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

LOVE – seeing beyond preconceptions

LOVE – seeing beyond preconceptions

But love of God
hath so absorbed me
that neither love
nor hate
of any other thing
remains in my heart. 

Rābiʻa

Yesterday was a foggy summer morning.  The air had taken on form and texture.  Like a freshly painted canvas, it was heavy and wet with soft, silvery hues.  A subtle radiance seeped through the thinner layers of the fog, revealing the presence of light.

While in many ways this was a typical coastal California foggy day, it felt instead almost hallowed   A tranquil, loving gentleness enveloped the hillsides and canyon of the neighborhood.   There was a near stillness with an occasional cooing of a dove or rustle in the tree branches.  As if to seal in the divine sweetness, a large deer rested on the grasses of a nearby slope.  

I was grateful for my diligence in observing my habit of starting each day outside.  Sometimes this is just a brief greeting of the day while feeding the birds.  The peaceful atmosphere yesterday felt like an invitation to settle in for my morning contemplation outside.   

 When I had looked through the glass of the bedroom window, the fog appeared to be a flat lifeless mass of grey.  Although I am normally a very curious person, it took the force of my morning habit – rather than curiosity – to experience fog as the opposite of my mind’s predisposition toward viewing it as gloomy and foreboding. 

 Nature always seems to continually offer these lessons for us to see, hear, and touch anew, with reverent appreciation.   Just one moment of slowing down and getting a little closer to her pace and language can change our inner view.   I have now met fog in an entirely fresh way.  Along with that, I have a heightened awareness of showing up again and again for the possibility of softening preconceptions and being absorbed in a love beyond bias.

 These everyday moments can be anywhere and with anyone.  Accompanying our interactions with nature, there are our COVID-masked greetings in the store and along the street.  Also, there are the choices of what and how much to consume in food or ideas, and possessions.   And, our thoughts, speech, and actions.   Living and ancient sages and saints like Rābiʻa remind us to boldly walk the path of love and trust that little by little, light will permeate the haze and enfold us in love. 

Practice 
This short practice invites awareness of the path of  love. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.   
  • Slowly lean your right ear toward your right shoulder.  Smile gently and take few easy breaths.  Then, gently bring your head to center and pause.  When you are ready repeat on your left side. 
    • Note:  If you have a condition that is irritated by taking your head to the side, e.g., positional vertigo, please make adjustments that are suitable for you.
  • Pause with your head to center.  Invite a few easy breaths.

Practice – 

  • Hold your hands in front of you with your palms upward, slightly cupped.  Imagine your hands are holding a boundless amount of love.  No matter how much you receive or give away there is still an overflowing abundance of love.
  • As though washing your hair and showering, bathe yourself in this love from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet as well as the back, front, and sides of your body and head.  
  • Pause with your palms cupped in front of you.  An abundance of love still pours you’re your hands.
    • Lightly touch your sensory organs – nose, mouth, eyes, skin (choose one place, e.g., skin on your face), and ears. 
      • If you are uncomfortable touching your face during COVID-19, please feel free to hover your hands over these sensory organs. 
  • Pause with your palms cupped in front of you, again holding endless, pure love.
    • As though the love were rose petals, gently toss them upward and out into the space around you – in front, to the right, behind, and to the left of you. 
    • Repeat this one more time.  Imagine as you release love in all directions that it is traveling the distances of the world from nearby to the farthest lands and people. 
  • Pause with your palms cupped in front of you still holding boundless love.
    • Bring one hand over your heart and the other on top as though you are sealing in the awareness of eternal love within your heart.  Invite all its expression of equity, kindness, and compassion to inform your thoughts, actions, and speech. 
    • Bow your head slightly.  Invite all your sensory engagements to arise from your heart through your nose, mouth, eyes, skin and ear.  Invite them to be free of grasping and clinging and free of the conditioned filters that bring harm and injustice to others.    

Transition back into your day – 

  • Relax your hands into a comfortable position, e.g., turned downward onto your knees. 
    • Allow your eyes to rest in a soft gaze.  
    • Invite an easeful, calm breath.
  • Stay as long as you are comfortable, perhaps following the rhythm of receiving and releasing the breath with each inhalation and exhalations.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 105, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Alexander Kaunas.  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.  

Bark – staying in touch

Bark – staying in touch

I know a cure for sadness:
Let your hands touch something that
makes your eyes
smile.

I bet there are a hundred objects close by
that can do that.

Look at
beauty’s gift to us –
her power is so great she enlivens
the earth, the sky, our
soul. Mirabai

Mirabai

Near our apartment is a small, wooded park.  It is nestled between two streets with a ravine in the center.  On both sides are magnificent coastal redwood trees. They are only echoes of their parent trees, some of which would have been as wide as a two-story house is high, at the time those trees were milled by the colonizers more than a century ago.  This park is a type of haven where this second growth can thrive as living representation of the story of this locale, and beyond. 

Each day when I take a neighborhood stroll, I pass through this park.  The wide path is cushioned with the redwoods’ needles, so there is a quietness that muffles even the sound of the teenage boys daring one another to ride their bicycles down the steep slope.   I like to linger with the trees for a few moments of touching and admiring their bark.  

Just being near the beautiful reddish-brown bark of these giant conifers reassures me that dominance doesn’t necessarily mean oppression and destruction.  It can be compassionate, gentle, and genuinely equitable.  The redwoods’ bark has a larger role than just protecting the tree.  Its soft, almost spongey fibrous texture of outer bark is home to many types of insects and other invisible species that are integral to the vitality of the multi-dimensional web of life.   

When I touch the bark of redwoods, I am reminded of the words attributed to the 15th century ascetic Mirabai.  The beauty of the redwoods, like all of nature, continually invites us to pause and re-connect with the most fundamental part of our embodiment – we are part of a dynamic, earthly organism that gracefully and generously offers the air, ground, and endless nutrients for the well-being of all.  

Ancient sages such as Mirabai offer us both:  a warning –  e.g., if we remove ourselves from nature, humans will become coarsened toward one another;  and, guidance – e.g.,  stay in touch with something greater than us.  As a small way of heeding their wisdom, I will continue to touch the redwoods as a reminder of our innate human capacity for honesty, endless loving kindness, sharing and caring.  

Practice 
This short practice invites awareness of our connection with nature.

Prepare – 

  • For this practice, either be outside, or, if inside, be near a living plant.    
  • Standing, gently shake your forearms and hands for a few times.  Roll your shoulders around in any way that is comfortable for you.  Smile.  Smile again.  And, then really smile at how silly you might feel just smiling.  
  • Invite a few deeper inhalations of your breath.  Then, smile again.

Practice – 

  • Take your hands in front of you, palms facing one another.  
    • Slowly, take them apart and then back together a few times, similar to playing an accordion.  
    • Allow your palms and wrist to be relaxed.   Perhaps add a feeling of playfulness to this movement.
    • Breathe.  
      • As you inhale, invite your hands to move away from one another; and, as you exhale invite your hands to move closer together.  
      • Imagine as though you’re are playing music with your breath. 
      • Maybe sway gently with these movements.
      • Do this for at least a minute.
  • Come near a tree or other living plant.  Smile as though you are with a dear friend.
    • Hold your hands on either side of your plant friend, close but not touching.  If it is extra large, choose just a branch or a smaller part of the plant.  
      • Similar to above, allow your hands to gently and slowly move away from and then closer to the plant.  If you wish, connect the movements with your breath (as above).
      • If you are comfortable, imagine as though the plant is breathing.  Imagine your breath and movements are synchronize with the plant’s breath.  If you have found it comfortable to do this, be playful and free.
    • Now, lightly touch the plant.  Smile.
      • If you are comfortable, allow yourself to feel any sense of touch in return.
    • Say, “thank you” to your plant.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Find a comfortable place to sit quietly for a few moments.  
    • Allow your eyes to rest in a soft gaze.  
    • Invite an easeful, calm breath.
  • Touch your heart center lightly with your fingertips.  With a smile, say, “thank you.”
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 9, 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. 

Bees – Seeing Anew

Bees – Seeing Anew

Listen, if you can stand to. 
Union with the Friend means not being who you’ve been,
being instead silence:  A place:  A view
where language is inside Seeing. 

Rumi

This year of 2020 continues to prod me to an increased awareness of the microscopic aspects of life.   It truly feels like the last few months have been a constant visual exam, searching through layers of blurred vision for 2020 acuity.  While it isn’t new to me to revisit hidden assumptions and sift through the strata of skewed perceptions, the avalanche of deaths and change spurs a recalibration of and an openness to a renewed view. 

In the midst this age of human reckoning, I anchor myself in the remembrance that the planet and the rest of nature has been around longer than our species.  While we are endowed with great mental capacities, we are prone to forget the grace of our existence.  Yet, nature is always there with endless reminders of our earthly interconnectedness with all beings, the deeper essence of life, and transformative qualities such as generosity, kindness, collaboration, and equanimity.

I find that nature consistently presents insights far beyond those in volumes of books or opinions.  For example, the sun doesn’t favor one group of people, or one part of the planet, over the other.  It just shines, offering light, warmth, and renewal to all.   Without the sun the plants wouldn’t grow, and without the plants, animals and humans wouldn’t have food.   First people as well as ancient knowledge preserve this simple but profound wisdom: that all life is a living community. Yet in the mainstream, this view is considered irrelevant and economically unproductive.

Small things make a difference, primarily in our thought patterns and consumptive behaviors and their influence on social justice, but also in recognizing and appreciating our inherent reliance on other species.  Bees, for example, are intricately connected to our existence.   As pollinators, they are important to the proliferation of crops of many of our favorite fruits and berries, as well as of vegetables.   They also support the perpetuation of the beauty of flowers that have their own role within the larger ecosystem, in addition to uplifting human spirits.  And, of course, bees produce honey and wax, which have been used by humans since the earliest times for nourishment, art, light and more.

For our current times, bees offer several timely reminders.  They harmoniously live and work as a community that creates abundance.  They accomplish the seemingly impossible in that they carry multiples of their weight – some say up to 300 times their weight.  Even though aerodynamically they aren’t naturally designed to fly, they fly.  They move from one plant to another as living examples of the interconnectedness of all living things, including humans.   Individual bees have the ability to focus, yet take time for rest and renewal.

My personal experience is that nature is a safe place for us to practice empathy, e.g., just sitting and observing without inner labeling and dialog, and accepting the clarity and joy of seeing anew.  We can do the same when we listen to one another and to our own thoughts and inner heartbeat.  Nature not only supports us biologically, but gives us the courage to see and face the inhumane inequities within our own species, and then proactively shapes new paradigms for the respect and wellbeing of all.  I will continue to rely on nature for renewed perspective, and hope you will join me.

Practice
This short practice acknowledges the sound of the bees.

Prepare – 

  • Please find a comfortable seated position.  
    • If you are seated on a bench or in a chair, rest the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Invite an awareness of the surface beneath you. 
    • If you are aware of the First Peoples of the land where you are, please take a moment and say their name with reverence.
    • Then, in your own way, acknowledge the layers of support beneath you, e.g., the floor, those that constructed the floor, the earthly resources with the floor, and the earth and microbes beneath that. 
  • Allow yourself to be fully held by these hidden layers of support.  Invite an openness to seeing and acknowledging those that you take for granted and regularly overlook even though they are always there supporting you.

Practice – 

  • Still seated.  Allow your hands to rest wherever they are comfortable.  Your eyes may rest in a soft gaze or gently closed.  As much as you can, relax the muscles across your face, including your jaw and chin. 
  • Vigorously rub your palms together until you feel some heat in your hands. 
  • Place your warmed palms over your ears.
    • Breathe two to three breaths. 
    • Then, begin to hum in a bee-like way.  Pause whenever needed.  Then, continue for about a minute. 
  • Take one hand over your chest and the other on top.  Smile slightly. 

Transition back into your day – 

  • Allow your hands to return to wherever they are comfortable.  Sit comfortably and breathe for as long as comfortable. 
  • When you are ready, transition back into your day.


This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 76, 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. 

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