LAMB’S EAR – gentle presence

LAMB’S EAR – gentle presence

Touched by all that love is
I draw closer toward you
Saddened by all that love is
I run from you.
Surprised by all that love is
I remain alert in stillness.

František Halas

 

There, in the dirt, was an empty hole.  Just the day before, there had been a thriving plant commonly called lamb’s ear.  I looked at the hole, feeling sadness.  Across the continent and an there are holes that once were homes, places of worship and schools, not to mention the accompanying absence of humans, animals, and even plants.

I was grateful for my attachment to this lamb’s ear.  Its disappearance gave me a way to just pause and honor the underlying grief around the small and big losses of the world.  The plant had been a daily reminder to be gentle and kind.  The presence of this plant reminded me that gentleness, kindness and generosity thrive in the midst of the more visible malice and disregard.

The furry leaves of the lamb’s ear always seemed like an invitation to bend down and greet them as I passed by.  My greeting was merely touching the soft and velvety leaves.  But, within that touch, I felt living gentleness and peacefulness.  This brought the reminder of a quote that I had heard long ago by Robin Wall Kimmerer that in some Native languages, the term for plants translates as “those who take care of us.”

The caring is most often that which is visible and recordable.  Hummingbirds, bees and other insects regularly visited this lamb’s ear for nourishment.   With antiseptic and other recorded medicinal capabilities, the caring could have extended to a temporary wrap over a wound, or a soothing cup of tea.  For the animal – likely a gopher given the dirt mound next to the hole – the caring was a full meal.

I feel the lamb’s ear had taken care of the inner me.  To reach toward the plant was a gesture of humility – I needed to bow down and let go of my acculturated human ideas of superiority and separateness from other beings.  Within the tactile connection there was the grace of loving joy upholding the preciousness aliveness of all life, regardless of label, shape, hue, texture, or sound.

The daily touch of the lamb’s ear gave me innumerable gifts.  Most importantly, it was the gift of a sense of the power of living with gentle presence.

 

Practice
This practice supports awareness of gentleness. 

Prepare— 

  • Standing or seated, with your thumb slowly and lightly massage the base of your fingers, and then the palm, of your other hand.   Then, with both hands – and again lightly – make small squeezes up the opposite arm simultaneously.  Starting with your wrists, move upward over your forearms, elbow, upper arms, shoulders, and upper part of your torso.
  • Give yourself a couple hugs – changing the cross of your arms (i.e., left arm on top for one and right for the other).  If you wear glasses, please remove them for this next movement.
  • Lightly massage the back of your neck, your ears, and scalp.  Then, lightly move your palms across your face as though you are washing it.
  • If comfortable, stroke your torso, your arms one more time, and your legs.  When you are done, feel free to stretch, yawn, or moving in any way you feel inclined.

Practice— 

  • If standing, please find a comfortable seated position.  Invite an awareness of the parts of your body touching the surface beneath you – e.g., chair, bench, cushion, floor, earth.  In your mind’s eye, freely scan the entire area where your body and the surface beneath you are touching – without judgment, just noticing the sensation of sitting.
  • Lightly rest your fingertips and palms on the surface beneath you.
    • Invite an awareness of all earthly life being supported by our collective planet, whether sitting, walking, resting, slithering, crawling, swimming, or alighting.
  • Stretch your arms out to your sides. (Note:  please adjust as needed, being attentive to the current capacity of your shoulders.)
    • Invite an awareness of touching the air and space around you.
    • Breathe in deeply, and imagine you are reaching out from the center of your back through your fingertips.
    • On exhale, lower your arms and allow your hands to rest wherever they are comfortable.  Invite awareness of all earthly life – including you – similarly being held and nourished by air and space.
  • Place one palm and then the other over the center of your upper torso in the area called the heart-center.  Bow your head slightly.
    • Invite an awareness of the touch of your hands on your torso.  You might softly add a light pressure of your palms with a sense of loving reassurance that deep within there is steady, loving support wishing you safety, health, ease, and peace.  If comfortable, invite awareness of this unseen support gently caring for all earthly life – including you.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Place your hands wherever they are comfortable.  And then, sit quietly for as long as you wish.
  • When you feel complete, return to your day.

 

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 73, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2022.

 

 

PRE-DAWN ~ loving transition

PRE-DAWN ~ loving transition

Night is passing,
sun comes by dawn,
Awaken now, beauty’s essence,
heart of love.

Hakim Omar Khayyám
Translated by Nahid Angha, PhD

 

Most mornings I awaken into the near soundlessness of pre-dawn.  It feels like a generous pause, magically tucked between night and day.  There may be an occasional sound of leaves being rustled by the wind, but otherwise it is silent.  The nighttime calls of the local coyotes and owls have faded and left a silent opening to the first sounds of the day.

This sense of a quiet interlude seems to be echoed in the deep blue expansiveness of the sky.  Starlight has dimmed, and the starry constellations have lost their discernibility.  One or more planets might still glisten, but otherwise there is just a calm yielding of one phase of the daily cycle to the next.

Within this gentle transition, I often feel the presence of the surrounding hillsides and canyons.  It is as though they are stirring and slowly readying themselves to be the story-keepers of the activity of another day.  As part of the skin of the earth, they support and hold the long story of transitory earthly life – human and non-human.  Their presence feels like a loving welcome and embrace for all beings who have witnessed their morning awakening.

Each pre-dawn offers me a humble reminder to slow down and prayerfully notice the ever-present grace of life’s transitions.  In walking, there is a transition from one foot to the other.  Between receiving and letting go of the breath, there are transitions.  In conversations, there are transitions.  Every blink of an eye is a transition.  The coming and goings of the waves, seasons, and lifetimes are transitions.  With tomorrow’s pre-dawn, I will begin anew.  Please join me.

Practice
This practice invites you to slow down and notice transitions.

Prepare—

  • Remove any potential distractions—for example, take off your watch, and put your phone on airplane mode.
  • Find a comfortable seated position. Invite your facial muscles, neck, and shoulders to relax.  If you are in a chair or on a bench, comfortably rest both feet on the floor.

Practice—

  • Calm your primary senses:
    • Eyes—Close your eyes. Gently and lightly rest the pads of your index fingers on your eyelids. Let your ring, middle, and little finger pads rest on your cheeks. Pause here with a few easy breaths. Invite your eyes to relax away from the lids, i.e., let them take a break from their almost constant use during the daytime.
    • Ears—While keeping your index fingers on your eyes, add an additional relaxation away from outer stimuli. Do this by closing off sounds by lightly pressing your thumbs on your front ear flaps.
  • With your fingers still in place over your eyes and ears, breathe up to seven (7) even, smooth breaths. Stay within your comfort level.
    • If comfortable, invite an effortless awareness of the transitions between each inhalation and exhalation.

Transition Back into Your Day—

  • Release your hands into your lap. Your eyes may be closed or in a soft gaze.
  • Sit quietly for 3 minutes or longer. Silently set an intention to prayerful notice and offer gratitude to small transitions throughout the day, e.g., when you are walking.  Seal that intention in by giving yourself a hug with appreciation that you will do the best you can and generously accept your own efforts no matter what they are.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 9, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   The practice is an edited excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry by Kate Vogt, page 311.  The photo is by Brad Mann.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2022.

LEAVES – endless community

LEAVES – endless community

We bloomed
in Spring.

Our bodies
are the leaves of God.

The apparent seasons of life and death
our eyes can suffer;

but our souls, dear, I will just say this forthright:
they are God
Himself,

we will never perish
unless He
does.

St. Teresa of Avila

 

The morning air is cool and damp.  Scattered around the ground are fallen leaves.  They are mostly gathered in small mounds with a few solo ones spread in between.  Their groupings seem to mirror the patterns of the leaves on the overhead tree branches, which allow for ample space for everyone.   Above the space, sunlight  shines through the branches and below, is revealed the underlying support – the earthen soil.

Within these mini communities of leaves on the ground, there is a wide variety of hues.  While a few are evenly green, most are a mixture of shades of yellows, greens, and browns.  Their bodies are varying shapes and sizes, yet all are still held together by a fine network of veins extending out ward from their central midrib.  Some are small, others large.  Some have frilly edges, and some are smoothly tapered from base to tip.

Like their kin still living on the tree, these leaves’ mobility relies on the shifting air currents.  With stronger winds they swirl and rustle.  With light breezes they flutter, with their movement evoking barely more than a whisper.  When the air is still, they also are still, and seemingly content to be just as they are and where they are.  There seems to be no longing to anything otherwise.

Their peacefulness inspires me to wonder about my inclination to clear them away.  Not only do these leaves emit echoes of those still attached to the tree, but their presence seems to represent a microcosm of the broader web of existence.  They cause me to pause, and acknowledge that these leaves are part of a living cycle offering nutrients and support to the next generation of leaves.  I leave them be.

 

Practice 
This practice supports awareness of community. 

 Prepare— 

  • Standing, face toward the East (or, if you are unsure, face what feels like the East).  Reach your hands outward in the eastern direction, palms upward.  Imagine you are reaching into infinitely.  Make a quarter turn to your right and again reach your hands outward, this time to the southern direction.  Repeat this two more time and then return toward facing the East.
  • Pause there. Feel your feet supported by the ground beneath you.  Appreciate the strength of your legs and their role in holding you upright.

Practice— 

  • Slowly walk clockwise three times. Imagine you are spiraling from your center outward, i.e., with concentric circles, each one slightly larger than the prior one.
  • Still standing, again pause, facing each direction.  Acknowledge and offer gratitude to those who support you in each direction – human and non-human.  This includes strangers, the land, the plants, trees, and others.
  • Then, walk counterclockwise three times. Imagine you are retracing your steps, spiraling inward toward your original position at the beginning of practice.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Come to a seated position.  If you are in chair or on a bench, please rest the soles of your feet on the ground.  Allow your hands to relax in any position that is most comfortable for you, e.g., on your thighs – palms upward or downward, in your lap.
  • Take a few quiet breaths, inviting a relaxed and easeful quality to your breath.  Allow your rib cage to gently expand outward in all directions as you inhale and slowly recede inward as you exhale.
  • After a few breaths, slowly lengthen your inhalation.  As the air enters your lungs, silently offer gratitude for the air and its continue presence.  If you have a particular faith, allow the air to be infused with the presence of that which you hold most supreme.  Continue with several more slightly longer inhalations, in reverent stillness.
  • Then, slowly invite your exhalations to lengthen.  With each exhale, imagine that as the air flows outward, the air is radiating in all directions, and is filled with loving gratitude.  Invite an awareness that this loving gratitude is touching all realms of your earthly community from, near to far.  If you have a particular faith, surrender into the feeling of infinite support from that which you hold most supreme.   Continue for several breaths.
  • Allow your breath to return to a natural breath, and then sit quietly for several minutes.
  • When you feel complete, return to your day.

 

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 73, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   The photo is by Michal Janak.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2022.

Ecological Awareness in Spirituality: Ancient Roots and Modern Relevance

Ecological Awareness in Spirituality: Ancient Roots and Modern Relevance

In this course we will take inspiration from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and other ancient texts. We’ll explore a time-honored mapping of reality where there is a seamless connection between our outer and inner landscape. This map includes the five elements and their relationship to our senses and sensory experiences. Through exploring this mapping, we’ll gain insight into the relevance of spiritual values and behaviors (such as non-harming, reverence, non-greed, and kindness) to supporting our personal and collective well-being. Our study will be supported with lecture, discussion, experiential practice, imagery, and tips for daily habits.

FALL 2022 – 5 Thursdays, October 20 – November 17, 3:15 – 4:45 p.m. PT, $43, College of Marin Virtual Classroom

Trees – living essence

Trees – living essence

There’s a tree that existed before the woods,
in age twice as old.
Its roots suffered as the valley changed,
its leaves deformed by wind and frost.
People all laugh at its withered aspect,
caring nothing about the core’s beauty.
When the bark is all stripped off,
only essence remains.

Hanshan
Trans. by Tony Barnstone

 

This morning I was introduced to Lillie.  While the name might sound like a new app or clothing line, Lillie is something more rare—she is a lithe, 101-year old woman.  A tiny fraction of one percent of the world population is centenarian.  The wrinkled face and hands give a hint of a century of living, but like most her age, she doesn’t dwell on the hardships of epidemics and wars, or unrealized aspirations.

In tree years, Lillie would be a sapling among some species.  For example, a spruce in Sweden is recorded to have lived about 9,550 years.  Even as sapling, Lillie’s demeanor and attitude reflect the generosity of trees.   She loves caring for her daughter and son-in-law, not because they house her, but because she has a tree-like nature. There is a continual offering of strength, stillness, protection, nourishment, stability, refuge, receptivity, giving, and serenity.

Trees have long served as symbols of lasting wisdom.  Most world cultures have tales of sacred trees. For example, in the ficus family: the pipal or bodhi (F. religiosa) repre- sents happiness, longevity, and prosperity; the banyan (F. bengalensis), eternal life; and the sycamore (F. sycomorus), infinite connectivity between life and death.  There are references to trees of life, knowledge, and perfection. And, there are promises that whoever knows the tree will be the knower of all truth. Their verticality is a reminder of our own rootedness in the earth, upright trunk and crown reaching toward the heavens.

As I read this poem by Hanshan, a 9th century poet- hermit, I felt as though I was near an ancient elder.  Hanshan reaches across time and gathers together universal stories of our shared roots and lasting, spiritual nature. His imagery of a valley is symbolic of life itself as fertile and transitory.  And, of the tree itself, it conveys a timeless essence, full of beauty and free of all rivalry and to amass more than is needed.  I feel as though if I look carefully, I can find this or a similarly seasoned tree nearby.  When I do, I will sit near its roots and simply listen.

 

 

Practice 
This practice supports awareness of living essence in all realms. 

 Prepare— 

  • Standing, gently shake out your arms, wrists and hands.
  • Still standing, close your eyes (if comfortable).  In your mind’s eye, imagine being able to see beyond the immediate space where you are to the surrounding landscape in all directions.  For example, there may be hills on the distant horizon in one direction, and vast open grasslands in every other direction.  Imagine that landscape within your heart.  Pause for a moment and seal in the memory of that landscape before opening your eyes.

Practice— 

  • Then, settle into a comfortable seated position.  If you are on a chair or bench, allow the soles of your feet to rest on the floor.
  • Imagine you are a tree, and the earth is receiving your roots.  Your roots are nourished by the water, the soil, and all the micro-nutrients.  Feel your roots deepening and growing in all directions.
  • Momentarily recall that wherever you are on the planet you are part of the full story of the Earth along with countless other living beings.  Invite an appreciation of the Earth lovingly offering courage and strength to you through your roots.
  • With continued awareness of the embrace of the soil, close your eyes (if comfortable) and return to the sense of the landscape abiding within your heart.  Notice the spaciousness of the landscape.  Pause for a moment, bathing in a sense of inner and outer spaciousness.  Open your eyes, if they were closed.
  • Shift your awareness back to the part of your touching and rooting into the Earth.  Become aware of the part of you rising up from the surface of the soil, e.g., the trunk of your body.   Imagine within the landscape surrounding you there is a forest of trees – all with firm, steady trunks.  Appreciate all life nourished by the Earth and the spaciousness.  Pause here and breathe with that awareness.
  • Slowly become aware of the crown of your head, and the spaciousness not only in all horizontal directions but infinitely stretching above you.  Imagine you have invisible limbs reaching into this upper spaciousness and receiving the warmth and light of the sun.  Pause here and breathe with that awareness of being rooted, growing upward, and spreading in all directions.
  • Once again, close your eyes and remember the landscape in your heart – all beings including you abide there in the expanse of life.  Appreciate that you are the body of the whole, you are wholeness.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Sit quietly for several minutes.  Rest the backs of your hands rest on your thighs, palms upward.
  • When you feel complete, return to your day.

 

 

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 111, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   The reflection is an excerpt from “Our Inherited Wisdom:  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry” by Kate Vogt, page 38-40. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2022.

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