by KateVogt | Jan 21, 2023 | Life Inspiration, Nature
The weight of arrogance is such
that no bird can fly
And the man who feels superior
to others, that man
the real dance when the soul takes God
into its arms and you both fall
onto your knees in gratitude,
a blessed gratitude
St. John of the Cross
As I walked through the neighborhood in the early morning, I felt the urge to change my route and make my way over a hill toward the beach. It would be a little longer and more strenuous walk, and it was still relatively quiet along the streets. That is, except for the birds, who seemed unusually persistent in their search for food. Most of them were scurrying and quickly pecking along the ground. Others were acrobatically exploring every side of a tree limb and the leaves.
The bird activity prompted me to remember a forecast for stormy weather. I felt a little “aha” within me as to why my body had felt the impulse to linger outside. Although I had no scientific evidence to back up my “aha,” intuitively it seemed likely that my body had tuned into the atmospheric shift and felt an impulse to linger outdoors to be doing what the birds were doing – gathering and soaking up the available nourishment while the weather was drier and calmer.
There was something humbling about the glimpse of my nearly forgotten capacity of truly listening and living in sync with the larger bio-organism of all existence. It stirred a feeling of deep reverence for the earth and soil not only supporting my feet as I walked, but being the source of all support of my life – e.g., food, shelter, relationships, environment, breath. I felt the caress of the air around me, and felt gratitude for the trees and plants with their gift of reciprocity of oxygen and carbon dioxide, along with nutrients.
The horizon was pure blue. As I meandered down the hill, ocean and sky seamlessly filled my sight, absorbing my awareness in the endless space holding all existence. Even though some part of me knew that wild rains and winds were predicted to appear out of this blue expanse, I felt the “aha” ease into an “aaah.” I was home, along with everyone and everything. All existence has always equally belonged to this vastness.
As I walked along within this reverent sensibility, a flock of birds flew overhead. Their flight felt like a gesture of heavenly grace. The easefulness that they flowed through the openness made me smile. For a moment, they offered me a bird’s eye view of modern humanity in its seeming quest to forget the subtle and rich interdependence and value of all life. Before heading back to my little box that I call home, where my food is stashed in cupboards and in a refrigerator, I simply stood and took in all this togetherness and let myself fully belong.
This practice supports awareness of belonging.
- Please find a quiet place where you feel a sense of safety and comfort. If indoors, please remove electronics and any modern devices, including any digital watches (unless you truly need them for medical or emergency reasons).
- Gently stretch out in any way that feels comfortable. For example, reach one arm at a time overhead and toward the opposite side; or, place your hands on a cabinet, table, or back of a piece of furniture and walk, walk backward a bit and stretch out through your back.
- Find a comfortable seated position. If you are on a chair or bench, please rest the soles of your feet on the surface beneath you. If you feel distracted, invite your mind to notice your breath – inhaling in and exhaling out.
- Wherever you are seated, gently invite awareness of the support immediately beneath you, and then slowly acknowledge the layers of support beneath whatever you are seated upon. If comfortable, silently acknowledge that the earth’s surface supports all life around the globe. Take a few moments, appreciating the interwoven fabric of earthly existence.
- Slowly shift your awareness to the space above and around you. Invite an appreciation of space always being there kissing every morsel of life. If comfortable, silently acknowledge space holding all life, including the air which we breathe. Take a few moments to appreciate the intimate touch of space, even in its vastness.
- Invite an inner feeling of a seamless community of life – beneath, above and all around you. Slowly, stretch your arms to your sides, imagining one is reaching to the north and the other to the south. Then, reach one arm forward and one to the back, imagining one is reaching to the east,and the other to the west. Next, reach your fingers toward the earth and then toward the sky, acknowledging the downward and upward directions.
- Once you have reached your arms in all directions, bring your fingers toward the place where all directions meet (at your heart center). Bow your head slightly with your fingers still touching your heart. If comfortable, appreciate your seamless belonging.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Quietly, sit for a few moments.
- When you are ready, transition back into your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 11, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. Photo by Valentin Hintikka. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2023.
I offer this particular HEARTH blog in acknowledgment of the enduring presence of the Indigenous People around the world. With that, I wish to share a link to a vibrant, yet financially challenged, project Red Sunrise Taos Pueblo. I ask that you consider supporting them to your level of comfort (scroll to the bottom of their page for their donation link). Thank you.
by KateVogt | Dec 7, 2022 | Life Inspiration, Nature
Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner — what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.
Rainer Maria Rilke
As a child, I felt the sky was home. Life around me seemed to confirm this feeling. The sky was predictably always there. And, it seemed to hold and guide all that I experienced. Even the adult conversation around me consistently referred to overhead happenings. Thus, the sky became my deepest and continual sense of home.
I grew up on the Great Plains in North America where temperatures and winds can substantially vary within a single day. My parents and grandparents would consistently consult The Old Farmers’ Almanac, which gave insight on possible weather patterns and the better times to plant to ensure the optimum conditions for healthy crops.
I would observe the adults and their nearly daily almanac references, and noted that the tone and spirit felt similar to when they entered into prayer or spoke of God. It conveyed, and transmitted to me, a sincere reverence. When I watched them walk across the land or go about their work, they moved slowly and carefully. Their eyes were attentive to what they were doing, and always showed an awareness of the sky.
These adult behaviors and attitudes silently affirmed my relationship with the skyward beings – the birds, clouds, planets, and stars. Through my young mind, it seemed reasonable for our family rhythms to be in concert with the sky. At the beginning of the day, the arrival of sunlight brought the melodic sounds of the birds and the urge to wake up. And, in the evening, the fading of the sun’s light brought a sense of comfort, as though the earth and all beings were being tucked into a calm slumber for the night.
These, and other regular connections with the sky, imprinted a sense of the sky as a reliable and mostly comforting presence. Extreme storms or stretches of drought are less comforting. Yet, even then the sky is ever-present. Wherever I have travelled or lived, the sky has always been there. It is forever home.
This practice supports awareness of inner spaciousness
- Seated or standing, stretch your arms and hands open and upward. As long as it is comfortable for your shoulders, really stretch from the center of your torso.
- Invite in an awareness of the soft and generous spaciousness of the sky – boundless, formless, yet quietly ever-present, holding all.
- Soften your stretch somewhat. Imagine as you do this that the spaciousness of the sky is pouring into your upper torso.
- Stay there for one or two seconds. Tilt your head slightly upward and smile. Breath in deeply.
- Gently lower your arms, bringing your palms over your heart center – one hand resting lightly over the other.
- Bow your head slightly.
- Allow your eyes to rest in a gentle gaze or, if comfortable, allow them to close. As much as possible, release tension around your forehead, cheeks and eyes.
- With your palms, still over your heart, recall the feeling of the soft and generous spaciousness of the sky. Imagine that gentle vastness is present within you under the surface of your palms, skin, bones and tissues of your torso. There, in the core of your being, is your boundless, ever-free essence.
- Feel the touch of your palms over your heart center. Imagine with this touch you are sealing in the awareness of your ever-present inner spaciousness.
- While being absorbed in the feeling of spaciousness, allow your breath to effortless rise and fall. You may wish to lower your palms onto your thigh or lap in a comfortable position. Or, continue resting them over your heart center.
- Stay here for as long is comfortable – absorbed in a sense of infinite spaciousness – inside and out.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Slow lift your chin to a neutral level. If you had your eyes closed, slowly open them. Taking your time look around the area where you are – perhaps noticing the space everywhere – between the objects, above you, below you.
- Sit quietly for a few moments.
- Then, again reach your arms and hands open and upward. Lift your chin again and invite a smile.
- Lower your arms. And, when you are ready, transition back into your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 54, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. Photo by Gino Santa Maria. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
YEAR-END BOOK SAVINGS! My book publisher New World Library is offering a special 50% discount (and free shipping in the continental U.S. for orders of $25 or more on every book they publish, including my books: Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems and Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems. To save, visit newworldlibrary.com by December 19, 2022.
by KateVogt | Sep 25, 2022 | Life Inspiration, Love, Nature
Touched by all that love is
I draw closer toward you
Saddened by all that love is
I run from you.
Surprised by all that love is
I remain alert in stillness.
There, in the dirt, was an empty hole. Just the day before, there had been a thriving plant commonly called lamb’s ear. I looked at the hole, feeling sadness. Across the continent and an there are holes that once were homes, places of worship and schools, not to mention the accompanying absence of humans, animals, and even plants.
I was grateful for my attachment to this lamb’s ear. Its disappearance gave me a way to just pause and honor the underlying grief around the small and big losses of the world. The plant had been a daily reminder to be gentle and kind. The presence of this plant reminded me that gentleness, kindness and generosity thrive in the midst of the more visible malice and disregard.
The furry leaves of the lamb’s ear always seemed like an invitation to bend down and greet them as I passed by. My greeting was merely touching the soft and velvety leaves. But, within that touch, I felt living gentleness and peacefulness. This brought the reminder of a quote that I had heard long ago by Robin Wall Kimmerer that in some Native languages, the term for plants translates as “those who take care of us.”
The caring is most often that which is visible and recordable. Hummingbirds, bees and other insects regularly visited this lamb’s ear for nourishment. With antiseptic and other recorded medicinal capabilities, the caring could have extended to a temporary wrap over a wound, or a soothing cup of tea. For the animal – likely a gopher given the dirt mound next to the hole – the caring was a full meal.
I feel the lamb’s ear had taken care of the inner me. To reach toward the plant was a gesture of humility – I needed to bow down and let go of my acculturated human ideas of superiority and separateness from other beings. Within the tactile connection there was the grace of loving joy upholding the preciousness aliveness of all life, regardless of label, shape, hue, texture, or sound.
The daily touch of the lamb’s ear gave me innumerable gifts. Most importantly, it was the gift of a sense of the power of living with gentle presence.
This practice supports awareness of gentleness.
- Standing or seated, with your thumb slowly and lightly massage the base of your fingers, and then the palm, of your other hand. Then, with both hands – and again lightly – make small squeezes up the opposite arm simultaneously. Starting with your wrists, move upward over your forearms, elbow, upper arms, shoulders, and upper part of your torso.
- Give yourself a couple hugs – changing the cross of your arms (i.e., left arm on top for one and right for the other). If you wear glasses, please remove them for this next movement.
- Lightly massage the back of your neck, your ears, and scalp. Then, lightly move your palms across your face as though you are washing it.
- If comfortable, stroke your torso, your arms one more time, and your legs. When you are done, feel free to stretch, yawn, or moving in any way you feel inclined.
- If standing, please find a comfortable seated position. Invite an awareness of the parts of your body touching the surface beneath you – e.g., chair, bench, cushion, floor, earth. In your mind’s eye, freely scan the entire area where your body and the surface beneath you are touching – without judgment, just noticing the sensation of sitting.
- Lightly rest your fingertips and palms on the surface beneath you.
- Invite an awareness of all earthly life being supported by our collective planet, whether sitting, walking, resting, slithering, crawling, swimming, or alighting.
- Stretch your arms out to your sides. (Note: please adjust as needed, being attentive to the current capacity of your shoulders.)
- Invite an awareness of touching the air and space around you.
- Breathe in deeply, and imagine you are reaching out from the center of your back through your fingertips.
- On exhale, lower your arms and allow your hands to rest wherever they are comfortable. Invite awareness of all earthly life – including you – similarly being held and nourished by air and space.
- Place one palm and then the other over the center of your upper torso in the area called the heart-center. Bow your head slightly.
- Invite an awareness of the touch of your hands on your torso. You might softly add a light pressure of your palms with a sense of loving reassurance that deep within there is steady, loving support wishing you safety, health, ease, and peace. If comfortable, invite awareness of this unseen support gently caring for all earthly life – including you.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Place your hands wherever they are comfortable. And then, sit quietly for as long as you wish.
- When you feel complete, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 73, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
by KateVogt | Sep 10, 2022 | Life Inspiration, Love, Nature
Night is passing,
sun comes by dawn,
Awaken now, beauty’s essence,
heart of love.
Hakim Omar Khayyám
Translated by Nahid Angha, PhD
Most mornings I awaken into the near soundlessness of pre-dawn. It feels like a generous pause, magically tucked between night and day. There may be an occasional sound of leaves being rustled by the wind, but otherwise it is silent. The nighttime calls of the local coyotes and owls have faded and left a silent opening to the first sounds of the day.
This sense of a quiet interlude seems to be echoed in the deep blue expansiveness of the sky. Starlight has dimmed, and the starry constellations have lost their discernibility. One or more planets might still glisten, but otherwise there is just a calm yielding of one phase of the daily cycle to the next.
Within this gentle transition, I often feel the presence of the surrounding hillsides and canyons. It is as though they are stirring and slowly readying themselves to be the story-keepers of the activity of another day. As part of the skin of the earth, they support and hold the long story of transitory earthly life – human and non-human. Their presence feels like a loving welcome and embrace for all beings who have witnessed their morning awakening.
Each pre-dawn offers me a humble reminder to slow down and prayerfully notice the ever-present grace of life’s transitions. In walking, there is a transition from one foot to the other. Between receiving and letting go of the breath, there are transitions. In conversations, there are transitions. Every blink of an eye is a transition. The coming and goings of the waves, seasons, and lifetimes are transitions. With tomorrow’s pre-dawn, I will begin anew. Please join me.
This practice invites you to slow down and notice transitions.
- Remove any potential distractions—for example, take off your watch, and put your phone on airplane mode.
- Find a comfortable seated position. Invite your facial muscles, neck, and shoulders to relax. If you are in a chair or on a bench, comfortably rest both feet on the floor.
- Calm your primary senses:
- Eyes—Close your eyes. Gently and lightly rest the pads of your index fingers on your eyelids. Let your ring, middle, and little finger pads rest on your cheeks. Pause here with a few easy breaths. Invite your eyes to relax away from the lids, i.e., let them take a break from their almost constant use during the daytime.
- Ears—While keeping your index fingers on your eyes, add an additional relaxation away from outer stimuli. Do this by closing off sounds by lightly pressing your thumbs on your front ear flaps.
- With your fingers still in place over your eyes and ears, breathe up to seven (7) even, smooth breaths. Stay within your comfort level.
- If comfortable, invite an effortless awareness of the transitions between each inhalation and exhalation.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Release your hands into your lap. Your eyes may be closed or in a soft gaze.
- Sit quietly for 3 minutes or longer. Silently set an intention to prayerful notice and offer gratitude to small transitions throughout the day, e.g., when you are walking. Seal that intention in by giving yourself a hug with appreciation that you will do the best you can and generously accept your own efforts no matter what they are.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 9, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The practice is an edited excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry by Kate Vogt, page 311. The photo is by Brad Mann. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
by KateVogt | Aug 10, 2022 | Life Inspiration, Nature
There’s a tree that existed before the woods,
in age twice as old.
Its roots suffered as the valley changed,
its leaves deformed by wind and frost.
People all laugh at its withered aspect,
caring nothing about the core’s beauty.
When the bark is all stripped off,
only essence remains.
Trans. by Tony Barnstone
This morning I was introduced to Lillie. While the name might sound like a new app or clothing line, Lillie is something more rare—she is a lithe, 101-year old woman. A tiny fraction of one percent of the world population is centenarian. The wrinkled face and hands give a hint of a century of living, but like most her age, she doesn’t dwell on the hardships of epidemics and wars, or unrealized aspirations.
In tree years, Lillie would be a sapling among some species. For example, a spruce in Sweden is recorded to have lived about 9,550 years. Even as sapling, Lillie’s demeanor and attitude reflect the generosity of trees. She loves caring for her daughter and son-in-law, not because they house her, but because she has a tree-like nature. There is a continual offering of strength, stillness, protection, nourishment, stability, refuge, receptivity, giving, and serenity.
Trees have long served as symbols of lasting wisdom. Most world cultures have tales of sacred trees. For example, in the ficus family: the pipal or bodhi (F. religiosa) repre- sents happiness, longevity, and prosperity; the banyan (F. bengalensis), eternal life; and the sycamore (F. sycomorus), infinite connectivity between life and death. There are references to trees of life, knowledge, and perfection. And, there are promises that whoever knows the tree will be the knower of all truth. Their verticality is a reminder of our own rootedness in the earth, upright trunk and crown reaching toward the heavens.
As I read this poem by Hanshan, a 9th century poet- hermit, I felt as though I was near an ancient elder. Hanshan reaches across time and gathers together universal stories of our shared roots and lasting, spiritual nature. His imagery of a valley is symbolic of life itself as fertile and transitory. And, of the tree itself, it conveys a timeless essence, full of beauty and free of all rivalry and to amass more than is needed. I feel as though if I look carefully, I can find this or a similarly seasoned tree nearby. When I do, I will sit near its roots and simply listen.
This practice supports awareness of living essence in all realms.
- Standing, gently shake out your arms, wrists and hands.
- Still standing, close your eyes (if comfortable). In your mind’s eye, imagine being able to see beyond the immediate space where you are to the surrounding landscape in all directions. For example, there may be hills on the distant horizon in one direction, and vast open grasslands in every other direction. Imagine that landscape within your heart. Pause for a moment and seal in the memory of that landscape before opening your eyes.
- Then, settle into a comfortable seated position. If you are on a chair or bench, allow the soles of your feet to rest on the floor.
- Imagine you are a tree, and the earth is receiving your roots. Your roots are nourished by the water, the soil, and all the micro-nutrients. Feel your roots deepening and growing in all directions.
- Momentarily recall that wherever you are on the planet you are part of the full story of the Earth along with countless other living beings. Invite an appreciation of the Earth lovingly offering courage and strength to you through your roots.
- With continued awareness of the embrace of the soil, close your eyes (if comfortable) and return to the sense of the landscape abiding within your heart. Notice the spaciousness of the landscape. Pause for a moment, bathing in a sense of inner and outer spaciousness. Open your eyes, if they were closed.
- Shift your awareness back to the part of your touching and rooting into the Earth. Become aware of the part of you rising up from the surface of the soil, e.g., the trunk of your body. Imagine within the landscape surrounding you there is a forest of trees – all with firm, steady trunks. Appreciate all life nourished by the Earth and the spaciousness. Pause here and breathe with that awareness.
- Slowly become aware of the crown of your head, and the spaciousness not only in all horizontal directions but infinitely stretching above you. Imagine you have invisible limbs reaching into this upper spaciousness and receiving the warmth and light of the sun. Pause here and breathe with that awareness of being rooted, growing upward, and spreading in all directions.
- Once again, close your eyes and remember the landscape in your heart – all beings including you abide there in the expanse of life. Appreciate that you are the body of the whole, you are wholeness.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Sit quietly for several minutes. Rest the backs of your hands rest on your thighs, palms upward.
- When you feel complete, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 111, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The reflection is an excerpt from “Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry” by Kate Vogt, page 38-40. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
by KateVogt | Aug 10, 2022 | Life Inspiration, Nature
Sometimes afraid of reunion, sometimes
of separation: You and I, so fond of the notion
of a you and an I, should live
as though we ’d never heard those pronouns.
Translated by Coleman Barks
On first glimpse, the weather seems normal in our neighborhood. There are the usual patterns of morning and evening fog cover. The deciduous trees have large, green crowns and the midday sky is a clear blue. Yet a closer look shows troubling signs of drought, such as shallow water in the creeks and an earlier than usual appearance of deer and other wildlife searching for food at lower elevations.
I am not sure if it is merely my imagination, but it seems that with the drought, one plant form seems more prolific than ever. In recent weeks, I’ve been noticing more and more vines. They are creeping across sidewalks and stairs, wrapping trunks of trees, and enveloping gateways and fences.
Regardless of the type of vine, each has masterfully found a way to grow and flourish wherever it was planted. They move beautifully by fluidly meandering and creatively spiraling around whatever is nearby. Some of them adorn themselves with magnificent blossoms, and others produce clusters of fruit.
It is no wonder that vines have long been considered as wise models of endurance, steadfastness, and immortality. Vines are featured in the mythology of the Mayans, Aztecs and other early peoples of what is now called the Americas for their transcendent qualities and medicinal values. Ancient Celts recognized the grapevine as being a voice of interconnectivity and representing the eternal life of all things in the universe. Ivy was lauded by early Egyptians for its everlasting soul, and later by Greeks and Romans for unwavering vigor and abundance.
In their robustness, vines resourcefully thrive. Once they make a connection with something, they cling and rarely let go. Yet sometimes they are overly attached, and suffocate other plants or cause fissures in foundations and structures. Their vitality is singular in an inherent drive for survival, but successful in intact environments where they can continually bond and develop.
Hence, for me, vines are a living reminder that true wellbeing is the wellbeing of the whole and all the parts. They remind me of the delicate, relational interdependence of all living beings. A vine that overtakes too much loses the others on whom it has survived, and thus dies and is left as a dry twig. Perhaps, by paying attention to vines, I’ll be a little more aware of the grace of life and notice the ways I overreach and otherwise block its flow in everyday living. I hope you will join me.
This practice brings awareness of the interconnection between breath and subtle actions.
- Seated or standing.
- Simply notice your breath. Perhaps, notice the movements associated with your breath, e.g., in your ribs, shoulders, belly, and back. Or, notice the rhythm of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Just noticing with no need to change anything.
- Now, intentionally, invite a sense of ease in your breath, i.e., breathing with as little effort as possible.
- Between each of the following practices, take a moment to stretch out your hands. Then, shake out your arms and smile. Within each practice, notice what happens to your breath, e.g., notice if it still feels easeful and effortless. (Note: If you are feeling tension in your breath, please pause for a few moments before continuing.)
- Scrunch up your face tightly. Notice your breath.
- Glare, as though looking at your phone or a screen. Notice your breath.
- Frown, as though concentrating deeply. Notice your breath.
- Slump your shoulders and let your head hang forward. Notice your breath.
- Make tight fists and squeeze all the muscles in your arms. Notice your breath.
- Observe something beautiful around you, such as a flower. Notice your breath.
- If you have a view of nature, rest your eyes on a tree or another part of nature. Notice your breath.
- Smile, as though smiling from your heart. Notice your breath.
- Touch your fingers lightly to your lips, kiss your fingers, and then release the kiss into the air by moving your hands outward and upward toward the sky. Notice your breath.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Take a few moments to sit quietly with your eyes closed or open (in a soft gaze). Let your hands rest comfortably in your lap.
- As you are ready, transition back into your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 40, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The practice is an excerpt from “Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry” by Kate Vogt, page 273-274. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.