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--Work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible--
 


--Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide     from beyond--


--The door to spirituality truly must be opened from the inside-- 

I just completed a four-week class on the life and work of Jalalud’din Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet. Rumi is not new to me. I first discovered him as a teenager and have been reading and loving his work ever since. Isn't it amazing that he remains, after more than seven centuries, the most popular and well-read poet in the world. Rumi believed that art both heals and transforms. He believed human beings were sent into the world to do a particular work specific to the person. We all have many branches and we spread out in thousands of different ways. Rumi asks us to remember “the deep root of your being.” 

For me, that deep root is writing, especially poetry. I know this by my behavior. Whenever I wake up with a poem, or the seeds of one, inside my head, I go straight to the kitchen table, still in my pajamas, pull out a notebook and start to write.  I keep writing until there is nothing left inside me. 

Sometimes this process goes on for hours and I will end up with 50 different drafts. And once I get it right, I feel ecstatic. So happy I want to become a whirling dervish, dance around and sing. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is what it feels like to be in touch with the deep root of your being. 

The following poem is the first one I’ve written since taking the Rumi class. I woke up with the image of the dandelion and how it propagates itself--blazing yellow flower--cottony ball tumbling into wind--and the following spring, another blazing yellow flower.  From there, my mind leapt to my children, the death of their father--his cremation, his ashes and the box that held them.  


It was interesting for me to see the subtle influences of the Rumi class in this poem--(its facilitator was one of those guides sent to me from beyond). My original title was “Cremation”. It didn’t feel right. The title needed to reveal something about the poem not completely obvious from the content. When I shared it with my daughter (who often acts as a midwife to me during the birth of a poem) we came to realize this one is about transformation and the fluent nature of time-- past, present, and future. It's about Samsara—the Sanskrit word that refers to the theory of death, rebirth and the cyclicality of all life. Something Rumi was very familiar with and was part of his teachings. 

Where Time Touches Eternity                                          

At the crematorium, a man in a black suit,  

yellow rosebud tucked into his lapel,
hands her a mahogany box carved with sailboats.
“It’s heavier than it looks,” he warns.
“Six pounds, thirteen ounces.”

In the first photo pasted in her baby book,
she is swaddled in a pink blanket,
six pounds, thirteen ounces,
cradled in the crook of her father’s arm.
His face, often stern, is soft,
frozen in wonder as he greets the last
of his five children—the daughter who
thirty years later will mother him
as he moves from professor to toddler--
like a birthing gone backwards.

She will walk him through a meadow of
dandelion blossoms—tiny yellow suns that blaze  
and bow with the breeze. For a summer moment,
she’ll pause to weave daisy-chain necklaces and
with a boy’s heart he’ll greet honey bees fat with pollen,
then turn his attention to one flower gone to seed--
a cottony bubble to carry his wishes into the wind.

Though she would always be his child,
he could no longer place himself between
her and the rest of the world, no longer weather
the first blows for her. But for seven years, she
stood up for him, believed her love could save him.

As she straps the box onto the passenger seat,
she hears his voice, as she has many times.
She now knows the dead never stop talking.
This time he says, “Let’s go for ice cream.”

She laughs out loud and pulls into Baskin-Robbins
for his favorite—a double strawberry waffle cone.
Later, she’ll find the tree where he carved their names,
scatter some ashes into the wind—her wish that he,
like the dandelion, might blow across the hillside,
replant himself, then rise up and take a bow.





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John Martin Taedu Clayton blowing his wishes into the wind
 
 
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With Thanksgiving only one day behind us, and in the wake of the tragedy in Paris, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude as the affirmation of goodness and how important it is we acknowledge there are good things in the world—things that are sometimes intangible gifts, but they still benefit us in many ways. 


Robert Emmons, a scientific expert on gratitude says, “We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves…we acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”  


Individual goodness is measured by what we embrace, what we create and who we include.  By practicing gratitude we strengthen our relationships and feel closer and more committed to others. Gratitude promotes forgiveness. Studies have shown that gratitude even lowers your levels of stress hormones. 

Most of us feel grateful when good things happen in our lives, but we don't put as much emphasis on daily thankfulness as we could. Thanksgiving is about gratitude and unlike most other holidays there is nothing commercial about it. Families and friends gather for a good meal and to express their love and thanks.  Many volunteer to work in soup kitchen and donate dinners to the poor. But it is only one day.  Every day provides us with a chance to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others.  



So often we gloss over the little happinesses and glimpses of beauty. Slow down and take a moment to savor them. Watch how the light filters through the pine branches or reflects off the snow.  Stand at the edge of the ocean and prepare to be astonished. If we spend more time counting blessings and considering our own mortality, gratitude will become an active part of our lives.  And if we choose a path of gratefulness, happiness will follow. Gratitude will turn what we have into more than enough.

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 Today, I make a resolution to adopt a philosophy of gratitude and stay aware of how I’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. I plan to keep a gratitude journal, recording at least three things for which I’m grateful every day.  In doing this, I hope to live in a way that makes me worthy to receive the many gifts this life has offered me. May you experience happiness. May you bring light to someone else's life. May you live in joy. And may you allow yourself to feel gratitude and to multiply that feeling by sharing it with those around you.