Lest We Fade Away

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Narcissus 

Narcissus vanished. All that remained 
was the fragrance of his beauty— 
constant and sweet, the scent of heliotrope. 

His task was only to behold himself. 

Whatever emanated from him he loved 
back into himself. 
He no longer drifted in the open wind, 
but enclosed himself in a narrowing circle 
and there, in its grip, he extinguished 
himself. 

Uncollected Poems

from A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings From The Best Of Rainer Maria Rilke 


In the Greek myth of Narcissus he falls in love with his own reflection and fades out of existence. Today it feels as though the human species is in danger of fading away, having been gazing too long on our own reflection. Spirituality is about letting go of our fixation on ego and breaking through to divinity. Rilke says of Narcissus, “whatever emanated from him he loved back into himself.” When we love everything back into ourselves the common good suffers. Wars break out. Greed abounds. So, today I offer this practice:

Breathing in I welcome healthy ego.

Breathing out I release self-serving ego.

Breathing in I rest in soul-self.

Breathing out I emanate love.

May it be so.

For Love Of A Blackbird

bbc.com

For Love Of A Blackbird

The pastor preaches passionately about Truth 
Exposing the lies Pilate 
Spins to the crowd outside.

(She could have preached it in another church earlier and called it “Face the Nation.”)

In yet another inner sanctum, Cory Booker 
Exposes the lies spit at another prophet on the docket
And the beat goes on, La de da de de.
And the beat goes on, La de da de de

Meanwhile, on the lush shore of a quarter-mile long lake 
The crisp and clear one-tone-tune of the mating
Red Wing Blackbirds preaches truth to my soul:

One true tune can stop a lie in its tracks.
Oh, for the love of a blackbird.

c. Rita Hemmer Kowats March 27, 2022

Winter And Spring

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Winter 2015

I heard the sabers rattling
In digital space last night,
The same sabers heard in ‘90 and ‘03.
The blade smiths deftly forged their words
Hard as metal and plunged
Them into the furnace of fear
Where they shaped and tempered them
Into the fine point
That is called war.

Today I listen for the words
Of prophets rising above the din of sabers,
Their words clear and clean and true
Forged in the furnace of their souls
Shaped and honed by a justice
Crafted with eyes wide open.
I summon the prophet 
Who lives in the furnace of my own soul:
“Come forth!”

c. Rita Hemmer Kowats 
December 2015



Spring 2022

The blade smiths are busy in Ukraine
As I grieve for a neighbor who died yesterday.
Loved ones draped his coffin with the flag 
That stood at attention in the alcove of his apartment. 
They donated his prosthetic legs to the next victims 
Of the boys in the back room.

“Oh, when will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?”
Today Pete Seeger’s lyrics wafted 
Over the shower stall at the YMCA
And froze me on the battlefield of Ukraine.
Joining in on the next verse I felt that prophet 
In the furnace of my soul 
Rising
Resolving
Replacing complacence with justice.
We sang the whole song, 
Strangers standing together at last 
In the hushed silence of truth laid bare.

c. Rita Hemmer Kowats
March 14, 2022


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When Will We Ever Learn?

© Negro Elkha / Adobe Stock/epthinktank.eu

This morning after I swam with my 60’s generation peers I heard this in the next shower, ”Oh, when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” I joined in singing to the last verse. I cried. She said she couldn’t get it out if her head today and I responded ironically , ”I wonder why.” “What a fire in the belly (Marge Piercy)” this experience was for me. May we learn soon.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone? 

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

The 1955 song by Pete Seeger, who died on Jan 28, 2014. He was 94 years old. This is one of the most familiar American folk songs.



“Call Me By My True Names”II

Thich Nhat Hanh 12 (cropped).jpg

I will forever remember Thich Nhat Hanh for the challenge he offers me in this stark and powerful poem. If we can get to the point of recognizing how evil intention lives in ourselves, perhaps we can get to the point of forgiveness and reconciliation with the perpetrators of evil deeds. Thank you, Thãy.

Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.

There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.

When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Dharma Writing Workshop

The Dharma Writing Workshop http://www.quietspaces.com/dharmawriting.html

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Standing Watch

Glass Houses, features a cobrador, a “cloaked figure acting as a conscience to those without one. Forcing payment of a moral debt.”

Louise Penny Glass Houses

When the pandemic first began, I longed for the comfort of Three Pines Village featured in the Louise Penny mystery series. So I reread all of the books. It helped! “Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines.” (Louise Penny)  So I read. And read. It’s time to go back to Three Pines on this anniversary of the horror perpetrated in the U,S. Capital.

One of Penny’s books, Glass Houses, features a cobrador, a “cloaked figure acting as a conscience to those without one. Forcing payment of a moral debt.” (Penny)  He/she stands wordlessly in the village green. Waiting. I’m reminded of that book every day lately when I see an unsheltered person come to rest on the bench across the street. Sometimes in chilling, drenching rain and high wind. They just sit for a while, and I hold vigil with them from my warm, dry apartment. I pray for forgiveness for my complicity with an unjust system that keeps them unsheltered. The visitor to the bench is a cobrador for me, calling me to accountability and inspiring me to action. My hope is that all of us will stand as a conscience that reminds us that there is still such a thing as the common good. That we will stand as a conscience that says no to violence and selfishness.

We stand. With or without words. We stand boldly in our “no.”

The Light Bearers

Carry your light into the dark.
Swing it wide 
Into the hidden cupboards
Tucked away 
Under the staircases of our souls.

Illuminate
The shadows that loom 
And shatter peace
By piece by piece,
But gentle your swings-
Don’t show us all at once
Lest you send us scampering
Deeper into the cupboard.

Illuminate.
Carry your light into the dark.
Swing it wide 
Into the hidden cupboards
Tucked away 
Under the staircases of our souls.

Cauterize.
Bring your light beside our wound
To staunch the steady stream of negativity 
That threatens our well-being;
A slow burn, endearing and enduring.
Cauterize.

Carry your light into the dark.
Swing it wide 
Into the hidden cupboards
Tucked away 
Under the staircases of our souls.

Heal,
Lightbearer.
Ignite us with love
And stoke it, until transformed,
We bear the light to others.
Heal.

Carry your light into the dark.
Swing it wide 
Into the hidden cupboards
Tucked away 
Under the staircases of our souls.

c. Rita H Kowats 2021


photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/227572587397001342/

An Uneasy Promise


The ark of consequence 

The classic rainbow shows as an arc, a bridge strung 
in thinning clouds, but I have seen it flash a perfect circle,
 rising and falling and rising again 
through the octave of colors, 
a sun shape rolling like a wheel of light. 

Commonly it is a fraction of a circle, a promise only partial, 
not a banal sign of safety like a smile pin, that rainbow 
cartoon affixed to vans and baby carriages. 
No, it promises only, this world will not self-destruct. 

Account the rainbow a boomerang of liquid light, foretelling rather 
that what we toss out returns in the water table; flows from the faucet 
into our bones; what we shoot up into orbit falls 
to earth through the roof one night. 

Think of it as a promise that what we do continues in an arc 
of consequence, flickers in our children’s genes, 
collects in each spine and liver, gleams 
in the apple, coats the down of the drowning auk. 

When you see the rainbow iridescence shiver in the oil slick, 
smeared on the waves of the poisoned river, shudder 
for the covenant broken, for we are given only this floating round ark 
with the dead moon for company and warning.

§ Marge Piercy

In The hunger moon : new and selected poems, 1980–2010 / by.—1st ed.

Blurred Borders

I rediscovered this photo while rummaging in a long-forgotten drawer for a greeting card.  The find has had me rummaging through the time I spent in the Ground Zero community, a nonviolent resistance movement to nuclear weapons. I lived in the woods in a house above the railroad tracks that moved weapons and fuel in and out of Subase Bangor in Poulsbo/Silverdale WA.  Perhaps the message I want to share in the accompanying poem is the realization that if we allow our spiritual practice to divest us of the need to cling to possessions, the world will not need weapons to protect the “lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed.”

I.

My intrepid Blue Cream Tortoise Shell
boldly went where no sane mortal 
dared to roam.
Emily slinked across the railroad tracks
which carried warheads and fuel-
fresh and spent- into Subase Bangor.
She scooted under the gate 
making her way to the bunkers 
where armed marines waited 
ready to shoot intruders at first sight-
but surely not Emily.
Emily who did not threaten to destroy 
"the lifestyle to which we had become accustomed."*

II.

Jim and I passed out the week's leaflets
from our respective lanes at Trigger Avenue gate.
We shivered against the temperature outside, 
and the inside temperature of workers
as they spotted us when traffic stalled.
It was a typical early morning arrival-
yawning, putting on makeup, shaving.
Until an unexpected guest materialized
darting in and out of cars, nostrils flaring 
eyes betraying the deer's sheer terror.
Guards rushed out to stop traffic
and opened the gate wide.
We waited. And waited.
Finally the deer leaped up
and shot to safety on the other side.
Jim looked at me and said,
"How ironic that she is safer in there than out here."

No open gate for those who "threaten the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed."

*Admiral Trost in The Trident Tides U.S. Navy publication

c. rita hemmer kowats Indigenous Peoples Day 2021

A Spirituality Of Deliberation





Waiting.
Waiting for a just peace
to show up.

Waiting
with twelve jurors
in their pain 
in their fear
in their doubt.

Holding Vigil

Breathing-in peace
we extend protection.
Breathing-in deep listening
we welcome transparency.

Peaceful
Protect
Listen
Open.

Waiting 
with intention.
Waiting together.

c. Rita H Kowats April 19, 2021

An Alternate Field Of Energy: Deep Listening

Avalokita, the Bodhisattva of Deep Listening

I have been listening to Anderson Cooper’s 360 podcast this week. Reluctantly.  I want in-depth coverage so I know where to direct my prayers, but I’ve been tempted to turn it off several times.  As the reporters narrate, the background plays a steady, unrelenting stream of protesters shouting.  The energy is too much for me to take in and I want to escape to the silence of my privileged white anchorage and chant “All shall be well.”

I keep listening because those protesters in Minneapolis and elsewhere around the US and the globe, deserve the respect of deep listening.  Not listening and analyzing words; rather, a deep listening for feelings that describe experiences.This is the kind of listening that can bring a just peace. Hundreds of oppressed citizens have literally put their lives on the line to tell me they can endure no more. The least I can do is listen.

In his book Silence: The Power Of Quiet In A World Full Of Noise, Thich Nhat Hanh tells of Avalokita, the Bodhisattva of Deep Listening. The name means “the one who listens deeply to the sounds of the world.” “Bodhisattva” refers to someone with great compassion who works tirelessly to mitigate the suffering of others. I, we, can be a Bodisattva of deep listening by willing ourselves to take in the energy of those who are crying out for justice. We can send back a sound of peace and healing.  We can send back a commitment to act for a just peace.

May it be so.