Inspiration-Dialogues: Safety Harbor by Bhikhshuni
I thought I might propose a new thread called "Inspiration Dialogues." I would like to dedicate this thread to the inspired creativity of Sri Chinmoy's students and friends. The emphasis will be on poetry, I think, although I will definitely deal with some of the excellent prose pieces that have appeared here and on other related forums. I'd like to begin with the poem by Bhikshuni that I very recently posted:
Years ago, it could have been Tahiti,
we sat together,
looked at the stars
watched the night blackened water
lap at our feet.
What you talk then is night philosophy,
whisperings of insight lent by the cosmos
the breath of knowledge and universality
the opening of your intuitive eye.
It is there you ponder gaps of infinitude
riding back like a night horse
to the beginning of time.
On fire, the conversation runs its course.
We sparkle incandescent,
two sea nymphs at the water's edge,
flowers in our hair,
the scent of frangipani so rich
it follows us through sleep
like a well thought out trail.
It seems long ago,
this luxury of unguarded conversation,
freedom's beauty dazzling us
with a siren's façade.
We are no longer so young
to pretend such girlish safety
or to laugh in late night
giddiness in a hard fight against sleep.
You live somewhere in danger city
in a clean co-op with hip neighbors
and in fact have given up the search for light,
but I am still here,
a faint pulse on this shaky richter scale
of a planet, monitored from above
like a heartbeat on a screen
and I can decide, at least for today,
not to face the cracking cover
of the world made sad by bad decisions.
I shall keep the faith and
I shall build my patience,
not for a brave new world
but for the daily miracle of love.
I first came across this poem in late 2002. I was deeply impressed by its simplicity, restraint and honesty. It has an almost hypnotic rhythm.
Do you notice how so many things in this poem come in threes?
We sat together/looked at the stars/watched the night-blackened water
Whisperings of insight lent by the cosmos/the breath of knowledge and universality/the opening of your intuitive eye
Gaps of infinitude/Riding back like a night horse/To the beginning of time.
A faint pulse/ on this shaky richter scale of a planet/monitored from above/like a heartbeat on a screen.
When I read the poem, I get the sense of a baby being rocked in a cradle. The gentle iambic rhythm and the triplicate images somehow create a feeling of deep peace and reflection. It's a very inward poem and reminds me a lot of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"
The plot of the poem is simple enough: the poet remembers an extended evening conversation she had with a dear friend by the shore of some tropical island.
I love the image of "Flowers in our hair, the scent of frangipani so rich it follows us through sleep like a well-thought out trail." I like that internal rhyme of "hair" and "trail" and the idea of a fragrance that follows you through sleep. That is suggestive of trance.
I also like the fact that the memory she most treasures of this person is that long evening talk about God and truth and "the breath of knowledge and universality." I have had so many wonderful spiritual discussions with my sisters and brothers on this path, and some of those conversations are logged in my heart as bona fide spiritual experiences. I try to make time for spiritual discussions with my friends, at least once a month.
The poet makes clear that she no longer really speaks with this person any more because she has lost interest in spirituality. But when her friend did practice the spiritual life, she was able to talk eloquently on "night philosophy", assisted by "the breath of knowledge" and the opening of her intuitive faculties.
She makes clear later in the poem what this woman traded in exchange for the frangipani, the deep, blissful sleep, the night horse riding back through time, the breath of universal knowledge:
"You live somewhere in danger city, in a clean co-op with hip neighbors and in fact have given up the search for light".
She goes on to say "But I am still here, a faint pulse on this shaky richter scale of a planet, monitored from above, like a heartbeat on a screen."
I like that contrast between someone who "live(s)in danger city, in a clean co-op with hip neighbors" and someone who is "a faint pulse on this shaky Richter scale of a planet, monitored from above like a heartbeat on a screen".
It's a contrast between having something, "a clean co-op", a nice place to live, and being something, "a faint pulse", a conscious seeker afer God and truth.
I like the phrase "a faint pulse." Her friend has material success, but Bhikshuni refers to herself as "a faint pulse", alive in her own search for light. Maybe it is her way of saying that as long as she can keep aspiring, and be true to her values, she will be happy. Even a faint pulse indicates life, whereas a clean co-op is a sterile image.
It's also a very gentle and non-judgmental way of pointing out the way their lives have diverged.
When she refers to herself as "a faint pulse" she's saying that she's just an ordinary seeker. She is not a great, God-realised soul. She is just someone who is trying to lead a humble, God-oriented life, and who is not perfect. That is why she says she is "monitored from above", or watched over by God's and the Master's conscious concern. She prefers that modest existence of spiritual meditation and self-giving to a more outwardly successful life where the pulse or the heartbeat of aspiration may be totally absent. It's her free choice. And she reaffirms that choice in the last lines of the poem, which are also very restrained but ring out like a mantra:
"I shall keep the faith, and I shall build my patience, not for a brave new world
but for the daily miracle of love."
Just as I am writing out these lines, Robert Frost's famous phrase comes to mind:
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep."
The spiritual life gives me a sense of mission, or goal or promise. When I involve myself in spiritual activities, I feel I am not wasting my time but am proceeding slowly and surely towards that far-off goal of infinite wisdom.
Who cares if I can't eat out at the Hilton every night? At least I can wash their dishes!
Guru didn't mind being driven around in Vinaya's battered Chevrolet. He embodied truth in the inmost recesses of his heart, and therefore was fine with a beaten-up and out of style car.
One last thing- I'd like to offer a poem the Master wrote which touches on a similar theme to "Safety Harbor". It is from "Transcendence-Perfection":
His hope has grown old,
But it has offered no life-transforming,
His hope has given him
A Heavenward prayer.
In that prayer he creates
His garden of Love-Light.
Here, again, the spiritual life does not give the promise of a clean co-op with hip neighbors. It does not necessarily even mean you will have an easy life, or a life that will produce fast-ripening fruits you can show the world. But if you do practice the spiritual life seriously and soulfully, you will become more perfect in aspiration and prayer. And then, in the process of deepening your love for God you will be able to create your secret,
soulful and beautiful "garden of Love-Light." That's a garden I'd like to see in my own heart. I pray for the determination, patience and humility needed to fully cultivate it.
I thank Bhikshuni for her beautiful poem.