Fall Morning

Fall Morning

It is there
that our hearts are set,  

In the expanse
of the heavens.   

Pawnee Wisdom

Outside the open bedroom window, the sound of birds escorting another day into being.  Even before the had light arrived, new sounds accompanied the melodic chirps and warbles.  There were the familiar signals that it was a Tuesday, with the clanking of the lids of the trash bins as the garbage workers made their way up the street.  For a short while, there was the scratching sound of a metal rake against cement as a neighbor tended to the weekly sidewalk grooming.

In spite of the newness of the day seeping through the window, the walls of our apartment were still infused with the pre-dawn silence.   Being as noiseless as possible, I dressed and made my way out the front door for a daily offering of seeds for the birds.   As I closed the door, a squirrel scurried up a nearby oak tree and paused motionless on a lower branch, silently gazing in my direction.  

Just as sunlight began to make its way through the tree’s branches, the squirrel scampered onward, causing a mini shower of leaves and acorns in its wake.   It became still.  The raking and clanking had long since stopped and the birds had quieted.  Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there would have been a constant stream of sounds, such as the chatter of children making their way to school.  Now, there was only the noiseless presence of the light and the oak.

A spider web glistened as the sun’s rays made it into the higher branches of the tree.  The anchoring strands reached unimaginable distances from one another.   At the center of roundish spirals was the weaver of this shimmering masterpiece.  The spider had a plump body with its two lobes forming the shape of a figure eight, or the sign of infinity.  There was such symmetry in the evenly spaced protrusions from the body that I assume it had all eight of its legs, allowing it to freely navigate across its web.  

As the sun’s rays shifted, the spider and its web disappeared, perfectly camouflaged within the lattice of the tree’s branches.  Even though no longer visible, the web surely remained, not only as a home for the spider but also as a net to entangle some unsuspecting insect.  

I continue to marvel at the timeless wisdom woven into everyday occurrences in the natural world.  Just within a few moments on a fall morning, there had been lessons of infinite potentiality, stillness, interconnectedness, patience, and resilience.  There had been reminders of the steady, peaceful essence cloaked by the ever-changing earthly cycles of day to night, and of season to season.  There had been the sense of belonging to a larger whole, within which there is ample room for the diverse expressions of existence.  

If a bird can sing and a spider can spin silvery threads into intricate webs, then surely contemporary humanity can rediscover our gift to appreciate, respect and care for one another, and for all life.   I will try to arise each morning with this reminder, and hope you will join me.

Practice 
This short practice invites appreciation of wholeness.

Prepare – 

  • Standing.
    • Slowly and gently, shake out your right leg for about a minute.  Then, your left leg, followed by each of your arms.  As you shake, imagine you’re are releasing and letting go of tendencies toward jealousy, resentment, selfishness, anger, and overconsuming in all aspects of your life, e.g., food, ideas
    • Quietly walk in a clockwise circle, as small or large as you like.  Then, stand in the circle’s center.  Turn toward the east and pause.  If you don’t know where to face, just choose to face in one direction.

Practice – 

  • With an inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and overhead.  Pause for a breath with your arms overhead as though greeting the expanse of the heavens.
    • If you have shoulder impingements, please adjust this movement to your comfort level.
  • On your next exhale, bring your arms to your sides with your palms facing inward toward your body.  Pause for a breath as though acknowledging the stability of the earth.
  • Repeat the following four times:
    • On your next inhalation, stretch your arms out in front of you, palms upward.  Pause for a breath in appreciation of all that life in that direction to the furthest distance.  
    • On an exhalation, bring your palms together over your heart center.  Pause for a breath in gratitude for all the nourishes you from that direction.
    • Take a quarter turn to your right.  On your last turn, you will be facing your initial position.   
  • Pause.  Acknowledge the full cycle of breath, i.e., each exhalation seamlessly arising as the inhalation ends, and v.v.  Take several breaths with this awareness.
  • Come to a seated position.  Allow your hands to rest in your lap or on your legs.  Become aware of your surroundings in all directions.  Imagine that all those directions are come together at the core of your being.  Simply breathe in, and out.   

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit quietly.  
  • Bring your palms together in front of your heart center, and “thank you.”
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

The verse is translated by Frances Densmore and appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 5, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by S. Lukka. H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

Boulders

Boulders

I am the Mother
of fair love…
and of knowledge,
and of hope.
In me is grace
of the way and of the truth…
My memory is
unto everlasting generations.

Book of Ecclesiasticus

The rising full moon loomed over the boulders at one end of a nearby beach.   On the opposite end, the sun was disappearing behind a cloudbank.  Every grain of sand and atmospheric particle seemed aglow, as though promising to carry forward the memory of light into the nighttime. 

A golden warm hue caressed the crevices of the massive rocks.  Otherwise appearing inert, they seemed to happily reveal their deepest secrets of majesty, tranquility and beauty.  They are in no hurry to get somewhere or be anywhere other than where they are.  Slowly they erode and give way to the inevitable cycle of change.  They are imbued with patience and quiet ease, undisturbed by the lichen or countless crustaceans that grow on their surface.  

These mammoth stones, like all their smaller, rocky counterparts – even to the size of a pebble – are models of strength, constancy, and inclusiveness.  They tirelessly comfort whomever comes near.  Birds in need of a rest pause on their surface.  Adults and children are drawn to touch, lean against or sit on them as though instinctively attracted to their steady calming, soothing, and non-judgmental presence. 

 As I walked toward the boulders, I noticed my pace began to slow.  Perhaps that was the result of awe of the intimate and dynamic dialog of the light with the air and earth.  More likely, however, it was the serenity of the rocks that stilled anything close by.  It is no wonder that humans have long created stone structures, gardens, sculptures and markers to evoke steadfastness, longevity, peacefulness, and divine permanence.     

In the turmoil of our individual and collective times, it is easy to forget that Nature is infused with timeless wisdom.  Nature invites us to acknowledge that we are an integral part of the larger universe.  Seeing a rock could be a reminder that we are stubbornly resistance or complacently silent.  Yet, these boulders are an example of how Nature continually offers insight to decelerate, pay attention, and honor all that we take for granted.   Nature generously offers the land on which we live, the air that we breath, the sunlight that sustains the plants, and constant reminders to re-align our inner rhythms with the outer rhythms.   As a way to stay grounded and hopeful, my touchstone will be to cultivate lessons from the boulder – selfless generosity, fairness, and fortitude.  I hope you will join me.

Practice
This short practice invites appreciation of patience.

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  
    • Become aware of the surface beneath you.  Notice the effortless support that it offers.  If on a chair or bench, reflect on the layers of support down to the earth.  
  • Lightly touch the surface beneath you with your fingertips.  
    • Silently say, “thank you.”  

Practice – 

  • Even though there are times that the layers of the earth stir, imagine the steady layers of support for earthly life.  Particularly, consider the seemingly everlasting nature of mountains, boulders, rocks, stones, and pebbles.  Because of their apparent immovability, they are models of steadiness and patience.  Say “thank you.”
  • Patiently, allow your breath to steadily flow in and out.
    • Invite your eyes to relax with a soft gaze as though looking inward.
  • Invite a sense of deep inner stillness as your breath gently moves inward and outward.
    • Imagine that your breath moves so quietly that it barely brushes that inner stillness.
    • As you continue, imagine the stillness slowly infusing your inhale and exhale a bit more breath by breath.  Invite the quality of patient awareness as you observe the quieting of your breath.
    • Perhaps savor the slight pause as one inhalation slides into the next exhalation.
    • Continue inviting awareness of the breath moving at the pace of a stone – patient, gentle, accepting, and calming.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit quietly.  
  • After a few moments, look around and slowly observe the space around you without labeling or judging – just observing.  
  • Touch your thighs with your palms downward and take a deep breath.  Then, once again touch the surface beneath you and say “thank you.”
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

This verse appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 84, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

Upcoming Virtual Class with the College of Marin Community Education: The Path to Inner Quietude: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali   In the midst of sweeping global changes, many of us are looking for reliable insight into re-orienting our perspective and lifestyle to foster clarity and peacefulness. In this course, we will look to the 2,000 year old text, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, for its theory and application to stilling our mind. (lecture, discussion, & guided experiences; 6 Wednesdays, 3:10-4:30pm PT, Oct 21-Dec 2)   Registration class #4749

WIND OF LIFE

WIND OF LIFE

The great sea has set me in motion,
set me adrift,
moving me like a weed in a river.

The sky and the strong wind
have moved the spirit inside me
till I am carried away
trembling with joy.

Uvavnuk
Netsilik Inuit

Wind everywhere.  Smoke rode the invisible currents across the land to the east.  Gales spiraled across the waters to the south, making their way toward landfall and then to the north and east.  Across the airwaves, voices rose with blame. 

Within hospitals around the world, ventilators sustained the wind of life and loved ones prayed for revival.  On the streets, this wind was, and continues to be, extinguished in humans with black bodies, sending rippling reminders of the heaps of humans and other species extinguished for the triumph of progress.  Where wind was lost, it gave birth to a surge of its expression in a storm of appeal for change. 

Ever-present, wind touches all of life.  We know it mostly by the manifestations of its presence. As a child, I would notice it in the movement of our windmill’s blades.  Or, on the days when it would cause my short hair to stand straight out from the sides of my head.  Having grown up on the flat expanse of the Great Plains, I still hear stories about the wind, such as the time my brother had run out of gas and opened both doors of his pick-up for the gusts of winds to push him along on the road home.  

Throughout the world, wind is found in the gracefully swaying of reeds or leaves, a sweet fragrance wafting through an open window, and the dispersing of pollen or seeds for new growth.  It carries away bad odors, and luckily for those of us near the recent fires in California, it clears away smoky air.   Our breath is considered a wind, resonating in musical instruments, song, poetry, and all our day-to-day vocalizations.  

The wind communicates in a larger-than-life language, yet its tenderness is visible in dragonflies and butterflies gliding across the sky.  In indigenous traditions, the wind is the soul of the divine spirit sweeping through all of nature.  Invisible, the wind is a constant messenger to attend to all life with reverence and respect, until at last we come to know the truth of the wind.   As I read the poem of the Netsilik Inuit woman Uvavnuk, I am inspired to listen more closely to the messages of the wind.  I hope you will join me.


Practice
 
This short practice invites appreciation of voice. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  
    • If you are seating on a chair or bench, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Open your mouth wide as possible, not worrying about scrunching up your face.  Relax your facial muscles.  Repeat again if you wish.
  • Smile, even if it feels fake.  Then, pout with your lower lip extended.  Smile again.
  • Take a few easy breaths.  On your exhalations, gently sigh.

Practice – 

  • Still seated, take a deep inhalation.  Exhale completely, and with your breath out, try saying the sound “aaah.”  
    • Note:  if you completely exhaled, no sound will come out.  We need a residual of air in the lungs to make audible sounds.  
  • Breathe in again.  
    • At the end of your inhalation, open your mouth and sing the sound of “aaah.”  Imagine as though this sound is rising up from your lower belly, i.e., not just from your throat.  Sustain the “aaah” sound as long as comfortable without straining.
    • At the end of your inhalation, open your mouth and sing the sound of “eeeee.”  Allow your mouth to form the shape of a smile as you make this sound, again letting it arise from the torso and not just the throat.  Sustain the “eeeee” sound as long as comfortable without straining.
    • Repeat two more times, alternating between the “aaah” and “eeeee” sounds.
  • Read Uvavnuk’s poem quietly aloud, inviting a pause as though listening for the wind at the end of each line.  Imagine as though you are caressing her words with your voice.  
    • Note:  if you have a favorite verse, you may choose to read that instead.
  • Pause.  Notice the space around you and inside of you.  Say “thank you.”

Transition back into your day – 

  • With your eyes in a quiet gaze or closed, sit quietly, simply observing the passing thoughts being carried by the winds of the mind.  Then, notice the wind of the breath, and allow your awareness to be bathed in the flow of the breath.  
  • Stay as long as you are comfortable.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    


This poem is translated by Stephen Mitchell and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Scared Poems, page 70, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The photo is by Jamie Street.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

Begonia – opening to gratitude

Begonia – opening to gratitude

The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you,
not knowing how blind I was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along. 

Rumi

Here in the northern hemisphere there are signs of the upcoming fall season, especially in colors across the hillsides. The squirrels have been more visible as they scurry along near bare branches.  Neighborhood hydrangeas are fading and persimmons, grapes, and pomegranates are finishing their final ripening.    

In the midst of the seasonal waning, a begonia plant on our back deck just sprouted an array of new leaves. Two weeks ago, it had nearly disappeared after deer had made a nighttime meal out of its foliage and stems. As if to protect the begonia from another foraging, a larger nearby plant had extended its canopy over the begonia’s new growth.  

Imagine if several hundred years ago, colonization would have taken a very different path, allowing indigenous cultures to flourish unimpeded.  Humans would have sustained an understanding of being part of, rather than superior to, nature.  Plants, which make up nearly eighty percent of the earth’s biomass, might be viewed in the way they are in some ancient languages, as “those who take care of us.”  

We might have recognized that within this earth school, plants are continually modeling their exquisite abilities to: adapt; peacefully care for and protect one another; let go; and, offer beauty, nourishment and support to the world.  Particularly in their natural habitat, they harmoniously thrive in a dynamic and sophisticated community where understory plants, such as begonias, are as significant as the overstory. 

While we are in the midst of multiple pandemics – health, social, climate, and economic – it can be challenging to be hopeful.  Some of us have lost loved ones, others have lost homes, and others livelihoods.  Still, the begonia on our back deck models a spirit of resilience, and its neighboring plant one of loving attentiveness.  It inspires a deeper sense of gratitude for the grace of life.  And, it causes me to ponder Rumi’s reminder that all is within all.  Perhaps it is not an accident that this particular begonia is called an “angel wing.” 

Practice 
This short practice invites some inner ease. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  
    • If you are seating on a chair or bench, place the souls of your feet on the floor.
  • Gently and slowly roll your shoulders around in each direction.
  • Place your palms on your thighs and lean forward slightly.
    • Three times, open your mouth wide and hiss like a cat.  
    • Then, turn your nose up toward the sky and sniff the air like a dog, turning your head from side to side 3-4 times.
  • Give yourself a hug, each hand wrapped around the opposite upper arm.  Accept being held – albeit by yourself. 
    • If comfortable for your shoulders, shrug your shoulders forward as you are hugging yourself.  Feel the stretch and openness across the center of your back. 
  • Take a few deep breaths.  Smile.

Practice – 

  • Standing, bring your arms alongside your body. 
  • Rotate your wrists in both directions. 
  • Relax through your hands, arms still along the sides of your body.
  • As though you were a bird, arc your arm slowly up from your sides to alongside your ears.  And, then, lower them back down. (If you have shoulder issues, please adjust as needed.)
    • Playfully and lightheartedly walk around the room, loosely flapping your arms as though you were flying. 
    • Continue for about a dozen times.
  • Standing in one position, rhythmically sway from side to side. 
  • Pat yourself on the back and then give yourself another hug.  Smile.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Come to a seated position.  Allow  your breath to return to a  smooth and easy pace.
  • Stay as long as you are comfortable.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    


This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 42, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. 
H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

 

THUNDER – inviting loving attentiveness

THUNDER – inviting loving attentiveness

The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
flows into a pure soul the way that light
rushes into a transparent object. 
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
the more complete the joy of heaven is.  
And the more souls who resonate together,
and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.

Dante

The stillness of the night melted into slow, drawn out rumbling.  In the haze of my sleepiness, my mind registered it as a sonic boom.  When the sound repeated itself a few minutes later, I remembered that it had been months since there had been any late-night planes passing overhead due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus on air travel. 

Flashes in the sky drew my attention and offered a partial answer to my confusion.  An unusual phenomenon had replaced a previously routine one.  Unlike fires and earthquakes, thunder and lightning rarely occur in coastal California.  The grumbling sky seemed be like a great being clearing its throat with “ahem.”  I felt a familiar alertness ripple through my body, with childhood memories of thunderous skies over the Great Plains that captured everyone’s attention.  Even the animals would perk up their ears and listen. 

Thunderstorms have a way of widening our perspective.  Their grandeur and splendor are both fearsome and dazzlingly enchanting.  Within a moment, separateness melts away and there is a roaring reminder of the sky’s all-encompassing embrace of our planet.  The entire globe is held by ethereal layers of space, as if to be a constant reminder that we are here to learn to emulate its compassionate and equitable lovingness toward all life. 

To further the lesson from the sky, a sweet fragrance wafted through the bedroom window, followed by the gentle thump of rain on the leaves of the trees.  A rhythmic harmony began to form as thousands of drops resonated together.  Dust washed away, the warm temperature began to drop, and the cycle of rain began anew.  The clouds continued to freely release their moisture, offering it back to the earth until the sky began to clear, revealing the sparkle of the stars.  

As we undergo our stormy times, nature and poets such as Dante inspire me to listen more closely to the timeless, wise undercurrents woven into our collective earth school.   I would like to believe that great “ahem” has gotten humanity’s collective attention, opening us to see that the sky shows us that everything is shared and everyone equally belongs; so, it is up to us to lovingly care for, and resonate, with one another and the rest of earthly species.   
 

Practice
This short practice invites awareness of the sky. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position, ideally outside.   
  • Reach up and gently squeeze the skin around your eyebrows, starting with the outermost edge of your brow and slowly moving inward toward the bridge of your nose.  
    • (You will be holding your brows between your thumb and index fingers.)
  • Then, repeat from inward to outward.  When you reach the outermost tip of your brows, gently massage your temples, your forehead, and then the bridge of your nose with the tips of your fingers.
  • If comfortable, close your lids and let your fingertips rest lightly over your closed lids.  Soften through your jaw and invite your breath to slowly lengthen.  If you wish, replace your exhales with a quiet sigh of “aaaah.”
    • (If uncomfortable closing and touching your lids for any reason, feel free to simple sit and breathe.
    • Gently open your eyes.

Practice – 

  • Allow your gaze to look downward toward your heart center.  
    • Still with your eyes looking toward your heart with a soft gaze, imagine there is a radiance emanating from your heart center and it is tenderly bathing the entire surface of your eye and your optic nerves with the light of loving awareness.  
    • Invite your entire eye area to relax with a sense of receptivity to seeing anew.  
  • Slowly look upward toward the sky.  Invite a continued sense of receptivity where you are seeing through your eyes, not “with” them.  
    • Through your eyes, receive an awareness of the ever-present embrace of the sky of our planet.  Invite your view to arise from the depth of your heart.  
    • Imagine your upper body is encompassed in a radiance infused with compassion, equitable lovingness, kind generosity, and deep joyfulness.  Then imagine you are seeing through the lens of this radiance.
  • Allow your eyes to come to a neutral view (a middle view between lowering your eyes and looking upward).  Either close your eyes or allow them to relax into a soft gaze.  Say to yourself, “thank you.”  Perhaps invite in an awareness of ways we can move forward toward a just world where everything and everyone belongs and resonates with their own brilliance for the well-being of all.
  • Pause and sit quietly for several minutes.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Stay as long as you are comfortable.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

 
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 97, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by NOAA. H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 


Fall virtual class “Support Wisdom in Your Life.” (6 Thursdays, 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT, Aug 27-Oct 1).  For more information, please visit the College of Marin Community Education

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