Birth, old age,
sickness, and death:
From the beginning,
this is the way
things have always been.
of release from this life
will wrap you only more tightly
in its snares.
Some questions are profound. I have come to expect them to be posed by the prophets, poets, or great sages of the world. But it was the three and half year old Eli who looked up and asked me, “Who are you?” Her intonation was such that she was asking from a place of curiosity, not fear or confrontation.
My automatic response was to offer my name. “I’m Kate,” I answered, but it was clear from the look on her face that a mere label was not what she was looking for. It was a search for how I fit into her world, or what my relationship was to her. I had greeted her mom Ami as we gathered our mail from our mailboxes. Eli prompted me to give her a better answer by opening her eyes a little wider and quietly observing my face. “I’m your neighbor,” I said, as I pointed the direction of our apartment. Eli smiled and began to tell me stories about her day.
After our short conversation, Eli’s question lingered at the back of mind. Probably the most truthful answer I could have given would be to acknowledge that I don’t know who I am, but I am working on it. Naturally, that answer is too esoteric for most anyone regardless of their age. Yet I’ve learned enough to recognize that there is an indescribable part of me that is, just is.
Until I can fully answer Eli’s question, I am her neighbor and am still held in the cycles of life’s joys and sufferings. Perhaps I should have pointed Eli toward Dieu Nhan who was born a princess, married and widowed. She traversed through the phases of life until there was not even the thought of being a someone. As with other wise beings, Dieu Nhan transformed into a fountain of compassion, kindness, and light-heartedness.
I trust that the imagined journey is freedom, and that earthly embodiment is its lesson. I am thankful that we live in the midst of wisdom, which abides day by day, from dawn to dusk, and moment to moment. The trees, plants, animals, wind and sun are always there to remind us to see the infinite space holding all life. Please join me in answering Eli’s question, “Who are you?”
This short practice supports our capacity for direct perception.
- Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
a quiet and comfortable place to sit.
- If you are on a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
- Sway your upper body from side to side a few times. Return to stillness.
- Slowly move your eyes side to side, up and down, at a diagonal from one upper corner of the eye to the other, and then the other direction.
- Blink your eyes a few times. Then, open your eyes and mouth wide, as if you are fully amazed. Relax your face but with a slight smile, sincere not too forced.
- Close your eyes and imagine the warmth of the sun is seeping into your lids and nourishing your entire being. Soak up the giving nature of the sun to nourish the plants and support life on earth.
- Imagine yourself radiating the beneficial warmth of the sun. Just soft, warm light.
- Open your eyes into a soft gaze and allow your eyes to receive the sensory impressions (e.g., colors, shapes, dimensions, shadows, light, textures, design, or distance). Just receiving, just experiencing, and just observing with no need to label or analyze.
- After a few moments, lightly close your eyes again and receive whatever experience arises. Note: If it is more comfortable for you to keep your eyes open in a soft gaze, please feel free to do so.
- If you have lost the gentle smile, invite it to return.
Transition back into your day–
- With your eyes in a soft gaze, slowly scan the room or space where you are, simply observing. Invite a sense of child-like delight in being alive.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 78, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2019.