Ecstatic Poetry is Visionary Art

“Finding that fountain of creation, an art spirit, is the artist’s task. Artists must remain open to the tumultuous ocean of potential inspiration…to provide tangible evidence of inner discovery to the outer world.”

~ Alex Grey, from “The Mission of Art”

 

 

It used to be that conversations about visionary art would largely take place in secret. Countercultural misfits were free to share ideas about transcendent states brought forth by art-viewing or art-making, but only after a hefty dose of their psychedelic-of-choice, and always while well-hidden from the ears of academics or critics or connoisseurs. I’m thankful, then, for the many causal factors that have brought visionary art more fully into the cultural conversation of today.

This is a post about many things. I want to tell you about visionary art and why it’s important. I want to share others’ ideas about visionary art. I want to offer what I’ve been learning about visionary art and why it’s so exciting to me. But more than anything, I want to make the following proclamation: ecstatic poetry IS visionary art. This is the stand that I am taking, the perspective that I’m coming from. For years now, I’ve been on a quest: I’ve surveyed my peers, I’ve searched the internet and libraries far and wide, I’ve polled colleagues, academics, professors, and artists. I’ve exposed myself as deeply and wholly as I can to the artistic conversation being had in our culture today and I can’t seem to find anyone championing the power of Word in this specific context. I’ve been saying to myself and to others: “Where are the visionary poets?” Our social media feeds are filled with artists being touted as visionary: painters, musicians, designers, architects, photographers...the list goes on and on. But when it comes to words, poets seem to be lumped into one of two camps: the classical or the colloquial. They’re either Alfred Lord Tennyson or, to use my home region as an example, they’re writing about growing up barefoot in the hills and eating grandma’s cornbread supper. Here, I am not claiming that these two polarities have no worth. Instead, I aim to expose a truth that, in my view, is long overdue for its examination. There is a conversation happening in the greater artistic realm beyond the poet’s pen – a visionary conversation – that, despite all of my searching and striving, poetry just can’t seem to penetrate.

So, it’s time. And I believe that ecstatic poetry is especially well-positioned to break into this visionary paradigm. Ecstatic poetry is a devotional practice that can, if you open yourself to it, connect you to the Divine within you like a lightning rod captures electricity. And if that’s not at the core of visionary art, I don’t know what is. 

 

“A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain, hoping to be struck by lightning.”

~ James Dickey

 

"Lightworker," Alex Grey, 2012, oil on linen, 114 x 90 in

"Lightworker," Alex Grey, 2012, oil on linen, 114 x 90 in

I talk a lot about the work of Alex Grey. That’s because I resonate with his art tremendously and I appreciate how he’s been bringing mysticism and sacred perspectives into the artistic conversation for decades. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that Alex Grey is the leading voice in visionary art today. (The eminent scholar Ken Wilber does not hesitate when comparing Grey’s work to that of Hildegard, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Klimt, and many others.) In my view, though, one thing sets Alex Grey apart from other artists. He has produced a staggering body of his own art, yes, but in his lifetime, he has risen to be a champion of visionary art. The truth is, I don’t know who first coined the term “visionary art,” but if I came to find out that it was Alex Grey himself, I wouldn’t be surprised. He has written and lectured on the subject, and in so many way has come to embody this evolving, living paradigm of visionary art. His work at CoSM and the construction of Entheon – a temple being erected in New York’s Hudson Valley to honor the power of art as spiritual practice – are current examples of his continued work as a world leader in the visionary art movement. Any dialogue about visionary art is wise to begin with his ideas. (In fact, if you poke around in my previous blog posts, you’ll see the extent of my own appreciation for Alex Grey and the personal work I’ve been doing in this realm of mystical/visionary art.)  

It’s important to note here that the tenants and essence of visionary art are far from new or emergent. In truth, they’re as old as artistic expression itself. As Alex Grey points out (in fact, it seems to be a part of his mission), expressions of the sacred are found in the oldest art that we have discovered, all over the world, from all cultures and peoples. The truth is, art is actually inextricable from the human drive towards self-transcendence. When we survey ages-old art, the truth of their mystical heritage and intent is almost embarrassingly apparent. This gives me pause to wonder why, then, it takes a monumental cultural movement – and an icon like Alex Grey having to reach celebrity status – just to re-teach our western minds something we’ve known all along. It seems as if we’ve allowed ourselves, by and large, to become estranged from the notion of visionary art, of art-as-spiritual-practice. A large part of my own work in the world is to carry forward this conversation. I feel called to champion visionary art as well – especially to bring ecstatic poetry more fully forward into this dialogue – and to support others as they become reacquainted with the transformative power of creativity and art.

After all of this, though, a question remains. What, exactly, makes a piece of art (an “art-object”) visionary?

 

“I see Art through the eyes that see the world around me. It is a world of unfathomable creation and magnitude. So, I see the creation of Art that attempts to reflect the true power and beauty of its own source. My ultimate goal is to create large scale works of art that blow open the new visionary horizons and remind people of how much beauty there is deep inside our battered hearts.”

~ Xavi

 

We could get bogged down in theories and ideas here; certainly plenty has been written on the topic. However, in my view, understanding visionary art is as powerful as it is simple, and we have already walked more distance on that journey than you might realize. As Alex Grey writes in The Mission of Art, the visionary artist engages herself in “...provid(ing) tangible evidence of inner discovery to the outer world.” His website explains that, in order to do this, the artist works to train her inner eye, “...the eye of contemplation, the eye of the Soul.” So a hallmark of visionary art is the notion of the inner eye, this more mystically-inclined part of us that is connected to Spirit and possesses a capacity for inner discovery. A visionary artist might be described, then, as someone who opens themselves up to Spirit – whatever that means to them individually – and then brings their spiritual realization into form through their artistic medium of choice.

This idea of the artist bringing their transformed understandings, their inner vision, forward through the vehicle of their art is so central to the paradigm of visionary art that Alex Grey and others have suggested it be added as a fifth point in Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, a seminal philosophical model that identifies a set of core concepts held by all world spiritual traditions and brings them together into one self-contained framework. Huxley’s summation of the Perennial Philosophy ends with the suggestion that the ultimate purpose of life is to identify one’s spiritual nature and subsequently unite with it. This is where the Perennial Philosophy ends, by prompting us to begin the long and beautiful journey towards Spirit. This “visionary artist addendum” goes one step further, stressing the responsibility of individuals to share their spiritual insights once they have glimpsed or attained a unity with Spirit, oftentimes though their own individual artistic expression.

"Cosmic Creativity," Alex Grey

"Cosmic Creativity," Alex Grey

It’s possible, of course, to unpack the concept of visionary art even further. The ideas, theories, and systems of fostering visionary art are surely not relegated to the work of Alex Grey, nor are they all as recent. One such system comes from Saint Bonaventure, a 14th-century Franciscan mystic who was well known for teaching that humanity has three main ways of knowing, which he identified as “three eyes.” (And here, curiously, you might note the appearance of another model that evokes a type of esoteric, sacred sight as its main component. What is it about eyes, about seeing in this more sacred sense, that seems to connect to the notion of art-as-spirit?) The mystical “eyes” in Bonaventure's model are lenses, perspectives through which we can view or create art. They are separated into three successive levels. The most basic, the Eye of the Flesh, refers to an art-object as it exists in the physical world, such as a poem, a sculpture, a painting, and so on. Observers who have activated only their Eye of the Flesh can generally take in only the base attributes of the creation; a Beethoven sonata is lovely, but it doesn’t seem to speak on any deeper levels. The Eye of Reason, then, represents a further progression. Observers who have developed their Eye of Reason can begin to experience a connection between an art-object and something deeper; they can identify more metaphorical or subjective meanings. For example, instead of being unrelatable, the paintings of Norman Rockwell, for many, seem to evoke feelings of longing and nostalgia. Finally, the mystic eye or the Eye of Spirit is a lens through which observers are able to recognize each art-object as an aspect of the Absolute. At this deepest level of Bonaventure’s heirarchy, the observer is able to unite with the conciousness – or at least the conscious intention – of the artist. This experience, however mystical and seemingly-elusive, has been substantiated by modern science. Mirror neurons – first discovered in the 1980’s by a team of Italian neurophysiologists lead by Dr. Giacomo Rizzolati – are specialized brain cells that have evolved to mirror in one individual’s phenomenonlogy the experiences of another. This indicates to us that, in a very tangible way, the observer of an art-object has the ability to experience many of the same emotions and psychospiritual states as its creator, even if said creator is long dead. The transformative power of art, in this way, transcends even time.

To me, this blog post serves two purposes. First and certainly foremost, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s my passionate belief that ecstatic poetry should be recognized as a part of the visionary art movement. Although I surely haven’t combed all the corners of the globe, the truth is that I’ve been utilizing all of the resources at my disposal, turning over every stone in view, and still, for the life of me, can’t find anybody in visionary artist circles talking about ecstatic poetry in this specific context. In my best understanding, poetry seems to be an afterthought in visionary circles (and many other artistic camps), something that the painters and musicians retire to their bedrooms to write only after their far grander performances have ended. And of course, that’s fine for them. But poetry isn’t an afterthought for me, it’s front-and-center, and I’ve actually been a bit baffled by the apparent absence of ecstatic poetry – something I hold as the epitome of spiritual artistic practice – from these visionary dialogues. Quite frankly, a part of me is hoping that the right person might see this blog post, contact me, and prove me wrong about all of this. I suppose time will tell.

My second purpose in writing all of this represents the middle stages of a far greater project. For years, I’ve been reading, researching, and pulling things together. The world needs to hear more about the power and practice of ecstatic poetry, and in the months and years to come, at least two major publications will be emerging. Keep an eye out for those. They’ll be landmarks for anyone seeking to understand the power of poetry practice as a companion on their transformative journey.

Ecstatic poetry IS visionary art. May the Universe itself hear this call. May the landscape of visionary art open wide enough to allow for the mystic power of Word, and may those words and those poems and those poets utilizing their art in this sacred way continue to touch the hearts of the world. I count myself among them, and this is my prayer for my own art as well.   

 

The Medicine is in the Poison

"We are the mirror as well as the face in it.

We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.

We are pain and what cures pain, both.

We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours."

~ Rumi

 

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans, 8:18

“And God said, ‘I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born.’” Isaiah 66:9

Carl Jung: “No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Mother Teresa: “Remember: pain, sorrow, and suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”

Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”

Pema Chödrön: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation will that which is indestructible within us be found.”

Kahlil Gibran: “And God said, ‘Love your enemy.’ And I obeyed him and loved myself.”

Nayirrah Waheed: “Feel it. That thing you don’t want to feel. Feel it. And be free.”

Elizabeth Gilbert: “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question getting tired of their own bullshit.” 

Brené Brown: “Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.”

Rumi: “The cure for the pain is in the pain.”

 


 

There is a place within you that knows that each of these statements is true. Even if you’re sure you haven’t, it’s almost like you’ve heard some of them before. There is a wisdom that resonates deep inside of you when you encounter ideas like this. And most of all, you somehow can't seem to avoid it. They. Keep. Saying. It.

They all seem to be saying the same thing: pain and suffering can be our teachers. Don’t run from what’s difficult, it can transform you. By moving into fear and aversion instead of away, we can change them into self-knowledge and joy.

The medicine is in the poison, and you already know it.

This idea permeates both our consciousness and our cultures. But I have found that, despite its ubiquity, the dialogue about transforming our suffering into medicine remains hidden, obscured, almost faux pas. It’s buried in the hurried whispers of strangers who claim they’ve just visited some elusive spiritual teacher. It’s exiled to the “Self-Help” or “New Age” sections of our bookstores. It’s relegated to social media memes and quick-fix quotes, half-heartedly passed around as easy armchair wisdom.

But I’m not interested in secrets or self-help or quick-fix wisdom. Aren’t you sick of being told that each new remedy will be your cure at last, only to find that the elixir was sold to you by yet another charlatan? Aren’t you tired of bandaging your wound in shiny new wraps each night, only to wake and find that the’ve fallen off, leaving it unhealed, exposed, and seeping?

I suppose in our own lives, and in our own ways, we find our medicines if we go looking. As for me, well, I found lojong.

The practice of lojong (mind-training) is a particular framework of Buddhist doctrine. Its fifty-nine pithy teaching slogans, when studied and incorporated into practice over time, reveal themselves to quite literally comprise the entire philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, the largest sect of Buddhism in the world. I encountered lojong in my early twenties as a tangible way to relate to compassion. I had a lot of anger and resentment that I’d buried deep since childhood, and the framework’s focus on tonglen meditation - a tangible, on-the-cushion compassion practice - was incredible medicine for me. Over time, though, there was much more yet to unfold for me. The medicines were just beginning to materialize.

Since that time, for well over a decade now, lojong has become the central practice of my spiritual life. I would be remiss if I did not mention the teachings of Pema Chödrön here, as her work - and the work of her teacher, the great meditation master Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche - has been instrumental in my growth and learning on this path. This journey has been so profound and so transformative - so pivotal in the opening of my heart - that there was no other choice than to incorporate it into my art. I’ve known for many years now that a book would be born from my path with lojong. As I wrote in the introduction to the book, “Some part of me seemed to know that there was a poem hidden inside each lojong slogan, that there was yet-deeper work for me to do with these teachings. I had to discover for myself what gems lay waiting at the end of this journey, and poetry was my walking stick, my boots, and the compass pointing me home.”

I could go on for much longer about the gifts that lojong has brought into my life, but if you’d like to hear more about lojong or potentially begin your own journey into Mahayana Buddhism, there are many places that you might get started. Besides, I’ve said more than enough about it in “The Medicine is in the Poison.”

Tonight is the eve of the book’s launch. Tomorrow, it begins its journey into the world. It’s a small book, unassuming. It’s not a teaching, just a companion. It’s not a guidebook, just the place I’ve left tales of my own journey in hopes that others might find it and take heart. It’s not even my “flagship” piece of art, the work that I’d show someone if I had a single opportunity to tell my story as a poet.

“The Medicine is in the Poison” is the book that I had to write. It is my song to the precious Mahayana path and the ways in which it has helped me to become a softer, kinder, gentler, more loving human being. It was born the moment I first began learning about lojong. At its heart-center, lojong is something that the world sorely needs: a practice of compassion. It teaches us to stop running from our suffering and our aversions, to stop rejecting all of the things and circumstances in our lives that we “don’t want.”

It teaches us that whatever we think is poisoning us - no matter the drama or the storyline or the circumstance - is, in fact, our greatest teacher. Lojong practice cuts right to the heart of the matter; it doesn’t let us run from ourselves or our experience. And it reminds us, over and over and over again, of what we already know: that the medicine is in the poison.

I’ve found a lot of breadcrumbs on the journey towards bringing this work into the world. I’ve discovered that Buddhist doctrine is not the only voice in this chorus by far. At the opening of this entry, I listed a few of those sacred gems that have found me along the way, but I am sure that there are countless more. Listen closely to your life these next many days. Listen for the messages. They’re all whispering to you that your own medicines - whatever you need to live a more peaceful, compassionate, content life - can all be found in the things that you’ve been running from.

The medicine is in the poison.

Perhaps Rumi says it best:

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

I pray that this work that I offer will do some good. I offer it from my heart: to help end suffering, to work for peace, or even to offer you the tiniest bit of affirmation that there is another way.

Your Sovereignty

“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully, nor for much longer, unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.”

~ Buckminster Fuller

 

There isn’t any good reason for me to speak about politics to you. In this great void that we collectively call cyberspace, I struggle enough on a daily basis just to tell my story and share these ideas about ecstatic poetry that I feel are so important. Even then, I’m rarely convinced that my voice is ever really heard. The voices that are getting heard, or so I observe, are the ones that seem to know just what makes our mouths water. They lure us with sex, they tempt our sweet tooths with their scandals, and most of all, especially lately, the loudest voices are screaming about politics and the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. We can’t avoid it, can we? It’s everywhere we look, threatening to blind us with its blinking lights, promising to deafen us with a hundred million futile Facebook debates every time we scroll through a feed…

This just seems to be the way things are right now. And on my end, I’m content to keep speaking and sharing my heart with you no matter who is listening. This blog post is no different.

"Open Memory: One for Two," Cameron Gray, 2001, Digital

I also cannot deny how I feel. I’m scared. I’m worried. I think more than anything, though, I’m embarrassed. But here, I’d like to be clear: I’m not embarrassed by the larger-than-life, orange-skinned political figures all over our television screens and social media feeds. They don’t get their power intrinsically; they’re not some unstoppable, otherworldly beasts who spontaneously appeared one day without warning or provocation. No, our politicians and enduring political systems are created, and closer to the point here, are sustained, by us. All of us. We are what embarrasses me. I’m embarrassed by how we’ve been swarming around one another like a stirred hive of angry bees, each of us battling for the specific viewpoint that we’re told that we must cling to for fear of death or ruin. I’m embarrassed by how we’ve been so easily diverted in precisely the ways that those who are in control want us to be, how we’ve blindly and willingly been playing a game that we couldn’t ever possibly win. I’m embarrassed by how quickly we’ve allowed ourselves to be divided, polarized by an intentional scheme played out from the highest level to the lowest: a malevolent mass-media massacre that seeks to rob us of our goodwill and intelligence. And most of all…most of all…I’m befuddled and embarrassed at how so few of us seem to be awake to this fact at all.

At this point, I want to be very clear about something. I’ve come to all of these conclusions because I’ve seen them playing out their dramas in my own life and phenomenological world. I am not exempt from this “beehive mentality.” I do not speak from the position of someone who thinks he’s found some magical way “out of the game.” When I note here that we all seem to be participating in this great collective trap, I say so from my very own intimate perspective. I'm speaking about myself as well.

These sickening questions have been plaguing me for the better part of a year: how much have I, myself, been playing into this game? How awake to it all am I, really? And if I want to work for real good, real peace, what can I do when it all seems so insurmountable?

This is when I decided to come to my art.

Ecstatic poetry – like any other mystical art – has a certain kind of power to help us dig deep into our experience and find its essence, its core. For me personally, I find this process incredibly healing, cathartic, and powerful. I also think that sharing from this place – this more grounded place that exists beyond our triggers, a place that seeks to shine its light on the conditioned reactivity of ego – can be profoundly helpful in social dialogue. And so, with this mission in mind, I went into the cave of my art.

And these two words emerged: “Your Sovereignty.”

It was a seed. An idea like a grain of sand in the mouth of a clam: the more it rolled around inside of me, the more layers of glimmer it seemed to gain.

And then a phrase came: “You weren’t made to fall at the feet of all the gods that we’ve created.” To me, these “gods that we’ve created” seemed to be the opposite of “sovereignty,” and a trap – a hidden, painful trap – that so many of us are falling into. It’s like the master standing on a mountaintop cracking his whip at all the slaves below him: we surrender our sovereignty, all of us, without even realizing that we’re slaves…

"Seraphic Transport Docking on the Third Eye," Alex Grey, 2004, acrylic on wood

And so, over time, this art-object was born. It’s a poem that, naturally, I called “Your Sovereignty.” And yes, no doubt, I wrote it with the current state of our country in mind. But please, friends, don’t mistake this post for something that it’s not. This isn’t a blog about politics or politicians. This isn’t a letter that’s trying to sway you into one viewpoint or another. This isn’t a distraction or a candy-coated seduction, and it isn’t just another shouting voice that's trying to divide you up into small groups so that you might wage war on one another.

No, it’s none of those things. This is a piece of ecstatic poetry. And its purpose is to support you in your journey towards Waking Up. Its goal is to show you your blind spots in hopes of helping you regain your Sight. Its mission is to show you that it’s what you have surrendered that has made this place and these times so desperate and divisive, and to remind you that there is still time to reclaim your power and work hard for true, real, peaceful change.

This is a piece of art, my art, submitted humbly and with full awareness that it arises from only one perspective. Frankly, I believe it’s a perspective that, if taken seriously, could cause some meaningful change in these times of slavery and deceit.

This is “Your Sovereignty.” Please don’t forget it.

 

************

 

Your Sovereignty

 

these are times that make it seem

like we are living in the twilight

of this world –

 

when our people spend their lives

exalting all the wrong gods

buying a beggar’s cup of comfort

at the price of their wisdom

and goodwill

 

isn’t this how all the great tragedies

begin?

 

as night draws neigh

and dark fingers close their grip

on the crumbling walls of our houses,

in our last and final hours as brothers and sisters

let us write a different story together:

one that does not end in chains

 

there is still time

 

you weren't made to fall at the feet

of all the gods

that we've created

 

you were made to become the ruler of your own heart

and for your sovereignty

to spread across these lands

like a sunrise of unclouded might

limitlessly blooming

from your words

and loving deeds

 

this is the natural state of things

the truth of the life you were born into

and even during dark times

when it it seems that all is lost

 

there is still time

to find our way

back

 

© 2016 Brandon Thompson

Ecstatic poetry and the mystical perspective

"New Man, New Woman," Alex Grey, 1984, oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches

"A world without art would leave us bereft of a language of beauty; we would lose access to one of the primary ways that spirit reaches people." ~ Alex Grey

 

Lately I’ve been really “digging in” to the work of visionary artist Alex Grey. Looking back, I can see that my contact with his work spans nearly my entire path as an artist. I think it’s accurate to say that he is one of the greatest influences on my personal journey, and also, undoubtedly, on my art itself. Something happens to us when we behold one of Alex Grey’s many masterworks of transcendent art. It is as if his work has the ability to transport us into an entirely different dimension of experience, a realm in which the mystical is perfectly real, where Spirit dwells immanently alongside us, where we beings of flesh and blood and matter are far more than we could possibly imagine. Alex Grey’s world is one in which deep spiritual realization is at once profound and commonplace. It has the ability to show us that his lens, the lens of Divine understanding, can be the lens through which we all might be looking, examining our lives with luminous inspiration and truly-sacred insight.

In addition to producing one of the most meaningful bodies of artwork that any human being has given us, Alex Grey is also a champion in the realm of mystical/ecstatic art. His life’s work is imbued with a mighty reverence for the many ways that Spirit can be channeled into art and thereby offer its gifts to us a people, both individually and collectively. As I sink into my place in this world as an ecstatic poet, I can’t help but resonate more and more with this message. Art and Spirit are inseparable; they dance together in loving embrace, a double helix of lived human experience and Divinity-given-form. For me, reading a truly ecstatic poem – a Word-centric art-object that arises from a place of connection with the Divine – evokes precisely the same experience as viewing a powerful Alex Grey painting. And so, then, a new realization has emerged along this journey. Ecstatic poetry is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a mystical art, a practice that allows us to navigate the mysterious terrain of our longings, a tool which might assist us in unpacking some of our personal conundrums, and a method that invites us to connect with our essence: the name we have chosen to represent God-in-Self that is inherent in the human experience.

"Painting," Alex Grey, 1998, oil on linen, 30 x 40 inches

In his book “The Mission of Art,” Alex Grey writes: "Art that emphasizes ecstasy and mystical experience will always fulfill profound human needs, bringing people back to the source of infinite love and ultimate reality." This statement is positively striking to me. I could not envision a more apt descriptor for the power and purpose of ecstatic poetry. As we continue to create the future of ecstatic poetry as a practice and a path, one of the things that continues to come forth, unfailingly, in all of our thoughts and formulations, is this idea of “coming back (or connecting) to our Source.” This is what ecstatic poetry does. But what is the path that we must walk in order to reestablish that connection?

In ecstatic poetry practice, we often talk about "getting out of our own way" or "unobstructing our deeper nature" so that we can become channels for inspiration, for essence-driven word to flow through us. (There are specific ideas, techniques, and practices that we have developed that can facilitate this process.) In this way, a human being can become like a lightning rod: a poet can train herself to be an optimized and wide-open being, perfectly prepared for God-energy to enter and move through her. In another section from “The Mission of Art,” Alex Grey says almost exactly the same thing: “In order to experience art fully, viewers must go through a mini ego death by placing themselves in the inspired mind of the artists, who themselves are out of their minds and only acting as channels of creative spirit.”

Ecstatic/mystical art is quite literally a practice of “going out of our minds.” The rational, ego-mind sees boundaries, seeks for its own pleasure while rejecting pain, and keeps us isolated in this mundane world of form by convincing us that it is the only world. But, not unlike spending a few moments in contemplation with an ecstatic poem or a visionary painting, the practice of mystical art invites us further, takes us out of our normal mindstates and into Alex Grey’s world, a world where Spirit takes whatever form we can imagine to create. It is a world of connection, a realm of power, and a place that, more and more over time, we find is inseparable from our living, waking lives.

I don’t know about you, but I know which kind of art I intend to create.

All images utilized in this post are the work of Alex Grey. 

"Wonder - Zena Gazing at the Moon," Alex Grey, 1996, acrylic on paper, 16 x 20 inches

What Bedsheets Know

I have noticed that sometimes, my words twist and turn and fill the page with yearning, burning, longing passions about whatever-the-subject-of-the-writing might be. (I say this with a bit of a knowing smile...I guess writing with fervor is just my style.) But with so many poetic turns-of-phrase, I am also aware that, sometimes, things can get a little cerebral. Here's a reminder, though: it's not always that way in my poetry practice. Sometimes, the words just need to say what they're trying to say.

In this poem, there is no striving to say anything deeply-poignant. There's nothing too heady, too metaphysical, too esoteric. I've intentionally ignored any impulse to make a tie-in with the mission and vision of ecstatic poetry. And although writing in this manner is a part of my authentic voice and Path, you'll find none of that here.

What's left, then? Just fire. Just power. Just bliss. Just beauty. Just love. Just passion. Just you. Just me. Just Oneness. Just birth. Just one poet's Truth about love and the act of loving.

This is a poem from Thirsty Camel called "What Bedsheets Know." Give yourself to it, if that feels right for you.

I did.

 

*************************

 

What Bedsheets Know

 

there was a time

when i didn't even know

if i would ever again see

your face

but then the universe

in its wisdom and care

showed us that all things happen

just when they should

when we are most ready

to receive

 

so receive me tonight, beloved

just let me make love to you

just let me make you come

over and over again

once for every lost day that i spent

remembering what it was like

to kiss

your lips

 

even the poets cannot tell us

exactly what it is like

in those immeasurably-precious moments

when we exist together

not naked on a bed

but alive and pulsing with

the cosmos

 

so give yourself to me

and i will make you

like a streaming star

across the dark canvas of this night

and my bedsheets

will be the only ones who truly know

what it is like

to be born

as

One

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson

On Politics and Star Stuff

Things are so political nowadays. It seems like we can barely mention an issue or an interest without fear of stepping on toes, offending some group or alienating someone with different ideas or perspectives. Especially for those who are hoping to share their art or their truths publicly, I have found, this is an issue that arises quite often. What is the balance between being fiercely honest about ourselves - and with ourselves - and also putting our art "out there" for consumption by people who may not necessarily agree with or appreciate it? 

As an artist, I don't really care who connects with my writing and who doesn't. Don't get me wrong: I have a wish of course, and that's really just to share my heart with people. It's about that simple, and I recognize that any deeper concern would be a waste of my time. But that doesn't stop me from at least becoming aware of the fact that, sometimes, the subject matter of my art is going to challenge people, disagree with people.

I suppose the heart of the matter is this: like any artist, I really feel like I have something to say. My work isn't pointless; it's not for no reason. What I'm saying feels important. I become curious about the biases that some people might hold that could keep them from otherwise benefitting in some way from what I am hoping to share with them. This also gives me pause to consider my own biases regarding others' art. What have I been keeping at arm's length? What have I been avoiding altogether? Where have I been closing off my heart because I've been so caught up in my own territory or perspective? 

Here is a poem that was born from my love of science. It's the controversiality of the scientific perspective that gave rise to all of that discussion above. Something beautiful that poetry can offer us, though, is an open space for exploration and contemplation. A space to rest, to put the chatter of our minds in parentheses. And in that space, none of what I've just discussed matters that much. What matters is the truth, the facts, as exposed to us by the power of science: once upon a time, unimaginably long ago, the atoms in your body were forged inside the furnace of a star. The same is true for me, for your mother, your brother, your lover, everyone.

We are all literally star stuff meeting star stuff. From that perspective, nothing else seems to make much of a difference. Doesn't everything that matters most come into focus when you consider this truth? A kiss becomes a miracle. A connection with another person moves from mundane to magical. A smile becomes an act of consciousness so profound that everything else fades into the background.

And as for all of our jockeying around one another in an effort to sound more "politically correct?" Well. You can decide what to do with that yourself.

 

*********************

 

Star Stuff Meeting Star Stuff

 

born of the cosmos

but returned at last to

one another:

star stuff

meeting star stuff

and burning as we once did

when our atoms were a sun

this is how it is

when two hearts

come together

 

you should know, dear one,

that love lives on

for far longer than it has taken

the molecules within a star

to become living flesh

and blood

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson

 

giphy-downsized-large.gif

The Good Fight

Today is election day in Kentucky. Okay, it's not really, today is just the democratic primaries. But I thought it was as good a day as any to share my recently-released poem "The Good Fight." For me as a poet and an artist, at least for now, this is as close as I plan to get to activism or being political with my art.

This poem proposes something different. In fact, I'll bet it's a stance that you don't see very often when it comes to so-called "political" pieces of artwork. Frankly, I think it's a revolutionary idea to start within, to start at home, before considering going "out into the world" to try and evoke change. My rationale here is simple: before we've done at least a little bit of work to wake up to the tricks and schemes of our egos, all of those grand plans that we have - the ones that propel us to venture "out there" to "do good" - can really just become another myriad of sticky, neurotic personal projects. Before we know it, we've found ourselves in a battle...with loved ones, with friends, with our communities. How did that happen?! In short, for many of us, the big intentions that we have to "fight the good fight," while perhaps well-intended, can easily become the minions of ego. And if this happens, the only thing that can result is chaos. If we are not steady and balanced in ourselves, if we haven't done some work to understand our triggers and overcome our neuroses, our work with others and with the world is, at the very best, not going to be as effective as we've been hoping. At worst, the little wars that still rage within our minds and hearts and personalities are going to cause larger, outer wars. "As it is within, so shall it be without," so to speak.

I have always been inspired by a specific quote by Buddhist Master Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. He notes:

"If you want to solve the world’s problems, you must put your own household, your own individual life, in order first. This is somewhat of a paradox. People have a genuine desire to go beyond their individual, cramped lives to benefit the world. But if you do not start at home, then you have no hope of helping the world. So the first step in learning how to rule is learning to rule your household, your immediate world. There is no doubt that, if you do so, then the next step will come naturally. If you fail to do so, then your contribution to this world will be further chaos."

Here is my poem "The Good Fight," for your consideration. It can't be found in Thirsty Camel or any other publication just yet. For the next few weeks, you can find it on display at Berea's Luna Zorro. And after that, well, it'll be up to you to determine if it's going to cause any positive change in your lives or in the world...

 

******************

 

The Good Fight

 

your life is filled with those who

“fight the good fight”

you know just who they are –

 

once they caught a glimpse

of a Better Way

and have been chasing after it ever since

(while making quite a scene)

on their great crusade

of selflessness

 

perhaps

you’re even one of them

 

i suggest to you

that selfless action

is less cacophonous

and is most effective when it appears

in quieter corners

of our tender, precious lives

 

if your heart is open

and committed to loving-kindness,

accept this challenge:

 

to witness the project that you’ve created –

the one that turns good service into

public exhibition

 

to bravely acknowledge

your willing crucifixions

and martyrdoms in the town square

as subtly self-serving –

not exactly what you had planned

when you first set out

on this quest

 

perhaps seeing clearly

will shake the foundation

that you’ve worked so hard

to build

 

but once the flaming sword

cuts through your misconceptions

you will see that

there is a way to serve

that doesn’t begin

with “I”

 

© 2016 Brandon Thompson

 

The Waking

Here's something very true: we've got the whole world in our hands.

Can I prove that this is so? Maybe not. But for those of us who feel the transformative power of words in our hearts, perhaps it wouldn't take that much to lift veil that separates our skeptical minds from the Truth. Maybe, to find our proof, we might only need a meaningful, profound poem to unlock the parts within us that already Know, that already See. Here, I am not proposing that my own work will be such a key for you. Instead, I lovingly suggest that poetry practice - specifically ecstatic poetry practice - is one way to forge the keys yourself.

Here is a poem from Thirsty Camel that I called "The Waking." And like a lot of my writing, it doesn't just tell one tale. You'll hear words of love and words of cosmic curiosity, sure. For me, though, writing this poem was a part of my own waking. There is a big-ness to this human life, an immensity to this natural world, that I can scarcely even conceive. In fact, for me, it's the epitome of wonder. It's a wonder so incredibly grand that Spirit itself called me to put pen to paper. This is the practice of devotion-in-writing.

We've got the whole world - the whole universe - at our fingertips. Let us wake up to love, then, on this cosmic landscape, and find our place among the stars.

 

******************

 

The Waking

 

i notice how often i write

about the Universe –

spinning, churning, whirling

limitless –

because the word

love

isn’t big enough by far

to encompass the vast expanse

of human loving

 

we tiny beings

riding on this rock

have access in our hearts

to something far greater

than all that can be seen by our eyes

and known by the power

of our sciences

 

but i tire of talks of

the Universe

for even it

from star to galaxy

to great cosmic web

dares not be considered

when i remember your skin

under my hands

and your voice

in my ear

 

so let us remember

that this story is not just ours

 

instead

we are on the grandest journey

of them all:

to learn to love

and to one day wake up and realize

 

that love is far larger

than the distance from human hearts

to the farthest star

in the night

sky

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson

video Block
Double-click here to add a video by URL or embed code. Learn more.

What if?

Our mothers mean so much to us, and in so many different ways. They care, they teach, they lead, they love, they nurture, they hold, they share, they give. "Mother" is an archetype and a very real, very human role, that arguably means more to us - and is felt more deeply by all human beings everywhere - than any other. Quite literally nothing is as ancient as our idea of The Mother, for even if we never knew our own – even if she left us before our memory took shape and other caregivers influenced our infancy and early years – the very notion of mother is something embedded in the bedrock of human consciousness. You feel it, don’t you? Even as you read these words…

I cannot possibly overstate the influence that my own mother has had in my life. She taught me the value of unconditional love, which is, to me, a gift beyond measure. And though there are many other treasures that she has left for me to collect - both intentional and also as part a larger, more mysterious karmic Path that has unfolded throughout our lives together – it is this one, beyond all others, has influenced all walks of my life. I am grateful for my mother; motherhood in general is something which I revere most highly. Indeed, my understanding of motherhood continues to grow and evolve for me, especially during this most recent season of my life.

Here is a poem that I wrote as a gift to my mother many years ago. In fact, it's one of the first poems I ever wrote. It was a gift for her then, when I was just a boy. Some years later, this poem found itself published in my first book, The Long Road Home. Today, it’s an offering to mothers everywhere. Mothers who teach, mothers who inspire. And to the archetype, the idea of “mother” that influences us all so very much. 

There is a lesson here, in this poem, that I learned over time by observing my mother and listening her. It's a lesson about personal power, about surrender, about letting go and letting be. In the end, though, it's a lesson about love. 

Thank you, mom.

***********************

What if?

 

Many, many years ago,

(when I was just a boy),

I’d get so upset

when I couldn't have a toy.

 

I'd cry and ask my mother:

"What if it's not there next time?"

And my dear mom would teach me

This lesson built in rhyme:

 

"What if the rivers and seas dry up?

What if I die tomorrow?

What if our world ends today?

Our time here, son, we borrow.

But if you live each day its best,

and keep your faith in you,

all those ‘what if's’ will fade away

just like the morning dew."

 

Fifteen years down the road,

I wiped my tears away.

I kissed my mom a last goodbye,

it was my first college day.

 

I told her, "Mom, I'm so afraid.

What if I can't succeed?"

And then my mother said the words

I knew I had to heed.

 

"What if the rivers and seas dry up?

What if I die tomorrow?

What if our world ends today?

Our time here, son, we borrow.

 

But if you live each day its best,

and keep your faith in you,

all those ‘what if's’ will fade away

just like the morning dew."

 

Many years passed since that day,

with this lesson in my mind.

And I have led a happy life,

my loved ones by my side.

 

But the news of mother reached me

one cold, dark autumn day.

And quickly I was by her side

to love and cry and pray.

 

I told her, "Mom, I'm so afraid.

What if I can't go on?

What if I'm lost without you, mom?

You've been everything for so long."

 

While lying in her bed that night,

my mother pulled me near.

She whispered me her final words

and prayed that I would hear.

 

"What if the rivers and seas dry up?

What if I die tomorrow?

What if our world ends today?

Our time here, son, we borrow.

But if you live each day its best,

and keep your faith in you,

all those ‘what if's’ will fade away

just like the morning dew.

 

And when I've gone from this world

to watch you from above,

Don’t ever worry about ‘what if,’

you'll always have my love."

 

 

~for you, mom

 

© 2012 Brandon Thompson

Birth of the Artist

What is art like to the people who are creating it? How is art born? These are my loving thoughts on the life and the Path of a creative, a dreamer, a creator, an artist. It's a favorite poem in Thirsty Camel called "Birth of the Artist."

I don't generally do dedications. To me, most of the time, they seem pretty hokey, bordering even on disingenuous. But here is the truth: I know what it takes to live the life of an artist. I know what it's like to choose a life filled with fourteen-hour days, seven-day workweeks, late nights toiling alone when I'd rather be just about anywhere else. I know what it's like to have to work part-time-jobs and side-jobs to pay the bills, to forego having full-time work that would provide health insurance in favor of more time to create my art. I know what it's like to be looked down on by people who don't quite understand my choices. (Once, someone said to me: "Gosh, I wish I had time to sit and write a poem.") Most of all, though, I know what it's like to have to make art, even on days that I don't really want to.

I didn't really want this life. I used to want a big house and three cars and expensive yearly vacations, and I used to burn with jealousy - even anger - towards people who got to have all of that. I was working just as hard as they were. Maybe even harder. And what did I have to show for it? A Domino's pizza for dinner, a mountain of student loan debt, and a crooked, left-leaning back porch thanks to an apathetic landlord. Yes, absolutely, it was all my own choice and creation. But for a while at least, the ratio of hard work and sacrifice to "comeback" seemed, at best, a bit unbalanced to me.

It wasn't until I began embracing my path as an artist that all of this changed. I realized not long ago that, as a poet, I am giving the greatest gift I know how to give - I am living my bliss - and this fact changes everything for me. Even on days when I'm reluctant, even when I balk and complain, even when I'm misunderstood by the people living in a more materially-driven world, none of this really matters. What matters is what is born from my heart, and in the light of this recognition, any other complaint seems quite trivial and ultimately unnecessary.

I don't generally do dedications. But today, I'm making an exception. Here's to you, dear artist friends, both far and near. Here's to the multitudes of voices, the congregation of hearts – poets, artists, musicians, storytellers, painters, photographers, and so many more – the keepers of peace in these times of warring hearts, warring nations, warring Selves. Once upon a time, in all of your lives, you were born again as artists. And if I'm being completely honest, for most of my own life, I've looked upon you with awe. My personal rebirth happened relatively recently for me, and this is my way of joining you on the Path. So here's to our longings, here's to our art, and here's to the visionary work that is born from our efforts. Here's to the life of the artist, even when we are like reluctant parents. May our children change the world.

Love with all my heart,

Brandon

 

***********************

 

Birth of the Artist

 

i once read that

art is pain

 

that might be true for some

 

but i prefer to think

that art is longing

after all

what is pain

but longing

for the truth?

 

we would be wise to understand

that longing can create an illusion:

a faulty sense of separateness

between one’s beating heart

and the waking, walking world

  

you might come

to a different conclusion, but

after all i’ve seen,

it seems that the greatest art is made

by those who hold their longings

like the reluctant parent

who didn’t really want this child

but knows as well

that the greatest gift they will ever leave

emerged the day

she

was born

 

© 2015  Brandon Thompson

 

 

 

Love and The Fall

Sometimes it seems like all we talk about on the topic of love is the fall. Throughout the history of the world, civilizations have literally risen - and later met their doom - because of the mad, desperate pursuit of falling in love. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, for many of us, finding love is the sole - or at least the most driving - force in our lives.

We deify this process, holding love as our savior from all of the terrors of the world. This obsession is everywhere, it conditions and permeates our culture so completely that we barely even notice. We are dying to fall in love. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that for all of your life, "when[ever] you wish upon a star," you have been wishing for love.

If any of what I've said here makes sense to you or sounds true, I'm happy for that. I do feel that I have some very universal, human ideas to share. However, the whole truth is, I've really just been telling my own story. I can say that I believe these things so deeply because they are also my own path. And frankly, I am sick to death of it all. I am ready, beyond-ready, to evolve. As the great ecstatic poet Hafiz says, "I am tired of speaking sweetly" about love.

Falling in love is only half of the story. And what's more, spending our lives in constant pursuit of that particular type of fall - the fall that we want, the fall that we crave, the fall that feels good and communal and affirming - means that we are only living half-truths. And the love in our lives is going to respond to this by only meeting us halfway, by continually falling short of our expectations, by malnourishing our hungry hearts. This is another kind of fall, and in my very humble but ardent opinion, it is a fall that must happen - many times, for some of us - before we can begin to see love with clarity and maturity.

Before we can truly love, we must first have loved and fallen.

There is a poem in Thirsty Camel called "Sonnet-Sirenhorns." It tells this whole tale, the tale of a journey from illusion into a deeper, more evolved understanding of love. I'm very proud of these words and, no doubt, intimately connected to them in my own personal Path. Even the name "Sonnet-Sirenhorns" seems to speak my heart. It's the idea that love poems are beautiful, even necessary, but sometimes we get tired of the same old blaring message time and time again. Eventually, the time comes for us to shed the skin we've been living in, to grow into a new voice that speaks with lived wisdom and experience.

This is my attempt at saying something that you haven't heard before. These are the words of a Love Poet in Rebellion. This is my heart, worn-out from all of the sonnets I've written for all of these long years and ready to become something new. This is "Sonnet-Sirenhorns." Maybe you'll hear something that sounds true to you, too.

 

*************************

 

Sonnet - Sirenhorns

 

the time has come to speak of love

but if this moment has truly come

let us speak together of what is real

and position ourselves fast

with feet firmly planted

as shields which might stay

our illusions

 

too many poets

on too many days

unendingly wax their songs of love

like blaring sonnet-sirenhorns

they hope to convince us

that their longings can take shape

in our hearts –

what an intrusion! –

but when we look deeply

the wisest of us will find

that all the love-poet is seeking

  

is to fill his own void

with the crumpled pen-and-paper odes

of yesterday

 

how do i know that this is so?

because i myself

am the finest ode-maker

that i know

 

tonight

i lay down my quill and ink

and with them

all of the things i’ve been hoping

you’d hear me say

tonight

let us talk about the things that love

is not

  

love is not our ceaseless grasping:

the thousand wanting hands that spring

from our chests

this says far more about what we lack

than what we need

 

love is not projection

for we can spend a thousand lives

waiting for our lovers to be what we wish

and still have a thousand more

yet to wait

 

love is not the sugarcane trees

that bear fruit to sate a starving man

his hunger is for his own Self

and no kiss could ever hope

to fill his belly

with God

  

love is neither savior

nor destroyer

not a respite from ravage

nor an escape from

this world that terrifies us

 

you were born knowing

that love is simple

but to be free from all of your illusions

of love

you must first have loved

and fallen

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson

 

 

On staying with

Whenever we feel pain, we want to run. This is a natural, normal, even understandable condition of human living. Isn't it curious how the pain that we encounter, for most of us, evokes a sense of "no;" our habit, from birth, has been to push pain away and tirelessly seek its opposite. And in a way, no doubt, this makes sense. But like most of those old, conditioned ways-of-being that worked for us in our younger days, there may come a time when running and hiding from every painful situation stops working. We may begin to ask ourselves: "What if this isn't the way after all?" What if there is a deeper magic, a more profound process that can cultivate real healing instead of propagating the same old habitual, never-ending cycles of fear and rejection? What if there is something to be said for staying with our pain?

This is precisely what my poem "Stay" proposes. Let us be clear: these words do not suggest any type of masochism or martyrdom, but instead asserts, from a more spiritual perspective, that staying with our negative experiences and emotions is an act of courage. And within that fierce bravery are the fires of transformation.

The rainstorms that rage throughout our lives may appear terrifying, threatening. But the truth is, every single one of them is an angel, a messenger, a teacher. If only we could actualize this truth, we might reap more benefit and insight that we could possibly imagine. The only thing being asked of us is that we learn how to stay...

 

****************************

 

Stay

 

one can learn much

by listening to a rainstorm

have you ever

from beginning to end

sat without ceasing

and let it take you

on its wilding

journey?

 

at first

the orchestra only tunes

winds and brasses and strings

the rumble so far off

it can scarce be heard

some say they can smell it

on the air

that's the time

when most men run

into the comforting arms

of leather sofas and

frying pan melodies

 

those who are braver

feel the first foreign droplets of sky

on their necks

but rarely stay with the storm

long enough to watch

water turn soil into

yellow clay puddles

a morning cocktail for treeroots

they drink and smile and stretch

their showered limbs

while the half-brave man decides he's

seen enough, and,

content with himself

finds another distraction:

a god he worships more deeply

than the one just

outside his window

 

rare is the man

who holds his seat

until the last thunderclap has passed

he is the one who welcomes

the discomfort

of soaking, clinging clothes

who'd rather brave the roaring wind

and stinging pour

than sit in separation

in a sterile dreamland

built

to help us forget

who we are

 

it is not always easy

to be with a rainstorm

and you will want to run

 

stay

 

and listen

as she tells you

all

you need

to know

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson

 

Lost and Found

“Lost and Found.” The name might sound a little cliché, but in my heart, this poem really means something. It addresses some truths along this human journey that I believe could be genuinely helpful to those of us who are willing to hear its message.

We don’t really know what we’re doing, do we? For the most part, we’re lost…all of us. Some days might be marked with feelings of certainty, some moments may be filled with comforts. But in the end, there is no map for this terrain. There is no playbook, no assurance. In fact, I would say that our very best circumstance on this human journey is to find a way to be okay with “making it up as we go along,” to become more comfortable with uncertainty. But here is what happens, for most of us, along the Way: we become masters of hiding the pain, the confusion, and the discord that this truth brings up for us. In our desperate struggle to be found, we just keep getting more and more lost.

We hide in so many ways. We pretend that we’re certain. We craft entire lifestyles and worldviews based on making things feel more secure. We seek and spend fortunes with the sole intention of putting some ground underneath our feet. But the truth that we keep running from is that reality is actually groundless.  

Buddhist doctrine teaches us that nothing is permanent. That in this world of pain and happiness, both seem to come to us in fairly equal amounts, one always shifting into the other, not unlike the cycle of the seasons or the patterns of the weather. Our mistake, then, comes when we believe that winter will last forever; that the clouds will never pass. Or, similarly, that the happy summer and the sunny days will never end. Being lost is a place of clinging. Being found is the ability to let go.

So here is the truth: we're all lost. And being found comes in waves, cyclically, all throughout our lives. Being lost doesn't last and being found doesn't last. Greetings from the journey, then, dear friends. There's no need to cry. We're all lost and found together.

Here is a poem from Thirsty Camel that offers my very heart on the matter of being lost and found…

 

***********************

 

Lost and Found

 

we all feel lost

don’t we?

we hide it behind our beer bottles

and big, thick lines of cocaine

we tuck it away in the warm pools of our

dimpled-smiles and small talk –

it comes through our teeth

like a court-case of certainty

long before we realize

the folly of our claims

 

the truth is

we don’t know what the fuck

we’re doing

we all feel alone

and late at night

we feel the sting of loss

and cry for the pain of losing

 

but let me tell you a secret:

this story is not just yours

this is a tale about what it’s like to be born

and live in human skin

it is my story

it is ours –

every single being that you’ve met –

mother, father, friend, lover

knows, no matter how well-hidden,

what it is like to be lost

 

when i pause to realize

that we are all the same

i weep for the longing in your heart

and remember all the nights i’ve cried

only to wake with the sun

and find

that all i’d longed for

was already mine

 

do not cry into your pillow tonight, beloved

know that we are all lost

and remember

that you’ll be found

just as you were the last time

in this great cycle

of birth and death

that takes place

between being born

and dying

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson

From the old world to the New...

There is a poem in Thirsty Camel that I called "A New World Love." And oh my, does it ever have a story…

Some years ago, those words came to me. “A New World Love.” And I felt it immediately, all throughout my life. I felt the TRUTH in the words. It wasn’t even a completely pleasant experience. Sometimes, it shook me when they came to mind; sometimes, it was more like a haunting than an inspiration. It’s hard to describe when something just…hits us…way, way down deep. But this much was certain: the idea of “A New World Love” had ahold of me, and I was being called to write about it. But what would I say? The ideas started to form, and interestingly, it all began to coalesce when I realized that I needed to start with the old world.

Sure, I had some deep and potent sense that there could be “A New World Love.” This came first, almost out of nowhere, but it felt more like the ending than the beginning. After all, we don’t all begin our Paths as visionaries, healers, and prodigies of love. We have to go through the journey to get there; that was kind of the point. But where to start? To answer that question, I went to my own experiences. And though I’ve certainly not seen everything, I’ve seen enough to believe with some confidence that all of us, or at least most of us, seem to suffer a kind of conditioning that makes it very difficult to love another person. Perhaps you notice it too: that even when love begins in bliss, all too often it ends in searing fires, the grand construction of our relationship falling in pieces at our feet. This is the idea of the “old world”: that, at least at first, those conditioned ways of relating to love – the tactics and attitudes that we develop in our childhood homes – dominate our lives. And during this long season of learning, our fears, our neurosis, our woundedness and self-cherishing all come roaring forth on the battlefield of love. Sadly, for many of us, these fires rage too ferociously for us to escape unscathed.

If you would argue that such a grand drama – the metaphorical burning of Atlanta at the end of our own personal “Gone With the Wind” – happens for a reason, that there are lessons to be learned or a “greater plan” at play, I would agree. The idea of "A New World Love" suggests precisely this: that deep, karmic forces have been working on us since birth - or even before - and within them are lessons that we must learn. It is this journey from conditioning (the old world) into awakening (the New World) that seemed to be at the heart of this concept that called to me so deeply.

With the passing of time, we might find that the “wars of our fathers” can be outgrown. And as we continue to burn away at old patterns, behaviors, and antiquated attitudes – literally by means of working through them and integrating their lessons over time – slowly but surely, a new perspective can emerge. The lover has been spilling droplets of her own blood onto the scorched soil, nourishing it so that a new way of relating to love, relationships, and intimacy can begin to grow. And this is how, at last, a New World Love is born.

The wounds that we incurred in our childhood homes, those never-ending stories of suffering from our pasts, even our fears and sadnesses and patterned behaviors can all be overcome. Conditioning can be transcended. It can even be wielded as wisdom. And once that happens, what might love look like? How would our relationships transform once our hearts have realized A New World Love? As it goes with ecstatic poetry, I do not propose to have any answers, but I do have some ideas. And that is what this particular poem – one of the grander and more sweeping works that can be found in From the Back of a Thirsty Camel – is all about.

“A New World Love” is a poem in two parts. Part one is called “Causation,” and it explores, as I do here in this blog post, the root causes of the problem of love. It posits that there is, in fact, an “old world love” which is an evolving amalgamation, an ancestral patterning of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that is passed down from parent to child. Perhaps it is even, at least in part, stored in our collective unconscious. The preferred condition of the Universe, it seems, is that this old way would be passed down to us, downloaded choicelessly into to the heart of each newborn babe. Later on, it becomes something that we must face, a force that each human being must contend with if they are to uncover what the “New World Love” has in store for them. 

The second poem, part two, is simply called “A New World Love.” It expresses just a few possibilities of what our loving relationships might look like, one fine day, when all of the old ways have been carried away by the winds of human living. From my heart to yours, here is part one of this work. This is the beginning of “A New World Love.”

The ending can be found in Thirsty Camel, true. But even better, it can be found by walking your own Path. From the old world to the New...

 

**************************

 

A New World Love

 

i. Causation

 

wouldn’t it be nice

if every child was given

all of the keys

to all of the doors

that hide away their own freedom?

but this is no more the way

than the baby robin who, newly-hatched,

stretches her wings

and attempts to fly

there is much to be learned

before that first flight

will take her onward

 

there is an old way

the way your father’s father

loved his son with calloused hands

the coaldust and shovel

called to him more deeply

than did the space between

his lover’s hips

 

the way your mother’s mother

loved her children

like she loved her dining room table

the perfect geometry of

right-angle placemats

every silver fork

a matter more dire

than her daughter’s dreams of fairydust

 

children don’t come simply from mother and father

an aching sigh were it so simple!

we are born instead

into a tangle far older

web of causation that our ancestors wove

 

a puritan’s belt buckle shoes

laced too tightly for the babe to breathe

 

love brought mother and father together

but human conditioning propagates

like a current across the wire

it reaches out from black-and-white photos

and slips its oily fingers

into the hearts of all

 

a breath ageless

unexplained longing for more

thoughts of loving-kindness

spirit sleeps soundly until it awakens at last

is it karma? was it designed this way?

the children don’t know

what is certain is the truth

that becomes clear

when they are children no longer:

 

there is a new world love

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson

Love and Ripples

Here's something very true: I've been holding a lot of my writing back in preparation for the launch of Thirsty Camel. The really raw poems. The sexy ones, the vulnerable ones. The real grit of the work. But now that the book has made its way into the world, I don't have to do that any more. Now's the time to share the real-ness of it all with you...

A few years ago, I wrote a poem that found its way into Thirsty Camel. I called the poem "Ripple," and yes, it's about one of the most precious and intimate human experiences of them all. But let's be honest: we all know, even if we think it's best to hide it, that there are glimpses of God inherent in the experience of lovemaking.

Sex and intimacy have the power to be transcendent experiences. To be frank, to me it is remarkably clear that God - or whatever name you'd like to assign to that ubiquitous, Divine force in the Universe that we spend most of our lives pursuing, avoiding, or trying to define - comes on over and sits right in the room when two human beings make love to one another. Maybe the idea feels a little crude to you. God Him-or-Herself, perched on the bedpost while your lover is inside of you, gawking and smiling in almost childlike curiosity, in apparent awe at the whole unfolded scene. Maybe I'm being a little glib here, but let's get real: to what other force might you attribute the incredible power, the supernovic passion, and the inescapable inevitability (literally: we are GOING to make love to one another, no matter what) of the act of human love? (Oh...I forgot to mention that this post isn't best-suited for you evolutionists out there. I'm sure brain function and survival of the species both have something to do with it. Fine. But this is an ecstatic poetry blog. Perhaps I can point you in another direction?)

The ecstatic masters spoke of the Beloved, of being drunk on ecstasy and feeling the power of the Divine in another person. Theirs was a practice more related to seeking experiences of God than achieving a momentary orgasmic release. But I am made to question: is it THAT different for the rest of us? Are we really just chasing after the next quick fix, or is there something more going on for us? In the worst-case scenario, we are all dining night after night in what author Tom Robbins calls "erotic greasy spoons"...but even then, could it be that we are seeking something deeper? Something we could swear we recognize but can't quite put our finger on?

There is a glimpse of God - however obscured by our conditioning, however diluted by our cultural perspectives, however marred by our attachments, our addictions, our clinging, or our sadness - in every act of sharing love with another human being. There is a connection to the Divine each time we surrender, show another person our most vulnerable parts, and allow ourselves to be undressed in both body and mind. And I believe that that glimpse, even if it's so brief that many of us don't notice it at all, causes ripples like a pebble does when dropped into a pond. Those ripples then propagate outwards, reaching from the past into the present as reminders of the holy truth of lovemaking.

For some of us, lovemaking is a favorite way to pray. I want to be clear here and state that ecstatic poetry isn't necessarily about indulgences in flesh or attachment to pleasure. But it surely can help us to understand those glimpses of the Divine, no matter where they're found. Here is my poem called "Ripple." May it give you pause to consider the things that are still rippling throughout your own lives. Perhaps you will see that God is there, perched in a corner of the room and smiling warmly, just waiting for you to notice...

 

***************************

 

Ripple

 

it’s taken me this long to realize

that the act of loving –

the exchange of sacred communion

that singularly honest

act of surrender –

ripples

 

making love is not just one finite series

of moments

over and done with

and discarded

at the end

 

it is an act of

creation

 

one night with you

your flesh at my fingertips

your breath in my ear

your quivering voice

gives rise the oldest tales ever told:

no matter what forms these ancient consciousnesses have taken

throughout the epochs

since time eternal

these tales

pouring from your lips

have burned in the hearts of men

since first we woke up in this place

and began to love

 

and then

at last

the holy explosion

the Universe begins again

between your thighs

right there

in that place where we meet

the birthplace of all worship –

the only churchhouse

that has ever shown me the face of God –

as your body does

what it was born to do

and together

we begin to understand

that miracles are far more commonplace

than we had once

imagined

 

it is these moments, all

they take up residence in my heart

and there they stay

 

the days that follow

are ghostly dreams

and i’m really nowhere

but right there

still

with you

 

© 2015 Brandon Thompson