Posts tagged #poetry

How to Enter the Aether with a Poem

I'm trying to network on the interwebs, which is stealing some of my writing mojo away from this blog and putting it on... other blogs.

To get your dose of awesoming-your-lifeness this week, I invite you to check out my post on the fabulous Sources of Insight.  I've written about how anyone– and I mean anyone – can read poetry better-than-a-pro with a simple contemplative exercise that I've perfected and tested over the years with my students at the University of Pittsburgh.

In the post, you'll learn

  • how poetry expands your heart and intuition
  • how to "enter the aether" with a poem to understand it deeply

Here it is: How to Read Poetry to Expand Your Heart










Revering the Daimon

What follows is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Awesome Your Life.  

Paradoxically, in order to wake up from our sleep-walking, we need to go deeper into dreaming.  The stuff of our night-time dreams, our poetry, our fancy, the various bits of psychic sparkly stuff that we habitually ignore and dismiss—this is the stuff we need to collect and interact with in deep reverence.  By doing this, we honor our poet spirits, our daimons.  The daimon is our highest potential, our most powerful self.  It’s a spiritual image of possibility which hovers in our morphic field of energy around us and calls us to grow into it, just as the spiritual image of a resplendent oak hovers in the energy field surrounding an acorn.  The daimon (also called the soul, genius or heart) knows who we are and who we can be.  It has a vivid connection to the daimon of the world, too, and connects us not only to our personal journey but to that of the planets.

Canada Vac 2011-36 Creative Commons License photo credit: weslowik

Our egos resist attending with tender reverence and seriousness to our dreams and fantasies.  “I have more important things to do,” is its ever-present claim.


It takes sincere humility and rich honesty to embark on this project of uniting the conscious and the unconscious, order and energy.  Honor your struggles and your frustrations as you move forward with this process, because nothing about it is easy.


The play we’re undertaking requires reverence and devotion—reverence for our own daimons, for all the poets around us (sleeping or waking), for every element of our environment, natural or human-made.  Our present culture derides reverence and devotion as foolish attitudes which make one vulnerable to manipulation and control. Criticism and mocking are much more cool than earnest appreciation.  But reverence is to the soul what the most nutritious food is to the body.  The soul can live on irreverence and criticism, fault-finding and cynicism—but these are poor nurturance.  Our genius can come into its full vitality when we practice offering wonder and deep attention to the life around us.  What we offer to the world is actually what we offer to our own soul, and our soul thrives or falls weak accordingly.

To have a weak soul is to have a hungry ghost within, a monster who is never satisfied and will devour beauty and joy out of your life like the terrible Minotaur beneath the ancient city of Crete, who demanded sacrifices of youths and maidens.  The Minotaur came into existence because King Mino of Crete refused to offer the great gift that had been bestowed to him. When out of fear and greed we refuse to offer our deepest gifts, we create a terror that eats us alive.


Reverence and devotion don’t have to be heavy and dry.  They can be light, erotic, liberating and playful.  All of the creative Experiments in this course call upon your reverence and devotion  in concrete practices.


It’s a good idea, as you travel this path, to practice offering your reverence and respect to every person you meet and your devotion to the spirit of love in them.


Try this: when in conversation, allow your own mind to grow very quiet as you listen to another person.  Don’t internally argue with or amend what the other person says.  Offer your listening presence as a whole gift.  Be the presence of love for the one speaking.  Don’t concern yourself with approving or rejecting the content of what the person says or even who she is.  Simply be present, open, and nonjudging. Be the space in which the other can unfold.  When it’s your turn to talk, your reply may come more slowly since you haven’t been busily formulating it as the other person spoke.  Embrace and allow that slowness.  See how it alters the quality of your communication and the enjoyment you have in conversation.


This is a gentle and practical form of meditation which strengthens your daimon and fuels your ecstatic awakening.


As you cultivate the silence within you through this kind of listening and through daily deep meditation, you will become much more sensitive to the spiritual nuances at work in your life and relationships. We all have spiritual senses, just as we have bodily senses.  These spiritual senses go uncultivated in most of us; it’s not something that’s taught in most schools.


Once you’ve cultivated the ability to list to others with inner quiet, reverence and love, you’ll find that you hear them in a whole other way.  You hear them through your heart— you’ll receive and partake of their heart’s energy as you listen to them speak.  Through this reception, you’ll learn much more about the person you’re listening to than you would through merely cognitive listening.  You’ll intuit their whole history of sorrows and joy, connections and solitudes.  Sentences that formerly would have struck you as wrong-headed, which you would have previously dismissed, will now touch you differently.  You’ll feel the heart in those sentences, the energy within the form of the words—and you’ll discern that you’re able to receive rich and profound gifts from people you otherwise would ignore.


This practice is richly liberating, because through it you can learn how to love and sincerely enjoy a much greater range of people.  By letting your judging mind recede, your daimon is free to be strengthened by the exchange of love and reverence with others.


Posted on August 3, 2011 and filed under Creativity.

The Sleep-walking Poet

The following essay is from my forthcoming book, Awesome Your Life: A Journey to Ecstatic Joy through Soul-making

After a human being has glimpsed the outer orbits of heavenly possibility through any means- whether through falling in love, taking an entheogenic drug, dreaming an astounding dream, or being illuminated in a moment during meditation – that person can no longer peacefully snooze through life. If you’re reading this book, I know you’ve had such a glimpse and that you’ve been moved to restlessness.  You may have buried or repressed your season of insight, but it happened, and now you are irrevocably changed.  The period of fleeting transcendence that we’ve Experimented is a wake-up alarm, a call to adventure.  The tremendous beauty of the call is usually followed by a viciously challenging low— the break up of a romance, the come down off the drug, the having to get up and go to work after the gorgeous dream, the doldrums of ordinary existence after a flash or stretch of huge realization.


tictac Creative Commons License photo credit: pj_vanf


This low and the hopelessness that can come with it can destroy a poet and keep her stuck in an unpleasant state between being fully asleep and fully awake.  Following the awakening, it’s therefore imperative that the poet find a means of integrating the heaven she’s glimpsed with the warp and weft of daily life.  In other words, it’s imperative that she make her soul.


There are many forces that conspire against the successful completion of this integration, this making.  Poets are often told that it flat-out isn’t possible to bring heaven to earth.  After a poet talks to therapists and teachers, parents and even friends about his brushes with the infinite and his desire to enter into a lasting and grounded experience of that bliss he will likely be told that what he’s asking for is far too grand.  “No one lives in ecstasy,” a friend once told me. “Your problem is that you want to.” On the contrary, I would say that my problem was at the time, I didn’t know how to. My friend was making the strange and unfounded assumption that I was a being incapable of transcendence and magical transformation.  She likely made the same sad and unjustified assumption about herself.


The role of the poet is to essentially heal, transform, and evolve consciousness.  At this fraught time in our planet’s history this role is all the more necessary—consciousness must evolve so that from it we can create what the cultural philosopher Charles Eisenstein has accurately and romantically called “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible.” Too often, however, poets are encouraged to use their abilities to fulfill pre-defined roles in existing institutions: artist, teacher, minister, professor.  These functions serve the maintenance of the existing society, the existing order of things.  Yet the existing order of things is itself greatly disturbed and out of harmony, the product of a level of consciousness that needs raising and healing.  So the poet who works to maintain the present order and to succeed within it becomes out of harmony with herself.  In this condition, she’s a sleepwalker.


A sleepwalker is not quite awake and neither is she asleep in her bed. She’s a being maneuvering simultaneously in dreams and in actuality, in danger of destroying herself and those that surround her as she moves here and there without conscious volition or awareness. This is the pain of knowing that there’s a more gorgeous world and yet believing that its manifestation is impossible.  This pain causes a restlessness which is sufficient to make its sufferer stir and wander but not great enough to entirely wake her.


To wakeup, the sleepwalker first needs to honestly admit that she’s still asleep—sleeping is all she knows—and a part of her doubts that anything else lies beyond.


If you feel trapped or limited in life, admit it.  Admit that the present way of things does not correspond to the deeper truth present within you.  Admit what sleepwalking feels like, the dull pain of it.


The burden of a poet is to make consistently manifest for herself and for others the profound love and beauty she’s Experimented.  As long as she denies her duty and her ability to bring forth this manifestation, she stays asleep in denial.


Denial of our extraordinary potential as healers and agents of deep change is a huge and pervasive danger to our souls.  It causes us to do taxing and destructive things in order to stay asleep.  In many cases, poets maintain their sleepwalking through acute addictions to drugs, sex, and food.  These addictions are so engrossing and seductive that they consume the spiritual energy the poet could otherwise use to awaken.  In addiction, we become unendingly thirsty for things that are material substitutes for immaterial power.  We try to fill a spiritual hunger with material substances and we end up more thirsty and sick than ever—like drinking seawater and dying of thirst.


Less acutely, but ultimately no less destructively, a sleepwalking poet may numb herself with intellectual rationalizations, doubts, and self-criticisms.  She convinces herself that the sleeping world is the only real one and insulates herself from full waking by concentrating intently on the practical details of achieving success and recognition in the sleeping world.  She still participates in an addiction, but on a more general scale—she’s an addict in the societal sphere, through consumption.


The frustrations of sleepwalking are so great that the poet may wish for ignorance—to be able to play the game of ordinary life without any suspicion of something more.  But this is impossible. The call has happened.  The restlessness has set in and must be fully dealt with.


Posted on August 1, 2011 and filed under Life Adventure.

The Real Purpose of Poetry

The following is from the Introduction to my forthcoming book, Awesome Your Life:  

When students show up in my Reading Poetry class at the University of Pittsburgh, they’re usually taken aback to discover that I think the only reason to read poetry is to become a poet in the fullest, most sacred sense of that term—a sense that’s been largely forgotten both by contemporary academia and by modern publishing poets.


IMG_2609 Creative Commons License photo credit: kdTeall Every flower has its genius


I explain to my class that real poetry is stuff which is the side-effect of poeisis.  In ancient Greek, “poeisis” meant “making.” What is made in poeisis?  The soul.  What is the process of poeisis?  It has various names, but in the Western tradition it’s been widely known as alchemy.  This alchemy is a deep work of collective and personal transformation and evolution.  It is the mysterious union of the conscious with the unconscious, of the witnessing faculty of the mind (Shiva) with the electric energy of the subtle body (Shakti).  I tell my class that anything anywhere that we have, any painting or piece of writing or house or garment or nation which was made by a person or group of people who used the occasion of making it as a chance to imaginatively work out evolution, collective or personal, is poetry—it is alive, it has a restless, provoking energy, a soul of its own. Looking on it, enjoying it, teaching it, reading it, hearing it, living in it can stimulate our own souls and launch us further on our own alchemical trip.  The result of successful alchemy in any human life is abiding, grounded ecstatic bliss, creative potency, and joy.  Lots of things are made by human hands which are not part of this alchemy—these things might entertain or decorate or serve a purpose—but they don’t stir, alter, enlarge the spirit of the one who engages with them.


For my startled students, it usually takes a while for it to sink in that I’m really talking seriously about all this crazy stuff—alchemy, electric energy, ecstatic bliss—and worst of all—the soul! They’re at first disturbed to understand that our course is not devoted to parsing iambs from dactyls but is rather a course in becoming a poet in the highest, deepest, most radical way—that is, a course in becoming one who makes the soul in himself, in others, and in the world manifest —a course in becoming a person fully alive in the expression of her genius, fully joyful and illuminated with strength.  Gradually, as the weeks pass on and they see I’m really willing to support them on this undertaking, they become restless with excitement.  They’re able to follow me when I suggest that they don’t need to believe in or prove this notion of soul in order to participate in it—they get it that soul is itself a poetic theory, an enabling fiction, something created.  That which creates is that which is created.  Should this surprise us?


All this strangeness is predicated on certain premises which I hold:

1)      The only reason to read or write poetry at all is to be helped on your own trip towards becoming a poet in this strong sense.

2)      A poet is not an insipid person who writes nice verses and gets them published to widespread approval in pretentious magazines among polite professors.

3)      A poet is a soul-maker. She’s a dynamic force that radically changes the movement of thought and imagination within her generation.  A real poet is a shaman and a healer, a warrior and a scientist, a philosopher and a living dream.  She might write some verses or she might not.  The verses might be published or they might not.  This has exactly no consequence or bearing for the poet’s actual purpose and mission, which is to bring soul into the world, by whatever means available and necessary.


Sceaux: X Creative Commons License photo credit: basheertome Beauty on a stony bank.


It’s presumptuous of me to assume that students who sign up for a course in Reading Poetry want to do this weird business of becoming a poet in the most profound sense— after all, reading poetry sounds like a nice, easy, fireside activity. But becoming a true poet—that is not easy and that is not safe at all.  It’s vital, intimate, demanding and thrilling work.  It’s an adventure into the depths of the unconscious, into the life-force of the body.  It’s a descent into the underworld whose outcome is uncertain.


I operate my presumption on the faith that anyone who wanders into my classroom is there by virtue of a synchronous alignment and is ready to ripen in this way.  After years of teaching, I’ve found I’m very largely right.  My students come to me stressed-out, hung-up, disaffected, sick with worry, cynical, stifled and depressed in a thousand ways.  Half of them don’t think they’re creative or imaginative at all and heavily doubt that anything we can do together will change that.  Yet after a semester together I see the overwhelming majority of my students blossom into poets of real and dazzling power—which is to say, people who are capable of stirring and expressing the deepest levels of imagination in themselves and others.  They become relaxed, confident, capable.  They become truly responsible in that they learn to be responsive to their own soul.


My basic insight as a teacher is to recognize that there’s no use in anyone reading the written stuff called poetry or attempting to write it unless that someone is themselves on a journey of poetic evolution, a journey to become a soul-maker. To start students on this evolution, I invite them to participate in a course of adventure which the famous mythographer Joseph Campbell observed as the underlying movement in all myth and folktale.  This adventure is widely known as “the hero’s journey” but as I use it, I prefer to call it “the mythic journey” both to denote the non-gender specificity of the process and also to allow for the adjustments and elaborations which I extend out of Campbell’s work.


When we consciously, deliberately enter the mythic journey we begin the work of joining our conscious with our unconscious and so we become much more alive to symbol and metaphor, allusion and story, character and drama— all this stuff is the stuff of dreams, and it is also the stuff of poetry and myth.


The mythic journey is a labor of answering our heart’s call to evolve by deliberately engaging with and taking on the challenges offered by our own unconscious.  It stirs up stunning synchronicities, omens, and mysterious forces in our lives.  It is a symbolic and imaginative process but not “merely” so – because as we do it we find the symbols and the imaginations that we meet with in our fantasies and dreams becoming living realities outside of us.


When we start to adventure into unknown and magical territory, we become hungry for the poetry of others, wanting guidance and confirmation that the path we’re walking can be navigated. We become eager to create poetry—in verse or in action. If we’re not actively travelling this path, the poetry of others and the poetry that we ourselves generate is dull and irrelevant.


What I teach is a process of becoming a soul-maker.  In this process, we liberate our creativity and our joy, our power and our purpose.  We become imaginatively rich and spiritually vibrant.


The interesting thing about soul-making is that everyone craves it – an enlarged imaginative perception of themselves and the world, a deeper emotional connection to their own hearts and to the hearts of others, a wilder capacity for joy—and yet we have almost no societally sanctioned space for it.  Soul-making is the rightful province of humanities education, as the depth psychologist James Hillman has pointed out—yet in the present-day scrupulously secular academy, the word “soul” creates a scandal.  Depth psychology itself makes room for it—but how many people have access to their very own archetypal analyst?  In my work as a teacher, I bring soul-making back to the secular humanities classroom—and in the present work I offer soul-making to the world at large.


I’ve taught budding neuroscientists, engineers, writers, medical doctors, philosophers, historians, linguists, and mathematicians—and people who had no notion what they wanted to do.  I’ve seen orthodox religious students undergo ecstatic Whitmanian spiritual awakenings, stoic pre-meds unleash tearful emotional breakthroughs, and business marketing majors write poems that made me feel as if the top of my head had blown off.  I’ve come to understand:


No matter who you are or what you do, you have genius within you that demands to be brought forth.  It is not too weird, too useless, or too fluffy to go about the labor of soul-making.  Through my own work and that of my students I’ve come to see that the soul will have its way with us whether we will it or not.  Our resistances to the process of undergoing deep adventure is just our fear and clinging to the surface stabilities of life.


If you’re clinging to the surface, if you’re afraid and tired and empty and see no lightning bolts of passion in your life, it is possible that you can liberate yourself and those around you by taking up the tools and processes this book offers.  This world, as the poet John Keats told us, is not a vale of a tears. It’s a vale of soul-making:  a place to flame the little sparks of divinity that we are into roaring fires capable of our own unique bliss.  Keats suggested that we make our souls by learning to read the terrors of the world through the expansive wisdom of our hearts.  This process is an inevitable one—it can happen very slowly, over a million life times, or it can happen right now, in this one, if the work is undertaken.



Posted on July 28, 2011 and filed under Creativity, Life Adventure.

Poetic Inquiry - from my diss

Dear Reader, What follows is an exciting preview-- the first two pages of my in-progress dissertation!



Poetic Inquiry

Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the polestar for a thousand years?Emerson, “The American Scholar”

The long way leading to the poetry is itself one that inquires poetically. – Heidegger commenting on Rilke, “What Are Poets For?”

By Way of Introduction

Very simply, poetic inquiry is a process of contemplative truth-seeking followed by creative expression of the truth discovered. This dissertation explores poetic inquiry as a potential avenue of literary education.

Like philosophic and scientific inquiry, poetic inquiry seeks to discover and communicate truth. But while both philosophic and scientific inquiry deploy systematic and rational approaches to their projects and largely emphasize objectivity, poetic inquiry is nonsystematic and intuitive in its approach and  emphasizes subjectivity rather than objectivity. In other words, poetic inquiry attends primarily to the existential and subjective dimension of truth.[1]

Expression in poetic inquiry is “creative” in that through the use of poetic strategies it creates for the reader or audience an extra-rational experience of the author-inquirer’s discovered truth (i.e., it does not communicate the discovered truth via rational argument or proof.  Somewhat perplexingly and confusingly, there is also a sense in which the actual act of expressing truth via poetic strategies creates such truth or brings it into being – as in the case of an intuition which is at first only dimly realized by the author-inquirer but becomes clear as she articulates it. In this sense we might say that poetic inquiry can not only discover but can also “make” truths. “Making” is of course the original meaning of the Greek word “poiesis” from which our English word “poetry” derives.  In the context of poetic inquiry we would say that what poetry “makes” is the experience of extra-rational truth.

Because poetic inquiry is an essentially intuitive and extra-rational process, it resists being articulated in any systematic way.  There are very many fantastic examples of the fruit of poetic inquiry. There are far fewer fantastic explanations of the process.  I have attempted to articulate and champion the process of poetic inquiry in this prosaic dissertation form because I have desired to teach it to myself and to others, and because many people (including myself) resist doing something when they cannot understand just why and how it should be done. Thus the following work attempts to reasonably explain the detailed application and essential value of an endeavor which exceeds reason. I have sought to do this rather difficult task because I believe poetic inquiry to be very important work indeed, work which we have perhaps been neglecting for the very reason that it is difficult to rationally or systematically explain and justify.

[1] There are figures who are hailed as philosophers—Nietzsche, Emerson, and Kierkegaard come prominently to mind—whose work may be said to rely more heavily on poetic strategy (gesture, fiction, drama, trope—see the discussion of these later in this dissertation) than on rational argument and who value existential and subjective truth. I would count these figures as poetic inquirers rather than philosophers.

Posted on February 28, 2011 and filed under Poetic Inquiry.