Only Love

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Only love

Holds the keys 

To each door

In the labyrinth

Of life.

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2017

But for the Love

“Unless you know how to love your neighbor, you cannot love God. Before placing an offering on the altar of God, you have to reconcile with your neighbor, because reconciling with your neighbor is to reconcile with God. You can only touch God through his creatures; you will not understand what is true love, the love of God, unless you practice the love of humanity.” ~Thich Nhat Hahn, Zen master, poet and peace activist, Taming the Tiger Within

Recently, I had the honor of becoming friends with Chase Gagnon through a poetry group we’re apart of on Facebook. To say it simply, his words move my soul. Today, I have the privilege to share the power of his poetry, photography and storytelling! Enjoy.

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“I was walking into Zeff’s on the corner of Russell and Winder for lunch when I saw him sitting against the wall. The same tattered old man who’s always roaming around Eastern Market through the snow and freezing rain asking strangers for money, the guy who you can see digging through dumpsters and trash cans looking for scraps of food.

I never have anything to give him, and he knows this by now. But it’s the day after Christmas, and I just hit it big off a dollar scratcher. Won thirty five bucks. He puts his head down as I approach, shielding his face from the wind. “Hey man, you want some lunch?” His eyes lit up “you serious fam? I’m hungry as a motherfucker!

I said “hell yeah!” motioning him with my head to get up off the cold ground. We walked into the filthy dive and sat at the bar, each ordered a couple coney dogs and some chilly fries with a hot cup of coffee.”

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“We sat and talked about basketball, how insane Andre Drummond played last night as highlights from the game flashed across the fuzzy TV screen above the counter. Laughed at how stupid our fellow Americans were for electing Donald Trump, and then talked a little bit about how goddamn cold it’s been this past week.

I saw his eyes ice over when he thought about the weather outside, gazing back out into the filthy streets where he sleeps while he sipped his piping hot coffee, both bare hands gripping the mug for warmth. “You know, I can’t remember the last time someone treated me like a human.”

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how bitter
its silence —
gently falling snow

~Chase Gagnon

*photos, poetry, and storytelling by Chase Gagnon

Masculine Energy

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Masculine energy

Within mySelf

Seeking healing

In warmth

Surrounded

By the frosty cold

Of uncertainty

Masculine energy

Within mySelf

Seeking love

In the secret garden

Where judgement

Pruned

What was left

Masculine energy

Within mySelf

Seeking acceptance

In barren

Sacred space

Where the wild

Awakens fragilely.

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2016

 

For the Sake of True Love

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But for the sake

Of true love

I let go…

Of pride

Of fear

Of illusion

Misunderstandings

Like a wind

Blowing through 

The forest

In a sacred dance

Of leaves

I let go…

For the sake

Of true love

I let go…

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2016*

“Everyday we say or do things that might leave behind ‘internal formations’ in the person we love. Following that, then the suffering and pain grow, and the person we love turns into something like a bomb that might explode at any moment. A few words are all it takes to trigger anger in this person, who you are afraid to approach and who you are afraid to talk to because he or she has become a bomb loaded with too much suffering. When you try to get away from him or her, this person thinks you do so out of contempt and their suffering increases. You also have become a bomb, because you have lost the ability to speak the language of peace, of understanding. You have lost the ability to listen, and so all communication has become impossible.”  ~Thich Nhat Hahn, True Love

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Cultivating the energy of loving speech and deep listening is a daily practice that begins with ourselves. When we reach that point where we are no longer able to speak and listen with compassion either to ourselves or to another being then its time to pause and look deeply and to trust our heart to guide us. The practice of mindfulness can help us. Mindful breathing and walking. It can help us to come back to ourselves. Bringing our mind and body together in alignment. That happens because we take the time to be present with ourselves by connecting with our breath. Or if we are walking our concentration is on the step connecting with the Earth. This brings a sense of grounding to our being. A space of calm can open our hearts so that we can see ourselves again. Mindful breathing helps us to take care of our body, our painful emotions, and to become aware of our mind.  Sometimes we lose perspective and see ourselves as something apart…something separate. We become overloaded because we aren’t taking care of ourself. But, we don’t have to get caught up in the stories we tell ourselves. Instead, we can retrain ourselves to focus our attention. When looking at our views and perceptions we can find a way to let go of our conditioning, illusions and misunderstandings. We don’t have to do anything…we don’t have to try hard. Breathing happens naturally because we are alive. We just need to notice our breath. Coming back to our breath and reconnecting with our bodies and mind opens up a space for our heart to guide us back to safety…the island of mindfulness. Where we can reconnect to Life. To True Love.

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*this poem is dedicated to the monks and nuns, Wake Up staff from Plum Village and laypersons who guided us through the retreat “Happy Teachers Change the World” at EIAB during October 14th-23rd

Song of Songs

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A long time ago when much of the world was still a wild place there was once a waterfall with a beautiful voice. She could sing with the stars and moon. She would sing with the trees of the forest and all the creatures that came to her shores. In all the earth there was nothing like her divine voice. One day the waterfall told herself she was tired of singing and telling stores all the time, but she couldn’t stop her voice from flowing with the waters. As time passed the waterfall’s voice grew dull as it cascaded down over the rocks. It had lost its music of laughter. It only sounded cold and angry as it slapped down into the depths below. There were no more lullabies at night because the trees no longer listened. The creatures of the forest came to her shores only to quench their thirst. They no longer stayed to visit. Even the stars hide themselves from her behind the leaves of tree spirits and veils of clouds. The waterfall began to feel a deep sadness that she had never known. She had never been so alone. She didn’t know what to do.

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Until one day, a pokey little green frog jumped on a mossy stone at the foot of the waterfall. He began to croak out a song. And croaked and croaked into the night. The next morning, the waterfall called out to the frog and said, “Thank you little web-footed friend. I had forgotten what it feels like to sing out with all your might. For many years now, I have used my voice to say what others wanted to hear. But now I realize that I can only sing the song of songs when I give the gift of presence. You have been a true friend.” After that the frog and waterfall would sing many a new song with each dawning day.

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2016

*photo of waterfall by Nicolas A. Tonelli, Pennsylvanian Waterfalls

*photo of green frog found on Frogs Native to Pennsylvania

Dragonfly Songs

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Time

To read 

The signals

Traveling 

On the wind.

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2016

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At the edge

Of summer

And autumn

Light softens

Dragonfly song.

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2016

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“When the air is hot and humid, there is a feeing of dullness and stagnation. Everyone is oppressed by lassitude. As the seasons begin changing, fresh air comes from the arctic. Clouds that have been building up begin to dispense rain, and damp air is exchanged for fresh, cool breezes. At night, the heavens are changing so quickly that lightning flashes from colliding clouds, and thunder heralds the revolving of the skies.

The same is true of human life. If the heavens cannot endure stagnation for long, how can stagnation last with us? If we find ourselves blocked and frustrated in life, we must look for the inevitable outlet. Nothing is permanent, so how can our obstacles last? We need to look for the first opportunity to set things moving again.

On the other hand, sometimes stagnation comes from our own laziness or incompetence. In this case, then it is we who must show initiative and stimulate a breakthrough in dull circumstances. As soon as we see a chance, we must act. Unless we engage ourselves and events fully, we cannot expect to act sufficiently.”

~Deng Ming-Dao

What Happens?

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Sometimes I wonder

What happens 

To the little girl

When she suddenly

Grows up.

© Salem Islas-Madlo 2016

*photo by Anka Zhuravleva