreamed of being

I have a window to the wonder in my soul

And in moments

I find

I can be content with this…

This warm-hearted

This soft-eyed

This broad-shouldered

This deep-rooted

Man

I breathe

Deep and wide

And know the ancient longing

The friendship of pain and joy

The companionship of melancholy and grace

And I feel

Where the past and future meet in me

And I can be proud

Of what I have done

And who I have become

And how

From this place

I can face the challenges yet to come

With dignity

With vulnerability

With wildness and tenderness and strength.

 

I know now

That my capacity for love and hope

Is greater than my tendency towards fear and desolation

And I can look back when the world turns its gaze upon me and say:

“This is enough.  I am enough.”

Death and Life

You are going to die

You

Are going to die

There is no avoiding it

Pretending it won't happen won't prevent it

And more than that,

Everyone and everything you love will die too.

There is no solace in this world, no legacy great enough to ensure your immortality.

You are closer to death now than when you started reading.

Take another step my friend,

There is no avoiding it.

There could be misery in these thoughts...

Terror,

Disillusionment,

Pain.

But there is a gift as well:

It is only by embracing the reality of death that we truly learn how to live.

There is a fierce urgency that is yours to claim,

A freeing knowledge of your own doom

That waits

Like death

Just around the corner.

Many imagine the knowledge of imminent doom

To bring a rush

Of hedonism,

A selfish 'fuck you' to the world as you pursue your own pleasure.

...But that is not what I see.

That is not what I feel in myself as I contemplate my own demise,

No.

I want to share,

to give,

to love.

I seek belonging

Not belongings,

I welcome simplicity and peace, not a chaotic feeding of my inner glutton,

I seek substance not substances,

Because.

In confronting my death

I have to confront my life,

In facing the fact that I could disappear at any moment

I have to ask the question

"What if I could appear at any moment?"

What if...?

What if...?

What if I stepped out from behind the cloud of my own inhibitions and really lived?

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

Not for fame,

Or greatness,

Or money,

Or any of the other egoic delights

I may pick up

Incidentally along the path,

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

for ordinary wonder?

What if seeing death could help me to see life?

What if the marvel of life lies not in the marvels but in the minutiae?

The light on my cup,

The moment of satisfaction after eating a meal,

Or speaking to a friend.

What if I could appear to myself at any moment?

What if I could see myself with fresh eyes now, and now, and now

And know:

This is who I am.

And tomorrow I will be someone else,

And that is wonderful and terrible.

Wonder-full and terrible

To have to face

My own death

Every day,

The possibility of my physical death

And the reality of dying to myself every moment,

Because I am not the same person now as when I started writing this,

You are not the same person who started reading this,

You are not only dying but dead.

You are dead.

You are dead already.

You don't owe anyone anything,

And you owe a great legacy in every moment

Because you are your own ancestor.

Are you going to let the million you's who died so that you could live

Die for nothing?

Knowing that you will die anyway, can you sacrifice yourself in this moment

So that the you who is being born

Might receive a legacy of choice?

 

Can you embrace death, dear one,

so that you might learn how to live?

The Heart of Activism

 

I’m not your classic activist.  I’m not the guy who forms or joins the crowds marching for a cause.  However, I do make a strong stand in the world for what I believe in and I think that makes me an activist of another sort.

I greatly admire those who step out and shout, campaign, petition, take to the streets and generally make social and political noise such that they influence the course of events, sometimes I wish I was one of those people.  Certainly I have a strong social conscience and a desire to see change in the world, but that is not my way.  I believe there are many ways to make a stand in the world, to challenge the status-quo, and to birth new ideas and ways of living into our societies.  Two of the people who most influenced me as a child and young man were not obvious activists either. 

One was a teacher at my middle school, Mr. Chant.  I had some wonderful teachers at that school and yet I struggle to remember many of their names over 20 years down the road.  Mr. Chant has always stayed with me even though I don’t think I ever had him as a teacher.  I was in an after-school club that he ran, but even there he seemed a fairly distant figure.  For all that, Mr. Chant was an inspiration to me.  He was a man that I admired.  I couldn’t have told you then why and I’m not sure I can do much better now but more than anything it was about his quality of presence.  In his every act, and seemingly in his very quality of being he seemed to emanate a deep sense of quiet caring.  I later found out that he was a committed Christian and I can certainly see the best of the Christian values expressed through his manner and choices in life, but I never knew that at the time.  He wore his faith very lightly and I never heard him speak about it.  In spite of that, once I found out he was a Christian, I felt more compelled than by anything anyone else had said to explore Christianity.  Mr. Chant expressed a quiet activism born of living a particular kind of life and, in my assessment as an adult looking back, being a beacon of love.  Those memories drawn from my formative years may be viewed a little through rose-tinted glasses, but still, I hold Mr. Chant as a strong example of how our every action can be a moment of activism.

The other person is an inspiring lady who set up a musical theatre company in my village.  It is a pretty big village with the population of a small town and I think a lot of people from my parent’s generation moved there to have families, so in my generation there were a lot of kids in the village.  There wasn’t a lot to do.  The nearest town was just far enough to make it difficult to get there.  As I remember it, you had one of two choices once you hit your teens in New Ash Green:  sit on a bench near the shops drinking cider, or join the theatre company!  Now in saying that I don’t want to give the impression that it was a last ditch.  There was a waiting list to get in and the productions were of a very high standard winning national competitions and even touring to the Edinburgh Festival one year!  What I’m trying to get across is that one lady named Syd and her husband Chris started something which gave hundreds of young people over the years a different choice.  They, along with the help of a team of parents who volunteered their time, opened a door to a place where we could be creative, learn life skills, relate to each other in a caring and respectful way, form intimate friendships that have lasted many years, and for some find the work they would go on and make their career.  Syd and Chris both had backgrounds as West End (the area of London where Theatre is most present, a bit like Broadway in the US)  professionals, and they gave their time for free: writing, directing, musical directing, rehearsing and producing performances with 50 young people year after year.  For so many of us, they opened a door to another world.  Again, Syd was not an obvious activist, but by the way she chose to live, her quality of presence and sense of professional discipline (regardless that we were not professionals), and her profound generosity in founding and running that theatre company, I see her as an amazing example of grass roots societal change.  I see her as an activist.

So… In this post I want to ask you to consider what you stand for?  What do you bring into the world by the quality of your presence and the actions you take?  Whatever kind of activist you are – a quiet one like me and the examples I have given here, or a noisier one like those taking to the streets all around the world (and any combination of the 2 extremes), what do you stand for?  As Augusto Boal, profound creator of societal change, theatre director, and lately politician said in his book ‘The Rainbow of Desire’:

“Every action is a political action”

So what are you standing for in the actions in your life?  What world are you creating in the practices and habits you sustain?  What are your politics – not in terms of parties and votes but in terms of what you embody as you walk through this world?

To help frame these questions, I want to offer a distinction, and that is between what I term as an activist and a reactionary. 

The simple distinction is that a reactionary is against something, while an activist (or true activist, in my judgement) is for something.

Spotting what you are ‘against’ can be a helpful way to work out what you are ‘for’ but otherwise it is a slippery path to unhealthy conflict and is likely long term to drive people away from your cause.  The ‘against’ position is too often a source of unfiltered, angry rants, and easily leads you into getting stuck trying to make someone else wrong rather than finding ways to set the world right.  This is something we were encouraged to consider deeply when we were training to be Interfaith Ministers.  Afterall, if we are truly to embrace every person having their own path to God (or the Goddess, or Spirit, or Tao, or Buddha Nature, or Allah…etc) then we would not be walking our talk to be against particular spiritual paths.  I can tell you from direct experience that it is hard to sit with a fundamentalist and completely accept their faith when they essentially reject yours as ‘wrong’ but that is my commitment.  That stance is part of my activism.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion or feelings about it, but I choose not to impose my opinions or feelings on you.  I can’t promise I always manage it perfectly – I’m human and make mistakes – but I do my best.  This means I have to relinquish the easy comfort of believing in an objective truth.  That’s not to say I embrace total relativism where everything is totally up-for-grabs, but I find it both more useful and more congruent with my experience of life and the world around me to go with the idea of what Oriah Mountain Dreamer calls ‘intersubjective truth.’  There are aspects of our world which we can agree upon and these serve as useful and reassuring reference points but we need to beware of seeing these as objective truths because if we do then should someone challenge this status-quo, they will likely be ostracised at best, and destroyed at worst.  Many people have been destroyed for just this reason, and many of them were later found to be right (Copernicus being one example) and even if they are as crazy as they seem I would suggest such a person deserves our compassion, not demonising.  It can be tough to stand strongly ‘for’ something without the refuge of making others objectively ‘wrong’, whilst also maintaining your own clarity and moral compass, but that is also my commitment.

The position of being against something has 2 key dangers as far as I can see:  Firstly that your purpose is dependent on the very thing you are trying to fight.  For example, if I am against pollution then if I succeed in my mission then I simultaneously lose my purpose in the world.  In this way, people and groups can get so caught up in making their adversaries wrong and fighting against them that any potential for creativity, real problem-solving, and collaboration with the very people best placed to solve the issue (e.g. polluters).  It ends up being about the fight, not the issue.  Even if you win the fight, your prize is to suddenly have a total void of purpose in your life.  If you are ‘for’ something then you can keep working for that probably indefinitely and just adjust your course as you achieve things (e.g. being for a cleaner world, rather than against pollution).  Secondly, if you are ‘for’ something then people can join you or not.  If you are ‘against’ something then it doesn’t take long before anyone who isn’t with you is against you!  Obviously long term and in the extreme this can become a horrible kind of extremism which can justify hideous acts for the sake of ‘the cause’ perpetrated against any who stand against you (read “aren’t with you”).  But even in it’s smaller expression, this position can breed a kind of subtle violence where you are always banging on about your mission, flooding your friend’s email boxes, and bending their ears at every party.

Hopefully in all this you can see the power of being an activist and the dangers of tipping over into becoming a reactionary.  So… I’ll ask again, regardless of how loudly or quietly you are stating your position, whether you live it purely through your presence or you are marching on the streets, and campaigning on every front…

What do you stand for?

 

God is a difficult word

God is a difficult word…

It is loaded with so much cultural baggage, so much heaviness of meaning, so much poe-faced seriousness – both from those who love the word and those who hate it.  God has become this figure of judgement, marker of seriousness, and symbol of patriarchal oppression.

I feel sad about that.

I have a relationship with the divine that I really enjoy and because I grew up with a Christian mum, God is the word I most comfortably use for that divine presence.  When I talk to myself, I say God.  But… I sometimes feel uncomfortable using it even with my friends because it is so weighted with meanings I don’t agree with, and don’t want.  My sense of it is that I’m not the only one. 

I read this poem today from Daniel Ladinsky’s ‘Love Poems from God’ (a beautiful book of translations and transliterations of devotional poetry from many traditions, although Ladinsky is best known for his Sufi poetry) and it inspired me. 

 

First He looked Confused – by Tukaram

 

I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog “God.”

First he looked

confused,

 

Then he started smiling, then he even

danced.

 

I kept at it: now he doesn’t even

bite.

 

I am wondering if this

might work on

people?

 

 

It feels to me like many of us have abandoned the word God, but what if we didn’t?  What if we reclaimed it instead and used it for our own purposes? 

 

What if it became once more the most beautiful thing you could say to someone, a gift so great it even stops dogs biting?

 

What if, like the Sufi’s, God became for us the name of our beloved?

 

What if the word God could drip from our mouths like sweet nectar from exotic flowers overflowing with sticky abundance?

 

What if there was no confusion in our minds about God and we each lived in a personal and glorious relationship with a sense of wonderous un-knowing-ness and love of the great and mysterious nothing-that-is-everything?

 

What if, when making love, we cried out “Oh God” and really meant it because sex felt divine and the divine felt so tantalisingly, viscerally sumptuous?

 

What if in prayer, we spoke to God like one of our best friends who can’t always change the situation for us, but it feels great to talk to them about it anyway?

 

What if no book could tell us what God thinks because it’s so sublime and subtle?

 

What if, once in a while, a piece of poetry, or art, or something in nature seemed to nudge us towards an understanding of how God feels about the world?

 

What if speaking of God wasn’t controversial but was joyful?

 

What if God wasn’t masculine or feminine?

 

What if God was common ground where we could all connect rather than where we come into conflict?

 

What if loving-ness was the closest thing to Godliness?

 

What if we could build a bridge of my “What if’s” and dance out across it together with joyous, clamorous shouting that comes right up from our bellies and out through our hearts?

 

What if…..?



My Taoist Foolish Heart

I have had lots of good feedback about the first chapter of  My Tao Te Ching - A Fool's Gide to Effing the Ineffable which I posted a little while ago so I thought I'd share some more.  So... Here's one of my other favourite chapters of the 30 I've written so far.  For those of you who didn't see the last post and want to read the intro follow this link.  The short version is that I'm re-writing a thousands of years old chinese text for modern times, in my own admittedly slightly eccentric language!  I'm hoping to get the book published in the coming year.  You can read an excerpt of the book I have just published which is also Taoism inspired and is called 'A little book on finding your Way: Zen and the Art of Doing stuff.'  It's not on full release yet but will be early next year.  To get an advance copy click on this link.  Anyway, here's the Chapter!

 

Chapter 13

You are going to lose and look a Fool time and time again - get used to it.

Life is painful and often hard work - deal with it.

It's the way of the world:as soon as you gain something you're at risk of losing it.

If you didn't have a body you couldn't feel pain or do work, but being human entails having a body.

Trying to deny these things is like trying to arm-wrestle the moon:

It's way bigger than you....

....and....

....It has no arms.

 

Accept the world on it's terms and compassion will come naturally.

Love the world - and yourself as part of it - just the way it is, and you are truly ready to be trusted.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm feeling like spoiling you so here's one more chapter as a treat!

 

Chapter 22

 

Heart broken... open

Confusion and mystery lead to clarity.

To fill up, empty out.

Embrace dying to foster living.

Give to receive.

 

The wise fool lives from the Tao, listening to the still, small voice in her heart.

Quietly blossoming, people see her beauty.

Like the sun behind a cloud: Her brilliance is hidden but people feel her warmth.

When she makes a point, there's no arguing: she's got nothing to prove.

She offers an open heart and people see themselves in her eyes.

With no ideas of good or bad she's wonderful at everything!

 

When the ancients said "Embrace dying to foster living," was that crazy?

 

Surrender to the Way and find yourself where you are

Here and now

Here and now

Here and now.

 

Stop trying to be something and be something.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I hope you've enjoyed this 'borrowed poetry.'  The Tao Te Ching is such a rich and beautiful tome.  If you'd like to know more about my books, be on the mailing list for our courses, or be told when a new book or the online Spiritual Exploration course is available then please get in touch and we can put you on the mailing list.

 

Thanks for reading y'all.

TV as Spiritual Practice

TV has a bad rap.  That’s not a new thing, when I was young and liked watching TV probably more than average my parents were concerned about it.  I have since found out that it was particularly my Dad that was worried about it and when I went on to train to be an actor he realised that maybe there was some wisdom at play – I had started studying acting young!  When I wrote this poem in my 20’s my mum thought it was pretty funny:

 

My Televisual Youth – a taste of things to come

Oh lovely TV set

You’re so warm and crumbly

Like a moist current bun

Just baked by my mum

Filling my tum

With a wholesome satisfaction

Playdays or World in Action

It’s all the same to me

From my extra surrogate parent

That is the TV

 

Even the generation before my parents talked about the TV as the ‘goggle-box’ and said you’d get square eyes if you watched too much.  In ‘alternative’ circles TV is often considered a very poor activity and if you say you don’t have a TV you’re celebrated!  I should know: I don’t have a TV – but… I do watch a fair amount of TV programs online.

Now I can understand disparaging TV for the amount of advertising shown and the way that breaks up the programs (although we’ve all gotta pay the bills right?), I also have to say I don’t really get the huge flood of ‘reality’ shows there are going.  Some have a kind of story arc I can understand, and Big Brother originally had a kind of psychological experiment cachet about it but now?  Still going?  Really?  All that said, some people love it and just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

What I want to offer here is a different perspective on fictional TV – dramas, comedy, series, films, the whole bit, because I think they are often underappreciated.  The reason I think this is because I consider TV as a form of theatre.  If you went and watched a play each evening, you would be considered fortunate indeed and pretty high-brow.  If you watch TV each evening it’s generally considered low-brow, if perhaps not unusual.  One of the things that I think is underappreciated is that many of the best theatrical writers today are writing for TV, some of them exclusively.  Equally, many of the finest actors around are now working in television.  It has been an increasing trend in the last 5 years or so that even actors who previously only worked in film have started working on TV series’.  Some of the writing in TV series’ is really powerful, deeply human, and very moving if you invest yourself in the story, engage with the characters and really allow yourself to be involved.  David Mamet whose background as a writer is in theatre is one of the creators of ‘The Unit’, an American military action drama (which I have loved watching!).  Tim Roth, one of the finest British actors of his generation (in my opinion) and successful film actor including working on cutting-edge pieces like the film version of Tom Stppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstein are dead’ is now the star in ‘Lie to Me’ a drama series drawing on Paul Ekman’s psychological research.  It is an excellent series, brilliantly written, characterised, acted and directed.  This is some of the best contemporary story-telling going on. 

I think the problem with TV is not the medium itself but how we use it.  All too often I think that TV just serves as a background noise in the house to ensure there isn’t silence.  It can be a way not to spend time ‘in my own company’ and not to sit with thoughts and feelings on the inside.  To quote from ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer:

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”

The negative use of TV in my opinion is a way of ensuring I never have to answer this question.

This doesn’t mean I’m against using TV for escapism.  It can be wonderful to immerse myself in another world and someone else’s cares, concerns, joys and adventures for an hour or two – so long as I don’t do this all the time and lose touch with myself.  What I would propose is that by committing more fully, and escaping more deeply into the stories within your favourite TV you can find a path to a fuller and deeper relationship with yourself. 

There is a technical term from theatre ‘Suspension of disbelief.’  This is something that as performers you have to work for.  You have to create a world on the stage that is so inviting and immersing that the audience commit to suspending their disbelief for the duration of the play.  They commit internally to believing in the world you have created on the stage so that the story lives as a theatrical truth for a while and has the power to move people emotionally rather than just being a body of lies.  In the theatre however, numerous ritual ties have been made to support suspension of disbelief before the play even begins: you have paid for a ticket, you have come together with lots of other people at a special time, many people dress up to go to the theatre, it’s often a treat so you’re invested in enjoying it, you come together in a special room and everyone makes an implicit agreement to be quiet while you all watch, at the end people know to clap their hands to show appreciation… when you think about it, going to the theatre is a highly ritualised act.  From the point of view of the illusion of the story, TV today is better equipped than theatre ever has been.  It is on set’s that are indistinguishable from day-to-day life and with the production budgets, lighting, and special effects it’s completely believable.  But the ritual isn’t there.  The TV gets thoughtlessly switched on and off, ignored, talked over, and spotting continuity errors seems for some people to virtually be a sport… really it doesn’t stand much of a chance!  There is no commitment to suspension of disbelief.  When you’re creating a play you’ve got to do a good enough job to support people in suspension of disbelief, but in TV they’ve done the work.  If you don’t like it, don’t watch it, but if you like watching something then do the artists who have put the work in to create this whole other world a favour and commit to the experience: Suspend your disbelief.  Once you do this I genuinely believe that magic can happen.  You can be transported to other worlds, but you can also vicariously experience emotions that you otherwise might leave buried. 

In therapeutic work we talk about ‘catharsis.’  This is when someone has an experience of fully being in an emotion in a way that releases something for them – often something connected to a traumatic or difficult past experience.  This kind of cathartic release can be very healing and can free up energy and attention in a way that no amount of talking about a life occurrence ever will.  Not a lot of people know that the word Cathartic has it’s origins in classical Greek theatre.  The ancient Greeks considered theatre to be a potentially healing experience and catharsis was when someone was able to allow themselves to feel something when they saw a character feeling it, that they couldn’t feel on their own.  I can certainly identify with some emotions felling almost too big for everyday life – if I am engaged and invested in a story about God’s, Goddesses, Hero’s and Heroines, then the context for the emotions is larger and it can feel safe to experience big emotions.  Sometimes it is less painful to connect with a character’s grief than it is to connect with my own, but that doesn’t mean the tears I shed for the character are not also an emotional release for me.  When my mother died, not long afterwards I saw a film called ‘The Family Stone.’  It is a beautiful film, very funny in places and the mother in the film (played wonderfully by Diane Keaton) really reminded me of my mum.  It helped me to connect with my grief when I was at home, in my own space and snuggled up in a comfy jumper – the perfect environment!  My experience with grief is that it can surface at any moment, and in response to the strangest things so it was a real relief to let some of my grief come, and to shed some tears after that film.  It was much gentler for me to have those feelings in that moment than for them to suddenly surface while I was at the office or in the supermarket (both of which have happened).

The picture I’m trying to paint here is of Television as a true artistic medium, much like stage productions.  For us to find the real benefit of it we need to engage with it more consciously.  What TV requires of us is a commitment to suspension of disbelief.  What TV offers us is the potential to really connect with that which is human within us and potentially to have a healing cathartic release of emotion.

So, “The Rev’s” recommendation for spiritual and emotional exercise for today: curl up in front of your favourite TV program and immerse yourself in the world of the characters.  Make a ritual of it, put on your favourite jumper, get a glass of your favourite drink (whatever floats your boat), and maybe some chocolate or ice-cream, switch off the phone, and get comfy.  Spiritual practices don’t have to be hard work!  You never know what you might learn about yourself or what healing may happen as you sink into the world of the characters...

The Incomparable Jim Dodge

I have long been a fan of Jim Dodge.  He is a simply wonderful writer if not the most prolific.  I first came across his writing when I picked up his book 'Stone Junction' in a 2nd hand bookshop.  I loved it - it is an awesome tale of one young man's existence and the existence of the universe at the same time.  It includes some wonderful characters and is one long, very grand adventure.

The next step in my love affair with his writing came when I found his little book FUP.  It's about a duck, a man and his grandaddyy.  It is the most perfect book I have ever read (and I've read a lot!).  I get the sense that it is short because Jim Dodge knew exactly when to stop writing.

I read an interview with Jim Dodge and he called himself a Taoist-Dirt-Pagan.  I like that.

I have now just acquired his book of poetry 'Rain on the River.'  It is, once again, beautiful.  Mr. Dodge has not previously published his poems in a full book, having kept to the old format of publishing shorter 'chap-books' and releasing them locally as part of his modest goal to become "famous for a hundred miles."  In this age of global media coverage it strikes me that it might even be harder to be famous only for that hundred miles!  I guess I'm not doing him any favours spreading word of him in the UK!

Anyway, I thought I'd share with you my favourite poem so far, in the hopes you will feel inspired to investigate this man's gorgeous writing.  Fup is probably the best place to start, but you can't go far wrong.

Love Find - By Jim Dodge

 

After the Oklahoma City bombing

search-and-rescue dogs

were flown in with their handlers

from all over the U.S.

 

But when the dogs couldn't find

any survivors

they became disconsolate,

 

and after another day of nothing

but dead bodies,

if they'd even search

it was desultory at best.

 

So the handlers began taking turns

hiding in the rubble,

letting the dogs find them alive.

My Tao Te Ching - Chapter 1

One of the books I'm working on at the moment is my own version of the Tao Te Ching.  For those of you that don't know, the Tao Te Ching is the central text of Taoism.  It is thought to be the oldest complete sacred text dating back to something like 500 years BC and is said to have been written by a mysterious figure called Lao Tzu.  Whether Lao Tzu was a real person or is a mythical figure, no-one is sure and some say the text is an amalgamation of several philosophers writings.  I don't know about all that, but I do know that the Tao Te Ching is a wonderful text full of beautiful poetic subtlety (when well translated) and profound lessons about the nature of life the universe and... well, everything!

"So," I can hear you thinking "...why are you writing your own version of a profound, ancient Chinese text?  Do you even speak Chinese?  Who the hell do you think you are anyway??!!" 

All fair questions.  It is in the nature of translation work - especially in a language which is so different in it's nature to English (Chinese being made up of pictograms which have image-based significance as well as linguistic) - that the translator is not a mere technician swapping one bolt for another in the machine of language, but is an artist re-creating the original work in another medium.  Imagine getting a Picasso painting and then asking a contemporary artist to re-create it as a piece of music.  It's not quite the same thing but translation is closer to this metaphor than we often like to think.  There are some wonderful translators out there (one of my favourites is Daniel Ladinsky who has translated a lot of the Sufi mystics - check out his book 'Love poems from God').  There are also some wonderful translations of the Tao Te Ching - I've read about 6 or 8 cover to cover over the years, some many times, and dipped into a further 5 or more that weren't as good in my opinion.  To be clear, my opinion is based not on being a scholar of the Chinese language but on having studied and lived with Taoist arts for much of the past 10 years or so.  The ones that I feel really capture the essence of the Taoist outlook are the translations by: Gia-fu Feng and Jane English; Stephen Mitchell; and Ursula LeGuin.

There are some great translations out there... and I feel there's space for another one!  I wanted to write one in language that doesn't lose the wonderful sense of the mysterious but is in slightly more 'modern-friendly' language.  There is also, in the Taoist tradition, a great sense of humour and rogue-ishness.  The other versions of the Tao Te Ching seem to me to be missing this quality.  It's probably the case that the original text didn't have this quality so they are accurate translations.  None-the-less, I wanted a version with a sense of humour so as no-one else seemed to be forthcoming in writing such a thing, I thought I'd do it!  I've written the first chapter below for you to have a read, I hope you enjoy it.

The Tao Te Ching is written in 81 'Chapters' and each chapter is a kind of poem.  The first chapter is considered by many to contain the essence of the entire book.

My Tao Te Ching - A Fools Guide to Effing the Ineffable - By Francis Briers

Chapter 1


I'm going to talk about something

I'll call it Tao (which means 'Way').

By Talking about it I'm only going to confuse matters,

But if I don't,

This will be a very short book.

 

Even by calling it "Tao" I've taken something amazing,

Limitless

And wonderfully mysterious,

And reduced it to a 3 letter word.

 

Direct experience, no matter how confusing, is the real deal.

 

As soon as I give it a name it's just another thing

Like the toaster,

Or the train,

Or Auntie Maureen,

Or the Jelly mold...

 

Sometimes

When we let go of our need to pin things down

Our confusion can be very beautiful.

 

When we get obsessed with having all the answers

All we can see is the toaster.

 

Strangely: Beautiful confusion and the toaster come from the same place.

This place is called "The Dark."

It's so dark you can't see anything,

But if you want to understand

Then "The Dark"

Is the only place worth looking.

 

 

If you like this and you'd like to be kept up to date on this and other books I will soon be publishing then drop us a line and we can put you on the mailing list.  There is also a spiritual development course coming up in October which has a Taoist element and we will be offering other Taoist influenced workshops in the future - please do get in touch!

First post: What does this Soul long for?

I have prevarricated.  Some of you may know what that is like.  I have been busy - that's true, but more than anything I have been wrestling with what my first post should be on this blog of mine, this new venture in internet communication: What is sufficiently substantial and representative of my intended writing to come to take this pride of place as the first thing I write here?

I don't have an answer to that.  While soul and spirit and heart-focused living are all definitely part of it; and 'human business' as my friend Mark Walsh describes it is also connected to what I want to write here; and Warrior living is at the heart of what I am offering in many of my workshops; it is all of these things and none of these things and something else as well.

So, it will be what it is and perhaps others will define it for me as it forms.

For now, instead of only offering you my prevarrication, I offer you a poem.  It is a wish, for my own soul and perhaps it will resonate with yours as well. 

 

 

What does this soul long for?

 

Love

Love

Love, Love, Love

And Loving

And Loving

And Loving

And longing's end

With space to grow,

And flow

And support

And manifest safe reality

Held

In the hands of Mother Earth

And in the hearth of my own home

And own work

And knowledge of integrated expansion

And magic

And continued learning

In enjoyment and immersion and pleasure and recognition

And tactile, rolling, tumbling fun

And walk, walk, walk

The sea

Hills

Shore

Rising

Woodland waves

Hand-in-hand

Heart-in-heart

Sharing

Wonder-eye-sparkle connection

Without and within

And everything done

And everything yet to do

And

Adventure, adventure, adventure!