Category Archives: poetry

The Time Zones of Life

It’s poetry this time…

I walk around the lake.
I walk and the voice of the wind has changed.
It’s deep, it’s metal.

I walk.
And I know, as I walk, that my footprints on the track will be gone,
soon,
when the rising sun melts the frost.

I walk.
And I know, as I walk, that the sordino of the leaves is gone,
for now,
and I know
with that wind
I will have gone, in one second,
through the time zones of my life.

I walk around the lake.
I walk myself to myself,
I walk to stories and poems,
to images and sounds,
to yesterdays and tomorrows.

©Copyright of the poem: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

The Taste of Life in Your Mouth

“Thinking makes you uncomfortable like walking in the rain when the wind gets stronger and it seems to rain more.”

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

On quiet Sunday mornings like this the best thing to do is to go for a walk in nature, or read poetry. I returned to my favorite poet whom I already quoted in my second ever blog post, the Portuguese Fernando Pessoa. He wrote under various heteronyms, one of which was a fictitious herdsman called Alberto Caeiro. For me Alberto Caeiro is someone who reveals in a most perceptive way how our thoughts prevent us from experiencing the reality through our senses, and how we thereby lose the chance to really live life in its totality.

Taste this poem:

The Herdsman

I’m herdsman of a flock.
The sheep are my thoughts
And my thoughts are all sensations.
I think with my eyes and my ears
And my hands and feet
And nostrils and mouth.

To think a flower is to see and smell it.
To eat a fruit is to sense its savor.

And that is why, when I feel sad,
In a day of heat, because of so much joy
And lay me down in the grass to rest
And close my sun-warmed eyes,
I feel my whole body relaxed in reality
And know the whole truth and am happy.

Translated by Edouard Roditi

P.S. The source of the first verse of the post is taken from http://alberto-caeiro.blogspot.fi
Even if you don’t understand Portuguese, go and read the original poem at Arquivo Pessoa. Just savour the words and enjoy the flow of them in your mouth.

In Love Also The Death Must Have Her Share

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I’ve been pondering on love – love in intimate relationships, love between children and parents. First the theme sprung up when someone spoke about their problems in a close relationship. Then it appeared in a bit different context, namely in a relationship with my grown-up daughter. We had a conflict, and I realized once again I just have to let her live her life. I understood that though I love her very much, I have to stop seeing her as my little girl.

As I was processing our conflict I felt very sorry for myself and for my daughter. Then I gradually began to see also some humor in the situation, and I wrote a rhyming poem about my feelings:

The Song About Dying Today

I died again today.
It seems that dying never
goes away.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow –
It seems I can’t live without sorrow!

The only thing I see permanent
is the flash of life
so transient.

So here I sit and cry,
without even knowing why.

As I was mulling over the mystery and misery of love, I remembered a book that I read ages ago. I dug it up from my bookshelf, and I even managed to find the passage that speaks so beautifully about the Death/Life cycle of love relationships. This is what Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves:

“A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we can progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die. But in love, psychically, everything becomes picked apart, everything. The ego does not want it to be so. Yet it is how it is meant to be, and the person of a deep and wildish nature is undeniably drawn to the task.

What dies? Illusion dies, expectations die, greed for having it all, for wanting to have all be beautiful only, all this dies. Because love always causes a descent into the Death nature, we can see why it takes abundant self-love and soulfulness to make that commitment.”

Copyright of the poem: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Always On The Way Somewhere?

Kuva tiestä Maxmossa

We made a trip to Norway a couple of weeks ago (see my post The Flight of A Bird). During that trip I thought about life, and my thoughts went like this:

I sit in the car,
and the road races ahead of me.
Meadowsweets,
meadow buttercups and
rosebay willow herbs,
roadsides full of them.
I’m always on the way somewhere, some place.
Always aiming, attempting.
Always aspiring, acquiring – and the flowers just look at me as I pass by.

Happiness And Wild Raspberries

kukkia ja puita Maxmossa

This is the time of year when I become poetic.

It is midsummer, and I am staying again in a little red house that is almost one hundred years old. It always welcomes us so warmly when we arrive here after the winter – the old furniture with its stories, the light that lingers in quiet rooms, the squeaky steps that lead upstairs.

I leave behind me the dirt and restlessness of the city life when I come here. The ubiquitous green surrounds me. The wind rustles in the aspen leaves. The age-old, faithful apple tree is still blooming. And I enjoy walking barefoot on the grass.

Nothing much happens.

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I sit on the doorstep and watch life flow by: a rabbit on its morning walk; the neighbor’s cat chasing a mouse; a young woman from a nearby farm riding a brown horse; a tiny grey lizard resting motionless on a warm rock in front of the sauna.

The days are a continuous stream of light with no clear beginning or end. Time slows down.

In the evenings I go to sleep satiated with life.

Perhaps by August I am ready to write another poem in the spirit of Zen, like I did last year:

Definition of happiness?
Don’t go further
than the nearest forest.
On a crispy
August morning
pick yourself those flawless
wild raspberries.

Put all you are into the smallest thing you do

To be great, be whole;
Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
So, in each lake, the moon shines with splendor
Because it blooms up above.

Fernando Pessoa

So Hard To Find The Words

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I was in Sweden for a week, participating again in one module of my on-going training in Zen coaching.

Since coming back home it has been difficult to return to writing.

“Don’t touch me with your words, don’t reduce me to your concepts”, a voice inside me has been saying.

And yet, I have a need to say, an urge to share. So I’ll try to write. After all, I have in my use this limited, yet rich variety of symbols and metaphors, the words to convey my thoughts and feelings, ideas and experiences.

What is it then that is so hard to put into words?

… It’s all about life… it’s all about allowing myself to be vulnerable and showing my vulnerability.

… Looking back from where I am now – which is already one full life – I can see how there has been one big passion guiding me and my choices. I have wanted to dig deeper, to look beyond the apparent. I have yearned to see that I am part of something larger than just my small personal life. I have travelled all kinds of roads to explore my questions. Some of the roads I have walked have also turned out to be attempts to escape rather than find and face my personal truth.

There was theology. There was a ten-year odyssey exploring the world through journalism. Some twenty-year long journey of art and painting. Explorations of Buddhism and Raja yoga. An intense period of time devoted to working on my psychological wounds and scars.

And now there is something new dawning on me. A new connection, a fresh link between areas that I have considered separate until now.

I realize how deeply meaningful my journey has been! How wonderful has been the hidden intelligence that has been at play in everything.

Here are some of the insights that have been close to my heart during the past  weeks:

  • I understand that religions are not the answer. They may be useful because they refer to something important, but they can’t replace your own inner authority that you have to find, in the end, in yourself, and in and through your own experience.
  • I have also understood that you can’t use religion – or, for that matter, any spiritual or ideological approach – to escape the work that you have to do with your own psychological conditioning. You can’t skip the pain of exploring those hard shields, those clever masks under which you had to hide yourself as you grew up, to survive in the world you were thrown into when you were born.
  • The wonderful human body! It is the place where I can look at my feelings and really FEEL everything. It is the body through which I am in contact with the world and with myself. It is only through the fragile body that I can experience the present moment. I can lie to myself, but the body doesn’t lie.
  • Our definitions of ourselves are often too small, just as our definitions of “God” are too small. My inner level of Being – or, if you like, my Authentic Self, my Essence, my Supreme Self, my buddhanature – is a relevant, true dimension that is common to all human beings.
  • The gate into a larger or deeper understanding of life is not outside myself – it is inside me. There is no external authority to say how I should explore that  field of experience. Therefore, I am free to use any means and walk any paths that I like, to get into contact with my inner Being. The important thing  to remember is this: You can’t get there without having to face your personal pain.
  • To describe our inner level of Being we have to use metaphors and symbolic language. Therefore, mystics and poets touch these dimensions of our being better than official dogmas of organized religions, or scientific language of psychology.
  • It is only through contact to our Being, to our Authentic Self, that we can be free, and we can accept our fate and life as it is, with compassion and love. We no longer need to defend ourselves, because there is nothing to defend; we see our “personality” with its emotions and feelings as waves or ripples on the surface of life; whether as our inner Being – that transcends our psychological history – is characterized by unshakable peace, love and joy.

*

I’ll finish with a poem that speaks about a mystic experience, described in words that refer to earthly love. The writer is Spanish St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Crux) who lived in the 16th century.

On a dark night,
Anxious, by love inflamed,
– O joyous chance! –
I left not seen or discovered,
My house at last completely quiet.

In the darkness, with light,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
– O joyous chance! –
I left in the darkness, covered,
My house at last completely quiet.

On that joyous night,
In secret, seen by no one,
Nor with anything in sight,
I had no other light or mark,
Than the one burning in my heart.

This light guided me
More directly than the midday sun,
Where waiting for me
Was the One I knew so well, my delight,
In a place with no one in sight.

O night! O guide!
O night more loving than the dawn!
O night that joined
Lover with beloved,
Beloved in the lover transformed!

Upon my flowering breasts,
Which I had saved for him alone,
There he slept,
While I caressed his hair,
And the cedars’ breeze gave us air.

As I spread his tresses,
The fresh wind from the turret,
Wounds me in the neck as it presses
With its serene hand,
Suspending all my senses with its caresses.

I lose myself and remain,
With my face on the Beloved inclined;
All has come to rest,
I abandon all my cares
There, among the lilies, to die.

Feast on Your Life

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I spoke about the importance of coming back home to oneself in my previous post. Here’s a poem that says it all in a nutshell, by Derek Walcott. Enjoy:

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

What We See of Things

It is a day like any other day. I sit in my room, surrounded by familiar objects which I can see as I always see them. Or can I? Can I really trust what my senses tell me?

Let me tell you about an interesting experience I once had.

At the time we were living in Mozambique. I was in my room that was furnished with a bookshelf, an armchair, a painting on the wall and a small bamboo table with a green flower vase on it. I sat in the armchair and slowly gazed at the objects of the room.

Looking at the bamboo table I cast my mind back to Vietnam, where I had bought the table and from where we had left for Africa. Looking at the painting I thought of the time when I had hung it on the wall, and of all those things that I was going through in my life at that time. Looking at the bookshelf I remembered Hanoi and a busy street where I had purchased the shelf, and the man who sold it to me, and the way I transported it home. The little green flower vase made me think of Finland and leaving from there.

Lootuksenkukkia

Every item in the room carried a story or an association with it. I really did not see the mere objects, but equally I saw my own thoughts, feelings and memories.

Then I made a small experiment. I tried to look at every item purely, without all the ”mental labels” that I had attached on their surfaces. I tried, one at a time, to peel off the stories and feelings that had settled on every piece of furniture in that room.

And suddenly I experienced something very liberating.

For a moment I was able to see the objects naked and stripped-down, without memories and experiences. Unlike one might imagine, the fact that they were revealed to me void of all meaning did not feel at all unpleasant or scary.

The border between my environment and myself dissolved for a moment.

Only the bright present moment, without past or future, was left; an existence that felt benevolent. And it wasn’t even important that it was I who was there, because even I became part of the surrounding reality, and the reality seemed to look back at me from the objects.

I think the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa speaks of a similar fleeting moment in his poem:

At times, on days of perfect and exact light,
When things have all the reality they can,
I ask myself slowly
Why I even attribute
Beauty to things.

Does a flower somehow have beauty?
Somehow a fruit has beauty?
No: they have color and form
And existence only.
Beauty is the name of something that doesn’t exist
I give to things in exchange for the delight they give me.
It means nothing.
Then why do I say, “Things are beautiful”?

Yes, even I, who live only to live,
Invisible, they come to meet me,
Men’s lies in the face of things,
In the face of things that simply exist.

How difficult to be yourself and see only what you can!

As I see it, Pessoa speaks in his poem of a brief moment of now that reveals us how imprisoned we are by our own experiences, even in the way we perceive ordinary objects that surround us.

We look at the world through our concepts – for example, that of beauty in the poem, and these concepts interpose themselves between the observer and the observed. As a result we lose something precious: a pure sense perception that happens in the present moment, the power of now.

Pessoa’s poem forces me to ask the following: If it is so difficult to perceive simple everyday objects without various interfering associations and given meanings, then how much more blurred must our perceptions be of other people and ourselves by our earlier life experiences?

Of course, when we are more or less aware of our personal problems, and hence without many unresolved issues in our life, our life experiences can also deepen our understanding of other people. Perhaps we could call this accurate mental eyesight.

Unfortunately, though, quite many of us avoid reflecting upon those aspects of life that blur the art of accurate mental eyesight. As a consequence we lose our ability to live completely in the present moment.

One can but join in the sigh of Pessoa: How difficult to be yourself and see only what you can! (The translation from Portuguese to English is not maybe the best possible. The more precise idea is how difficult to be yourself and to see only what there is to be seen.)

It is difficult but not impossible. So how can you be yourself and how can you see only what there is?

Above all else we have to want to understand ourselves on a deeper level. We need to ask the right questions.

True changes begin to happen in our life when for example we start to question our reactions to other people and the situations that we encounter. ”Is my reaction to this person and this situation truly relevant, or am I reacting to something in me? Is my behaviour caused by something inside my mind?”

The next question is: ”Who am I really?” This question leads us beyond usual definitions of identity, beyond those mental ”labels” that life has attached upon us. It helps us to reconnect to our authentic Self that has been there all the time, though buried under all secondary identities.

It is this space in us, this authentic Self, this level of true Being, Awareness  – whatever word you prefer – that is capable of seeing our internal conflicts and our suffering just as they are, with full acceptance and compassion. And when acceptance of one’s own life is reached, it expands to include other people, too.

You begin to be yourself and see only what there is to be seen.

More about Fernando Pessoa’s poetry and his eccentric personality in Wikipedia The original poem in Portuguese can be found at: http://arquivopessoa.net/textos/1182, the English translation at: http://alberto-caeiro.blogspot.fi