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

The Song That Is Before

Why wouldn’t anyone

relax and float in the river of light

that is our home? Release

our hold on the molecules of our

appearance and allow

the pervading radiance to shine?

Can we hold our

precious features more dear

than the light will hold us?

More than our loving will anoint us?

Will we argue our case more

eloquently than the

light will speak it in translation?

Or entrust to our own bitter clinging

the desperate dream

that is already awake and

singing the song that is before

all darkness and all time?



Commentary: The Song That Is Before


Why wouldn’t anyone relax and float in the river of light that is our home? Alas, from the standpoint of our ordinary experience that sounds like a rhetorical question from someone whose head is in the clouds. But when we awake to that river of light, it is a most obvious, genuine, and compassionate question. It was the obvious question for me at the time of this poem, although the obvious answer was: because we rarely experience it.


Yet how obvious at such miraculous moments is the one light of presence shining through us all – as if the molecules of our being are the merest suggestion of a lattice work flowed through and carried along with light. It is light not only in the sense of “luminous,” but also in the sense of “weightless,” insubstantial, open, non-binding, yet playfully unfolding, an activity that is not an activity at all, an empty river of delight. It is our true self and our true home expressing as us and already complete in its own activity. It requires nothing more from us, no need to acquire, accomplish, contrive, justify, or sustain. How easy it was to recognize my separated selfhood and all its issues as a moment of distraction within the light itself, like pixie dust in the eyes, hypnotized by the mirage of a separate identity to dramatize and defend. The fact that the whole world as we know it is animated by, and suffers through, this mirage of pixie dust, makes it no more real or substantial; nor does it separate us in truth or change our nature as that light.


The habits of attachment to this mirage are strong, leaving the sense that we need to manage the molecules of our own appearance (just as if a rainbow believed that it was its own separate solid thing, needing to manage the play of photons and molecules that display as a rainbow). But when we relax the illusion of needing to manage the light, and release our imaginary hold, the underlying radiance reveals itself as our pervading nature, all creative, all sustaining, and all complete. The very same was revealed to Dame Julian of Norwich, when she wrote, in a different poetry, “God maketh it; God keepeth it; God loveth it.” And the question arises, “Why wouldn’t anyone relax ….?”


The illusion of self is sustained by a subtle activity of contraction, contraction within and away from the light, away from the openness of being; and by the activity of control, the need to manage all of this illusory appearance. As we allow our attention to become subtle and honest, we may begin to notice our ongoing and pervasive activity of contraction from being that seems to override the activity, and the experience, of the natural radiance of being simply expressing as us. That subtle contraction reinforces our way of seeing, and that seeing reinforces the contraction, as our self-experience seems to congeal and separate out of the light. As such, it seems we must fight our own battles, argue our own case, and manage our own appearance on our own behalf. This is not to be flippant about our human condition; and not to dishonor our most noble attempts as human beings to be true to ourselves and to each other. But can we hold the features of our own appearance here as more dear than the light of universal love already holds us in entirety? Is there anything we can do to enhance ourselves more than we will be enhanced by our own surrender to love; our own acts of loving? Can we argue our case?