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soixante huit

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What do you make of birthdays when you’re getting old? I’m told that Zen practitioner no longer mark the occasion (although some make a fuss about the Buddha’s own). I woke up this morning with the familiar mix of physical and emotional aches, made the same cup of tea and pot of oatmeal as I often do.

Same old, same old — yet new and for the first time. This is a day like any other, yet it is not. I’ve never been here (nor have you, come to think of it). Celebrate? Why not celebrate this moment? And say a prayer of thanksgiving —

Praised be your father and mother,
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.

On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.

source: O’Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space between us. Doubleday, p. 51. image: self-portrait walking along the camino.


“for death”

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A friend writes that “I too am completely overwhelmed by the devastation in Japan. My middle son lives there and thankfully he and his girlfriend are safe. My heart aches for all those poor unfortunates.” Several zen-related blogs report on Japanese friends and teachers, all well amid the horror.

News from Japan numbs my comprehension of Nature’s relentless power and man’s loss of control over atomic powers. Opening my heart to all who suffer, I copy these words by the late John O’Donohue:

From the moment you were born,
Your death has walked beside you.
Though it seldom shows its face,
You still feel its empty touch
When fear invades your life,
Or what you love is lost
Or inner damage is incurred.

That you would gather yourself
And decide carefully
How you now can live
The live you would love
To look back on
From your deathbed.

How can we, from a place of relative safety, express gratitude and love to others. How might I reach out to someone in need and share the abundance of my being? May the horror of others’ loss be a reminder to live each moment in full awareness and appreciation. May I turn to others with kindness. May I give thanks for all that is given and taken. May all beings be free from fear.

image: REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won. text: Excerpt from “for death” in: O’Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space between us. New York: Doubleday, p. 72.

a blessing for one who is exhausted

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When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

John O’Donohue (1956-2008), Irish mystic, poet, and philosopher. In: (2008) To bless the space between us: a book of blessings. Doubleday, p. 125.

at year’s end ~ blessing by john o’donohue

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.
Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.
The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
© Donohue, J. (2008). To bless the space between us: a book of blessings. New York: Doubleday, p. 191John O’Donohue (1956-2008) was an Irish poet, Catholic scholar, and Hegelian philosopher.

everyday blessings

John O’Donohue (1956-2008), Irish poet, philosopher, and Catholic scholar 

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

what exactly am i afraid of?

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I can’t say what scares me about dying. If not pain and discomfort at the end, what then? Material things, worldly achievements, human connections — is losing those what scares me? How can they, seeing that I’ll be dead and gone and none will matter any longer?

Boy, I realize how little I know about this “fear,” how shallow my investigation has been till now. I do know that it runs deeply, perhaps to my childhood indoctrination into a church where judgement and hell await the sinner and little was said of a loving god, one who “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4)?

What else is there? Is it something reptilian, fear of the unknown, about fight and flight? I’m perplexed. So, apparently, where the ancient Greeks.*

The late John O’Donohue, a RC priest before becoming a roving philosopher-poet, suggests shifting from a fear of death to welcoming the treasures embedded in the “invisible side of life.” He writes:

“Death is the great wound in the universe and the great wound in each life. Yet, ironically, this is the very wound that can lead to new spiritual growth. Thinking of your death can help you to radically alter your fixed and habitual perception. Instead of living according to the merely visible material realm of life, you begin to refine your sensibility and become aware of the treasures that are hidden in the invisible side of your life. … Your invisible nature holds qualities and treasures that time can never damage. They belong absolutely to you. You do not need to grasp them, earn them, or protect them. These treasures are yours; no one else can ever take them from you.”

Do you fear death?

*Arnie has taken up my recent twin topics of Love and Death (Eros and Thanatos) at his blog.

text source: O’Donohue, J. (1997). Anam cara: a book of Celtic wisdom. New York: Harper Perennial, p. 222. image: “Young man meets Death,” c. 1485-90 by the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet. Gotta love those shoes.

Click here for a modern philosopher’s take on “the appropriateness” of being afraid of death; a 48-minute lecture by Prof. Shelley Kagan of Yale University.

sunday blessings

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May you rise each day with a voice of blessing
whispering in your heart that something good is going to happen to you.
May your angel free you from the prisons of guilt, fear, disappointment, and despair.
May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.

Lines from “Prisons we choose to live in.” In: O’Donohue, J. (1999).
Eternal echoes: Celtic reflections on your yearning to belong. New York: HarperPerennial, p. 143.
image: source unknown; with apology to the artist.