My Lord, you have heard the cry of my heart, because it was You Who cried out within my heart. – Thomas Merton

“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die. If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.”  – Wilson, Bill. Alcoholics Anonymous

Recently I have noticed that I have been putting my holy books aside and entertaining myself with the trivial.  I have kept my music with me, but I have not listened to the sublime, but only the heartfelt.  I have seldom taken time for the silence of union, despite the fact that all my joy and health are in THIS.

In other words, I have been letting myself go increasingly unconscious.  I have marveled that I am feeling “okay,” and have not been willing to notice the pain that becomes physical as the deep emotional body is ignored.

In other words, I have been “okay.”

Addiction has been a major theme of my life.  Bill says it above:  “to drink is to die.”  May I just say, here, that drinking is not the issue in my life, but it doesn’t matter, for it might as well be:  I am an addict, and this mechanism of shutting oneself off from one’s true being by the use of whatever substance–or emotion–or behavior–whatever–is to die of a longing that can never be fulfilled.  I wonder if I am addicted to resentment.  I have been feeling a lot of resentment recently:  “they done me wrong!”  “Oh, it really doesn’t matter.”  But it does.

I have been pushing this resentment aside, because I am too “mature,” too “wise” to need to pay attention to the way I am letting toxic emotion eat away at the edges of my life.   Me?  Surely not:  I am past that kind of thing.

And so I again flop about on the shores of the abode of my God, gasping like a dying fish, too proud to make my way back into that Ocean and Live.

THIS WILL NOT DO.  Why should I die?  It is certainly not time.

God weeps from these depths, sobbing in sorrow for this one who chooses starvation over feasting.

Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls.
And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you.

Barrows, Anita. Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God.

In blind determination, I make my way back down the shoreline and into the waves.  I will not let him do this to me.



Thanksgiving 2016, without a leg to stand on

Sometimes there is nothing left but Rilke:

I love you, gentlest of Ways, Thanksgiving-2016 with Rilke
who ripened us as we wrestled with you.
You, the great homesickness we could never shake off,
you, the forest that always surrounded us,
you, the song we sang in every silence,
you dark net threading through us,

You began yourself so greatly
on that day when you began us—
and we have so ripened in your sunlight,
spreading far and firmly planted—
that now in all people, angels, madonnas, you can decide:
the work is done.


Let your hand rest on the rim of Heaven now
and mutely bear
the darkness we bring over you.

Barrows, Anita (2005-11-01). Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (Kindle Locations 823-830). Penguin Group US.

And that is enough.


Good Friends

Blessed are the unselfish friends and they whose motto in life is constancy.

–Inayat Khan


The other day, my husband and I were driving home through farm country.  We noticed three horses in a field, guarding a fourth horse who was “down”, in between them. We couldn’t decide whether the “down” horse was foaling…or dead. And we didn’t want to intrude on anyone’s property (they don’t stop to ask question in these parts!). But those three horses just stood there in a circle, watching over the other one.  Eventually, we  saw her (?) attempt to get up several times, but she just couldn’t do it.

Codependent forever, we  drove around and looked for the owner or the property, to see if they knew what was happening, but people are afraid to answer their doors, so we eventually we gave up.  We pulled into one very Latino-looking property which had a dear and rather large shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the yard, but no one came out.

 I will never forget those horses just clustered around their friend:  guarding, guarding, witnessing, witnessing…

When we pulled over to the side of the road and walked over, the ones who were guarding seemed to take this as a sign that they could take a break and go off to separate corners of the field for just a moment…all three!..  But when we didn’t stay, they went right back.  I was afraid they thought someone knew something wasn’t right and would help . . . and that we had disappointed them in this.

What was emerging:  new life or new death?  Is there a difference?   It was hard to see, but then I suppose it always is, things happen from such a distance. . .

I was recently relieved to read that some panel of great and knowledgeable scientists in Great Britain have proclaimed that animals are conscious beings.


The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things. 
― Rilke

Breaking Open

Why do things happen the way they do, and how do we reconcile with the reality of this terrible world, those of us who want to believe in a loving divine reality?

Recently, someone speaking of a terrible loss to our community said “God knows best.”   We say things like that to each other in this Judeo-Christian culture when the unacceptable must be accepted, the irreconcilable must be reconciled and those who are left must somehow go on.  Yet if we’ve experienced even a taste of God’s love, the degree to which God is in love with God’s creatures, how could we even think such things?  Surely in the face of such terrible events, God’s heart is the most broken and bleeding of all.  Surely such a small event as the one referred to—and after all it is a small event in the history of this dreadful world—could not possibly be intended by the God of our understanding!

“We don’t  know who anyone is” –Pir Inam, Ajmer, India


Perhaps even less do we know who God is, even as we are God’s expression, the thoughts in God’s mind, the source of God’s being in the form of divine limitation.  And in that we are God’s limitation, the conundrum is that we are also God’s perfection, the vehicle for God’s growth.  I remember my beloved teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan  once saying—I don’t know if he was quoting or not, it sounded like him—that if we knew what love truly was, we would be shattered in our understanding.  Do events such as those that bring us lowest serve to teach us the highest truths?

Perhaps, in these moments, we have the opportunity to come closer to God’s understanding.  On the one hand, there’s no point in trying to pretty it up with little phrases that are designed to make us feel better, yet the enormity of the Divine reality—perhaps—contains even concepts such as these.

What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?

Without me what house where intimate words await you?
I, velvet sandal that falls from your foot.
I, cloak dropping from your shoulder.
Your gaze, which I welcome now as it warms my cheek,
will search for me hour after hour
and lie at sunset, spent, on an empty beach among unfamiliar stones.
What will you do, God? It troubles me.  —Rilke, Book of Hours

God bless us one and all.  And bless you too, God.  Whatever is happening in all this, I’m glad to be the expression of it, because how else would I get to know you—and you me?

Life Being Lived

CLF - Olmstead Parks

And yet, though we strain

against the deadening grip

of daily necessity, I sense there is this mystery:

All life is being lived.

Who is living it, then?

Is it the things themselves,

or something waiting inside them,

like an unplanned melody in a flute?

Is it the winds blowing over the waters?

Is it the branches that signal to each other?

Is it flowers

interweaving their fragrances,

or streets, as they wind through time?  — Rilke

Recently I received, from a well-known academic and Muslim here in Chapel Hill, a blanket criticism of American Sufis, pointing out that “we” do not understand the true meaning of Sufism, but veil our understanding within the bias of  “our” Western capitalistic world view.  He gave, as an example, Deepak Chopra who, he says, charges $5,000 for a weekend seminar.  The implication is that real Sufis are not materialistic, and do not practice the kind of engaged spirituality he believes is the correct way of life for a true Sufi.

Well.  Where do I start?

First of all, I wasn’t aware that Deepak Chopra bills himself as a Sufi.  Second, I was not aware that he is an American, but I will admit I do not know, because his words do not attract me, nor does his being.  Third, I object to blanket statements about any group, particularly from a noted academic who ought to be capable of more critical thinking.  Finally, I am not aware that the practice of Sufism means that one is “this” or “that” or holds a particular world view . . . and I find it astonishing that someone who is supposed to be an “expert” on such matters would make such an irresponsible statement.

As for me, I just sit on my porch and watch the birds and listen to the trees.  It seems to me that the trees know where they stand, and the birds refuse to favor one position over another, and thus they demonstrate, for me, the meaning of the word Allah.  I will say one thing about “we” American Sufis:  sometimes we can be rather naive and uninformed about the Islamic framework in which Sufism has become known to the Western world, but it seems to me that such constructs are really only the “basket that carries the flowers,” and I think the essence is available to us all, regardless of our station in life or our political views or our geographic location in space and time.  I was reminded, recently, by my new favorite book, Physicians of the Heart (see below) that the word Allah is derived from the Arabic verb waliha, which means to love passionately, intensely, totally:   “crazy love.”

That’s it.

The teacher who brought me up told stories about the rishis in the Himalayas, the Desert Fathers, the Yogis and the Madzubs, the Chassids, the contemplatives of all the varied ways to illumination  who refuse to “join the club (or the “old boys’ network”),” those ones who refuse to believe the lies, those ones who hold the world up in space, who keep it spinning, wobbling, staggering along because they say Allah . . . and leave “them” to their devices.  And Allah is a name that can be called in many, many ways . . .

Let us not forget:  in the Al and La of Allah are the words yes and no.  The rest is just excuses.

The highest good is like water.

Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time and the season.

No fight: No blame.  

Tao te Ching

The Attic

I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.

I may not ever complete the last one,

but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower,

I have been circling for thousands of years,

and  I still don’t know:  am I a falcon,

a storm, or a great song?



     Washed up on your shore, exhausted from endless swimming, through heavy waves and light, through storm and sunshine, I drag myself from the waves and sit at their edge, panting…  My breast heaves and I am cold to the bone, but eventually I grow quiet enough to make my camp there on your shore.

     Day by day I walk the sandy beaches, circling, circling…

     Sometimes you surprise me by inviting me in, and I climb ancient stone steps around your dwelling:  circling, circling…

    Occasionally you make it easy for me, inviting me into your office, where there is a conference going on that I understand yet do not understand, but it is about a quickening for some purpose I dare not call great…

     Then there are moments when I stand on the ramparts of your tower and look out over our lands:  I become your witness.

     Despite these times, I continue to walk your shores, waiting…

     Until that time.

     Today, when we were together, you laughingly pretended not to notice when I crept away from our meeting and found the endless wooden ladder that goes up into the attic.  I climbed for a long time, but the view was worth it, and when I entered the sound just right, I knew something of the will that arises out of that great emptiness…  But it wasn’t the will that interested me…

     Or You.

Recent Times


Extinguish my eyes, I’ll go on seeing you.

Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you.

And without feet I can make my way to you,

without a mouth, I can swear your name.

Break off my arms, I’ll take hold of you

with my heart as with a hand.

Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.

And if you consume my brain with fire,

I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood. –Rilke, Book of Hours


I remember stories of the ancient mystics, the ones who sought a direct experience of the Divine by practicing, working, meditating, praying….endlessly, hour after hour, day after day, hanging upside down in a well reciting the dhikr for forty days, wandering in the wilderness with no direction, starving, thirsty, determined that nothing should keep them from the realization of that ideal that is said to be the same ideal in all hearts, whether or not that is known or unknown….

And then there’s me:  in recent months, coming back from my Year In Hell, God pulled me into my own version of the above, and my practice has been done sitting in my old wicker rocking chair in front of a sunny window, or on my front porch…  I have recited the dhikr with my i-Pod earphones in my ears, or in silence, or listening to the sounds of the birds, or the cars going by on the road…  I have listened to the music that takes me where I want to go, I have read the words of those who have blazed a trail ahead of me, I have talked to friends occasionally–when I could talk at all–I have made Black Bean Brownies, I have written, and I have sat and sat and sat…

Whatever works.  Thanks be to God in the form of my beloved Rilke, Apple Computer, Tallis, the Benedictine Monks, WordPress, good coffee, beautiful colors, the sound of birds, the Internet,  the chirping of the cicadas, the sacred in all its forms:  a special thanks for the music of Deuter, who with a chord or a sound clarified what lay just ahead when I wanted to get there quickly, and my old friend Suhrawardhi, who never doubted and always stayed.  Thanks be to my dear and constant husband, who cleaned up the kitchen so I could go meditate, and never once grumbled at my preoccupation(s).  Special thanks be to the ones who wounded me and tugged at my sleeve and told me lies (and listened to mine)  for as many years as it took… how else would I have been able to see the truth when it hit me between the eyes if I hadn’t learned to recognize the lies?

Thanks be to the right time and the right place and the right not to refuse.

If one has lost something, it is because one has risen above it or fallen beneath it.  —  Inayat Khan

Thanks be to the masters, saint and prophets who form the spiritual hierarchy that is the embodiment of the Master, the Spirit of Guidance… they are the fulfillment of the purpose of God.  Thanks most of all to my teachers, who gave themselves to the furtherance of that unfoldment and showed me the way… and never gave up.

And finally, thanks be to Jack Sparrow, who said it all:  “Funny old life, isn’t it?”

What’s next?