An excerpt from Moonlight Leaning Against an Old Rail Fence:  Approaching the Dharma as Poetry

Prayer Flags in Winter

against the snow

and the barren trees,

the gentlest breeze

moves the prayer flags.

white, red, green,

blue – they lift their skirts

just a little –

their frayed edges hang

like threads of compassion

into the world.

the slow morning sun

lights up the snow

and a bright empty space

for the whisper

of their tender secrets

to bless the air.


Commentary: Prayer Flags in Winter


Prayer flags have been around a long time. They are strung everywhere in Tibetan cultures and they are becoming more popular and familiar in the west. Their sequences of brightly dyed cloth – blue, white, red, yellow, green – hang down with printed blessings for health, wisdom, peace, and prosperity. Now a gentle breeze tosses their bottoms upward. But they may fly in the most severe of climates, and the most barren of circumstances. They are an ever-present and gentle reminder of what lies at our heart. They are a testament and a celebration.


Each life is born into the world as part of an endless string of prayer flags. The heart is open as the radiance of pure blessing. But the heart may quickly come to experience itself as under siege. The need to defend overwhelms the capacity to bless. At best we end up with a frozen possibility, a winter compromise. But the sun of our true nature is always shining; even in the winter world. And so we must stay open to the winter sun; let the gentlest breeze stir us. Let the blessings in our hearts lift their skirts a little. Let the threads of our own struggle become the threads of our compassion.


In our vulnerability lies our great gift, our great potential. There is something   venerable about our frayed edges; something quite capable of blessing. Let these frayed edges hang down into the world, dance in the wind; allow them to release more of our compassion. This is the passing world. Prayer flags will not unfray and recover their bright dyes however much the world resists, denies and pretends. Their tattered bodies will be burned and replaced; all that is left is their power to bless. That is the sum of a life.


On a morning like this it is all so simple. The sun shines on the barren trees. Our frayed edges hang down. A gentle breeze lifts them. The snow reflects. We all carry tender secrets – more tender than we know, and more capable of blessing. We needn’t shut them away in endless hibernation, in endless retreat from a cold winter. We allow the slow morning sun at our hearts to gradually open up a place for them, so that the whispers of these secrets, the secrets of our true tenderness, may blossom with the possibility of true compassion.