Shadow – an invitation to belonging

Shadow – an invitation to belonging

If God
invited you to a party and
said,

“Everyone in the ballroom tonight will
be my special
guest,”

how would you then treat them when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!
And Hafiz knows that there is no one in
this world who is not standing upon

His jeweled dance
floor.

Hafiz
Trans. by Daniel Ladinsky

In recent weeks dragonflies, butterflies, and occasionally a hummingbird have floated alongside me for part of my regular neighborhood walk.  That always sparks childlike delight within me.  Yesterday as I walked in our neighborhood, a shadow traveled beside me.  It was only for a few steps, yet long enough for me to try to ascertain my visceral response from among some of these possibilities: fear, indifference, curiosity, etc.

Oddly, the shadow generated a feeling of comfort.  It enlivened my awareness of belonging to this small part of the planet where I know the undulations and curvatures of the land.  It is much different here from the land where I was raised and will always be my true home.  There, pure openness of the prairie expands in all directions, with wild winds and ever-changing displays in the sky of colors, clouds, and constellations.  That is living on the vast Great Plains of North America. Here, along the coastal west, redwood trees and ferns give way to the wetland grasses along waterways flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

I’d like to believe that more and more humans are beginning to remember our elemental belongingness not only with one another but with all beings – large and small.  Our embodiment is delicately woven of the earthly nutrients, warmth and energy of the sun, patterns of the moon, fluidity of the waters, and grace of the air and space that holds all.  There are the words “kind” and “kin” at the end of the name for our species, beautifully speaking to our innate nature of reciprocity and interrelationship and capacity for compassion.

I was feeling a sense of kinship with my companion shadow.  With its wings evenly stretched to the sides around a perfectly oval core, it glided alongside me.  There was a warm feeling of being shown how to tune inward and synchronize with the harmony that was already pulsing inside me, as well as around me.  This was a neighborhood crow.  Within those few seconds of its presence, I too was gliding and feeling the inseparability and wholeness of the universe, and belonging.

Perhaps this is the divine universality and equality that poets like Hafiz gracefully nudge us to remember through their poetic elegance.  Whether it is the crow, some other part of nature, or Hafiz’s timeless words of wisdom, I welcome reminders to live and move with more awareness, reverence and gratitude for each morsel of life.  I hope you will join me.

Practice
This short practice supports childlike playfulness

Prepare— 

  • Standing, loosely shake out your limbs one at a time.  For example, relax your right arm and shake it out and move it about for thirty seconds or so.  Then, move on to your right leg.
    • Take your time.
    • If you have injuries, please take care and adjust these movements to support your well-being.
  • Then, rotate each of your wrists and ankles, ending with a slow rolling of your chin downward from one side to the other.

Practice  – 

  • Still standing, stretch your arm to the sides, opening up your palms and breathing in deeply.  On an exhale allow your arms to slowly relax to your sides.  Continue let your arms open up like the wings of a bird on an inhalation and relax on an exhalation two more times.
    • Again, please take care if you have any joint issues.
  • With your arms continuing to gracefully move like wings, allow yourself to glide around the room or whatever space you are in, letting your footsteps be light and playful.
  • Continue this for as long as is comfortable, improvising and spontaneously following your playful inspirations.
  • When you are ready, imagine you are coming to rest on a branch.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  Slowly allow your breath to settle down.
  • Sit quietly for as long as is comfortable.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 95, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo from the Getty collection on iStock.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.

 

Fall Online Classes!!
Support Wisdom In Your Life–9/9-30, 3 Thursdays (no class 9/16), 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT, $70
Pathways to Peace: Truthfulness, Compassion, and Other Universal Principles–10/19-11/16, 5 Tues., 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT, $80.

Registration through College of Marin Community Education  – (415) 485-9305

 

Hollyhock – holiness in the everyday

Hollyhock – holiness in the everyday

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
the whole of the flower,
the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

Zenkei Shibayama
Translated by Sumiko Kudo


It is an early morning, and the skies are gray for the first time in days. The grayness is from a heavy, misty cloud cover.  For the prior week the morning greeting had been a different, smoky shroud, which brought a sad reminder of the wildlife and human habitats being consumed by wildfires north of this coastal area.   This silvery hued sky signals a sense of an old pattern of normalcy,  an indication that the summer was beginning to morph into the fall season, with eventual rain and some hope for the end of this year’s fires.

As I open the front door, the crows caw and a squirrel rushes toward a nearby tree trunk.  With the moistness in the air, the colors of the late summer blossoms seem especially vibrant.  The muted browns and greens are speckled with clear reds, yellows, and purples   I spot a patch of frilly hollyhocks swaying in the gentle, morning breeze.

Even in the gray, their pink petals are open and turned slightly upward toward the invisible sun.  Their stalks are untethered, giving the appearance of these hollyhocks growing freely in the grassy shoulder of the road.  They seem to boldly reveal their innate constitution of earth, water, sun, and air, belonging to all and yet to none, not even themselves.

I feel reminded of my own embodied substrate:  a body composed of the elements, forming a unique container for experiencing these ever-shifting seasons of life.   The gift of communing is through these more basal and shared commonalities of each morsel of life arising and returning to the earth, nourished and sustained by the elements.   The hollyhock spurs an awareness that within each precious container – whether flower, body, mountain, or the entire earth – there is a timeless, essence of eternality: pure spirit.

No wonder the first part of the name hollyhock gives a nod to “holy” or holiness.  Its perfect circle spiraling inward and outward from its base seemingly praises the infinite: both in terms of the ever-present divine untouched by the whirls of time; and, the ever-changing worldliness where one ending is continually merging into a beginning.  Perhaps this is why clumps of hollyhock pollen have been found in human burial remains dated up to sixty thousand years ago.  The holy is always present within the outer form, the outer container, even if we cannot see it.

At this moment, I am grateful for the grace of living reminders, especially in nature.  Amidst the devastation and sadness of wildfires and all the other heart-breaking issues and events occurring on our planet, there is the eternal heartbeat of life.  These natural reminders feel like messengers to slow down, to grow qualities of gentleness, ease, steadiness, and to let go of clinging to that which was never ours in the first place.  Smells are borrowed, flavors are borrowed, sights are borrowed, textures and sounds are borrowed.  Perhaps the hollyhock is inviting us to practice surrender to each touch, word, thought, and breath, just in the way it appears and disappears, as a simple offering of all that it is and is not.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of inner sweetness

Prepare— 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.
    • Take a moment to shake out and stretch through your limbs.  Feel free to move in any way, or as long as you feel is needed for your own comfort.
  • Pause.
    • Imagine you are a plant gently rooting down into, and being supported by, the surface beneath you.
      • Allow your roots to branch out, easing their way downward and outward in all directions, offering a stable and nourishing base.
    • From this sense of connection to the surface beneath you, invite your spine to gently lengthen upward.
      • Imagine that, as a plant, your stem is slowly and evenly growing from your roots upwards through your spine.

Practice  – 

  • With this sense of rising upward while firmly grounded, bring your hands over your heart center, one hand resting gently on top of the other.
  • Take a few breaths.
    • Imagine on the inhalation that your breath is expanding and radiating outward in all directions from the core of your heart.    On your exhalation, it slowly lets go and effortlessly recedes on its own.
  • Pause.
    • Allow your breath to be free and easy as you shift your awareness to the depths of your being.
    • Imagine that, as a plant, all your energy is gathered in there – at the very core of your heart.
    • Imagine flowery petals emerging from there, creating a frilly and light, almost ethereal, blossom.
  • Sustain your awareness at the core of you heart:  the home of your sweet, eternal essence, which is always there.
    • If comfortable, breathe here for a few more breaths, your inhalation gently expanding outward into the world, and your exhalation returning home to the sweetness within.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Sit quietly for as long as is comfortable.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 121, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Jay Rosner.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.   KateVogt©2021.

 

Please consider joining me this fall for one of my fall online classes.
– Support Wisdom in Your Life – This short class offer insight and tips for self-management of fears and desires related to daily life. 3 Thursdays, September 9 – 30 (no class on the 16th), 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT.
– Pathways to Peace: Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Compassion, and Other Universal Principles – This five week class delves into timeless human principles as keys for personal, planetary, and collective well-being.   We will refer to an Eastern text called the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.  5 Tuesdays, October 19 – November 16, 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT.

Registration is now open for these classes through the College of Marin Community Education.

 

 

Geranium – inspiring resilience

Geranium – inspiring resilience

Meditate within eternity.
Don’t stay in the mind.
Your thoughts are like a child fretting
near its mother’s breast, restless
and afraid, who with a little guidance,
can find the path of courage.

Lalla
Trans. by Coleman Barks

Over the past several months I’ve developed a new habit.  It is probably minor in the scheme of all the possible habits, but I’m ruminating on it because it is new.  And, because it has come about not only when a life-threatening virus is sweeping through the world, but also escalating severe natural disasters and human struggles.

Each morning, I now check on the geranium plant outside our front door – only a glimpse, but enough so that I was aware that my check had become routine.  This plant has been through many iterations.  It began as a houseplant, but because of the low light in our apartment I moved it outside to a sunny area.   Within a few days, the local deer had discovered it and eaten all but a bit of the stems.   I repotted and moved it to a spot where it grew and bloomed, until, the neighborhood crows began landing on the dirt at the edge of the pot and toppling it over; however, for the past year, it has steadily grown and formed new buds and sets of red blossoms.

I’m not sure when I began a daily acknowledgement of this particular plant.  I’m in the habit of greeting all of our indoor plants each morning, out of appreciation for the way they cleanse the air and their quiet presence.   Since the geranium is an outdoor plant, I normally would have noticed it only once or twice per week, but likely I increased that soon after the deer had eaten the flowers off the other outdoor plants.

Over time, I’ve grown to deeply respect this hardy, resilient being.   It reminds me of my grandparents and parents who survived and weathered many storms in life, including the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, a major world war and many personal disappointments and losses.  It reminds me of our collective human ancestors who survived and showed the way for others.  It reminds me of wise prophets, saints, and poet seers such as Lalla, who survived hardships with patience, kindness, and equanimity, and then compassionately shared gems of truth to uplift and guide the rest of us.

I trust this simple yet robust plant and am glad it is part of my new habit.  It continues show me ways to navigate life.  For example, it thrives on little water and care, yet it absorbs what it gets, multiplies it, and gives back abundantly.   If the deer come, it will regrow.  As a plant, it has its own way of recognizing threats, but it continues to stay rooted and freely offer the world its bright colors and fan-shaped leaves.   I hope you will join me in honoring the plant world!

Practice
This practice supports inner resilience and courage anchored in kindness.

Prepare— 

  • Find a comfortable standing position with your feet about hip-distance apart.
    • This may be with or without shoes.
    • If you are not able to stand for any reason, please feel free to skip to the latter third of the practice.
  • Steadily and gradually shift your weight from one foot to the other.
    • Do this a few times.
  • Stilling your movement, pause.
    • Notice the surface beneath your feet.
      • Invite an awareness of its offering of support to you at this time and in this moment.
      • Lightly walk in place, lifting one foot and solidly but gently placing it down before lifting the opposite foot.

Practice  – 

  • With your feet grounded, gently bounce through your knees – a small and barely visible bounce.
    • Invite a sense of trust of the strength in the large muscles in the upper part of your legs, e.g., the frontal ones called the quadriceps.
      • Lightly tap your palms on the front of your thighs saying, “I have confidence in my natural strength.”
  • Still standing, allow yourself to feel securely supported by the earth and the strength in your lower body.
    • For a few moments, gently sway like a plant in a summer breeze.
      • Open your arms to your sides, slightly away from your body.
        • Allow your palms to be open and facing forward, and your fingers lightly relaxed.
        • Invite a sense of openness in your torso and throat. Invite your eyes and facial muscles to relax.
      • Invite a few easy breaths into your mid-ribs.
        • If comfortable, invite a soft, sincere smile from the inside out.
      • Quietening the movement in your upper body, return to a comfortable, easy stance while retaining a sense of steadiness in lower body and ease in the upper.
      • Breathe:
        • Inhale: While inhaling allow your arms to radiate outward and upward from the side of your body.
          • Note: If you have shoulder issues, simply stand and breathe without movement.
        • Pause: Pause with your arms alongside your ears, palms facing inward.  Take a full breath.
          • Note: Allow your elbows to bend if that offers more ease in your shoulders.
        • Exhale: While exhaling, bow your head slightly and cross your palms in front of your face to bring them to the front of opposite shoulder.
          • e., your right palm to the front of your left shoulder, and your left palm to the front of your left shoulder. (Your fingertips will be lightly touching your collarbones and your wrists will be crossed.)
        • Pause: Pause with your hands touching the front of the opposite shoulder and your head slightly bowed.   If comfortable, close your eyes.
          • Invite a sense of peaceful kindness toward your whole self – from your innermost self, to your body, senses, mind, and breath.
            • Breathe in and out one smooth, easy, breath.
          • Invite a sense of peaceful kindness toward others while staying steady with a sense of kindness toward yourself.
            • Breathe in and out two smooth, easy, breaths.
          • Invite a sense of peaceful kindness toward all beings while staying steady with a sense of kindness toward yourself.
            • Breathe in and out three smooth, easy, breaths.
          • Gently say to yourself, “I am grounded inwardly in peaceful kindness. This offers me courage and resilience to stay inwardly grounded and steady in the midst of outer struggles and changes.   In this kindness, I am strong and supported.”

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.
  • Sit quietly for as long as is comfortable.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 6, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.

 

Fall Online Classes!!  Register Now!

Support Wisdom In Your Life
September 9-30, 3 Thursdays (no class 9/16), 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT, $70

Pathways to Peace: Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Compassion, and Other Universal Principles –October 19-November 16, 5 Tuesdays, 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT, $80

Registration through College of Marin Community Education 
(415) 485-9305, or contact me for more information

Ladybug – spark of joy in a grey world

Ladybug – spark of joy in a grey world

Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups.
They swim the huge fluid freedom.

Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy upon spotting small ladybug along the pathway.   Her distinctive coloring, with bright reddish-orange and splashes of black, stood out on this foggy summer morning.

Only minutes before I had noticed the muted tones of the foliage and the fading shades of the flowers.  Along with the soundless creeks, these were reminders of the severe drought absorbing the vibrancy of this part of the planet.

The ladybug disappeared quickly, but left a remembrance of that spark of delight which I had felt upon seeing her.  It was that raw childlike enchantment and awe of life.

There was a feeling of kinship with the surroundings, sensing the thirst of plants and the creek and simultaneously the lightness of insects and clouds.  Fueling that sense of kinship were memories, such as:  feeling ebullient aliveness emanating from others – strangers, friends, family, and pets; and, even from that which we call inanimate – stones, soil, trees.

Along with those remembrances, I found myself imagining a world infused with a large dose of pure joy, seeding hope and compassion to begin anew.  The ladybug apparently begins as a bland monochrome larva and then transforms itself into a round, colorful form.

Perhaps it is childish to imagine that we could disarm the deep grooves of hatred, greed, and jealousy with joy, but our human inventive capacity can turn wild imaginations into possibilities.  For now, I am heartened to see the pre-school children in our neighborhood carrying ladybug backpacks. Maybe ladybugs will show us the way to the future.

For now, I’ll heed the wisdom of the timeless poets, prophets and sages, and appreciate that the world and we are intricately tethered together with a collective of small joys.  Joy is not devoid of grief or sorrow: it nourishes and uplifts us like a loving mother.  It is ours to share and treasure as lovingly as it graces us in the precious journey of life.  I hope you will join me.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of joy.

Prepare— 

  • Remove any potential distractions.  For example, remove non-medical electronic devices from your wrist and surroundings.  Place them in another room.  If you are using a device for reading, please place it on silence and/or airplane mode.
  • Standing, stretch out through your arms in any way that feels comfortable. Then, gently shake each limb, one at a time for several seconds.
  • Sigh a few times, also in any way that feels comfortable.  Invite your shoulder and facial muscles to relax and soften.  Smile for about twenty seconds.

Practice  – 

  • Seated, allow your lower body to settle into the support beneath you. Gently invite an awareness into your feet and legs that they are free to just be. For now, they do not need to be on alert in anticipation of moving of doing something.  They can relax naturally.
  • With ease in your lower body, invite a few easy breaths to flow in and out through your nostrils.
  • Pause, allowing your breath to return to its normal background state.
  • If it feels comfortable, invite a remembrance of your own personal experience of what felt like pure joy in your lifetime.
    • Again smile for about twenty seconds, this time feeling as though your whole being is infused with remembrance of that joy.
  • Then, invite a smooth, even, and gentle inhalation through your nostrils. As you inhale, imagine that joy is spreading to all of your cells – from your toes to the crown of your head.  On exhalation, allow your breath to flow out with ease while sustaining that joyfulness in your tissues, muscles, organs, and bones.   Continue this for several breaths.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Sit quietly for as long as is comfortable.
    • Perhaps touch your heart center in remembrance that joy is always within you and that it is always there for you at any time during the day.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 8, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by  Neringa Hünnefeld on Unsplash.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.

If you would like to know about the philosophical underpinnings of these H E A R T H reflections, I am offering an online study group, 1st Wednesday each month, 10:30 a.m. to noon PT, July, August and September 2021.  Please contact me for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

Forest – sacred aliveness

Forest – sacred aliveness

One instant is eternity;
Eternity is the now.
When you see through this one instant,
You see through the one who sees.

Wu-Men
English version by Stephen Mitchell

As the seasonal cycle once again turned toward summer, the mountain forests held the quietude of winter.  For months, they had been in hibernation with their ground blanketed under mounds of snow.  The immovable settling into prayerful silence absorbed each of these in its own reverent essence:  trees, plants, boulders, and granules of dirt were still and peacefully gathered in quiet, timeless communion.

To come to this moment of transition, the days have incrementally lengthened.  The snow has been melting.  And, the seemingly insentient community has transformed into a body of diverse shapes and forms.  Brilliant greens, browns and greys have emerged.   The expansive space between the towering trees seems to have taken centerstage – perhaps because the openness sustains the memory of quietude and is home to thousands of resilient, tiny plants that later blossom into soft reds, yellows, blues and lavenders.

Crystals of snow have steadily transformed into trickles and streams of water.  By the time human visitors arrive, the water is energetically rushing downward, cascading into waterfalls.  Eventually it begins to echo its quiet origins, slowing its pace and flowing into broad bodies of water.  There, like the mountain meadows, the lakes and even human-made reservoirs inspire memories of tranquil peacefulness and reverential awe.

Nature is a continual expression of sacred wisdom that abides in every morsel of life.  A visit to the mountain forest is a visit into the vastness of our own inner wilderness.   We are Nature.  The seasons move within us and we move within the seasons.  Nature’s voice is a quiet wordless offering of predominately subtle reminders of our temporal worldliness, being woven around the sacred Infinite.   The less subtle reminders are the turbulent storms – whether outer or inner – that uproot our confidence in predictability.

Within the pallet of worldly opposites of rising and subsiding, and offering and receiving, there is spacious, all-fulfilling serenity generously and equally holding all.  My hope is that we all rediscover what ancients have long observed, which is that the life’s essence is always nearby.  As the poet Wu-Men offers, Eternity is the now.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of the universality of the five elements. 

Prepare— 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.
    • If you are in a chair or on a bench, please rest the soles of your feet on the surface beneath you.
  • Steadily and gradually shift your awareness to your breath in any way that feels pleasant for you.
  • If possible, invite a sense of ease and openness.  Relaxing the muscles around your jaw and shoulders, your navel, and the base of your skull.

Practice  – 

  • With your eyes in a soft gaze or lightly closed, take a moment to reflect on five basic elements – earth, water, fire, air, and space.
    • With each, slowly and gently:
      • Whisper the name of the element three times.
      • Invite an awareness of the sensations and feelings associated with the element. Silently say the name of the element as you inhale.  Imagine as though your awareness of the element is expanding with your inhalation.  Perhaps notice its presence within and beyond the boundaries of your skin.  On your exhalation, smile slightly and feel as though you are completely letting go of all stresses, thoughts, and any clinging.  Repeat with each element.
      • If the above practice seems inaccessible to you, perhaps try the following:
        • Invite an awareness of your inner sensations associated with that element. Imagine with your inner eye you are scanning the inside of your body from your toes to the inner surface of your head.  In your scan, be open to areas of the body where there is a seeming predominance of that element.
          • For example, the solidity of earth within the bones, the fluidity of the blood and moisture on the tongue for water, warmth for fire, lightness for air, and spaciousness for space.
        • Gently shift your awareness to your outer environment – nearby and then extending as broadly as comfortable for you – and invite an awareness of areas of the environment where you perceive to be a predominance of that element.
          • For example, the ground beneath you for earth, the interior of your home and the expanse of the night sky for space.
          • As you scan the environment, simultaneously invite an awareness of your inner sensations and feelings that arise. Allow yourself to let and just feel and notice without labels and judgment.
        • Again, whisper the name of each element three times.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • When you are ready, return to your day.
  • As you go about your day, invite a view of the world as a composition of the elements continuously and seamlessly manifesting in innumerable ways – inside and out.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 80, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.

 

 

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