The Book of Oriah




One of the blessings of my life is that gifts come to me in so many strange ways. And so it was that on my birthday in 1999 ago a friend sent me a poem that she had found on the internet. The picture you see on the right was the header to the poem ascribed to an Indian elder named Oriah Mountain Dreamer. But do any of you know a native elder who has any idea, for example,” of which planets were squaring his moon”, so this was obviously some kind of misrepresentation.


A few days later, synchronistically, I was reading a book review in a Toronto newspaper and there was a picture, not of a native elder, but of a beautiful, blue-eyed, blonde haired, 44 year-old white woman who is the real author of that poem, the correct name of which is The Invitation. But, yes, she was using the name Oriah Mountain Dreamer, given to her, I believe by a native “Grandmother.” Her surname is actually House.

And such are the sad things about life that whoever posted the poem apparently thought that one of the lines was wrong and changed it. So here is the real text of The Invitation, reprinted with permission of the author, all rights reserved, published in a book  that same year, with the same title, by Harper SanFrancisco:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare
to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dream, for the adventure of being alive. 

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow.
If you have been opened by life’s betrayals or become shriveled
and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy
fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us to be careful,to be realistic,
to  remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another
to be true to yourself,

if you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless
and therefore be trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty every day
and source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure,
yours and mine and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver moon, “Yes”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live
or how much money you have. I want to know
if you can get up after a night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone and do
what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or
how you came to be here. I want to know
if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what
or with whom you studied.
I want to know what sustains you,
from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself
and if you truly like  the company you keep
in the empty moments.

And what originally attracted me to her poem was that it sounded far more authentic than a lot of the New Age stuff I was hearing people saying. So, here, now, are some more of her thoughts that come from that book:

Tell me a story of who you are, and see who I am in the stories I am telling. And together we will remember that each of us always has a choice. 

Every act I live while I am fully awake can not help but be both prayer and love-making. 

And I find that I can do it if I choose to – I can stay awake and let the sorrows of the world tear me apart and then allow the joys to put me back together in different ways than before, but whole once again.

We are not alone as we struggle to open fully to life. When I am able to live with real intimacy, when I pay attention to each moment and do not shrink away from what is true, I experience a presence that is not mine alone that holds me even as I hold the moment. This presence, this Great Mystery, known by so many different names –God, Spirit, Allah, the Great Mother – lifts me, fills me with a vast silence and a sharp taste of the inter-connectedness of all life. I have faith in this Mystery and the many ways in which it sustains us. 

Life lived intimately may not be easier. But it is fuller, richer, and more open to everything: the confusion and the insight, the excitement and the boredom, the shadow and the light. And somehow, expanding my ability to simply be with all does make what is hard easier to bear. Allows me to give and receive more in each moment. More often than not it helps me find my sense of humour when I am taking myself too seriously…. 

…I have come to accept that no matter how much I am able to be with myself, no matter how much I like my own company, I still long to sit close to and at times merge completely with another in deep intimacy. This too is coming home. The completeness of self is found when we can be alone and when we can bring all of who we are to another, receiving and being fully received. 

Oriah_Mountain_DreamerAnd these come from her second book The Call (Harper again, 2003, all right reserved etc) 

An ancient Buddhist story tells us that the teachings – the words – are like a finger pointing to the moon and warns us not to mistake them for the moon itself …. These words, my stories, are only a way of pointing to what can be experienced but cannot be named. As Rumi wrote, the smoke the fire gives off. They are not the fire itself … [and]… there is only the one fire running through the centre of all that is. (My emphasis).

There is simply no place, no location or situation, that cannot be used to wake up to and live all of what and who you are, if you are willing to show up, to be present in the only place that you have access to: here. Because what you long for, the awareness of the vast and sacred spaciousness at the centre of what you are and the meaning it holds, is always here. 

Footnote: At many 5Rhythms classes the first invitation the teacher offers is “To show up and be totally present to what is here for you now.”

And I did not make a note of which of her two books this last one comes from:

No matter what you do – no matter how hard you work, how diligently, you practice, how sincerely you want to change, how many times you fail to meet your aspirations, or are not as disciplined as you imagine you would like to be – you will not wake up tomorrow morning as anything more or less than a human being, an embodied soul, living in this world. 

Next, and for quite different reasons, while Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is now known to the world simply as Osho, she is now simply Oriah. Works for me: I am getting to like simplicity more and more. 

And then the universe plays one of it’s great tricks on me.

On May 15th 2013, I am once again in Lori and Fergus’ home in Vancouver. And while they are both out, I pick up a book lying beside the sofa which is about SoulCraft. On the twenty-second page, to my considerable surprise, I find myself looking at this poem:

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or see it in others.
I want know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its hard need
to change you. If you can look with firm eyes
saying this is where I need to stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the centre of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

The author is an Irish poet named David Whyte and the similarity between the two texts defies simple co-incidence. And I now  know it isn’t because Oriah was then kind enough to tell me that she once did a writing course with David.  And during that course he challenged those present to write something along the twin themes of  “It doesn’t interest me” and “I want to know“.

And that is how “The Invitation” came to be created which I am happy to know about because it now makes it much more personal. Especially since, in May 2013, I chose to attend the 8th Jungian Odyssey in Switzerland at which he was the keynote speaker. When I asked him, he told me that if he was writing that poem today he would not change a single word of it, even though the times have since changed dramatically.

I have two thoughts about the poems: First, how the “student” can often go beyond the “teacher,” which I think is the case here, and, second, given that there are clear biological differences between males and females, and this may be nothing more than a prejudice on my part, men probably write more from their “thinking” heads, and women from their “feeling” hearts. Put another way, I feel more passion and curiousity in Oriah’s poem that I do in David’s.

But, to hear him read poetry ~ his own and others in more than one language ~ is a totally different, and exquisite, experience. He is clearly is an extremely polished speaker who, like Osho, continually uses repetition to reinforce  his messages.

Lastly, two years later, I shall receive an update of 5Rhythms activities from Joanne Winstanley a teacher here in Victoria which, unexpectedly, contained another poem by Oriah called Permission:

We do not need permission
To live our life guided by that which lives inside us.
And yet, too often, some part of our heart
Waits for someone else to give us the go-ahead
Before we fully embody our wisdom and our silliness,
Our joy and our sorrow.
This is what it means to give our power away:
To court the approval of others
To silently ask for permission that is not another’s to give
To spend our lives waiting
For that which was within us all along.