Poking a Stick at Life and Death (A Silent Retreat)

red bud

I want to see things as they are
without me. Why, I don’t know.
As a kid I always looked
at roadkill close up, and poked
a stick into it. I want to look at death
with eyes like my own baby eyes,
not yet blinded by knowledge.
I told this to my friend the monk,
and he said Want, want, want/
—Chase Twichell

I want to see things as they are without me. 

Love this poem—big meaning in little space. 

Plus, it makes me laugh.

Yes, and the retreat was another good joke on seeking. There were some moments.... 

During meditation, I had been struggling between aggravation, frustration, despair and numbed, hazy headed mental states, specifically—nodding off again (and again) and futilely fighting it. 

At one point we had been very gently directed to look for a stillness—and sleep was definitely not the kind of quiet intended. 

I fought through one afternoon meditation, and then another. At the third, things got interesting. Something stopped, and even when "it" wasn't silent, there was a bright and lucid awareness. 

Walking back toward my room I passed a lovely tree that I'd enjoyed many times. This time it looked different, new.  Stunned, I stopped on the steps at eye level with the tree's raging pink-red blossoms, lay on my back on a ledge, and gazed. 

The tree was alive with color, energy and sound! It  emitted an intense hum, an entomological aum as millions of bees moved from flower to flower fixated on their "work." 

Here was another universe, gorgeous, zealously active, and as relevant as my own. 

I want to see things as they are without me. 

I got up, walked past the yoga room, took a shower, and went to dinner.

This too is yoga.

Want, want, want!

— gratitude!


Euphoric Yogi in a Fiberglass Boat

March 26, 2014, Waynesville NC

by Jean Valentine

In blue-green air & water God
you have come back for us,
to our fiberglass boat.

You have come back for us & I’m afraid.
(But you never left.)

Great sadness at harms.
But nothing that comes now, after,
can be like before.

Even when the icebergs are gone, and the millions of suns

have burnt themselves out of your arms,

your arms of burnt air,
you are with us
wherever we are then.

April 2, 2014, Waynesville, NC

Which came first—the euphoria or this poem? 

Did the poem generate elation or did bliss enable me to see its exquisite beauty? 

Either way, each new-eyed-me has read it over and over. 

The harms in burnt arms, our fiberglass boat—you are with us eternally in hot, cold, sadness/hurt/fear, comfort, and rapture. But we forget.

Jean Valentine, I thank you for articulating the contents of both your heart and mine! 

And this too is yoga.


*Poem published in the New York Times Style (!) Magazine 2/23/24 and found there last Friday 3/28/14.