Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monk In The City

by Chris Fici, NYC, 2009

Living as a monk in the city
I walk concrete, praying for my soul
And yours, to light, to dance away
Tones and basslines, brass and dirt, jazz of the heart

A monk in the city
Thelonious, smoky groove in Minton's Playhouse, fingernails hitting simplicity
Glasses clinking, escaping rat races and red lights
Renouncing the smog and the haze, scraping off the soot
Particles of gold on the black minor keys of his piano
Blue monk, dropping off-beat chords
Pleading for the peeps to awaken, straight with no chaser
To throw off the bills not posted, the unreal dreams, the illusion of body and mind
In the free movement of his finger-joints
Monk is saying, he is living, he is willing Simple Living and High Thinking

A fearless seeker in the city
The Trane, the Coltrane, here comes the Coltrane, 42nd Street stop
From the tunnels of darkness, a Love Supreme
An Ascencion, his gift to us, vibrating Om
His rainbows, his quantum tones, sheets of sounds sublime
Are piercing this mundane prison cell, flying round the rings of Saturn
If we live like the Trane sounds
Like the Trane moves, like the Trane feels
Relentless for the Truth, for the Divine
For the Supreme Truth, the Never-Ending Love
Oh! How our life will shine, transparent souls
Giving our self selflessly, from me to you
I owe my heart's outward bound to the Trane
I'll always ride the Coltrane, going where he goes
We'll meet in the world of knowledge and bliss
Notes eternal, beyond space and time, Divine Love

The bandleader, the heavy hand of the city
Down in the underground, taking the A Train, Charlie Mingus aboard
Behind his big bad bold bass, a whole orchestra of faces and races
Doing big, like the swami said, we have to do big
We no longer have any excuses, we can no longer clown around
Five Spot, Charlie's big fingers resounding feelings of freedom
Souls seeking pleasure, in their natural condition
Ensembles of saints of all colors
Now rises the trombones, the xylophones, colors and feelings of spring
Mingus Ah Um, blues and roots, east coasting
In his large persona, in the moods left behind, we, like the alchemists
Taking gold from the potion, we take his ambition to the stars and beyond
Letting our children hear the music, letting ourselves flow into a new world

The muted horn of the city
Sometimes we feel kind of blue, we need the man with the horn
Like our mood has become a bitches brew
On the corner, 1st and 1st, life is more, it's big fun
Trying to get up with it, trying to get up with the star people
Miles, with his knees bent, sunglasses on, even in the dark basement club
Muse of my creative urge, taking the first thought that comes, shaping it, trusting it
Endlessly evolving
In between the bitter and the sweet of the note of his trumpet, there is the bliss of separation
Lovers, friends, soulmates, here and gone again
In a slient way, on Village sidewalks, round about midnight
Yearning, the only reality of the spirit
From me to you
The Dark Magus, magician exploring the depths of the hidden heart
The hidden identity
Miles, oh my man Miles, Miles in the sky, Miles as the sorcerer
Conflicted man, dualities and strife, the edge to your sound so round
One step at a time
Inside your sound so round the heart of the spiritual man, the spiritual woman
We live wondering where our sweet Lord is, where is the love that is our birthright
Where is our eternal happiness, lost and promised again
Yearning, pleasing in his sound so round, when we will leave this Babylon, and go to the Promised Land

Living as a monk in the city
I walk concrete, praying for my soul
And yours, to light, to dance away
Tones and basslines, brass and dirt, jazz of the heart

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Soul of Merton 3-29-09

Inspired by my readings of "Contemplative Prayer" and "Contemplation In A World Of Action" by Thomas Merton

Recently, whilst minding the wares at our Starving Students dinner program at 26 Second Avenue, I met a young gentleman who walked in a little disheveled, wanting to replace the Prabhupada Gita that had been taken away from him the other night by rough-and-tumble NYC cops giving him and his friends some trouble (and vice versa I might imagine)

In talking to this chap, I found out that he was a refugee of our post-modern mess, an otherwise bright, talented, and seeking young man who is choosing to live in Manhattan as a drifter rather than be forced to take on the drudgery of home, job, "ordinary" responsibility, etc.

In other words, he's taking a bold and probably unwise response to his total alienation from the societal situation in which he is forced to deal with one way or another. In Contemplation in a World of Action, Merton defines alienation as such:

"The term alienation is used of a human being who is systematically kept, or who allows himself to be kept, in a social situation in which he exists purely and simply for somebody else."

Or in other words, as Merton writes:

"To sum it all up in one word, our postulants come to us from a society in which man is alienated, in which he is systematically deprived of a serious identity, in which he cannot believe in his dignity, in which he has good reason to be profoundly skeptical of everything and everyone, and in which he tends to renounce all hope of experiencing himself as real and genuinely worthwhile. It is a society in which he has not much left to resign himself, with a sigh, to passivity with a can of beer in front of the TV."

Ah, I know that feeling all too well...so does my friend, with the difference being that I am taking shelter of a spiritual society, designed to cure one of all physical and metaphysical alienation, whilst my friend instead rides the waves of the concrete surf of the city and its motley inhabitants. I pray he may clean and sober up enough to deepen his sincere desire to associate with our community.

It is our duty to Prabhupada to improve upon our own spiritual society so that we can give real and meaningful shelter to such refugees of our times. In the ultimate sense, we gotta serve somebody, or as we understand, we must exist "purely and simply for somebody else", with this somebody else being the sweet, Supreme Persona of Govinda.

The alienated man of our times shuns himself from such a binding relationship with the other, suffering grandly and minutely from the perverted reflection of this divine dependence. Merton writes on this account:

"The alienated man cannot love. He has nothing to give. Nothing is his. The lover is able to give himself completely to another precisely because he is his own to give. He is not alienated. He has an identity. He knows what is his to surrender. The alienated man has no chance to surrender. He has simply been taken over by total control."

A full and heart-felt spiritual society, in Prabhupada's mold, must have the courage and intelligence to bring these refugees into the fold, let them realize their true identity through the fullness of the devotional mood, so that they can give their most natural gift, themselves, willingly and with full love and knowledge.

Merton, of course, is speaking from a monastic and Christian perspective, but his realization is so deep as to hit to the very simple essence, beyond all externals and lifting them up, in our desperate need to build real community. He writes:

"The monastic life today stands over against the world with a mission to affirm not only the message of salvation but also those most basic human values which the world most desperately needs to regain: personal integrity, inner peace, authenticity, identity, inner depth, spiritual joy, the capacity to love, the capacity to enjoy God's creation and to give thanks"

And he concludes with:

"Our first task is to be fully human and to enable the youth of our time to find themselves and develop as men and as sons of God. There is no need for a community of religious robots without minds, without hearts, without ideas, and without faces. It is this mindless alienation that characterizes the world and life in the world...Spirituality today must be a personalistic...humanism that seeks and saves man's intimate truth, his personal identity, in order to consecrate it entirely to God."