Pablo Neruda

Keeping Quiet

By Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)

English version by Alastair Reid

Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still. For once on the face of the earth let’s not speak in any language, let’s stop for one second, and not move our arms so much. It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines, we would all be together in a sudden strangeness. Fishermen in the cold sea would not harm whales and the man gathering salt would look at his hurt hands. Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire, victory with no survivors, would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers in the shade, doing nothing. What I want should not be confused with total inactivity. Life is what it is about; I want no truck with death. If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death. Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive. Now I’ll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.


Zen story


During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived – everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. “You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!” But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved. “And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”

The Cracked Pot



A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a

pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it,

and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of

water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house,

the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily,

with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master’s house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for

which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection,

and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been

made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to

the water bearer one day by the stream.” I am ashamed of myself, and I want

to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”

” I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load

because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back

to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this

work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion

he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the

beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old

cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on

the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail,

it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it

apologized to the bearer for its failure. The bearer said to the pot,

” Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path,

but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known

about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on

your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream,

you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful

flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you

are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”




Shaun McNiff

“My colleague Christopher Cook ran the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston for one year as a work of art. Like other conceptual artists in the early 1970’s, he was attempting to demonstrate that boundaries need not exist between art and life. Cook approached everything he did during his year as ICA director as part of an artwork. At the end of the year his work culminated in an exhibition where his office was re-created; videotaped and photographic documentation on his activities over the past year were displayed, along with various papers, notes, and artefacts. People attending the show participated in the yearlong artistic project and were invited to continue the process of integrating art and life in their own experience.”

Shaun McNiff

Mark Strand

My Name by Mark Strand

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

Kahlil Gibran

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan

You tell me to live each day
as if it were my last. This is in the kitchen
where before coffee I complain
of the day ahead—that obstacle race
of minutes and hours,
grocery stores and doctors.

But why the last? I ask. Why not
live each day as if it were the first—
all raw astonishment, Eve rubbing
her eyes awake that first morning,
the sun coming up
like an ingénue in the east?

You grind the coffee
with the small roar of a mind
trying to clear itself. I set
the table, glance out the window
where dew has baptized every
living surface.

Salt Heart – Jane Hirshfield


I was tired, half sleeping in the sun. A single bee delved the lavender nearby, and beyond the fence, a trowel’s shoulder knocked a white stone. Soon, the ringing stopped. And from somewhere, a quiet voice said the one word. Surely a command, though it seemed more a question, a wondering perhaps—”What about joy?” So long it had been forgotten, even the thought raised surprise. But however briefly, there, in the untuned devotions of bee and the lavender fragrance, the murmur of better and worse was unimportant. From next door, the sound of raking, and neither courage nor cowardice mattered. Soon enough that gate swung closed, the world turned back to heart-salt of wanting, heart-salts of will and grief. My friend would continue dying, at last only exhausted, even his wrists thinned with pain. The river Suffering would take what it wished of him, then go. And I would stay and drink on, as the living do, until the rest would enter into that water—the lavender swept in, the bee, the swallowed labors of my neighbor. The ordinary moment swept in, whatever it drowsily holds. I begin to believe the only sin is distance, refusal. All others stemming from this. Then, come. Rivers, come. Irrevocable futures, come. Come even joy. Even now, even here, and though it vanish like him.

Mary Oliver


by Mary Oliver

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?


After many years of experiencing deep seated suffering any notion of healing may seem so far removed from our everyday reality now. All hope of any form of recovery has, more likely, faded and we have come to accept our difficult plight as the norm. This is understandable because we have been on a roller coaster ride, health wise. Yet underneath all this there is still hope. We may have underestimated our ability to turn things around because of a constant feeder stream of self-aggression towards ourselves – a subtle flow of personal guilt, shame and perhaps embarrassment that keeps us locked in failure. Now we must start again, we must start to believe in ourselves, a revived, enriched personal validation, that understands that progress can still be made. That there is always action that we can take, however small that could secure a better future. The personal rejection that we have promoted must now be rejected and replaced with a self-belief that will invest in our lives.