One Heart

by Li-Young Lee


Original Language English

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

-- from Book of My Nights, by Li-Young Lee

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

We are in the midst of Lent, a time for prayer and purification as we approach Easter. For many, this is a time of fasting. That started me thinking about the question of emptiness, and what that has to do with spiritual opening.

And then I was reminded of the wondrous opening lines of Li-Young Lee's poem:

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing.


To take flight, birds launch themselves into apparent emptiness. Of course, successful flight requires an awareness that the sky is not truly empty, but a realm of subtle substance that can support us.

One must cultivate an inner emptiness and lightness in order to let go of the comforting certainty of the earth, to confidently leave it behind and meet that intangible space of open sky, and there dance among its secret currents.

The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.


This, I think, is an important reason why practices such as fasting and other expressions of moderate asceticism are encouraged on occasion by most spiritual traditions. Forget the tormented dogmas of self-denial that tend to lead to hatred of the body -- which should automatically be seen as a spiritual dead end. The real purpose of these sorts of practices is not disdain for the body but, rather, to awaken in our awareness that sense of openness, spaciousness, and inner quiet... while allowing the body to rest and regenerate and become more finely attuned to our higher purposes in life.

If we don't cultivate awareness of the inner sky, the "first sky," we fail to recognize that taking flight in the world around us is our natural expression. Instead, we fear that we will fall.

The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.


Perhaps we can think of flight as intentionally falling without ever hitting the ground. We leap into space, letting that inner emptiness lift us up. And perhaps what we thought was fear was in reality the exhilaration of the heart encountering the openness of the living moment while we soar upon nothing.



Recommended Books: Li-Young Lee

Book of My Nights Rose The City in Which I Love You Behind My Eyes: Poems





One Heart