Chinese Poetry

Since men still make war

Let me lie down and sing

with the grasses

 Kobayashi Issa (1763–1827)

 This week was emotionally painful and stressful for many people, beginning as it did with the acquittal of George Zimmerman by an all white jury in the shooting of Trayvon Martin – a young black male armed with a pack of Skittles and perhaps fragments of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin. That dream was cut brutally short, but rather than allow our anger to target a perpetrator acting out an institutionalized role, I invite you to stop for a moment and breathe,  feeling whatever wells up in the center of your chest, working through the pain (with help from a friend or a skilled listener if you need it) so that you can journey to a better place in your life, inviting your community and the world to join you there. There’s no hurry, take all the time you need.

At my weekly spiritual group gathering, we did just that. One person in the group commented how overexposure to the mainstream media can be hazardous, as we can easily absorb a high level of negativity and pessimism about the state of the world. “If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” seems to be the journalistic standard these days and apparently that’s what boosts the ratings. Clearly, a steady diet of the six o’clock news can poison our heart.

This doesn’t mean we have to unplug from society and go live in a cave and isolate ourselves from the world, or not to be engaged with social justice issues.  Sometimes we just need a little time – either alone or with a trusted friend – to sort out our feelings, to remember what it is like to touch the earth and be touched by it, with wonder and amazement. Have you ever noticed how bees carry their nectar on their hind legs? How rhythmically they move from one flower to the next. That’s what I am talking about.

Across the milennia of Chinese history, empires have risen and fallen with corruption, betrayal, heroism, love, gentleness and humility – the full range of human experience is there, and poets like Issa invite us into our own inner tranquility in the midst of tragedy. This too shall pass, and we shall overcome.

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