Archive for the Mark’s weekly reflections Category

What Matters Is Unsayable

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The challenge of poetry is that the only things worth saying are those things that are unsayable. The joy of such work is that whatever we come up with is more than enough.

 

WHAT MATTERS IS UNSAYABLE

As a boy, my father introduced me to the sea. Something in it was his home. It held him and received him. He would sail on it for hours, days—weeks if he could get away. It was on that boat that I first saw the sun glitter up the sea. That sheen hypnotized me, as if the back of some luminous creature was just under the surface about to show itself. I thought if I could enter the deep, I might meet that luminous creature too big to name.

The sheen of the sun on the sea befriended me. But I would forget about it, and the enormity of the sea, and the endless dependability of the waves until the noise and tumble of life in the world would lead me back to the sea. Then, usually when exhausted, I’d walk along some patch of surf where the clouds would part and the sun would glitter up the sea again. And I’d remember, as someone waking from a long sleep, I’d remember all that is out of view, all that we stand on, all that holds us up.

When teaching creative writing at SUNY Albany in my late twenties, I shared the worst image I ever came up with, calling that sheen of sun on the sea, “liquid tin foil.” Though the image wasn’t right, I told my students that I used it as a placeholder, a visual bookmark that would bring the irreducible sheen of the sea back to me. This is the power of symbol and metaphor. Regardless of their clarity, they point to what is clear and unsayable, so we can remember and revisit what has meaning.

Buddha would remind his students that his teachings were only fingers pointing to the moon. His teachings weren’t the moon. He encouraged them not to get caught up in his gestures, but to look at the moon! And even here, the moon is pointing to the unseen source of light that paints its face. These are the very real depths we live in, day by day.

This morning, some forty years later, I’m again by the sea and the sun is high, the clouds are few, and there, the familiar sheen glittering up the sea—old guide, old friend. And still, after a lifetime, I can’t describe it or name it. I can only feel it.

I only know that what matters is unsayable. And yet, every attempt to reveal it helps us live, the way every plant grows by reaching for a light it can’t see or name. God is such a sun. Truth is such a sun. Love is such a sun. And each of these—God, Truth, and Love—is just a temporary name for something too big to stay named.

I only know that to be alive and to gather meaning from living, we’re asked to throw our words and feelings and questions, like wood, onto the fire of all that’s unsayable—to keep the shimmer of what matters before us.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or love done, try to discuss a feeling or thought that feels unsayable.

Honoring Your Friend

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If we would only honor our soul with the same commitment we honor dear friends.

HONORING YOUR FRIEND

Each of us has a particular piece of wisdom, which we might describe as truth made possible by love. Each of us with a bit of eternity that if not brought forward will be lost; or at least stay silent during our time on earth. This piece of inner wisdom which is in everything and yet which you alone carry doesn’t have a name. We could call it your soul. So as you would honor a grandparent or a teacher, how will you befriend your soul? What kind of relationship will you have with the oldest part of your life, so it might speak to you?

A Question to Walk With: Describe your relationship with your soul.

When Young I Dove

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When young, we want to dive into everything. But as we age, we surrender more than dive, and so feel the magic of the wind along the way.

 

When Young I Dove

When young I dove to the bottom of the

sea. Now I know there is no bottom. Time

after time, impaled by falling into life or

cut by the fear and envy of others, I was

certain I would never recover. But here I

am, strong as an oak that has outlived the

war. In the knots that have healed, the

most beautiful grain. It’s taken sixty years

but where I sought to dive I’ve settled into

slowly, year after year, into a bedrock of

being. It’s tender here. The simplest curl

of wind holds the amazement of everyone

who ever climbed into the open, surprised

at what they saw. Like everyone before me,

I’m not ready to go. Nothing’s wrong. I’m

not ill or out of sorts. I simply realize that

the brilliant orange leaf about to die is

looking at me as if I am full of color. I so

love being here. I think this is what it sees.

 

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or a loved one, describe a time you dove into experience and what that taught you. Then describe a time you fell into experience and what that taught you.

 

Catching the Light

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All the valuable things we can learn from books point to the force of life that can’t be contained in a book. This poem explores this paradox.

CATCHING THE LIGHT

Forget the books and the dogma.
Faith is a chance that appears when
on the run. When lost in the tangled
wood, there’s a patch of light and for
a second it seems clear. If you can get
there and open your chest to the sun,
things will be safe again. But as you
run, the light moves and you have
to change course. You stop, out of
breath, and question yourself. But
the light is so strong, you keep run-
ning to be in it. Sometimes, like in
football, you as the receiver are guarded
so close, you just have to put your head
down and run to the spot, with faith
that the gift will appear in your open
hands reaching for the sky. Never doubt
your ability to catch the light. You have
a strength that is never far from those
worn to their goodness. Keep singing
the song under everything, even
when you don’t feel strong.

A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of someone you admire who has been worn to their goodness.

Another Day

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We fall in and out of the deepest understandings out in the world while getting groceries and pumping gas.

ANOTHER DAY

I was in the market recently, when I closed my eyes until the cup without thought at the base of all I know began to collect the tenderness of those who’ve gone before us and I heard the cries of the world. I looked at everyone walking by and it was clear. It’s tenderness that forces us to be kind till our only reason for being is to soften the pain hardening in others. I looked about and knew that what matters is carried in those who can’t close, no matter how we try to shut ourselves down or run away. And just when I was ready to give up and turn to stone, the blind doves of acceptance fluttered in my face. It was then an old friend came upon me in the market staring at the fish. Without a word she knew, it was just another day, each of us this close to everything.

A Question to Walk With: Tell one story of a moment in public when the deeper world fell open to you.

The History of My Heart

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During my cancer journey, I was able to see my heart on a screen during a test in which I was injected with radioactive dye, so they could trace the first pass of blood through the first chamber of my heart. It was an experience that changed my understanding of heart.

THE HISTORY OF MY HEART

It has pumped strong since my first breath. At first it grew like a fish, no limbs, no eyes; just swimming in place while I tried to do what I was told. It knew nothing of where I would lead it or where I would be taken. As I grew, it spread into a red bird whose wings stirred me with a want for impossible things. But wanting, falling, loving, dying and being battered wore me down to life on Earth. Beating in the face of so many abrasions, it only toughened, its cords of muscle eating my heartaches like calisthenics; always whispering in my sleep, “Give me more!”

In my cancer, it grew very still. The doctors thought it was going away or back to where it waited while I was being born. It was only gliding beneath the storm. Now on the other side, it has morphed again. How to say it? I’ve become a mold hollowed by my sufferings: all to be filled by my heart which has slipped its casing completely, pouring itself into the contours of my being. Now it washes everywhere: behind my eyes, my lips, inside my fingers. Now, wherever you touch me, you touch my heart.

A Question to Walk With: Begin to tell the story of the history of your heart.

Sizing His Dream

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After my father died, I leafed through his notebooks as a schoolboy as he was learning his trade. This poem comes from feeling him as a young learner.

SIZING HIS DREAM
(FOR MY BROTHER)

Near the end, our father gave me
these notebooks written in his hand
when he was sixteen, trying to under-
stand his trade. There are drawings and
measurements. He was sizing his dream.
I want each of us to have one, to have a
piece of him since he took so much of us
with him. I know his creative gene swims
between us, can feel it when we talk of
painters and sculptors and tireless work-
men, unaware of their greatness. He was
a great builder like you. I think you have
his vision. And I, his mother’s heart. I
want you—on a night when you miss him
deeply—to hold this pad that he held, that
he poured himself into. Know when you
hold it, that I am holding the other. Know
that together we bring him back in a flutter
of what lasts forever. Put your hand on one
of his drawings and imagine him years
before he knew our names, imagine
him leaning over this pad, learning
what to do with all he was born with.

A Question to Walk With: Hold something that belonged to someone you loved who’s no longer here. Let your hands be in conversation with something they held.

The Rough Beauty

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Those who put down what is false, no matter how dear, are my heroes.

THE ROUGH BEAUTY

We think what’s familiar is normal,
but whether you’re born under a rock
or on a cliff six inches from heaven,
nothing matters but the effort to shed
the mud or glare of whatever covers you,
so that nothing is between you and life.
Though everything wants to film you
over: dirt, pain, regret, memory, or the
shine of dream and expectation. We
all land the same inch from eternity,
rubbing it like a pebble turned gem
between our fingers.

I think of all this while putting a
band-aid on your thumb that blistered
from gardening a stubborn patch of
earth. I think of this while you touch
the soreness in my heart when
I work too hard at living.

I am uplifted by anyone who dares
to stand naked before the world, to
say, “For all the ways I’ve tried to
change, this is the rough beauty
of what I’ve given to arrive as me.”

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, discuss one thing you’ve given to arrive more fully in your life as you truly are.

Disrobing in Time

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It’s humbling how often we try to run from where we land, almost always missing the power inherent in the truth of things as they are.

 

Disrobing in Time

 

Nothing is easy, but to tell the truth.

The truth of what I see and feel.

This somehow cleanses my eye

and it becomes clear what to do.

 

In my pain I forget to admit what is

true and things get worse. Because

I don’t want to be sad, I don’t admit

that I already am. Then I feel like

I’m drowning.

 

Because I don’t want things to change,

I don’t admit that they already have.

Then I feel like the wheel of life

is tearing me apart.

 

The greatest power we have when

feeling powerless is to admit what

is already true. Then the stepping

stones of Eternity rise out of the

mud, showing us where to go.

 

A Question to Walk With: Journal about one change you’ve undergone that you’ve had trouble admitting to. What do you fear might happen if you accept the reality of this change.

 

 

Relic from the Future

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The questions we ask of life and ourselves are archetypal, regardless of the gadgets we invent.

 

RELIC FROM THE FUTURE

Questions found on an antique cell phone
discovered in 2086 in the ruins of an airport
when people traveled by plane: What if I let
love in all the way? Why am I always leaving?
What is it that stirs me about being caught?
Though I never wanted safe, why have I settled
for safe? Why do I keep running, when I have
no interest in moving? How do I say yes more
often? How do I stop reliving the past? How can
I learn to use my freedom? Having lived most of
my life in fear of what’s coming, how can I find
meaning where I am? How can I stop playing
small? How can I put down the upset of not
getting what I want? How can I better see the
unseen? How can I die to old ways of being?
How can I let what wants to be born in me
have its way? Now that I’ve been helped,
how can I find the strength to help others?
Just what is my work? And what will it
take to taste the honey?

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, surface and ask one question that no one can answer. Drift in this unanswerable space for a while together.