Haiku alchemy

meditative crucible musings

“Meditating” and “versifying,” perhaps, can be something of a dynamic energy charged balancing act, the to & fro’ing attempting to “make mind into matter, matter into mind,” as we’re taught. Tumbling; poised. Utterly commonplace; entirely exceptional. At once both action and stillness. Wholeheartedness. Meditating with intent.

Shall we call it an “art-injected” archetype “potentializing meditation”?

Meditating by potentializing

Several years ago on a museum visit, I was filled with surprise by an anonymously crafted statuette called simply “Persian Hero.” I left, meditating on what I saw.

Some 3 ft. high as I recall it, mounted on a pedestal for viewing up close at eye-height, it was for me quite a balanced amalgam of paradoxes. A live figurine meditation, crystalizing, or embodying, a contrasting vision of masculinity, “being a man.” The image took root amid my wonder and my meditation, and the poem attempts to recreate what lives on inside (at least) ─ perhaps by now rather different from the original inspiration.

Persian hero drawing leading us to meditating

A poetic meditating aloud

Museum-Amaze

long-limbed svelt strength

─ sure of itself

responsively spontaneous, mature in

ready poise, wholly boyishly

laughing

viriley holy

far-reaching insightful calm

contemplatory warrior mindfulness

detached from dread and death in their midst

smooth-browed

no hard-jawed grim-set dogmatic eye glint; nor boisterous pretensions

no peacock bellicosity; nor brutishly knottish ape-bull-bear he-man muscularity

dancing, dancing

a divine dancer

to a mystic everywhere music

e’en whilst you stand leaning

in complete robust manhood

in relaxed aplomb

spring lightning composure

on your double-edged tall naked killing broadsword

flowing suffused with such supple grace

such secret silent effusing power

smiling, smiling, smiling

meditating, meditating

bemused with such humanely gentle tenderness

piercing quick immobile wisdom

How can it be!?

incarnating unsuspectedly ideal manliness

outside all bound schemes

seed of solar sapience

Stone carved Persian warriors
Persian heroes in stone

how you have affected me

(marveling disbelief, slow deep-growing unfolding conversion)

how you have subtly

devastatingly wrought in me

awakened in me

down through the many, many centuries

O fiery lithe spirit of living love

of the ancient statuette ─

Persian Hero

(all this a kind of transformative meditating)

(and now:)

“Transmutational crystallizing”

Meditating on bonsai
Haiku and the art of meditating

Haiku these are ─ the Japanese poetic form of 3 lines of verse with a total of 17 syllables, usually (but not necessarily) distributed 5-7-5. Developed around 1600-1700, closely associated with the itinerant Zen poet Basho and his successors, it tends to terse, stripped-bare phrasing and immediate imagery. Often there is a sort of thesis-antithesis-synthesis relationship, or first theme-second theme-resolution relation among the lines.

The form and its esthetic basis have spread over the world and have been used by or influenced poets in several languages by now besides the many translations from the Japanese, the names of Thomas Merton, Dag Hammarskjold, Alan Watts and Gary Snyder come readily to mind. Poetic meditating.

Here I’ve grouped some individual haiku “cycles,” each of which was conceived more or less separately and so should stand on its own, in a larger “spiralling” interrelated cycle, approximately following the themes of a method of meditating as taught in Cafh.

So there is a cycle of seven numbered haiku, book-ended by two more (one each) at the beginning and end – the first corresponding roughly to a spiritual awakening or a birth of compassion, the last to a different relationship with things already established by someone some ways along the path. The typographical progression/distribution on the page is meant to contribute to the effect; experimental variations in punctuation and capitalization are (one supposes) mainly intentional, also for effect.

Like facets of jewels

The language is likewise conceived multi-dimensionally, the words, phrases and lines relating to one another as do the facets of jewels, differently depending on how one looks and the light strikes – thus, verbs become adjectives or turn into nouns, ends of lines are or are not continuously connected to next lines, and so on.

In a moment, I’ll give some anecdotal comments what I had in mind, the context, the background, for each haiku, intending to make them a little more accessible, more transparent, less abstruse & weirdly puzzling.

But I’m also not wanting to limit the reach of each poem, or of the whole grouping, to my own “personal” experience and vision alone – their echoes in you might well be, and almost certainly will be, quite different, yet just as valid. More power to that! However, I’ll move those “trial explanations” below the poem itself here, first letting the haiku speak for themselves.

The key, I think, is to discover your own way of meditating.

17 syllable cycles

pouting sloe-eyed beggar girl.

Hunger-mouthed snatched crust.

fled.    Fled!   ─   Desperate.

. . . . . . .

I

Strained hours of struggle.

Jailed cicada wails.

Ice cracks. Quake hatched, bones—bonds—burst.

II

Insatiable! All craving!

Bottomless chasm floor

touched. Cleansed!  ─  past fullness

III

hypocrite’s paean:

contradictory, absurd,

Wondrously flawed way!

IV

What was found?  Fancied?

Stroking his face in open

disbelief.  Passed on.

V

still fiery flow

a truth!  leaning back.  overcome.

not the same.  n’er more.

VI

Such whole abandon!

Grinning, I grew awed, afraid.

Breathless!  How he laughed!

VII

Vigor-charged death word

Face-blacking soul-wished blessing

Stab   tomb   deep   center

. . . . . . .

Walkin’ down th’ road

Seems lahk we’s gittin’ noweah

Fahn day, tho’.   Jest fahn.

Hillside of ancient buildings, here to add to meditating on ancient persian influences
Meditation on ancient dwellings

Think of the needy

First (7-5-5)

When I think of the needy, I often think of an incident graven in my mind and heart:

I was a student, hitchhiking.

In the town market area, the “souk,” a pretty little Moroccan street urchin, with dark deep blackish bittersweet berry eyes, around 9 or 10 years old, say, her face somewhat whimpering (perhaps I thought it an act), her open hand stretched out next me by the parked car window.

Should I give her money?

I didn’t want to give money; she insisted some more; I broke off an end crust of a long sandwich the car owner had just bought me, and gave it to her, shruggingly, as if sharing between friends, equals – as if I didn’t have anything else, really. She grabbed it, starvingly popped it in her mouth to make sure it wouldn’t get away, that I wouldn’t change my mind and take it back – and ran, disappearing in the crowd. I was struck dumb, shocked – I didn’t know! I would have given her anything! But she was gone – forever.

I (5-5-7). (Very loosely, but not exclusively, corresponds to Monday: Theme: The Black Lady; Effect: Abhorrence)

This is permeated with the uhhh-whihhh-uhhh-whihhh-uhhh sound of the katydid locust-type insects of a hot summer afternoon in the orchard. As I’ve been told, they’re on the branches, filling up with air to bursting, then wailing it out with this eerie vibration, reportedly trying to split open their too small outer shell so as to moult to a newer, bigger one. Images overlap of the soul trying to meditate; of frozen winter rivers breaking apart explosively at the spring thaw; of earthquake release of forces; of the hatching out from eggs.

Worthwhile meditating on for some time.

Flower, grasshopper
Katydid and flower, for meditating
II (7-5-5). (Very loosely, but not exclusively, corresponds to Tuesday: Theme: The Abyss; Effect: Desolation)

A deep meditation, sinking inside endless desire, unsatisfiable wanting – immense desolation suddenly inverted at its lowest, inflection point, rebounding satiated, content, satisfied, happy – for a time. A going-beyond; and then, only something remembered, a memory, an interpretation, the shadow of a feeling. Paradoxes within paradoxes.

III (5-7-5). (Very loosely, but not exclusively, corresponds to Wednesday: Theme: The Two Roads; Effect: Disattachment)

A song of praise and rejoicing (and pain), by me, someone, whoever, more or less on the path yet somehow not quite being the Path. How can a hypocrite truly sing a song of praise? An imperfect gem, yet perhaps the real work of art: the Road, the Walker, the Walking, the Goal, in its actual here and now state of being realized – the whole “shebang.”

IV (5-7-5). (Very loosely, but not exclusively, corresponds to Thursday: Theme: The Standard; Effect: Election)

A meeting of influential impact on the course of my life, so hard to grasp or at all measure. I had just recently made contact with Cafh, and then had fallen very ill. When he came to my bedside in the hospital ─ I didn’t, don’t, know what it was – but it seemed to me incredible, as in a dream, as if I’d been looking for him a long time, and perhaps even as if he’d been looking for me, or expecting me. (Something of this was later said to me, at any rate.)

Perhaps  ─ I can’t now recall whether this was before or after ─ I’d been told something of “who he was,” both the “nows” and the “long long ago thens,” firing my imagination, romantically coloring my vision – though I think at the first meeting I’d heard little of all that. He allowed me to stroke his cheek lightly, as if to confirm something by touch. We talked of certain similarities in our lives (dreams, searchings, masters), briefly chatting over a number of things, me with my broken Spanish. He said, We have a Community;” he examined the copy of the I Ching I was meditating with; wrote a few lines on “Mística Negativa” in my notebook….Then – a few more brief encounters, years of absence, his death. So much given from one to the other, and now to the reader.

V (4-8-5). (Very loosely but not exclusively, corresponds to Friday: Theme: The Golden Temple; Effect: Consolation)

Here I’m thinking of a specific moment, one of a very small select group of such moments I’ve had, as near to an experience of vocational calling, awakening or ecstasy as I can recall in my lifetime.

It was late in my 21st year, in the midst of many months of intense exhausting struggles to understand things going on inside and out, to decide on my way and responsibility facing war, country, career, personal involvements and so on – asking the most basic and searching questions I could, day and night, very burnt out and badly needing answers – when this happened, perceived at the time, and in retrospect, really, as a turning point and watershed.

Studying late at night

I was studying at night, leaned back in my chair, suddenly understood something basic, simple and obvious yet theretofore hidden from me, which triggered an inner explosion of light, and movement, and understandings, and joy. Like an orgasm but not; rapture, perhaps (the search for words and analogical descriptions came after); timeless in some very present way – a great awareness of the mystery and wonder in the present, everyday, mundane, physical, details.

In some utterly fresh sense – now indeed somehow exasperatingly remote from my state of consciousness – I had found myself, stood on my own, had vitally resolved certain basic issues and own “placement” and validity, was catapulted into my path (and yet, strangely trapped by this uniquely liberating essential experience, eagerly resought, never recaptured except in its faintest echoes).

VI (5-7-5). (Very loosely, but not exclusively, corresponds to Saturday: Theme: The Veil of Ahehia; Effect: Joy)

At the witty masterly spinning of a funny anecdote, bringing out all the humor locked in an “English-as-second-language” situation we’d recently awkwardly lived through, we all laughed uproariously together. The storyteller had such a great comic gift, playing the silences, the suspense, the surprise, enjoying himself immensely, eyes sparkling.

But he was especially tuned in with the host at the head of the table – the two of them had formed such a close connection over the years, they understood each other almost without words, beyond the words. And this man who we respected and cared for so much, so wholly gave himself to the moment, so absolutely and forcefully, repeatedly falling on the table, covering his head, rocking back, his face as red as a face can get, that I was at once amazed and scared. It was wonderful! ─ but all the same, the very incarnation of such undiluted radiant delight, he seemed so close to a heart attack!

radiant lotus light flower
Radiant, rapture: comes with meditating

VII (5-5-7). (Very loosely, but not exclusively, corresponds to Sunday: Theme: The Resurrection of Hes; Effect: Rapture)

This, I think, is a fusion of experiences; what I lived at a friend’s lifetime expression of commitment, and what he told me he himself had lived at someone else’s ceremony. The voice a knife-thrust of energy into the sepulcher of the Divine.

Last (5-7-5)

A distinct change of language pace here (as, indeed, it varies throughout, from each haiku to the next). Written closer to the relaxed vernacular of the people, maybe a bit of a Southernish accent – “nothing special”. A sort of summing-up statement of all the other “cycles,” moving on in the here and now.

A gripping, wrenching “transcending transformational meditation” –

Admittedly a difficult work (at least for its author). It grows on you.

Perhaps one could title it “Vincit,” (“She has conquered, has prevailed, is victorious”) It has a pounding, driving intensity, with a hard spitting staccato phrasing and wrenching effort changing into an expansive clean feeling of relief, liberation and exaltation.

One has to stick with it, hang in there. The unrelenting cadence, annoying alliteration, unfamiliar wordsmithing, mixed layering of metaphors, exasperates, galls. The language seems oppressive; you feel tormented, anguished, it just won’t stop, is going nowhere…

What is this?? It’s awful; I hate it. Enough! Enough already!!  The struggle, the development plods on and on through sucking grasping swamp mud…  And then… And then ─ it takes wing, breaks through, a sudden gasp of beauty…

Shortly, just below, I’ll try to unlock some of the verse’s perplexing “enkindlers – but I don’t want to “imprison” your first impressions within what moved me.

So first, here’s the poem:

blighted boughs a-bloomin’ fair

palsied pantomime of purpose

much too prosy psalmody of empassioned pent-up pain

psyche smoldering, smoldering in self stifling stolidity

suffocated scream surfeit sterility

winged-stallion stud-sired spirit stock

stout stunted spastic soul awaiting the spark, angrily hankering

to be fired at last, set ablaze,

Blaze high, trailblazer! You live flaming path

pathfinder on a strange stern frontier

fellow space searcher of atrophied body forlorn

cropless sterile land – no,

no, harsh still not sterile – fallow

forsaken fallow field of plenty

lying worm-eaten fertile from long-suffering despair of doubt

forbearing stonied unkenned earth fit fine for

strongly gnarled roots and convoluted limbs

gripping deep sucking sustenance from precipice

woebegone thistle and brier wind frigid heights

the clawing twitching mudra clutch, choking convulsive

dirt-bound dirge, telluric droning threnody

sparkling chthonic magma surge

thrust up to twigtop songster thrush trilling delirious

the grimmaced grinding gnashings, gurgled groveling groanings, gush skyborne

singing rustling eerie music of eyrie eagle soaring

deft darting cliff swallow free flitting the abyss

wretch wasting worthlessness, unworthiness, made wonder

warped knotty-grained tortuous terrors unfanged, turned touchstone tonic

misting the pinnacled panorama, the parched plateaus with heart-melt

craggy bone-marrow dewdrop tears

dung drool and dregs drawn up into glistening leaf-tip ice pendants

pure dripped into the hardscrabble forever fresh womb furrows

fingernail ploughed and gouged out to sow yourself

birth yourself and much, so awesomely much more

full of guts and grit, eye-glinting wit

laugh now triumphant, game with guffaw and gumption

sickly twisted piney sapwood sweat sanctified

visage magnanimous and glowing

travailful task complete, this time-locked tissuey incarnation earned

this problematic possibility resolved in discovery and gift

for all those likewise hogtied, down-and-out,

up against it, ground to pulp, not a chance

to fruit

but this

gaunt wholesomeness and sinewy-stark beauty

ignored ignited incandescent, inwards needly scintillating

she stands sharp etched ‘gainst the cosmic twilight

life’s-end sinuous statue flare wispy in the dusk

summing up in singular nobility what has been

staring in striking singularity steadfast, true

feisty blighted fir, fiery boughs flowered and fair into the beyond

stellar-spawned seed-pearl, mystic human hope firm set

on the edge of the eons.

In conclusion: how did this come about?

Its sources are various, and there are several twined and intermingled image-symbol systems fused into an organic pulsating creature. Among the images are those relative to trees (like a lovely bonsai-type dwarf pine. For instance, the Japanese art form of shaping miniatures based on what is seen in nature. Something growing out of rock and little else on a cliff side).

Take, for example, those of the earth (as stones and volcanic lava which later become soil and us), those of birds, flying or singing; those of fire, and inner and outer space; those of procreation and regeneration. All this leads one to meditation.

The poem began as one meant to cheer and inspire those laboring under tremendous hardships. Not often by any means. But yes, sometimes this can happen. Out of terrible desperation comes light and strength for all humanity. The hope is not a facile one, but it is real, it exists. It must be heard by those who need to hear it.

To cheer and to inspire

In mind were people like deaf-dumb-and-blind Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan, Louis Braille, deaf Beethoven, polio-stricken Roosevelt and Itzhak Perlman.

I remembered Lou Gehrig-diseased cosmologist Stephen Hawking, slaves Booker T. Washington and George W. Carver, concentration camp survivors Elie Wiesel and Viktor Frankl, the California Indian Ishi, death-bed confined Bela Bartok, Tchaikovsky conducting his Pathétique premiere and dying after of cholera, Maurice Herzog giving his all to climb Annapurna for all of us – and many others. Benefactors and heroes, against all odds. Perhaps even partly because of the odds.

Then, just at the moment when this was all coalescing, we saw a videotape program on cerebral palsy victims and their plight and possibility, and the face and person of one young woman in particular took over the poem – and her very real ordeal and hopefully not merely imagined opportunity permeate the whole piece, every line, from beginning to end.