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Hermitage Update, June 2000

Where You Are Going, Who Resides There

“Get rid of words and get rid of meaning,
and there is still poetry.”
                               --Yang Wan-Li

For this June update, four quotes, four comments, and a reflection.


When a friend is late for an appointment, what do cellumaniacs do? They call to see what's the delay, or scroll furiously through their palm organizers to fill the unforgiving minutes. Not me; I stare at the wall, see beautiful shapes in memory, have a conversation with myself, maybe dream up a column. Ten unexpected minutes for contemplation is not an insult; it can be a gift.

When Garbo said, "I vant to be alone," the jewel thief, played by John Barrymore, replied, "Let me stay just for a little while." Garbo murmured, "Just for a minute, then," and was seduced.

Savor occasional solitude. Don't give in to cellumania. Not for a minute.

             (Essay by William Safire “Too Much in Touch,” New York Times, 8June00)

I tell you most solemnly,
When you were young
You put on your own belt
And walked where you liked;
But when you grow old
You will stretch out your hands,
And someone else will put a belt round you
And take you where you would rather not go.
       (John21:18,  The Jerusalem Bible)

   Rising From A Nap At Noon

How can you stay awake all day?
At noon I think of taking a nap.
My bamboo bed has been warmed by the sun;
I toss and turn but cannot fall asleep,
So I get up, scratch my white head,
   And walk around the veranda a hundred times.

Just as I’m feeling most depressed
a strange thing happens to me –
a breeze blows through the northern door
and past the southern window,
   past the southern window,
      wafting to me
the fragrance of young orchids.

Cooled by the breeze, this old man feels refreshed,
as if he had returned to life.
But in the future, at times like this,
will the breeze come again?

      (In Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow
                      Poems from Sung-Dynasty China, by Yang Wan-Li, 1127-1206)


A life without a lonely place, that is, a life without a quiet center, easily becomes destructive. When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at our fellow human beings more as enemies to be kept at a distance than as friends with whom we share the gifts of life.

In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us.

      (Henri J.M. Nouwen in Out of Solitude Three Meditations on the Christian Life, pp21-22)



1.         Safire worries the longer we stay with something the more we are seduced by it. Garbo let Barrymore stay and was seduced. The proliferation of constant communication and meaningful nearness warns that staying too much in touch robs personal freedom.

2.         John the Evangelist adds in his Gospel that the words of Jesus indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. “After this he said, ‘Follow me’.” Do we tire of our own direction, die to it? Is Christ no-other to follow? Are we led to a truth too intimate?

3.         Wan-Li questions whether it is possible to stay awake all day, present.  Our dozing distractions depress and distress. But, ah, now for a moment the refreshing breeze delights! But quickly he wonders and wanders worryingly to the future. Gone again!

 4.            Nouwen might be suggesting that what we can possess is only an illusion; there is no possessing truth. We can only discover in our deepest center What-Is given to us. This great name of God, “What-Is,” resides Alone and invites us to drop into its movable feast.



What is poetry?  There, there’s a question! And perhaps an answer as well.
Poetry is personal, intimate, present, and a feast. And there is no place without poetry. This June the hermitage and those residing there attempt beginning to learn poetry. We begin Sunday Evening Practice to occur each week. We change Friday Evening Open Reading Circle to emphasize poetry  --  poems, letters, & pieces of journals. And we welcome back those from away who smile that we are still here.

Attempts to figure out the direction and development of Meetingbrook Hermitage have fallen into solitude. There “we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness.” (Nouwen) Later he writes, “It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared.” (p.22)   

Perhaps that’s what poetry is, a gift to be shared. Sometimes in poems, or letters, or in pieces of journal. Most times in practice of personal, intimate, presence, and feasting. All times and always in the reverent approach we make to the holy ground of What-Is, God, Life-Itself!

This is humiliating experience. It is also very hilarious. A sense of humor is a comforting companion. The stepping-stones to discovering humility continually exact a watchfulness of what unfolds underfoot and a jettisoning of excess gear too heavy and unnecessary for the journey.

Somewhere in the wandering there is the gift of poetry. Forget what you’ve ever been taught about poetry. Rather, enter poetry, step by step. Be surprised at who resides there, alone, welcoming you!


Yang Wan-Li begins his contemplation with a wonderful first line that invites the follower -- whether Buddhist or Christian, or any other naming word or meaningful identification – into the sacred mystery:

Now, what is poetry?
If you say it is simply a matter of words,
I will say a good poet gets rid of words.
If you say it is simply a matter of meaning,
I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning.
“But,” you ask, “without words and without meaning,
where is the poetry?”
To this I reply: “Get rid of words and get rid of meaning,
And there is still poetry.”

-Yang Wan-Li

Meetingbrook Dogen & Francis Hermitage with its Bookshop & Bakery begins its 5th year.  We invite you to reside well in the hermitage solitude of your own open heart and open mind -- at this Pentecost, this Summer Solstice, this inviting time of Poetry and Practice,


May 2000 Update
April 2000 Update
March 2000 Update
February 2000 Update
January 2000 Update
December 99 Update 
November Update

September Update
August Update



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