Please Enjoy It

When they told the old woman that her husband
had died during surgery, she sighed slightly,
then pulled the blankets over her head.

She never did emerge alive from her covers,
but instead left a short handwritten note
on the table by her bedside. It read:

There is a bottle of good wine in the kitchen
cabinet, right above the sink. Enjoy it.

There is a wheel of freshly smoked cheese
in a drawer in the refrigerator. Enjoy it.

The baker down the street on the corner makes
an excellent sourdough baguette. Enjoy it.

When your babies try to speak for the first time,
listen to their whole story, and enjoy it.

If you hear small children conversing happily
with their invisible friends, enjoy it.

Whenever someone smiles and tells you
that they love you, enjoy it.

If you wake at sunrise, go to your window,
open it wide, inhale, and enjoy it.

At sunset, if you see flocks of birds winging
homeward in the vanishing light, enjoy it.

When your best day and your worst day
turn out to be the same day, enjoy it.

When criticism and praise both amount
to exactly the same thing, enjoy it.

If your friends and enemies become the same
cherished dear ones in your eyes, enjoy it.

When you can swallow the infinite ocean
of hope and fear in one gulp, enjoy it.

If, for you, love is all that matters, enjoy it.

When guardian angels part your rib cage
so that your waiting soul can fly out at last
and merge with the great light, enjoy it!

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The Reason for Everything

Some claim our lives are predestined, that whatever
is going to happen to us was already decided
long before we ever arrived here.

Of course, people say a lot of things, few of which
are actually true. I say that whatever happens
might just depend on everything:

the way the first people who crawled out of the sea
stood on dry land, looked around, and sniffed the air;

the stunning colors in the clouds over one continent
after the super-volcano exploded on another;

the cumulative cries of all the babies ever born;

the exact amount of blood spilled into the earth
during all of man’s endless wars;

the happy games Cain and Abel played as children
before there was anything to gain or lose;

the frustration we feel when the seeds we’ve set out
for the migrating birds are eaten instead by squirrels;

the tears in the eyes of all the lovers on railway platforms
as they wave farewell to their beloveds rolling away;

the horror on the faces of all the mid-wives and healers
burned at the stake by the church as witches;

the secret agreements made between grinning psychopaths
over how they would divide up the nations of the world;

the songs of the last whales before their species
was finally hunted by man into extinction;

all the wishes made upon the stars and blown-out
birthday cake candles that never came true . . .

Yes, I could go on and on, since the reason for anything
is everything, but perhaps I should stop here and let
you, the reader, add some reasons of your own.

Together, we could compose a text that never ends,
and even if it somehow did, something else will
continue on — something always does.

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Our History

Lately, I feel a certain sadness contemplating my species.
Perhaps I’ve been watching too much American television.
Americans seem desperately sad, they need more canaries.

Our canary begins singing in earnest at sunset.
He stands on his hollow coconut composing
spontaneous arias to the vanishing daylight.

He has no idea if he will see the sun rise again.
This lends an extra measure of poignancy to his
operatic solos, and a richness to his trills.

At dawn, he can’t contain his joy — he just has to
let the whole world know how fantastic it is to watch
the sky gradually fill with luminosity once again!

At the fish store, all of the dead fish rest in peace
on a cool bed of ice. It appears that they are
all looking in the exact same direction.

Their little eyes and mouths are fixed in an expression
of awe and wonder, as if they are glimpsing the after world,
where all fish can finally speak their minds out loud.

If we could somehow listen in, we might hear a tale
of how they came down out of the sky long ago
to make their homes in the rivers and seas.

We all came down from the sky — Americans, canaries,
fish, and every part of our floating world — we descended
from above, even though there’s really no “above”.

Our mutual history is a history of light, light modifying itself
into the transient forms of you and me and everything,
whether happy or sad, or just standing in a cage
of light, singing our dear little hearts out.

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More Mountain Hermit Songs

1.

Judgments bought me an urn of stone,
impermanence filled it with ashes.

From a ledge on the edge of this world
I poured out into the impersonal wind.

Shadows of clouds swept over the cliffs,
a lone flute’s sound fell into the void.

If you want to change, if you want to serve,
bow down at the feet of all you’ve slurred.

Crack open that cold rock jar and weep,
let your heart speak, let your tears be
solvent to that hard crust of pride,
revealing a love which can’t be
resisted and won’t be denied!

2.

What gives
is what receives;
what receives, gives.

Nothing
is exchanged.

Selfishness
is a cunning thief.

A word to the wise:
have nothing to steal.

3.

What care have I for others’ words,
judgments, or expectations?

There are so many ways this life can play,
it confounds the gods’ imagination!

In the morning I bathe in a clear cool stream.
The remains of the day — too full to say!

At night I rock amidst the stars,
a lover in the arms of the beloved.

Nothing is waiting to be affirmed,
yet nothing arises to be refused.

Free of distraction, I’m unbound
by all of those petty man-made rules.

Behold, I sport amidst the flashing forms
of light and shadow, sound and utter silence!

Yelp of a baby fresh from the womb,
heartbeat identical to the throb of infinity —

throughout all creation its secret remains
hidden, yet it is never out of view.

In realms of darkness it abides as light.
In realms of light it abides as darkness.

Primordial peace, ocean of grace, essence
inexhaustible – who can describe it?

When I offer these words to the fire, the smoke
will rise and wreath this sacred mountain,
just as this mountain now wreathes me.

4.

For each and every one of us there is
a true way – no need to imitate anyone else.

The easy path for each goes in the same
direction one’s heart unswervingly follows –

what’s truly most appealing to us
requires no stress and strain at all!

Effort can obscure the way,
yet so can effort’s lack.

When in doubt, just walk on.
Nothing real can long be hidden.

If we ourselves are the destination,
why worry our minds about delays?

There is a string of lovely pearls
the adepts have called “life after life”.

Each one is a unique miracle, draped
like radiant suns around the throat
of a blissful Buddha, appearing
in the imaginatively creative
form of our own self.

Likewise, life after life,
our own perfect way
shines bright before us.

Each traveler journeys
at their own perfect speed,
neither hurrying nor tarrying.

Whatever way we go is right for us —
without the slightest deviation, each path
in time returns the one who walks it home.

5.

Visions of luminous grandeur
that thrilled my heart today are now
fast consumed by tonight’s chilling mists.

Stinging airborne water curtains obscure
the once-bright stage, leaving this
cold-soaked audience of one
to soberly sit and ponder
the play of changes —

yet like a lunatic
I rock back and forth,
arms hugging my sides to
keep from freezing, unaccountable
laughter echoing through rock canyons
like a flock of partying peacocks, drunk and
calling, destined for a sober-less night of love.

6.

Memories dissolve like cowering
mists pierced through and through by
Manjusri’s sword of morning sunlight.

Still, I am not naive enough to imagine
they won’t return to climb the spine
of my sentiment and linger here
at dusk, tenacious shades
I’ll bear to the cave of my heart,
there to be tenderly consigned to a fire
I’ve lit for them to disappear in once again.

Only then will the clarity of moonlight reveal
the hidden secret memory can’t bear:

I have no past, I never did –

this skull is a bowl
of moonshine.

7.

Every place is my favorite place
along this mountain stream.

When every place is perfect,
how can there be any regrets?

Wherever I am
is the right place to be –
what could be easier than that?

When I enter the stream,
I become the stream.

When I become the stream,
I forget the stream.

Water forgets itself in me.
I forget myself in water.

Water needn’t search for itself
when all there is, is water.

8.

I’m not here to explain —
I’m here to praise.

Sometimes an explanation
can be a form of praise.

Just so, I offer
the following explanation:

there is nothing to explain.

There have been enough
explanations, not enough praise.

Our amazing feat of embodiment
needs no explanation.

The very act of appearing at all
is reason enough for praise!

9.

Whatever can be gained
can also be lost.

Come spring, a thousand streams
cascade down sloping mountains.

In the fall, ten thousand trees
shed fading golden leaves.

After all, whichever way we turn,
what has been gained, what lost?

What do we long for most of all,
when autumn leaves begin to fall?

Like salty tears wept into the sea,
one dream melts into the next –

nothing remains hidden,
though nothing is revealed.

10.

Awake in the dream, writing
in the air, I feed the wind
whatever still stings.

What clings is where
the real practice is, that is
if I honestly want the truth.

It won’t be found in the myths
of personal continuity, those stories
requiring an allegiance to phantoms,
as if to add some density to shadows,
all the while postponing, resisting
the presence waiting patiently
to reveal itself as the truth
nobody wants to hear.

Open your mouth
and try to say it,

see if your tongue
will move.

11.

Everything is
cause for anything,
all is one with its effect.

With each step a fresh wind rises
as I tread alone through dusk-pink sky,
every direction home, every path the way.

For untold years I’ve sung these songs
of moon and water, mist and snow,
yet if you ask me what I know,
I’ll laugh and walk away –

the moon is rising full tonight,
that’s all I’ll have to say.

12.

Sitting at rest, both empty
and yet full, leaning gently back
against the slate cliff of this motherly
mountain, heart at peace in the Merciful,
I find myself all of a sudden smiling.

Within that smile is perched a wild bird
whose wings may contain the firmament,
an immensity within which all blooms,
blossoms, and inexorably returns.

Perhaps because I have been a dreamer,
and because I’m still asleep, I feel as if
I’m falling, falling into something else.

It’s something I have always been,
but along the way somehow forgot.

It is not a dream, nor is it any other
kind of life that I am falling into here.

Whatever it was that I once thought
I knew, how quickly it all fades away.

In the tender mercy of vanishing time,
what else can one do now but smile?

13.

Imagine the ingenuity of mind,
reaching into itself to conjure up
some light with which to cast these
carnival masks and fleetingly familiar
shapes we playfully try on for fit, yet
behind each disguise is the waiting
surprise — there’s nobody there
but the air, Friends, there’s
nobody there but air.

14.

A season of clouds and rain —

water beings emerge and dissolve,
while water in essence remains
itself, eternally the same.

Neither awake nor asleep,
water modifies itself as every
form with neither effort nor intent.

Devoid of any inherent distinction,
water flows, splashes, and divides,
yet persists at rest within its
own sufficient unity.

I am nothing but a jar of water —
once the container of time breaks open,
water will flood naturally back into itself.

Every water molecule will rejoice!

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One Word

Beloved, my forehead rests, unmoving,
on the cool stone floor before you.

Here, there is no defining line to separate
flesh and bone from this pillow of stone.

Tonight I seem to drift through myself,
astonished by the radiant brilliance
of your exquisite light’s reflection
pulsing softly in my heart.

Because I am only here to love you,
my palms turn naturally upward,
holding my heart in my hands.

This infinite Presence is all there is,
now wearing the forms of you and I.

Even in and as these fragile forms,
it still outshines all pretense of duality.

This is what it does, it is what we do.

All ears are pressed against infinity.
All of space is sighing, listening.

We both follow backwards into that.
We seem to move, yet we’re standing still.

A single syllable appears before our eyes
which we cannot forget, we simply can’t.

This incense I burn between my fingers –
a slight sensation before the final ash.

In that momentary flicker of recognition,
of unobstructed clarity, here it is now,
one word that breaks the trance
of any doubt or hesitation:

Ah . . .

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What They Are

1.

Is it not the ruthlessness of light that strips us,
one by one, of light’s beguiling illusions?

What remains, once the fictions of illumination
we have cherished are revealed for what they are?

At dawn, light spreads evenly over sage and fool.

At noon, lazy carp graze silently in willow’s shade.

At dusk, bonfires along the shore blaze up against
the dark immensity that reduces them at last to ash.

At midnight, no word. Still not done with the past.

2.

An intermittent freezing drizzle shrouds
a light-torn sky; from vaporous snowfields
a diamond sutra forms, white narcissus opens.

Dreaming of the spirit world, etched stones
slumber while this old good-for-nothing
smokes the pipe of evanescence.

Tonight the gods are silent, yet in the dark
a lone wolf’s cry expresses wondrous power.

In reply, the restless wind, whirling around
some random flakes of drifting snow, agrees.

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Gone

Once there was a rocky path winding up
this old stone mountain, though it long ago
succumbed to an overgrowth of wild vegetation.

Perhaps it’s just as well, since I’m not going
anywhere anymore — I’m fine right where I am.

If anyone wants to find me, they ought to scrutinize
their motives – would it really be worth the effort
to track down this useless old bag of bones?

When I first met my old master, he invited me to join
him on his mountain. “Come with me”, he smiled.

As it was, he’d prepared a guillotine for me.
When I finally managed to get away, it was only
a headless corpse that walked from there downhill.

I marinated in the spicy stew of the world for a while,
long enough to recognize that I had two hands,
a beating heart, and two good feet.

Lazing around the murky backwaters of mere knowledge
and experience, I bided my time among the denizens
of the red dust towns who slaved for bowls of rice.

Having dined enough at the smoke and mirror buffet
on the world’s meager charades, I finally washed my plate,
then made my way to this humble hut high above the clouds.

Here, sky-deep in dawn, I wade happily along the pristine
streams where sleek rainbow-colored trout go leaping,
impaling themselves on beaming streaks of light.

A primal ecstasy engulfs me here, thrills me beyond
saying, till in the chilled euphoric quake of clear-light
morning majesty, I slip into the nameless — I am gone.

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