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favorite poetry books

Here are my favorite poetry books. I have given countless copies away to friends and strangers over the years.  Sharing these gems is one of my favorite forms of philanthropy. The poems they contain are precious seeds, soul food, an endless source of inspiration.

The Radiance Sutras, “112 ways to enter the stillness beneath the waves,” poetic meditations from the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, translated by Lorin Roche

The Gift, Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky

I Heard God laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy, Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky

The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems, Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky.

Love Poems from God: 12 Sacred Voices from the East and the West, Renderings of twelve famous mystics, by Daniel Ladinsky

New and Selected Poems (Volume I and II) by Mary Oliver

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

The Illuminated Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

One Song: The New Illuminated Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Love Letter to the Milky Way, by Drew Dellinger

I also love books by David Whyte and John O’Donohue, as well as The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.


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a luminous book

I entered the magical world of the Radiance Sutras in the summer of 2006 while attending a yoga teacher training with Shiva Rea at Kripalu in Western Massachusetts.  We were lying down in savasana (corpse pose) after an intense two hour long practice, and Shiva was guiding our descent into stillness.  After we all settled into a deeply relaxed and receptive state, she started reading a stunning sutra from an ancient sanskrit text called the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra.  I was mesmerized both by the slow rhythm and sensual tone of her voice, and by the sheer beauty of that sutra which opens with these lines:

“The one who is at play everywhere said:
There is a place in the heart where everything meets. 
Go there if you want to find me. 
Mind, soul, senses, eternity, all are there. 
Are you there?”

I was suspended to her lips, drinking in her every word, and noticing that the sensations in my body were getting increasingly subtler, as my heart was softening and expanding in all directions. I started feeling connected to every one else in the room, not as a concept, but as an actual felt experience. And this is how I fell in love with “a place in the heart,” sutra 26 of the Vijnana Bhairava tantra, translated by Lorin Roche as the Radiance Sutras.  Right after class, I asked one of Shiva’s assistants where I could get a copy of what she read, and was happy to hear that it had been included in our teacher training manual, along with a link to Lorin’s website.  Later that day, I visited the site, and discovered that thirty more of the 112 sutras which make up this magnificent text were available on his site, each one more beautiful and inspiring than the other.

In the months that followed, I started learning several of these sutras by heart.  I just loved what happened to me whenever I would spend time reading and reciting their lines.  I would spend hours with them, taking them on walks, bringing them into my yoga practice, and sharing them with friends.  I eventually contacted Lorin to express my enthusiasm and gratitude for his work, and to inquire about the other 70+ sutras not included on his site.  He said he was in the process of editing them, and did not yet have clear plans for their publication, but kindly offered to keep me posted.  Then, a couple of years later, in February of 2009, while I was in Bali, I attended a week end retreat with Ateeka, another wonderful yoga teacher.  She had just facilitated a three weeks long teacher training, and several of her students were present for the week end.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were each carrying a copy of the newly released print version of all 112 Radiance Sutras!   I was delirious with joy!   Ateeka unfortunately did not have a spare copy for me to buy, so I begged someone to lend me theirs and stayed up half of the night, reading and savoring the sutras I had never read, and typing them up. I later bought several copies of the book, so I could give them away to friends.

The book is still one of my most treasured possessions.  The sutras have literally changed the way I experience ‘reality.’  This text is much more than a book.  It’s collection of rare and precious gems, each of them a portal into presence, an invitation to experience all aspects of life more fully by connecting with our life force with all our senses.  In Lorin’s words, the book is about “full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and techniques for accepting every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.

The sutras have played a big part in my embodiment journey, and learning them by heart has kept giving me opportunities to feel and experience my inner body and subtle energy while moving through life, walking, playing, working, and dealing with day-to-day curve balls.   Each sutra is an invitation to enter the body fully and then let the deepening of that connection naturally expand one’s sense of self beyond the boundaries of skin, and the constrictions of identity and personality.

More

You can listen to audio recordings of my favorite radiance sutras on this site, and order a copy of the whole book on Lorin Roche’s website.   You can also join the facebook page, and read Lorin’s stunning commentaries about the sutras in the LA yoga magazine.

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Lorin Roche’s preface

This little book is the Bhairava Tantra, one of the early teachings on yoga and meditation.  It is my favorite meditation text ever.  The name, loosely translated, means “The terror and joy of realizing oneness with the Soul.”  It is said to date back to the second millennium B.C.  For most of that time, it was purely in the oral tradition, meaning that it was changed and memorized.  I say it is little because it is only about three thousand words in the original Sanskrit, perhaps forty minutes of chanting.   It is astonishing that in so few words it describes the essence of many of the world’s meditation techniques.  I call it The Radiance Sutras because it is so luminous.

A tantra is not poetry, although it may sound that way in the original and in translation.   A tantra is a manual of practices.  This is what a how-to-book looked like several thousand years ago, at least in one of the meditation traditions.   It is a book of meditation instructions, set as a conversation between lovers.  The focus is on full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and techniques for accepting every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.

The text feels as though it was composed by a couple, a man and a woman who sang the verses to each other as they co-composed.  They lived this teaching.  The techniques that are described here occurred to them naturally, as an evolution of the questions they were asking of life, and their explorations of the body of love.   As was the convention of the time, they frame the conversation as the Goddess and the God in them speaking.  The conversation is about how to enter into the vibrant essence of the world with the dual balance of passion and detachment.

An early translation of this tantra came into my hands about thirty years ago, and I have worked with the methods every day ever since.   It has been a love affair and I am blessed.  One day several years ago, I started to write an English version and it evolved into this book.

February 2009, Marina del Rey, California


favorite poetry books

Here are my favorite poetry books. I have given countless copies away to friends and...
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a luminous book

I entered the magical world of the Radiance Sutras in the summer of 2006 while attending...
article post