Natural Elders

Natural Elders

The weight of arrogance is such

that no bird can fly

carrying it.

St. John of the Cross

It is an early summer morning.  There is a soft breeze wafting through the kitchen window and the nighttime is slowly giving way into the promise of the rising sun.  I treasure this seemingly timeless time of day.  It always feels as though the world is woven with threads of beauty and love. 

This morning pause always gives me a sense of the infinitude of life, especially the divine ever-presence expressing itself in the guise of millions of species.   Within this open and peaceful moment, there is a primal remembering of intertwined reverence and harmony, known to ancient and indigenous peoples from near and far.

If I could crawl into the existence of another species or part of nature – a flower, a stream, a grain of sand, a tree, or an animal – likely this moment would be the norm.   All beings experiencing interconnectedness, riding the rhythms and cycles that existed long before humankind.   Characteristics such as lightness, gentleness, and caring are easy to find throughout the natural world.   It is almost as though there is an inherent understanding that greed, pride, and arrogance would hinder, rather than support, the well-being of the earth’s species and all that sustains them. 

The insights of sages and saints like St John the Cross inspire me to slow down and notice the preciousness of the natural world, not only in the moments of the early morning but also in each seed, leaf, rain drop, and wag of a tail.   The poetic words of these wise elders also inspire me to appreciate the relative youth of humanity compared to the longevity of the cosmos, the planet, and other species. 

We abide within an ocean of wisdom.  And, as a young but potentially wise species we have the capacity to decide to excel in empathy, kindness, compassion, sincere gratitude, and love.   Other species are there waiting to teach us the basics, as are the timeless words of saintly guides such as St. John the Cross.   This is a pathway of courage in which we walk through our personal and collective traumas and sufferings, yet we are endowed with collaborators along the way:  the support of one another, and the grace of the divine.  I would love to reclaim some small part of the potentiality of our humanness.  Please join me.

Practice

This practice supports connection with your surroundings.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • If possible, go outside and find a quiet place to sit. 
    • Optional:  Stay inside and find a comfortable place to sit.   Ideally, have a plant or flower nearby.
  • Close you eyes for a few moments.  Imagine that you could relax the surface of your eyeballs and the lids of your eyes. 
    • If you wish, you can gently rest the heels of your hands on your eyes to help release tension around the eyes.

Practice –

  • Open your eyes and slowly look around as though you are seeing your surroundings for the first time. 
    • Resist any temptation to take a photograph.  Just savor the ability to look and notice what you are seeing. 
    • Allow any sounds to register in you awareness but without distracting your taking a few moments to just observe and be together with your surroundings.
  • Choose one non-mammal part of nature and allow yourself to explore this other living being with a sense of curiosity.   
    • Just notice what you notice.    Do this without staring, just a soft gaze.
    • Then,  let the observing and noticing go, so that you are simply together with your planetary friend.
    • Stay here for 5-10 minutes.
      • Then, say “thank you,” rise and come to standing.

Transition back into your day –

  • Stretch out.  Smile. 
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 11, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Shedding

Shedding

God is no-thing,

concealed in the now and here:

the less you reach for him,

the more he will appear.

Silesius

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.

Practice

This short practice offers awareness of the light.

  • Prepare –
    • 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.
  • Practice –
    • 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.

HEARTH is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom Every Day,” please visit katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2019.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary

The Angel that presided o’er my birth

Said ‘Little creature, form’d of joy and mirth,

Go, love without the help of anything on earth.

William Blake

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.

Practice

This practice supports awareness of the body as an earthly home.

Prepare
  • Stretch out. Give yourself a hug.
Practice
  • 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.

H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom . . . every day,” please visit katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2019.

Please stay tuned – H E A R T H is moving to a new cyber home soon.

Elm Tree

Elm Tree

Complaint
is only possible
while living in the suburbs
of God.
Hafiz

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.

Practice

  • Prepare –
    • Sit on the floor or in a chair. If in a chair, place the soles of both feet on the floor.
  • Practice –
    • 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.

HEARTH is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom . . . every day,” please visit katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2019.

Stay tuned.  HEARTH will have a new cyber-home in June.

Joyful Connectedness

Joyful Connectedness

Spring overall. But inside us
there’s another unity.
Behind each eye here,
one glowing weather.
Every forest branch moves differently
in the breeze, but as they sway
they connect at the roots.
Rumi

 

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!

Practice

  • Prepare
  • 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.
  • Practice
    • 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.
    • Breathe.
      • 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
    • Stretch out.
    • 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.

HEARTH is published each full and new moon in honor of the wisdom that lives in all of life, every moment in every day.   KateVogt©2019

Deer

Keep walking, though there is no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move in the way fear makes you move.
Rumi

 

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.

Practice

This short practice brings awareness of pre-sleep habits.

  • Prepare –
    • Choose an evening where you feel you can attempt to be cyber-free for one hour before bedtime.
  • Practice –
    • 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.”
        • Sweet dreams 

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.

HEARTH is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom . . . every day,” please visit katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2019

 

 

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