The Master Singer

A LAUGHTER in the diamond air, a music in the trembling grass;
And one by one the words of light as joydrops through my being pass:
“I am the sunlight in the heart, the silver moon-glow in the mind;
My laughter runs and ripples through the wavy tresses of the wind.
I am the fire upon the hills, the dancing flame that leads afar
Each burning-hearted wanderer, and I the dear and homeward star.
A myriad lovers died for me, and in their latest yielded breath
I woke in glory giving them immortal life though touched by death.
They knew me from the dawn of time: if Hermes beats his rainbow wings,
If Angus shakes his locks of light, or golden-haired Apollo sings,
It matters not the name, the land: my joy in all the gods abides:
Even in the cricket in the grass some dimness of me smiles and hides.
For joy of me the daystar glows, and in delight and wild desire
The peacock twilight rays aloft its plumes and blooms of shadowy fire,
Where in the vastness too I burn through summer nights and ages long,
And with the fiery-footed watchers shake in myriad dance and song.”

George William Russell signed his poetry “A.E.”

Russell was also a social activist, a publisher, a spiritual teacher, a painter, a novelist, and (in his obituary) an economist. He introduced W. B. Yeats to the world, and Yeats later quipped: “AE – IOU”

Our fullest flowering

“The individual only reaches his or her fullest flowering as a member of a community.”

Rebecca Solnit

Solnit gives us a lot of reasons to put our faith in humanity. In times of crisis, when the Hobbesian authorities tell us that we are at our worst, we find large numbers of people putting aside their own business, braving dangers, going out of their way to help others.

The world is facing a major crisis this last year and a half. Should we trust authorities to pull us through, or should we trust human individuals?

When people seize upon these moments of aliveness when they feel their power to do good, when they stay open to that experience, remarkable things become possible.

St Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even 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 St. 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 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 Kinnell (as quoted in Joe Riley’s Panhala)


 Some fishermen pulled a bottle from the deep. It held a piece of paper,with these words: “Somebody save me! I’m here. The ocean cast me on this desert island.I am standing on the shore waiting for help. Hurry! I’m here!”

“There’s no date. I bet it’s already too late anyway.It could have been floating for years,” the first fisherman said.

“And he doesn’t say where. It’s not even clear which ocean,” the second fisherman said.

“It’s not too late, or too far. The island Here is everywhere,” the third fisherman said. They all felt awkward. No one spoke. That’s how it goes with universal truths. 

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~

Living in the Truth is a Radical Act

One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyrrany — Alexander Solzhenitzn

People came to realize that not standing up for the freedom of others meant surrendering their own freedom

Vaclav Havel

Truth is the primary enemy of totalitarianism, as it erodes the foundation of lies on which it is built. “The crust presented by…the life of lies seems to be made of stone. But the moment someone breaks through in one place…the whole crust appears to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably.”

Whence commeth death?

The one central theme in my research in evolutionary ecology this last 20 years is that in order to understand we (and most other living things) age and die, you have to study the evolution of ecosystems. Imagine my delight when I come across an interview with my favorite modern novelist in which he says just this, and I imagine that in some indirect way, my publications have helped to create the scientific environment in which he has been able to think as he is thinking. — JJM

This prohibition against anthropomorphism in the sciences has created an artificial gulf between us and even those animals that are next of kin to us genetically. If we see all of evolution as leading up to us and all of human cultural evolution leading up to neoliberalism, then we are individuals busily trying to make meaning for ourselves, and death becomes the enemy.

But if we recover this sense of kinship that was essential to so many indigenous cultures through history,

  • That there is no radical break between us and our animal kin
  • That even consciousness to a large degree is shared with many other creatures

…then death stops seeming like the enemy, and starts seeming like an ingenious device for keeping evolution circulating, keeping the experiment running and keeping genes recombining. To go from terror to interbeing — that the experiment is sacred rather than this one outcome of the experiment that happens to be myself — is to immediately transform the way you think about fundamental social and economic and cultural values.

— From an Ezra Klein interview of Richard Powers, about his new book

It’s just a hormone

Let fear be fear, a flood of fight-or-flight—
Don’t let the fear attach to circumstance.
These hormones veil your being in a trance,
Inhibiting both thought and second sight.

Your fear importunes you that it’s about some
Future dread event you must avoid;
Suppose it came, but left you overjoyed—
It’s your response that matters, not the outcome.

Contagious fear can poison the collective
Mind, and cleave it from the sold ground
Of sense. The mob’s destruction knows no bound;
Community and love are the corrective.

But every devastation serves a need—
The past’s demise reveals the future’s seed.

— JJM = #18 in the Poetry of Oneness

Xian = Influence

#31 Influence 咸 (salty)

Stop doing. Cleanse your mind so you’re prepared—
Wait patiently, a sign will manifest.
A presence before whom your soul is bared
Will speak through you. You will be blessed.

Don’t be too quick to offer explanation—
Events will make interpretation clear.
This story line is not of your creation;
You’ll lead the army marching from the rear.

Your lucid observation is sufficient,
Eyes open, but don’t try to be omniscient.
Just watch. Your role is not to mourn or cheer,
And partial vision is no cause for fear.
You’ve acted boldly, though you’re not ambitious;
Your good will and detachment are propitious.

JJM = #31 from the I Ching Sonnet Project

Hexagram 31 • Influence/Courtship • Hsien | I Ching Meditations
art by Adele Aldridge

It’s up to us to imagine the More Beautiful World into existence.

Come, imagine with me.

In the old world, different ethnic groups saw one another as threats. “If we’re right, then they must be wrong. Worse yet, if they’re right…”

There was a tension until we converted other tribes or nations or cultures to our own way of being, or else wiped them out. Genoside.

All that is over. The world is full of a wide diversity of peoples and ways of life. Each group is fascinated to learn about the others. Maybe we will adopt some of their ways, but in any case we will learn about ourselves from seeing how different another people can be. So many ways to be human.

Before, there were 6,500 languages, and each year there were 40 fewer than the year before. Now the number of languages is growing. It is already back up over 7,000 because quasi self-sufficient tribes quickly develop their own ways to communicate.

A father's guide: How to talk to your teenage son | Weekend | The Times
  • I’m scared
  • Well, of course you’re scared, Will. If you weren’t scared, how could this be a challenge appropriate to your Anafar?
  • That doesn’t make me any less scared, and I don’t like it when you take my feelings and interpret them on me.
  • I’m sorry. You’re scared, Will. I hear you and I understand.
  • I have thought it isn’t right. I’m not ready to leave. If it were with the Magicodumbras, maybe. But the Zuzumozis are just too strange. I don’t think I can get used to living with the Zuzumozis.
  • Remember when Nick said the same thing about the Namibians? A year later, he came back speaking fluent Otjiherero, and teaching all his friends to dance the Malgaisa with him. 
  • Tell me about when you were a boy, Daddy. Did you have an Anafar year?
  • When I was a boy. When I was a boy, the world was a different place. More rigid by far, more homogenized. There were other nations, other ways to be. But I hardly knew anything about them, and in my ignorance, I dismissed them as primitive and uninteresting. So no, I never had an Anafar year.
  • You didn’t have an Anafar, and you grew up just fine. So why do I have to leave the Red Hills and everyone I love?
  • Kahokia is a good place. It’s our good place, and we love it. But it’s not the only good place, and our way isn’t the only way to live. I believe in change and growth and always trying new things. We were not given this lifetime just so we could live comfortably, every day the same. You and I and every living being is an agent of change.
  • But I’m young and everything in Kahokia is still new and fresh for me. I am just learning the ways of our city. It’s not fair to rip me out of this new environment and dump me in a different new environment.
  • Oh, Will! No one is dumping you. We will call you and write to you every day. Many times a day, if you can stand it. I will always be thinking about you and listening to you. And the year will be over before you know it, and you will not want to return to Kahokia.
  • Maybe so. But I am just growing to love the things we do and the ways we do them. I love the way that all our food is in one pantry, where everyone contributes and everyone takes what they like all the time. I love holding the babies of my neighbors and gazing into their little eyes. I love the forest, our Kahokian forest, and all the things I’ve learned about how the forest feeds us. 
  • Yes, life here is especially rich for young people, and we have all worked to create for our children the life that we did not have when we were children. And an essential part of your life as a Kahokian is to learn about other peoples, other ways to be human, other lands with their plants and animals and the ways people have learned to live with those other lands. I ask you to trust me that this is good.

An Irish Rosh Hashanah

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where our thoughts never thought to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until we were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched our desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside us,
Noticing how we willed ourselves on,
Still unable to leave what we had outgrown.

It watched us play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would we always live like this.

Then the delight, when our courage kindled,
And out we stepped onto new ground,
Our eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before us.

Though our destination is not yet clear
We can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl ourselves into the grace of beginning
That is at one with our collective desire.

Our spirit awakens to adventure;
We hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon we will find home in a new rhythm,
For our souls sense the world that awaits us.

~ John O’Donohue

(Liberty taken with pronouns,
from second person imperative
to first person plural by JJM)