Eradicating Endlessly

The text of this sonnet can be seen at the end of this reflection.

A reader expressed some discomfort with this sonnet for two reasons.  I realize that many if not most readers could have the same discomfort, so I will address it as a way to reflect on what usefulness I see in this poem.  Before I do, though, I suggest you take two minutes to watch the video.

Their discomfort: On the one hand, wine and chocolate are not problems to them.  On the other hand, guilt and shame are serious problems and this poem pushed those buttons.

The sonnet says,

he binged on wine and sinful chocolate cake,
helpless, possessed by fleshly appetite,
his one concern, the shape his flesh would take.

I realize that wine is not harmful for everyone and that chocolate cake may be “sinfully good” without being sinful in any other way.  They happen to be problems for the character in the sonnet, but readers should interpret them merely as symbols of whatever similar substances, activities or thoughts have the same effect for them.

What is it in your life that hooks you and makes you think, say or do something that you know is not good for you?  What makes you feel helplessly possessed by desire to some degree, however small?  What swings your focus onto your ego or surface self?  What makes you overly concerned about your appearance or any other superficial means toward feeling worthy of approval in others’ eyes or your own?

The last line talks about dirt, and that’s one of the jokes in this poem.  You can see in the video that I am treating lightly and humorously this heavy and important spiritual topic.  The poem is about the dirty little secrets we all have, the weaknesses, flaws and foibles we would rather hide.  It is about throwing open the curtains and windows and letting light and fresh air get in to expose the dirt for what it is and then transform it.

The usefulness of the poem is exactly the opposite of making us feel guilt and shame.  A good organic gardener will have weeds that need to be pulled.  That is part of the job—dealing with a natural occurrence that is not bad, not sinful, not anything to feel guilty or ashamed about, but something that is counterproductive to a garden’s beautiful fruitfulness.

Every once in a while the weeds will get ahead of the gardener.  That’s life.  Again, it’s not an occasion for guilt or shame, but for understanding and compassion and, yes, if possible, a sense of humor.

Coleman Barks’ translation of the Rumi poem entitled “The Guest House” captures this delightfully.  It ends:

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

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

(Click here to read the entire short poem.  If you don’t know it, I highly recommend it.  It’s a treasure!)

So where is the “guide from beyond” in the sonnet, “Eradicating Endlessly,” leading us?

To have humility and accept the dirt and the unhealthy, unwanted plants that naturally keep sprouting in our very human humus.

And then to get down on our knees and pull more root.

It’s just part of the job of being a gardener, tending the growth of our true self, clearing the way for the Spirit so that we can fulfill our calling and use our gifts and our entire life to bear the fruit the universe needs of us.

The Greek word “kenosis” is what we call self-emptying in the Christian spiritual tradition.  The concept is not exclusively or originally Christian—it is at the core of every contemplative path, every form of meditation, every process of seeking the oneness that is the most mature stage and state of human development.

If you want to grow horticulturally, you will need to practice weed-control; if you want to grow spiritually, you will need to practice self-emptying.

It will be a struggle sometimes, but as Swahili wisdom puts it, “celebrate the struggle!”  You might as well greet the weeds laughing as they sprout in your soul.

You will probably reach your goal sooner if you can do it from a place of humor and compassion rather than guilt and shame.  You will probably get more skillful more quickly at eradicating the dirty-secret thought-roots before they become action-fruits if you are not also having to eradicate the more pernicious ego-weeds that stem from taking yourself too seriously or pridefully.

I hope this sonnet will help you remember to do your work cheerfully, or at least to do your work!  And I hope you will find it useful to remember that you are not alone in that garden.  We’re on our knees right alongside you, day in and day out, and will be forever, celebrating the struggle.  Happy eradicating!

Eradicating Endlessly

He meant to write about a sick plant’s death,
and how he pulled its roots up from the pot,
and how the hole it left inhaled fresh breath
and gained new life, refilled with rich, dark rot.
He thought to symbolize his ego’s rout,
how he effected its eradication
and nurtured his true self—aversion, doubt,
attachment, gone! A fertile, new creation!
He would have written that, except last night
he binged on wine and sinful chocolate cake,
helpless, possessed by fleshly appetite,
his one concern, the shape his flesh would take.
His worst self sprouts another fat, pale shoot.
His hand sinks back in dirt to pull more root.

copyright 2021 Thomas Cary Kinder

Unbroken Prayer

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.

Unbroken Prayer

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