Waterfall

Waterfall

There is a channel between voice and presence,

a way where information flows.

In disciplined silence the channel opens.

With wandering talk, it closes.

Rumi

It has been sunny and warm most of this fall season.   A friend Karen and I like to end our workweek with a walk, and we have found ourselves seeking partially shaded paths.  One leads through local neighborhoods to a canyon with a stream and lush vegetation.   Even with our lack of rain, water still ripples over a rocky streambed, making its way to an edge of a cliff where it spills into a canyon and continues its flow below.

The trail slopes gently from the upper to the lower part of the stream.  At the base of the waterfall, it feels timeless.  The water drops like tears from the outcropping above.  As it moves over the face of the stone, its sound shifts and changes.  Somehow it conveys emotions outside the reach of words, so it is comforting to pause within this worldly chasm of eternity – and to sit and listen.

All the stories of the world seem to be told within the falling water.  Just as tears can express our joys and sufferings, each drop stirs something within.  As Karen and I sat on a bench during our last visit to the waterfall, I felt a sense of the ever-present yielding and letting go of life.  For example, the day gives way to night, night to day, rivers to oceans and oceans to shores, plains into mountain and mountains to plains, exhales to inhales, and inhales to exhales.  And, the fall leaves yield to the earth where they form compost for new life.

Poets such as Rumi can bring us to the openness of the pause.  Within the space between the words there is the empty bridge to the next word or phrase.  It feels like an invitation to linger there, momentarily free of wandering.   Perhaps it is an invitation to notice and embrace the richness in the everyday moment.   I hope to pause and listen more to these wordless messages, whether from our nature-kin or ancient poets.  Please join me.

Practice

This short practice supports your unspoken understanding.

Prepare –

  • Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes. 
    • If in a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
    • If you have had a busy day, take a moment and shake out through your arms and legs – one at a time.

Practice –

  • Hold your head in your hands.  Allow your palms to cover your eyes. 
    • Invite the muscles around your jaw to release.
    • If you feel comfortable, invite an awareness of your sense of being here with yourself.
    • Pause here for a few breaths. 
  • With your head upright and a soft gaze, bring your hands over your ears. 
    • Invite the muscles around your belly to release.
    • If it feels comfortable, listen to the sound of your breathing.
    • Pause here for a few breaths.
  • With your head upright and a soft gaze, allow the backs of your hands to rest on your thighs. 
    • Invite the muscles around your forearms, wrists, and hands to release.
    • If it feels comfortable, imagine you are sitting in the presence of that which you hold most sacred according to your belief.
    • Pause here for a few breaths.   

Transition back into your day –

  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks.  It appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 33, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Geranium

Geranium

I was delighted with myself,

having offered everything I had;

my heart, my faith, my work.

“And who are you,” you said,

“to think you have so much to offer?

It seems you have forgotten

where you’ve come from.”

Rumi

Roots were sticking upward and dirt was strewn all over.  Given the overall condition of our planet and the increasing frequency of natural disasters, this upheaval was relatively minor.  A geranium plant was dangling over the edge of its pot.   Apparently a squirrel or bird had dug into the freshly added soil and uprooted the plant in the process.

I up-righted the geranium and gave it a little pat.   Notwithstanding my minimalist gardening attention, I have fondness for this geranium plant.  It is a model of resilience, because it has survived the appetite of the local deer that will eat even “deer-resistant” plants.

A few days later, a new blossom popped out from the geranium.  Upon seeing the cheery red color, I felt a sense of pride.  Then, I noticed the scraggly green stock, and remembered that this plant was not only a model of hardiness, but also had its own life capacity.  Perhaps it actually had needed to be repotted, i.e., it needed more room for its roots and not just new surface soil that I had added. 

The wildlife’s digging might have given the plant what it required:  a chance to be re-rooted. The dangling geranium could have easily dropped to the ground and found new life there.  My role likely was accidental. 

Such a small and ordinary life event was what I needed to reconnect with a sense of humility. Ironically, two common flower meanings for geraniums are folly and foolishness, both of which I find easy to fall into.  Our human minds seem to gravitate toward considering ourselves as the center of our life events and interactions, whether with other humans or the rest of nature.

Prophets and sage poets such as Rumi remind us to recall the source of all life – we are one of many species sustained by the invisible and ever-present grace of love.    For today, the geranium is my reminder to slow down and accept the lessons of each moment.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports our capacity to let go.

Prepare –

  • Stand with a hip-width stance. 
  • Shake out your right arm for approximately 30 seconds.  Then, your left arm.
  • Bend your knees and bounce gently up and down.  Your feet can be flat on the floor.

Practice –

  • Come to a seated position either in a chair or on the floor.
    • If in a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Place the backs of your hands on your thighs.
    • Five times, curl your fingers and thumbs toward the palms. 
    • Then, allow your hands to remain open. 
      • Relax across your eyes and around your jaw.
      • Allow your shoulders and palms to soften.
      • Invite your breath to be smooth and easy.
        • Close your eyes or ease them into a soft gaze.
        • Imagine all the tension and holding on is releasing from your body and mind.
          • Invite awareness that all is recycled.  As you let go, the universe absorbs and uses all.  Like leaves dropping from the tree in the fall, the release offers nourishments and makes room for the new.

Transition back into your day –

  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks.  It appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 31, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   Photo by Michael Beener.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Starlight

Starlight

Quiet yourself.

Reach out with your mind’s skillful hand.

Let it go inside of me

and touch

God.

Don’t

be shy, dear.

Every aspect of Light we are meant

to know.

St. John of the Cross

The night sky has been clear for the last several days.  As the sun vanishes on the horizon, glorious oranges and pinks give way to the purplish vastness of twilight.  And then comes the steady radiance of a planet or two followed by the emergence of star after star.

With the moon being new, the stars are literally the stars of nighttime.  They have no competition from the lunar glow, and shine brightly in the cloudless sky.  As constellations begin to take shape, I am reminded of the saying “as above, so below.”   Or, “as without, so within.”

For me, these starry nights offer several luminous messages, beginning with equanimity, togetherness, spaciousness, and interconnectedness.   The backdrop of the infinite openness of space is enriched by the presence of each individual star holding its own light without stealing from the other.  Instead, their proximity to one another creates celestial forms echoing the dynamic and interdependent web of earthly beings, e.g., humans, animals, and birds.     

The “twinkle” of the stars offers another insightful message, which is that things are not always as they appear.  While the sky appears to be filled with sparkling jewels, the glistening is an illusion.  A star’s light is refracted as it passes through the turbulence of the earth’s atmosphere.  This distortion gives the starlight the appearance of “twinkling.”  A similar phenomenon happens with my perception as it gets skewed by the churnings of my mind. 

Perhaps the most humbling message is the call to invoke brightness in the midst of instability and change.  And, to trust that behind the churnings is a steady light that can be known when the mind is cloudless, i.e., peaceful and clear.  As St. John of the Cross reminds us, we are meant to know, and have the capacity to know, the light that lights up all the world.  May we all turn toward the heavens during this upcoming season of light.

Practice

This short practice fosters awareness of our connection to the universe.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. 
    • If you are on a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Cover your eyes with your hands. 
    • Allow your thumbs to rest on your temples.  Lightly touch the tips of your little fingers between your eyebrows and the tips of your index fingers slightly above that (near the area known as your “third eye.”
    • Invite ease into your eyes and breath.
  • Release and relax your hands into your laps.  Allow your eyes to either be softly closed or in a gentle gaze.

Practice –

  • Bring awareness to the area where you were resting your little and index fingers.  Imagine that area is an open window.
  • Inhale
    • Imagine as you inhale that a light is emanating through that “window” area on your forehead and reaching into the entire universe.
  • Exhale
    • Imagine as you exhale that a light is shining through that “window” area on your forehead and expanding into your skull and nervous system.
  • Continue for several smooth and easy breaths.

Transition back into your day –

  • Sit quietly for a few moments. 
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This quote translated by Daniel Ladinsky appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 106, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   Photo by Isaac Mehegan.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

A Question

A Question

Birth, old age,

sickness, and death:

From the beginning,

this is the way

things have always been.

Any thought

of release from this life

will wrap you only more tightly

in its snares.

Dieu Nhan

Some questions are profound.  I have come to expect them to be posed by the prophets, poets, or great sages of the world.  But it was the three and half year old Eli who looked up and asked me, “Who are you?”  Her intonation was such that she was asking from a place of curiosity, not fear or confrontation. 

My automatic response was to offer my name.  “I’m Kate,” I answered, but it was clear from the look on her face that a mere label was not what she was looking for.  It was a search for how I fit into her world, or what my relationship was to her.  I had greeted her mom Ami as we gathered our mail from our mailboxes.  Eli prompted me to give her a better answer by opening her eyes a little wider and quietly observing my face.  “I’m your neighbor,” I said, as I pointed the direction of our apartment.  Eli smiled and began to tell me stories about her day.

After our short conversation, Eli’s question lingered at the back of mind.  Probably the most truthful answer I could have given would be to acknowledge that I don’t know who I am, but I am working on it.  Naturally, that answer is too esoteric for most anyone regardless of their age.  Yet I’ve learned enough to recognize that there is an indescribable part of me that is, just is.

Until I can fully answer Eli’s question, I am her neighbor and am still held in the cycles of life’s joys and sufferings.  Perhaps I should have pointed Eli toward Dieu Nhan who was born a princess, married and widowed.  She traversed through the phases of life until there was not even the thought of being a someone.  As with other wise beings, Dieu Nhan transformed into a fountain of compassion, kindness, and light-heartedness. 

I trust that the imagined journey is freedom, and that earthly embodiment is its lesson.   I am thankful that we live in the midst of wisdom, which abides day by day, from dawn to dusk, and moment to moment.   The trees, plants, animals, wind and sun are always there to remind us to see the infinite space holding all life.   Please join me in answering Eli’s question, “Who are you?”

Practice

This short practice supports our capacity for direct perception.

Prepare–

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. 
    • If you are on a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Sway your upper body from side to side a few times.  Return to stillness.
  • Slowly move your eyes side to side, up and down, at a diagonal from one upper corner of the eye to the other, and then the other direction.  
  • Blink your eyes a few times.  Then, open your eyes and mouth wide, as if you are fully amazed.   Relax your face but with a slight smile, sincere not too forced.

Practice–

  • Close your eyes and imagine the warmth of the sun is seeping into your lids and nourishing your entire being.  Soak up the giving nature of the sun to nourish the plants and support life on earth. 
  • Imagine yourself radiating the beneficial warmth of the sun.  Just soft, warm light.
  • Open your eyes into a soft gaze and allow your eyes to receive the sensory impressions (e.g., colors, shapes, dimensions, shadows, light, textures, design, or distance).   Just receiving, just experiencing, and just observing with no need to label or analyze.   
  • After a few moments, lightly close your eyes again and receive whatever experience arises.  Note:  If it is more comfortable for you to keep your eyes open in a soft gaze, please feel free to do so.
  • If you have lost the gentle smile, invite it to return.

Transition back into your day–

  • With your eyes in a soft gaze, slowly scan the room or space where you are, simply observing.   Invite a sense of child-like delight in being alive.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 78, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Crows

Crows

Knowledge always deceives.

It always limits the Truth, every concept and image does.

From cage to cage the caravan moves, but I give thanks,

for at each divine juncture my wings expand

and I touch Him more

intimately. 

Meister Eckhart

A faint sound greeted my ears as I opened the front door.  The morning air was otherwise still.   There were shades of pink lingering on the wisps of clouds.  As I descended the stairs toward the street, the sound came closer.  It was like an echo of “-aw” “-aaaw” four times, and then it faded.

The disappearance of the sound disturbed me.   Normally, a symphony of different pitches and lengths of caws arises soon after the first one begins.    The vocalization of the local crows is a routine morning phenomena that I’ve come to expect.   Like the roosters crowing at dawn, the crows here open the day with their distinctive voice.  Whenever I sleep much past dawn, I can rely on a few to perch on an electrical wire outside our bedroom window, and chant a continuous series of four long and short caws until I look out at them.  Their silence is rare and in the past, it related to an impending storm or quake of the earth.  

Fortunately, my concern was quickly eased.  While driving out away from home, three crows appeared and began to glide along in front of my car.   For several minutes they coasted ahead of me, perfectly synchronizing their pace with mine.   I laughed at myself for at first feeling as though they were escorting me along the road.  Then, I noticed a slight tension in my hands.  It was more than necessary for guiding the car.  Here I was, a human clinging – albeit lightly – to a steering wheel, driving in a metal container along the paved earth.  Yet, the crows were soaring effortlessly in the freedom of the open sky. 

These rather largish birds with their silken black color have long captured the attention of humans around the world.  Most of the mythology – from Asian to Europe to Northern Africa to the Americas – portrays these mysterious feathered beings as bad omens, particularly of an impending death. If that is the case, then I welcome their elegant grace in inspiring a little laughter in me.  In that light-hearted moment, there was a mini-death of any sense of superiority as a human.  I actually felt quite silly transporting my body around in an invention built with, and fueled by, an untold amount of planetary resources.  While the crows move freely with the gift of their wings, my journeys are along predictable routes buffered from the air, earth, and those very things that sustain all of life.

My father who lived until the age of ninety-three always reminded my four siblings and me, as well as his couple of dozen grandchildren, that it is important to laugh at yourself every day, and to know that all of life is just on loan.   As a person with a graduate degree, I had to unravel myself from an idea that knowledge comes from books before I could appreciate his simple, but wise guidance.  Now, I treasure each little moment of laughter as it brings me a little closer home to myself.  I hope you will laugh along with me.

Practice

This short practice supports our capacity to let go.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. 
    • If you are on a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Make tight fist with both of your hands and hold for several seconds.
  • Release the fist and lightly shake your lower arms and hands.
  • Lightly brush your fingertips across your face, each of your arms, your torso and your thighs. 

Practice –

  • Close your eyes for a few moments.  Imagine any unneeded tension is melting.  Let it go from your face, chest, and rest of your body. 
  • Open your eyes into a soft gaze. 
    • With each inhale, imagine every cell in your body is smiling.
    • With each exhale, imagine your entire body is saying “aaah” as though you were settling into a hammock or a similar comfortable place.   
  • Continue for a few minutes.
  • Notice the space between your toes.  You might need to wiggle your toes a bit.  Notice the space between your arms and your body.  Notice the space between your fingers.  Notice the space behind you and all around you. 
  • Invite an aura of ease into those spaces and imagine that ease is seeping into your skin, tissues, muscles, and organs.  Invite ease into the core of your being.  Breathe. 
  • Imagine you could hear yourself laughing.   Laugh along with yourself.
  • Stand up and shake everything out – arms, legs, feet, hands – and sway from side to side as though you were a moving freely in the air.

Transition back into your day –

  • Return to your seated position.  Sit quietly for a few moments. 
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 35, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Reflection

Reflection

Who speaks the sound of an echo?

Who paints the image in a mirror?

Where are the spectacles in a dream?

Nowhere at all – that’s the nature of mind!

Tree-Leaf Woman (c. 9th century poet)

As the sun began to set, the pond became still.   My husband Jay and I were taking a late afternoon walk around this small body of water in Northern California.  Walking a trail high above the water’s surface, we were feeling gusts of wind at the higher elevation, yet visually experiencing the calmness below.

We continued our walk in silence.   We were both in awe of nature’s endless capacity to express volumes of wisdom within a single moment.  The sensory dichotomy between the breeze on our skin and stillness below was a simple reminder that even though life may feel chaotic, in our heart of hearts there is steadfast peacefulness.

Jay and I both had loved resting on the floor in our early school years while listening to the teacher read a story.  Here on the trail, we had both dropped into that childlike ability to be completely absorbed in the ancient story unfolding around us.   Perhaps it was imaginary, but it felt as though the sky, sun, wind, and the water had noticed our attentiveness to their conversation – and lessons. 

By the time we had finished our circumambulation, the pond had become a glistening mirror.  There was a near perfect reflection of the sky above.   They appeared to be two skies, both with broad brushstrokes of deep purple across a canvas of oranges, reds, blues, and pinks.   This was another sweet reminder of nature’s stillness offering the grace of clarity of life as it is. 

Within the ups and downs of life, I am deeply grateful for the abiding wisdom tucked within the flora and fauna, the elements, and all forms of life.  As the fall season settles in, I will take more moments to listen and observe this wordless wisdom.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports your awareness inner peacefulness and love. 

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Gently circle one hand over the other 3-4 times.  This will feel as though you were wringing your hands.
  • Lightly rest the heal of your palms over your eyes for a few moments. 
    • Take a few deep breaths and imagine that on each inhale that pure joy and love are flowing into every cell of your being.

Practice –

  • Walk to a place where you have a hanging mirror. 
  • Bring your face within about eight inches of the mirror.
  • Look into your own eyes.
    • Say to yourself silently, “I see the love that you are.  At your heart of hearts, you are pure peace.”
    • Repeat a few times while continuing to look deeply into your own eyes.
      • There is no right or wrong here, but try to relax and receive the grace of seeing and speaking to your innermost self.
  • If you wish, try looking at friends and family in this way throughout the day.

Transition back into your day –

  • Gently stroke your eyelids and your face with your fingertips.
  • Bring your palms together in front of your heart.  Pause here for a few moments.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 102, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

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