These past few days I’ve had the impulse toward shedding. It feels like an inner pull to embrace the light of the season. With the upcoming solstice, lightness is happening on both sides of our planet – leaves on the deciduous trees on one side and mammals letting go of their coats on the other.
I feel lucky that I have the time in my schedule to follow this inspiration and lighten up my environment, which for me almost always leads to an inner lightening up. For example, yesterday I decided to give away a raincoat. Had I not worn it once, it would have still had a price tag on its sleeve. I laughed as I added it to the collection of other things that would be welcomed and used by others.
That raincoat represented a part of me that also needed to go – the snarky part of me that has been bewildered by how anyone could buy something, store it away, and not use it. Hah. There it was, hanging in my closet! A flood of compassion flowed in that moment toward me and every other human. Within our normal life pattern of gathering, nesting, and protecting our families and ourselves, we tend to accumulate and get caught up in our stuff. It takes some kind of prompt to get us to lighten up and get some perspective on habits mostly of our own making.
The verb “shedding” is pliable and has multiple meanings. I find it interesting that the idiomatic usage of “shed light on” stems from earlier times where “shedding” inferred clarity or discernment. It is with that sense that I felt myself “shedding tears” for our humanity being wrapped in our attitudes and environment.
It is no wonder that the prophets and indigenous elders reminded us of basic truths, such as the light is always there. We only need to realize it. Thankfully, solstice and other phenomena of nature can stir our memory of the light, and prompt us to let the light shine into the closets of our minds. Then, the shedding comes naturally, without effort. For many, that light is called God.
This short practice offers awareness of the light.
Turn your phone, tablets, and computer to silent. If you are wearing an electronic tool, remove it. Exception is for medically required electronics.
Find a comfortable seated position.
If you are seated in a chair, place both of your feet on the floor.
Take a moment to vigorously shake out your arms and hands.
Try to this in as relaxed as way as possible, i.e., let your upper limbs be loose.
If you have joint injury, adjust the movement as needed.
Slowly, nod your head up and down a few times.
You may close your eyes or leave them in a soft gaze.
Invite a sense of relaxation around the lids and corners of your eyes.
If you have cervical injuries, imagine this movement.
Pause with your chin turned lightly upward.
Smile gently with your lips closed.
Invite a few, deeper inhalations. Imagine as though it is a quiet, warm day and you are outside. The air smells sweet and you can feel the warmth caressing your face.
Pause with your chin turn lightly downward.
Imagine from the backside of your eyes, you could allow your gaze to settle upon your heart.
Smile gently with your lips closed.
Invite a few, deeper exhalations. Imagine as though there is a soft, luminous glow in the center of your heart. On each exhale, your entire being is being bathed in that light.
Pause with your head to center.
Sit quietly for a few moments.
Transition Back into Your Day –
When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 19, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.
Most of the day had been stormy with high winds and heavy rain. I had gone out to feed the birds and pick up the mail in the early morning, but otherwise had stayed inside. It felt like a luxury to be somewhere warm and dry without any necessity to navigate the wet roadways and detours around debris and flooded areas.
Serendipitously, the day was unscheduled with no work or other appointments. I needed to physically be nowhere other than home. I felt an impulse to begin filling up the day with phone calls and conversations online. Yet, I couldn’t let go of the awareness of the gift of shelter and the choice to retreat into that.
At both the deepest and broadest level is the sanctity of the heart, and its abundance of love and joy. Within the heart, everyone and everything belongs. There is room for all life – the sky, mountains, oceans, lands, and the objects and species residing in those regions. Divine love and joy are the essence of the heart.
The rainy day made me reflect upon a more basic form of sanctuary – four walls, roof, and floor, and a consistent place to rest our head and nourish our body. Instead of getting lost in my social media, I chose instead to clean and care for the philodendron, fern, and other houseplants by watering them and trimming the leaves. Albeit small, the apartment felt like a castle filled with the blessings of safety, comfort, love, and wellbeing.
I have done nothing special in this life to be one of the privileged humans to have a shelter. Although I have not asked them, my guess is that like me, most of my family members take for granted the sanctuary of home. I am grateful to the inclement weather to have caused me to slow down and appreciate shelter and the rich blessings in my life.
This practice supports awareness of the body as an earthly home.
Stretch out. Give yourself a hug.
Hold your upper right forearm with your left hand. Gently squeeze.
Hold your mid right forearm with your left hand. Gently squeeze.
Hold your right wrist with your left hand. Gently Squeeze.
Hold each finger on your right hand with your left fingers. Gently squeeze.
Hold your right hand with your left. Gently squeeze.
Repeat with the opposite arm and hand.
Return to Your Day
Sit quietly for a few moments. When you are ready, return to your day.
Note: In the last line of this poem, scholars are unsure in reading Blake’s handwriting whether it is “live” or “love;” or, “king” or “thing.” In other words, instead of “Go, love without the help of anything on earth,” it is “Go, live without the help of any king on earth.’
This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 11, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. Photo by Benjamin Wong on Unsplash.
As I read this poem by Hafiz, I found myself tempted to complain about complaining. It sometimes seems easier to share a story about a mishap or mistreatment, or an unexpected event. Fortunately there was post-it note on my desk reminding me of “an elm tree.”
There was elm tree that stood for decades in the front yard of my parent’s farm in Western Kansas on the High Plains. It was planted by my father and survived droughts, disease, lightening, gale force winds, blizzards, high heat, hail, and ever-changing weather. Yet, it steadily grew without complaint.
As a child, I would rest in the grass and watch the elm’s leaves dance in the wind and sunlight. It seemed to always be there whenever I needed comfort. For example, I appreciated its quiet presence when I sat next to it after our dog Poochie died, and later, our dog Rider. In my early teens, when my best friend started dating the boy whom I secretly loved, the elm silently reassured me that life goes on. Outdoor family photos often included some part of the tree, even if only its shadow.
Even after I moved to Europe for a while, it offered inspiration. When I first attempted a yoga pose named “tree,” it was there to teach me. Initially the lesson was just with physical balance, which was extra challenging with my inner-pronated feet. The balance on one foot came as I learned to use my feet with the same stability as my childhood tree-friend that was securely tethered to the earth. Its cousins in the form of the wooden floor fully supported me.
Over the years, more of its limbs died and broke off. For at least ten years, my father would announce, “this would be the year” when he would have to cut down “that old elm.” In his usual succinct way, his announcement would be short, followed by a pause inviting some feedback or comment. Each year, there was a silent message that his commitment had grown stronger and that we need to prepare ourselves that eventually the elm would really be cut down.
During that decade, I thought about what it would really be like when the elm was gone. I would miss its crusty old bark and graceful presence. I would miss its lopsidedness from having lost limbs in stormy weather. Its trunk had grown wide with age and seemed to sink more solidly into the ground. In the warm seasons, the leaves that sprouted on its branches still rustled delicately as though singing to a cloudless blue sky. Its branches continued to reach upward and outward as though expressing its eternal beauty and presence.
Whenever I visited, I sat down on a walkway close to this gracious tree. I would trace its shape with my eyes from its base where the roots sank into the ground up to its uneven and mostly barren branches. One consistent message was that it was what it was, nothing more and nothing less. It was a singular expression of the divine Self. Rather than trying to be the sky, a blade of grass, or any other part of nature, the elm’s energy was focused on being a tree.
On my last visit with the family elm tree, it had this message: “Sway with the wind but remain steady. Be still and feel the raging storms rush over you. Accept the storms and allow a part of yourself to release in return. Time is for release and change. Listen. All that you need to know is there. Open your arms to the sky as I reach my limbs toward the heavens. Mirror the seasons to the fullest, so that others might share in your splendor. Each season has its beauty. If it is fall, do not mourn springtime. Be a witness to others as I have been to you. Tolerate and nourish those around you for they compliment your natural brilliance. When your body becomes diseased, remember your true self. For even though I have been stricken with elm disease, I am still the elm that I have always been. Anchor yourself firmly in the universal wisdoms no matter how rich or sparse they may seem. Be. Just be.”
It is now nearly ten years since my father cut down the elm. Even though both the tree and my father are gone, their lessons live on.
Sit on the floor or in a chair. If in a chair, place the soles of both feet on the floor.
Rub your palms together vigorously for a few seconds. Then, place your hands lightly over your eyes. Breathe as though you are caressing the breath.
Rub your palms together again. Then, place your hands over your jaw and sides of the face. Breathe softly and gently.
One last time, rub your palms together. Then, place your hands over your heart with one hand on top of the other. Breathe.
Release your hands to the sides of your body. Sweep your hands and arms upward . Pause for a breath with your hands are overhead.
Bring your palms together overhead. Then, with the palms still together, lower your hands to your heart.
Bow your head slightly. Make a vow of to be complaint free.
Transition into your sleep –
Stay seated. Close your eyes or have a soft gaze. Sit quietly for several minutes.
When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem is Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 12, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.
Cece looked up at me with wide blue eyes. She seemed to be deciding on whether to hide behind her mother’s legs or continue watching this new stranger in her home. She chose the latter, likely comforted by her mother’s laughter and effusive welcome.
She reached down and offered me one her toys. The floor around her was covered with small wooden balls and cups in different colors and sizes. In her hand was a red cup. Cece’s mother, Ellen, and I understood this timeless, welcoming gesture. It was a simple but clear invitation from Cece to sit and join her.
Springtime offers a similar gesture to humans and other species. Each year, she invites all to put aside the immediacy of the never-ending list of wants and things to do, and, instead, join in reveling and praising the gift of existence. Like Cece, there is a fragile innocence to Spring, as the grey landscape and bare trees turn into swaths of rich green and brilliant yellows, reds, purples, and pinks. By offering such raw beauty, Nature conveys a sense of trust that all are her kin and would only wish her well-being and longevity.
As we sat, I noticed a large tree with pink flowers outside the window. The branches were gently swaying back and forth. Some of the blossoms twinkled in the afternoon light. a squirrel scampered along the branches of a tree outside the window. It seemed that in that moment the entire world was sharing, exploring and playing.
Small children often bring adults back in touch with the joyful interconnectedness of the universe. Without the filter or restrictions of language, they are attuned to the subtle, universal language of nature. Children have a keen drive to commune with the richness of natural textures, sounds and shapes. Their innate awareness inspires them to touch the plants, notice the creeping of a caterpillar, plop down in the sand or grass, and giggle at the sight of a bird or an animal.
Children point us to what people of the world’s indigenous cultures have known from the onset of time. At the root, all life is an expression of the divine – all in one and one in all. Ancient sayings and poems continually remind us to notice and celebrate the sacred vitality pulsing within each moment. The gift of remembering is tucked into the blossoms of Spring, the patterns of the moon, the wag of a tail, and the clarity in a small child. May we all rejoice in the ordinary gifts in the everyday!
Comfortably seated, rub your palms together briskly.
Once you feel some warmth, rest the heels of your palms over your eyes.
Your fingers can lightly curl over your forehead toward the top of your skull.
Invite in a sense of ease and peacefulness. After a few moments, allow your hands to relax in your lap.
Imagine you are sitting at the base of a large tree. The weather is a comfortable temperature and the air is still.
The earth is supporting and nourishing both your body and the tree. Pause. Deep beneath you is the core of the planetary home to all species.
The trunk of your body and that of the trees receives and processes the essential vitality from the earth, atmosphere, and heaven.
Around and above you, space supports your capacity to flourish.
Revel in your kinship with the tree in breathing together – in and out, out and in.
Celebrate the earth that gives you both minerals and unseen layers of support so you may be upright and be a conduit of vitality in the world.
Honor the vastness of the sky and the gift of the sun. Praise the Divine.
Transition Back Into Your Day –
Sit quietly for a few moments before returning to your day.
This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and reprinted with his permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, co-edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, and published by New World Library.
There was a loud snap outside our front door. It was early morning and the world was yet to stir – that is, most of world. Some other being was also up and moving around. I paused for a few seconds and listened. My ears were greeted by peaceful silence and I felt myself slip into inner quietude.
If there is any time that I feel at home, it is pre-dawn. These early twilight hours feel open and expansive like endless horizon of the Great Plains where I grew up. It is as though there is fullness posing as nothingness. On the surface, it seems as though nothing is happening – no birds are singing, no traffic, no smells of coffee – but yet, the mystical beauty and potentiality of all life is there.
As the tranquility slipped into the background, I could feel my senses come alive. My nose registered the scent of fresh jasmine and my eyes the approaching day. There was the faint outline of two shapes hidden in the trees near our front steps. In the early light, the two forms were barely discernable.
Two deer – a mother and fawn – were grazing the wild grasses. Their translucent presence gave the appearance that they were otherworldly beings in earthly form. In the lore of mythology, deer are considered to be messengers of grace, serenity, gentleness and innocence. They convey the qualities for navigating difficult and unpredictable terrain with calmness, lightness, and acuity. Instead of living in fear, they swiftly move away. They are revered in stories for being able to hear the wordless wisdom of great teachers and for melting the hearts of demons with their loving gaze.
Divine messages are everywhere. They are tucked in the cycles, rhythms, and countless beings of nature. They invite us to harmonize our minds and hearts with our planetary existence and responsibilities, all with loving humility. I feel that to “move within,” as Rumi proposes, is to embrace, and live by, our finer, subtler qualities written in the language of the planet and cosmos. This language is echoed in the words of sages, saints, prophets, and wise poets.
The quietude of pre-dawn and the deer can open us to discovering the rich reservoir of gifts that reside within and all around. I feel the first step is fully re-connecting with the net of reverence for all life. I hope you will join me.
This short practice brings awareness of pre-sleep habits.
Choose an evening where you feel you can attempt to be cyber-free for one hour before bedtime.
One-hour before you plan to get into bed, minimize the potential influences on your mind.
Drink only tap water or herbal tea.
Disconnect, i.e., from your phone, computer, television, tablets, e-readers, and all digital devices.
Limit reading any material related to politics, war, self-improvement, society or famous people, or work-related material, e.g., books, papers or magazines.
Be aware of your sleeping space. Ideally, move all electronics at least five feet from where you rest your head at night, and out of reach of your hands. Try using a non-electronic alarm clock.
Note how this this feels.
During that “free” hour.
Take extra time with your nighttime habits, e.g., brushing your teeth.
Look around your sleeping space.
Lightly touch –
The things you have chosen to have near you during your sleep.
Your bedding and pillows.
Imagine that all these things are your friends.
Allow yourself to feel genuinely grateful for these friends.
Transition into your sleep –
Either before you get into bed, or when you first get to bed
Take one of your hands to your heart.
Consider beneficial qualities you really value in yourself, e.g., gentleness, light-heartedness,
Choose one as your intention for the next day.
Take ten easy, breaths.
Say to yourself – now, “breathe in;” and, “now, I breathe out.”
This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and re-printed with his permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 2, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. Photo by Matthew Schwartz on Unsplash.
As the season changes to spring in the northern hemisphere, it feels as though nature is inviting us to begin anew. As the days are grow longer, migratory birds reappear along with insects, such as butterflies and bees. Fresh leaves are unfurling on the trees, tulips and daffodils are forming buds, and mountain creeks have reappeared.
The springtime meadows and fields are wide expanses of green. I have many memories associated with fields as the new growth emerges. My earliest ones are from my childhood when I would ride with my dad to look at his fields. I could barely see out of the pickup window, but was captivated by the immensity of the flat Kansas horizon and vastness of the blue sky and green land. More recent ones are from hikes with my husband Jay to large meadows in the wilderness
These memories carry a sense of spaciousness, peacefulness and the promise of eternal abundance. To me, open spaces are both symbolic and physical reminders of the essence our of humanness. On a practical level, they are the sources of the plants that nourish our bodies. Regardless of our dietary preferences, plants form the foundation of nearly all of the worlds’ foods.
Symbolically, we can rest our minds and hearts in the boundless openness. There, there is only pure awareness. It has no purpose other than to nourish the soul of all. It is ever abundant, eternally free and open. In the world, it sprouts seeds of kindness, equanimity, gentleness, and compassion. These are rooted in the universality of truthfulness, non-harming, and non-greed.
The springtime fields can remind us of how to be authentically “human.” The word human, as with humility, derives from the Latin word, humus, earth. The earth itself is nourished and fertilized by the changing of seasons. Leaves from last year’s trees are nutrients for renewal. As we let go of old paradigms and habits, new growth can occur. I believe that we once again can remember that we are connected to all life through our breath and food, and through the enduring field of divine love. Perhaps we can join Rumi there.
Find a comfortable seated position. If seated in a chair, place both feet on the floor.
Take a moment and vigorously shake out your arms. Imagine as though you are letting go of habits of gossip, judgment, and finding fault with others.
If comfortable, shake your arms alongside your body and overhead.
When you feel complete, let your hands relax in your lap.
Stretch your mouth wide, and make an imaginary yell from deep in your belly.
Imagine as though you are clearing out any debris of insecurity, lack of confidence or clinging to scarcity.
Relax your mouth.
Take a few deeper breaths.
Place your hands over your heart.
Choose one of the following qualities that you would like to grow within your newly cleansed inner field: kindness, equanimity, gentleness, or compassion.
Silently, lovingly, and slowly repeat the quality your have chosen.
Feel as though that every cell in your mind and body is longing for, and soaking up, that quality. Particularly pay attention to the palms of your hands, the center of your head, and your mouth – the areas of your thoughts, words, and actions.
Let your entire being be infused with that sense that you are that quality.
Transition back into your day –
Slowly stretch your hands and arms outward and upward.
Bring your palms lightly together over your head. Then, with the palms still together, lower them to the front of your heart in a prayer position.
Nod your head downward toward your heart and with a sense of humility, offer gratitude for your capacity to let go of old habits and embrace new, qualities for the wellbeing of all. If you have a particular faith, please adjust this prayerful gesture according to your belief.
When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and re-printed with his permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 74, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash.
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