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The Narrows

The first time down the path
The cave is hidden from your eye.
You wander in a deep ravine
That frames a slice of sky.

Your unsure step will stumble
Where lizards prance on leaves,
But still the stream will carry you
Through the shadow-stippled breeze.

You’ll come to where the bathers bare
Sun themselves on steaming stones,
And one child’s laughter scintillates
Like water flowing over bones.

Oak roots reach down across the rock
And map the drift of streams.
The bathers loll within their sleep,
And reflect the shape of dreams.

Snakes and crickets search the seams
Of granite aeons made,
While leaves slide through air to spin
On water stained with shade.

The solid rock betrays your feet.
Your steps become unsure.
The raven on the boulder bows.
His wings begin to stir.

The grass bends down before the wind.
The ferns bow in the fading light.
The clouds retreat, the stars emerge,
The ravine is draped with night.

But in such night what light awaits
This dust of dreams on bone?
The path leads back to the homes of men
Through a forest turned to stone.

A rush light glows within the dark
On the far side of the stream.
It is the cave, unnoticed then,
Containing now this life of dreams.

A figure — phosphorescent, frail —
Will bid you to assume
That all within is as without —
As tunnel echoes tomb.

You’ll see within large shifting shapes
Of cities and of scenes
Remembered only as a film
Shown but once behind a screen.

You’ll hear the songs of sailors,
Songs of women, songs of war.
Your step will freeze, your head will turn,
Your hand will find an ancient door

That leads you to a steaming room
Where pale shapes writhe and wheeze,
While from below a gray mist floats
Upon the fetid breeze.

The chink of money, lure of love,
Will fill your straining ears,
And you will hear your own voice say,
“All is all as it appears.”


Awake! A far bell coming closer
Along the path of night,
In passing lights the lamps of stars
To guide you from this sight.

All is not as it appears.
All is as made and nothing more.
Within that cave confusion reigns
Upon the stained and skull-strewn floor.

Step back beneath the stars, step back.
Reclaim your second sight,
And follow far upon that path
Towards the lantern and the light;

To where the sunlight falling sings,
To where  the wind sleeps in the tree,
Where the thought that thinks of thought is drowned
In the mansions of the sea.

— Tassajara Zen Monastery, Carmel Valley, California

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  • Howard Nelson December 28, 2017, 7:58 AM

    For what we see is but a dream
    tho to we within it, it seems so real,
    lucid phantoms in a world of mind
    the factual is of an other kind.

    In meditation some seek the Source
    tho too many cannot stay that course
    but find, or are found, rescued by intent,
    devotion’s spiritual, spirited force,
    that we’re truly awake, safe, at home as One
    a play in Consciousness composed for fun.

    h/t Robert Adams*, Muktananda, Ramana, Nisargadatta, and all the other thieves of the heart.
    * lots of YouTube presentations, free for all in more ways than one.

  • Jim in Alaska December 28, 2017, 9:19 AM