In today's 'Thought for the day', Dan, our Primary Counsellor, reflects on Joy Harjo's poem ‘Praise the Rain’ which invites the reader into a contemplative response to the vicissitudes of human life; To gently witness the visitations of the thoughts, images, synchronicities and tragedies of life in a spirit of profound and simple praise.
Praise the rain…
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
- Joy Harjo
‘Praise the Rain’ is a poem of promise. We’re encouraged towards a contemporary monastic calling to hold only one focus in mind - that of a tenacious praise of all - and to gently renounce all other inner responses to what arrives in us unbidden. It is to move towards a joyful witnessing of what unfolds in and around us, without involvement in the machinations of the ever-busy mind. In Zen terms, it is to ‘open the hand of thought’ and with open palm to drop the storylines otherwise held tightly within. We raise an eyebrow towards the judgements, qualifiers and justifiers inherent in our thinking. This wide-armed welcome to all experiences relies upon a developing sense of knowing, whether dimly or as the ripened fruit of a life of spiritual practice, that there is an underlying unity behind all events and phenomena making redundant much of our dichotomised thinking. To praise all that arrives - the whole flow of life - is to rely upon an intuitive knowing that ‘I am a thou’ to everything that is taking place.
Like many poets of an existential bend, Harjo also demonstrates the very creative vision she is prodding us towards. A more imaginal reading of the poem confronts the reader with a series of observation-sensations, shorn of the neatness of logical sense-making and seeing into that which arises in an emotional, perceptual and visceral sense. The ‘slack house’ in the poem evokes a faltering house-image and tired sensation in this ageing body, for instance. It is important to honour the melancholic or ordinary as a vital part of everyday life, for it comes unrelenting despite our modern fascination with happiness, wellbeing or progress. We should not relegate melancholy to an aversive footnote in the accounts of our lives, lest we seek imbalance and unconscious despair. Melancholy and tragedy are, like us, threaded intricately within the inner life of Nature.
As humans we are unique in our ability to say ‘no’ with considered awareness, even if it is so often difficult in praxis. To choose to ‘praise’ everything is to make real a radical ‘no’ to the incessant judging of the mind. It is to practice living without our usual psychological armour against the disorder of life and to trust that behind the apparent contradiction between the multiplicity of things and a desire for simplicity, lies a holy and harmonious complexity. A contemplative attitude evokes a de-repression of our emotional life. It encourages the capacity to both hold life precious and commend suffering as the spiritual tightrope of life. In Rumi’s words, we retain the choice to ‘...stop weaving and see how the pattern improves’.
To belong to this strange existence in gratitude, as uniquely and collectively embedded in a web of Nature and awareness currently beyond our comprehension, is to be both significant and insignificant at the same time. How fragile the balance. To extend the existential tension of significance-insignificance, soulfully towards our inner experience of things, is to respond in love to the very fact of being precariously alive. In doing so, we might just, tentative step by tentative step, arrive at a heartfelt praise that is both temporal and infinite in its comfort.
The Unthought Known is a short daily writing reflective of a contemplative perspective on life. It is the fruit of many years of reflective note taking on a range of spiritual texts and in that spirit no inherent originality is claimed. If it offers comfort amidst adversity, read the text and call whatever resonates to mind when needed (even if just a short phrase from the larger text), allowing it to soak into the marrow of your bones and merge with your breath. Remember, we are all in this together.
Take good care, Dan