How to See a Deer

by Philip Booth

Original Language English

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You've come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You've learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

-- from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999, by Philip Booth

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

With its elusiveness and profound stillness even in movement, the way it appears in the mist or vanishes into the forest (perhaps beckoning us to follow), deer represent to us that intangible reality we all seek on some level. The doe's gentle face, suggests to us peace, beauty, trust. The stag's majestic stance displaying his antlers, naturally evokes a primal sense of kingship and otherworldly might.

Naturally, the deer becomes a symbol for God, the Divine Beloved, the Messiah. But even when we set aside our religious lenses, we can't help but feel that the solitary deer, encountered in a quiet moment, is an ambassador between worlds, hinting to us of another reality.

How do we meet this quiet spirit? How do we have the sacred encounter? The poet says it so beautifully: We go elsewhere, our own way. Next to wild places, and spots that invite rest and contemplation. Without expectations. With patience and trust. Pay attention to the rhythms of life all around. Trust your own nature. Listen to the inner voice. Learn to see anew. See what you see.

(Special thanks to Lalita Vajra for introducing me to this poem.)


Spirituality, Poetry, and the Florida Shootings

I have intentionally waited to share any new poetry following the terrible mass shooting in Florida. I wanted to give everyone time to recover from the shock (though, sadly, these experiences have become so frequent in the US that they are a little less shocking each time they happen), and to allow your thoughts and responses to this latest massacre to take shape.

I can't ignore horrifying events like the Florida shooting. I feel the need to address them directly in these emails and blog posts. If don't, it feels strangely disconnected, as if I am pretending that everything is just fine.

In moments like this, I am not a fan of the "all is light" school of spirituality. While that is definitely a foundational truth -- all of existence is an expression of the universal light, and this can be witnessed directly -- there is a tendency to use these ideas superficially as a way to dismiss our discomforts and to not engage with our lives.

I believe that spirituality, and art, for that matter, must directly address the whole of human experience, including the horrifying and the traumatic, in order to be fit food for the spirit. Just as much as we need our eyes turned toward the stars, we need our feet on the ground, with our hands reaching out to help. We are not meant to float off to heaven. We are meant to bridge heaven and earth within ourselves. Perceptions and beliefs and the conscience want expression through us, through our lives, our words, our actions.

It is not fulfilling to turn to our spirituality or religion as a place to get away and get godly, or to get another "hit of bliss." Real spirituality is about truth, reality, life. It encompasses everything, helping us to encounter life with a fullness of awareness and a true sense of who we really are and what we are capable of. Real spirituality is not about escape, it is about being present. It teaches us to drop our comfortable illusions and see clearly. It invites us to open our minds and our hearts. It challenges us to be the full beings we are, not the limited survivors we imagine ourselves to be.

And, when society is not embodying its highest ideals, real spirituality demands that we embody our own divine nature even more brightly, knowing that through interaction, communication, and the resonance of one's being, society must respond and integrate each of us within the whole. What else is spirituality but finding that divine spark within ourselves, recognizing the same spark in everyone else, and then living by that truth courageously?

Recommended Books: Philip Booth

Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999

How to See a Deer