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Lions Roar : March 2013
MY FIRST ENGLISH PROFESSOR was a Thoreau scholar, a poet, and an awakened human being named Theodore Haddin. With wild black hair, a black beard, and an equally black coat, he would read us poems and then take up his violin to play Bach’s “Chaccone in D.” He’d tell us that when he heard Heifetz play the Chaccone, it felt like someone running a violin bow right through his soul. To my idealistic eighteen-year-old eyes and ears, he seemed like a magician, like an enlightened gypsy, or the green violin- ist on a roof in a painting by Chagall. In his classroom, I found my home. Though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, what Dr. Haddin was teaching me was that poetry is a path to spirituality, to being awake to the magic of the present moment. Now, thirty- five years later, he remains one of my dearest friends and, follow- ing his example, I’ve devoted my own life to teaching poetry and the practice of mindfulness. Poetry and Buddhism, I’d come to know, share a long history. But at eighteen, I was just beginning to discover how the heart of the dharma often finds its fullest expression in verse. One morning during my first semester of college, I got up the nerve to knock on Dr. Haddin’s office door. I went in and told him I was struggling with an essay in our class reader—the “Conclusion” to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. The writing was difficult, I said. Was it worth the trouble? In class that day, Dr. Haddin talked about Walden and at one point said, “Why, I’ve read Walden like it was the only book in the world!” I resolved then that I’d read the book, however difficult. I look back at his comment today as the beginning of my spiritual life. Thoreau became my first guru. I sat at a table on the third floor of the library poring over Walden, while the yel- low leaves of Lombardy poplars, lit by streetlights, brushed the windows beside me. I read, “I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of.” I soon discovered that Thoreau’s revolutionary ideas had sprung from his reading of the sacred books and scriptures of the world, especially those of Asia, most of which are written in poetry: the Dhammapada, the Heart Sutra, the Dao De Ching, the Bhagavad Gita. Thoreau saw all inspired writing to be a kind of poetry, not limited to verse. He believed poetry to be the highest human call- ing and considered Walden to be essentially poetry. His teachings This Whole World Is a Poem This oriole, this friend, this daughter, this fox—MICHAEL SOWDER on all the poems that are just waiting for us to write them down. PHOTOBYINDYKETHDY SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 19