Gudrun Mouw Posts

 

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The poems in the series called, “Six Movements” in Wife of the House are, for me, an example of how poetry “pokes holes” in consciousness, which I mentioned in my blog called, “The Book Release Reading.” After a night under the stars in a heightened state of consciousness, having just read The Kabir Book: Ecstatic Poems by Kabir, Versions by Robert Bly, it seemed as if a veil had blown away. Clear space opened, and then rapture

…arrives
electric in the red river
reason shatters

from Movement 2

apricotblossumexplosionRapture is not about a feeling of reward one might get after a goal is achieved, or a desire is fulfilled. Rapture is more like a surprise explosion and is often interpreted as an intoxication, or even “over joyfulness;” or it is seen as a trance-like state.

For me, rapture is an expression of consciousness moving with great force toward new understanding and insight. In that sense, rapture isn’t self-indulgent, as some might think, but it serves a greater purpose. In its highest form, perhaps, rapture may move one closer to a state the yogis call “samadhi,” or enlightenment.

 At midnight it goes
that boundary between my arm
and the breeze

from Movement 5

Jack Kornfield, in Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, talks about rapture as one of the “Seven Factors of Enlightenment,” and as a process of “learning to live and practice with a light heart.” Once that happens, I think, the real work of integration can begin. Though rapture stands apart in its truth, beauty and intensity, my teacher and guide, Swami Satchidananda Yogiraj, often urged that the benefits of our attainments be used to “lead a dedicated life,” meaning to lead a life that serves a higher purpose than one’s own selfish interest.

The Process of Writing

In the past, when I won a prize, published my work, or had a book accepted for publication, expectations rose, but things did not always go well. It reminds me of my teacher, Swami Satchidananda, who often said, “make no appointments and you will have no disappointments.” Disappointment, I have noticed can sometimes lead to bitterness.

I do not consider myself to be a bitter person. When my American Sabbath school teacher called me “a martyr for my religion,” I did not connect with what she was talking about. I was not aware of holding resentment for the brutalities I experienced as a child born in Europe during the last world war.

The problem with bitterness is that, for me, it became like a secretly poisoned drink where the bitter taste could not easily be detected. Eventually, I realized I was bitter about two books that had been accepted for publication but didn’t make it through to the final process.

I was also bitter about the sense of failure I had regarding my teacher, who after learning about a poetry prize I had won, congratulated me warmly, as if he had always know I would do him proud and said, “Write, write…publish.” However, I felt for some years I was not able to live up to his words of encouragement.

One of my favorite poems that personifies a personal experience of going beyond negative patterns (such as bitterness) in Wife of the House is “Lila’s Love:

Gazing beyond plank and beam
beyond floorboard and frame
of self she twirls
to the core of eucalyptus
 

On the other side of bitterness, I discovered joy, especially, joy as a great healer. Recently, I heard a conversation and could not help but respond:

 Overheard

“Are you happy?”
“What about?”
Happiness is nothing
to be about; joy is
everything.

I am grateful these days to be aware of how unacknowledged bitterness, resentments and disappointments can create an atmosphere of insecurity and a lack of fulfillment. Joy, on the other hand, is free from all such contractions.

 Gudrun

The Process of Writing

I remember a mountain hike with my daughter. Before we reached that remarkable Santa Barbara County ocean view from over 3,000 feet, we saw the remains of cattle on a summer dry meadow. There was not much left but shrunken hides and separated bones. We stopped. We did not speak. The sight relieved us of words.

Many years later, I am still haunted by that scattered sight of death. I do not know why this vision has emerged now. I don’t remember having written about this particular experience before. There has been a silence around the subject of death that has imprinted itself over the years—a silence that appears to ask me to look more deeply.asianclouds

Once, a fellow middle school student questioned me, “Have you ever seen death?” I answered incorrectly, “No.” It took a long time for me to acknowledge out loud the truth of my early life. Even now, it often seems easier to address my early exposure to death through my writing.

My last public reading, before the Wife of the House book release, was at the behest of my friend, Perie Longo, who was Santa Barbara’s poet laureate at the time. At that reading, I shared a poem that addressed some painful recollections:

 

The Quality of Light

Exploding bombs saved my grandfather
from the Auschwitz train; the town hid him,
and we who had been marked to follow the fate
of rejected religion fell like blessings in the snow—
my first memory, cold at my back
and the sharp glint of a bayonet.

Inside one of those other camps
filled with ghosts of humanity
and alcoholic Russian guards
who came to hate their lives
as much as they hated us,

my second memory was light—
outside the screams, shots and beatings
and that stench of death and dying–
sun through a damaged roof
spread inside me like a healing balm.

The “Quality of Light,” speaks of a subject that is explored in my forthcoming poetry collection called Frozen Souls. Such poems depict an intense and difficult history in order to invoke transformation, which seems to me to be a natural part of the process of birth, death and dying.

Wife of the House, on the other hand, is a collection about the process of learning how to connect the details of one’s every day life to a sense of presence and mindfulness in order to experience an expansion of consciousness. “Truth is One; Paths are Many,” was one of my guru’s favorite mottos, which brought home to me the value of tolerance gained through the exposure to different life experiences, cultures, belief systems, etc., a tolerance that can ultimately help us to be more whole as human beings.

Gudrun

A Poem Forthcoming Work

I apologize, the comments option has been turned off. My daughter has just updated the last two posts so comments can be posted. Thank you.

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When it was suggested I address the alcoholism issue that is so much a part of the foundational background of Wife of the House, I was reluctant.

In the poem, “Dream,” I created an imaginary camel ride in order to release anger about the disease of alcoholism in my family:

…grinning he humps towards a steep bank
for a drink at the bar

I pull in reins urging
don’t leave the caravan…

It was a long time before I achieved the detachment it took for me to write the poem near the end of the book, “Song to End Estrangement.”

How private pain is
may it heal and and soften
the rough grain
of our lives…

…may I be freed from that aching need…
healed from that heartbreaking pause
before I depart.

When my ex-husband was on his death bed due to alcohol induced neurological failure and before he could no longer speak, I came to the hospital to visit him. He grabbed my hand and said, “I have always loved you.” Years of pain eased in this one encounter; still, it doesn’t mean I have forgotten the terrible damage the disease of alcoholism has caused the entire family.

My personal journey consists of releasing guilt, shame and regret to a power higher than myself. From the intention to surrender and to accept the things I cannot change, comes relief and the space to practice gratitude. Gratitude was not always easily available to me, but now that it is, I much appreciate its tremendous healing power.

During the time I was writing the poems in Wife of the House, I remember a water heater accident when my hair caught on fire. By the time I arrived at a twelve-step meeting later that week, I had accumulated a long list of complaints about how much misery I was experiencing. It was gently suggested that I might try to practice gratitude. My mind did not respond well. Gratitude? Gratitude? How can I be grateful for the terrible things going on?

It took years of persistent effort to realize how my judgments and opinions about my problems were the problem. For me, to be mindful, to be a yogini meant changing what I needed to change with wisdom and also finding a way to be with what I am not able to change, rather than losing myself to reactivity.

Gudrun

Personal Updates The Process of Writing

lavender

It’s chilly today and very windy. The native sage bushes fling up. The English garden building comes alive with moving shadows on the siding. Lavender blooms burst forth purple from every stem.

Spring swings with constant movement, yet I am content to sit. I am happy to sit inside the house, and the house sits inside me. I am the house. The house is me. Walls feel porous. Ceiling are higher than they appear, and the floor tingles under my feet.

I am happy to swim this conscious stream. My father’s paintings do not make me cynical. The drumming angel from my daughter’s Mexican travels stands quietly overhead surrounded by the oldest living indoor plant I have ever had. This is the place to be. Here. Now. Strongly. Tenderly…so that a painful subject may arise and be healed.

I am reminded of the professor who said to me, “You are an immigrant. English is not your first language.” He looked at me skeptically. “You are an English Literature major? You want to be a writer?” He shook his head. He said worse, but my mind had already shut down. I considered changing my major to philosophy. In the end, I did not.

I finished my BA and MA; afterwards, I spent many evenings in the university library reading the tragic lives of numerous writers who rarely published during their lifetimes, or were sadly handicapped, or undervalued in some way. I worked as a substitute teacher during the day; eventually, I found a college teaching job.

I am partly retired now and can afford the time to contemplate the odd twists of life. Where does stubborn persistence end and creative inspiration begin? How is it that in a state between two languages I often find something strange and new and interesting?

I look outside, and the hills, the pine, the oak, the grasses and the sandstone do not name themselves in any recognizable language. They present themselves just as they are, unadorned, free, unencumbered by anyone’s judgment.
Gudrun

 

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