This sonnet is a little parable about two monks, a novice and a master sage. It can be read literally, or you could see the master sage as anyone or any situation in your life that challenges you. The poem speaks to all forms of suffering that we transform into wisdom over time.
[The words of this sonnet are printed below. It relates to another sonnet on this site and its reflection, Judging at the Ox Pull.]
Greta Thunberg believes that humanity is unable to address the climate crisis because we do not yet have the level of consciousness we need to change civilization as much as we must. She puts it this way, “To get out of this climate crisis, we need a different mindset from the one that got us into it.”
The same could be said of any crisis, personal as well as global.
Greta echoes the wisdom of Albert Einstein who said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…. A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.” (New York Times – May 25 1946, p.13 – ‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein’)
The poem “Unbroken Prayer” is a parable about attaining a new level of consciousness that is able to resolve and move beyond obstacles that we have not been able to overcome. On its surface it describes an evolutionary inner path that spiritual sages of all traditions have found and mapped, the contemplative path, traveled by means of meditation and mindfulness practices and spiritual friendship.
Greta has come to this “different mindset” by another path. She says, “People like me – who have Asperger’s syndrome and autism…. see through the static.”
It is urgently important that we find a path beyond the way of thinking and living that has led to the crises that now threaten to destroy the ecosystems on which all life depends and the democracies that have aspired to ever greater freedom, equality and justice.
We need the dominant culture of human civilization to evolve, and that will take millions of individuals who can “see through the static”—the static of the self as well as the static of our current culture—millions who rise like the novice in the poem to act from an enlightened heart.
The spirit of life has guided evolution over billions of years from the simplicity of the first single-celled prokaryotes to the complexity of the human mind. It doesn’t matter whether you think of that spirit as a personal God or as a set of laws—what matters is that the same sense of direction that has guided life to this moment is within us each now, and it clearly wants to point its creations in the direction of survival and ever greater life.
It is not just a higher power, it is the highest power within and around us.
The highest power in the universe wants to help us find our way through the crises and obstacles we face, so the most important thing we can do now is connect to that power and listen to its guidance. We can find the strength we need in it to enable us to serve its purpose with our every thought, act and gift.
The last words of the sonnet are “Stay there.” It means to stay connected to that power in whatever you do, to live from the new mindset it gives you, and to work from that transformed consciousness to transform the world.
When he would come across the novice praying
the master sage would prod him with his cane
and tell him they had bills that needed paying
or order him to go unplug a drain.
The novice knew that this was just a test.
Still, to be deep and yearning toward the goal,
his sacred calling, then be poked and stressed—
he felt rage surge that he could not control.
For years he suffered the indignity
of watching as his worst self would arise,
but slowly he gained equanimity,
and welcoming his weakness, he grew wise.
One day he rose within unbroken prayer.
The master said, “No, I will go. Stay there.”
copyright 2020 Thomas Cary Kinder