Golden Light

Golden Light

If God
invited you to a party and
said,

“Everyone in the ballroom tonight will
be my special

how would you then treat them when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And Hafiz knows that there is no one in
this world who is not standing upon

His jeweled dance
floor.

Hafiz

The trunk glistened on what was otherwise a modest redwood tree.  Some of its branches were filled with greenery reaching upward and others were bare, slopping downward.  Its bark was a little greyer than some of its neighbors, but on this morning, it glowed with a golden radiance.  It seemed to be joyfully returning the kiss of the dawn’s light.

As the sun rose, the tree blended into the background.  The early morning rays caressed every hilltop, street, and roof.  A few crows and smaller birds glided through the sky.  Slowly, shapes and forms appeared in greater and greater detail.  It seemed as though the first kiss of light had given birth to another day of activity.  Light with radiant reciprocity pulsed through every leaf, flower, and grain of sand.  

Life is spun of this constant grace of light.  Not only does solar energy sustain all earthly forms, but a nameless luminosity shines within, bringing light to all existence.  The redwood and other species in nature steadily grow, reflecting and absorbing the light.  In the fall season, countless deciduous trees echo the golden yellows, oranges and reds of the rising and setting sun.  Their colorful leaves are released from the tree, and fall to the ground to create a carpet for new growth.

Glistening objects are everywhere in nature – mica, gemstones, silken furs – yet the bland and unnoticeable are equally living expressions of light.  There are battles and contests for survival, but the light remains an equitable presence, untouched by time and space.  Light holds the heart of existence.

Within different traditions, the closing of the calendar year has a celebration of light.  Whether it is the flame of a candle or a string of sparkling lights, it is a call to luminously receive the ever-present kiss of illumination.  Still, it is a challenge for us as humans not to chase after and try to own the golden object.  It is also a challenge for us to accept that we are neither superior or inferior, and to realize that we are beings of light. In the light, we can fully see and compassionately heal our individual and collective fears, grief, and expectations.  

As the poet Hafiz reminds us, we are all guests on this “jeweled dance floor.”   May this season of light inspire all of us to ponder how we can be like the redwood tree, humbly returning the kiss of the light within every thought, gesture, and word.  

 Practice  
This short practice invites awareness of light.   

Prepare – 

  • Sit in a quiet place.  Turn your device to airplane and/or silence to minimize the disruptions for the next few minutes.    
  • Look around wherever you are.  
    • Notice any plants or items that are made of plant material, e.g., wooden floor, fabric, baskets.  Acknowledge the life process of that plant or plant item, especially the significance of solar light to its growth.
    • Notice any candles or electrical lights.  Acknowledge the light that they offer.  Perhaps also acknowledge the source of the energy allowing them to be a source of light.
  • With your eyelids closed, rest your eyes in your palms.  
    • Invite an easeful, gentle breath.  Relax around your jaw and temples.  
  • Remove your hands.  Slowly move your eyes left to right, up and down, and diagonally from one upper corner to the opposite lower corner.  Acknowledge the gift of sight and its relationship to earthly light.

Practice – 

  • Hold your hands palms upward in front of your chest.  Relax through the center of your palms, between the fingers, and along your wrists and fingertips.  
    • Imagine they are holding a golden luminous presence. 
    • Smile and imagine this radiance is filling your entire being.
  • Place one hand over the center of your chest – your heart center – and then place your other hand on top.  
    • Allow your eyes to rest in a gentle gaze, or be softly closed.
    • Feel the touch and weight of your hands on your chest.  
      • Invite a sense of being comforted and held by the most loving, generous, compassionate, caring and selfless being.  
      • Smile as you welcome this loving presence into every pore of your mind and body.  
      • Stay here for several moments, allowing your breath to become smooth and easeful. 
  • Lift your fingertips to your eyelids, then your ears, nose and mouth.  Pause for a breath or two at each of your sensory organs.  
  • Place your hands on the opposite upper arm.  Invite a smooth easeful breath as your arms are crossed across your chest.
  • Then, sequentially rest your hands for a moment on your thighs, lower belly, navel area, heart, throat, and crown of your head.   
  • Return your hands over your heart and pause.
    • Quietly say to yourself, “I release sarcasm, rudeness, pride-fulness, clinging, delusion, and greed.”  “I invite in clarity, trust, receptivity, justice, discernment, responsibility, decency, courage, equanimity, love, compassion, and light.”
    • Then touch your fingertips to your forehead, lips, and heart as if to seal in your prayerful message to yourself.  May all your thoughts, attitudes, and words be energized with this awareness.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Find a place where you can sit quietly for a few moments.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

The poem is translated by Daniel Ladinsky and appears on page 40 in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  
H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

Fall Morning

Fall Morning

It is there
that our hearts are set,  

In the expanse
of the heavens.   

Pawnee Wisdom

Outside the open bedroom window, the sound of birds escorting another day into being.  Even before the had light arrived, new sounds accompanied the melodic chirps and warbles.  There were the familiar signals that it was a Tuesday, with the clanking of the lids of the trash bins as the garbage workers made their way up the street.  For a short while, there was the scratching sound of a metal rake against cement as a neighbor tended to the weekly sidewalk grooming.

In spite of the newness of the day seeping through the window, the walls of our apartment were still infused with the pre-dawn silence.   Being as noiseless as possible, I dressed and made my way out the front door for a daily offering of seeds for the birds.   As I closed the door, a squirrel scurried up a nearby oak tree and paused motionless on a lower branch, silently gazing in my direction.  

Just as sunlight began to make its way through the tree’s branches, the squirrel scampered onward, causing a mini shower of leaves and acorns in its wake.   It became still.  The raking and clanking had long since stopped and the birds had quieted.  Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there would have been a constant stream of sounds, such as the chatter of children making their way to school.  Now, there was only the noiseless presence of the light and the oak.

A spider web glistened as the sun’s rays made it into the higher branches of the tree.  The anchoring strands reached unimaginable distances from one another.   At the center of roundish spirals was the weaver of this shimmering masterpiece.  The spider had a plump body with its two lobes forming the shape of a figure eight, or the sign of infinity.  There was such symmetry in the evenly spaced protrusions from the body that I assume it had all eight of its legs, allowing it to freely navigate across its web.  

As the sun’s rays shifted, the spider and its web disappeared, perfectly camouflaged within the lattice of the tree’s branches.  Even though no longer visible, the web surely remained, not only as a home for the spider but also as a net to entangle some unsuspecting insect.  

I continue to marvel at the timeless wisdom woven into everyday occurrences in the natural world.  Just within a few moments on a fall morning, there had been lessons of infinite potentiality, stillness, interconnectedness, patience, and resilience.  There had been reminders of the steady, peaceful essence cloaked by the ever-changing earthly cycles of day to night, and of season to season.  There had been the sense of belonging to a larger whole, within which there is ample room for the diverse expressions of existence.  

If a bird can sing and a spider can spin silvery threads into intricate webs, then surely contemporary humanity can rediscover our gift to appreciate, respect and care for one another, and for all life.   I will try to arise each morning with this reminder, and hope you will join me.

Practice 
This short practice invites appreciation of wholeness.

Prepare – 

  • Standing.
    • Slowly and gently, shake out your right leg for about a minute.  Then, your left leg, followed by each of your arms.  As you shake, imagine you’re are releasing and letting go of tendencies toward jealousy, resentment, selfishness, anger, and overconsuming in all aspects of your life, e.g., food, ideas
    • Quietly walk in a clockwise circle, as small or large as you like.  Then, stand in the circle’s center.  Turn toward the east and pause.  If you don’t know where to face, just choose to face in one direction.

Practice – 

  • With an inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and overhead.  Pause for a breath with your arms overhead as though greeting the expanse of the heavens.
    • If you have shoulder impingements, please adjust this movement to your comfort level.
  • On your next exhale, bring your arms to your sides with your palms facing inward toward your body.  Pause for a breath as though acknowledging the stability of the earth.
  • Repeat the following four times:
    • On your next inhalation, stretch your arms out in front of you, palms upward.  Pause for a breath in appreciation of all that life in that direction to the furthest distance.  
    • On an exhalation, bring your palms together over your heart center.  Pause for a breath in gratitude for all the nourishes you from that direction.
    • Take a quarter turn to your right.  On your last turn, you will be facing your initial position.   
  • Pause.  Acknowledge the full cycle of breath, i.e., each exhalation seamlessly arising as the inhalation ends, and v.v.  Take several breaths with this awareness.
  • Come to a seated position.  Allow your hands to rest in your lap or on your legs.  Become aware of your surroundings in all directions.  Imagine that all those directions are come together at the core of your being.  Simply breathe in, and out.   

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit quietly.  
  • Bring your palms together in front of your heart center, and “thank you.”
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

The verse is translated by Frances Densmore and appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 5, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by S. Lukka. H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

WIND OF LIFE

WIND OF LIFE

The great sea has set me in motion,
set me adrift,
moving me like a weed in a river.

The sky and the strong wind
have moved the spirit inside me
till I am carried away
trembling with joy.

Uvavnuk
Netsilik Inuit

Wind everywhere.  Smoke rode the invisible currents across the land to the east.  Gales spiraled across the waters to the south, making their way toward landfall and then to the north and east.  Across the airwaves, voices rose with blame. 

Within hospitals around the world, ventilators sustained the wind of life and loved ones prayed for revival.  On the streets, this wind was, and continues to be, extinguished in humans with black bodies, sending rippling reminders of the heaps of humans and other species extinguished for the triumph of progress.  Where wind was lost, it gave birth to a surge of its expression in a storm of appeal for change. 

Ever-present, wind touches all of life.  We know it mostly by the manifestations of its presence. As a child, I would notice it in the movement of our windmill’s blades.  Or, on the days when it would cause my short hair to stand straight out from the sides of my head.  Having grown up on the flat expanse of the Great Plains, I still hear stories about the wind, such as the time my brother had run out of gas and opened both doors of his pick-up for the gusts of winds to push him along on the road home.  

Throughout the world, wind is found in the gracefully swaying of reeds or leaves, a sweet fragrance wafting through an open window, and the dispersing of pollen or seeds for new growth.  It carries away bad odors, and luckily for those of us near the recent fires in California, it clears away smoky air.   Our breath is considered a wind, resonating in musical instruments, song, poetry, and all our day-to-day vocalizations.  

The wind communicates in a larger-than-life language, yet its tenderness is visible in dragonflies and butterflies gliding across the sky.  In indigenous traditions, the wind is the soul of the divine spirit sweeping through all of nature.  Invisible, the wind is a constant messenger to attend to all life with reverence and respect, until at last we come to know the truth of the wind.   As I read the poem of the Netsilik Inuit woman Uvavnuk, I am inspired to listen more closely to the messages of the wind.  I hope you will join me.


Practice
 
This short practice invites appreciation of voice. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  
    • If you are seating on a chair or bench, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Open your mouth wide as possible, not worrying about scrunching up your face.  Relax your facial muscles.  Repeat again if you wish.
  • Smile, even if it feels fake.  Then, pout with your lower lip extended.  Smile again.
  • Take a few easy breaths.  On your exhalations, gently sigh.

Practice – 

  • Still seated, take a deep inhalation.  Exhale completely, and with your breath out, try saying the sound “aaah.”  
    • Note:  if you completely exhaled, no sound will come out.  We need a residual of air in the lungs to make audible sounds.  
  • Breathe in again.  
    • At the end of your inhalation, open your mouth and sing the sound of “aaah.”  Imagine as though this sound is rising up from your lower belly, i.e., not just from your throat.  Sustain the “aaah” sound as long as comfortable without straining.
    • At the end of your inhalation, open your mouth and sing the sound of “eeeee.”  Allow your mouth to form the shape of a smile as you make this sound, again letting it arise from the torso and not just the throat.  Sustain the “eeeee” sound as long as comfortable without straining.
    • Repeat two more times, alternating between the “aaah” and “eeeee” sounds.
  • Read Uvavnuk’s poem quietly aloud, inviting a pause as though listening for the wind at the end of each line.  Imagine as though you are caressing her words with your voice.  
    • Note:  if you have a favorite verse, you may choose to read that instead.
  • Pause.  Notice the space around you and inside of you.  Say “thank you.”

Transition back into your day – 

  • With your eyes in a quiet gaze or closed, sit quietly, simply observing the passing thoughts being carried by the winds of the mind.  Then, notice the wind of the breath, and allow your awareness to be bathed in the flow of the breath.  
  • Stay as long as you are comfortable.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    


This poem is translated by Stephen Mitchell and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Scared Poems, page 70, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The photo is by Jamie Street.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

Begonia – opening to gratitude

Begonia – opening to gratitude

The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you,
not knowing how blind I was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along. 

Rumi

Here in the northern hemisphere there are signs of the upcoming fall season, especially in colors across the hillsides. The squirrels have been more visible as they scurry along near bare branches.  Neighborhood hydrangeas are fading and persimmons, grapes, and pomegranates are finishing their final ripening.    

In the midst of the seasonal waning, a begonia plant on our back deck just sprouted an array of new leaves. Two weeks ago, it had nearly disappeared after deer had made a nighttime meal out of its foliage and stems. As if to protect the begonia from another foraging, a larger nearby plant had extended its canopy over the begonia’s new growth.  

Imagine if several hundred years ago, colonization would have taken a very different path, allowing indigenous cultures to flourish unimpeded.  Humans would have sustained an understanding of being part of, rather than superior to, nature.  Plants, which make up nearly eighty percent of the earth’s biomass, might be viewed in the way they are in some ancient languages, as “those who take care of us.”  

We might have recognized that within this earth school, plants are continually modeling their exquisite abilities to: adapt; peacefully care for and protect one another; let go; and, offer beauty, nourishment and support to the world.  Particularly in their natural habitat, they harmoniously thrive in a dynamic and sophisticated community where understory plants, such as begonias, are as significant as the overstory. 

While we are in the midst of multiple pandemics – health, social, climate, and economic – it can be challenging to be hopeful.  Some of us have lost loved ones, others have lost homes, and others livelihoods.  Still, the begonia on our back deck models a spirit of resilience, and its neighboring plant one of loving attentiveness.  It inspires a deeper sense of gratitude for the grace of life.  And, it causes me to ponder Rumi’s reminder that all is within all.  Perhaps it is not an accident that this particular begonia is called an “angel wing.” 

Practice 
This short practice invites some inner ease. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  
    • If you are seating on a chair or bench, place the souls of your feet on the floor.
  • Gently and slowly roll your shoulders around in each direction.
  • Place your palms on your thighs and lean forward slightly.
    • Three times, open your mouth wide and hiss like a cat.  
    • Then, turn your nose up toward the sky and sniff the air like a dog, turning your head from side to side 3-4 times.
  • Give yourself a hug, each hand wrapped around the opposite upper arm.  Accept being held – albeit by yourself. 
    • If comfortable for your shoulders, shrug your shoulders forward as you are hugging yourself.  Feel the stretch and openness across the center of your back. 
  • Take a few deep breaths.  Smile.

Practice – 

  • Standing, bring your arms alongside your body. 
  • Rotate your wrists in both directions. 
  • Relax through your hands, arms still along the sides of your body.
  • As though you were a bird, arc your arm slowly up from your sides to alongside your ears.  And, then, lower them back down. (If you have shoulder issues, please adjust as needed.)
    • Playfully and lightheartedly walk around the room, loosely flapping your arms as though you were flying. 
    • Continue for about a dozen times.
  • Standing in one position, rhythmically sway from side to side. 
  • Pat yourself on the back and then give yourself another hug.  Smile.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Come to a seated position.  Allow  your breath to return to a  smooth and easy pace.
  • Stay as long as you are comfortable.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    


This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 42, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. 
H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

 

Bees – Seeing Anew

Bees – Seeing Anew

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

Rumi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice
This short practice acknowledges the sound of the bees.

Prepare – 

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

Practice – 

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

Transition back into your day – 

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


This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 76, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

FOG – seeing the ever-present light

FOG – seeing the ever-present light

If God invited you to a party and said,
“Everyone in the ballroom tonight
will be my special guest,” how
would you then treat them
when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And Hafiz knows that there is no one in
this world who is not standing upon
His jeweled dance floor.

Hafiz
trans. by D. Ladinsky

A muffled growl resounded through the morning air.  It was so pervasive that I thought the wheels of our ever-changing world are at last making themselves audible.   Rather than being silent, the gears of time, future transitioning into past, seemed to grumble and groan.   Yet, as a chilly moist breeze blew into the bedroom window, my mind stirred out of its slumber to register the sound of a foghorn from a nearby bay.    

Although the breeze had wordlessly conveyed the source of the sound, I eagerly looked out the window for the promise of a clear day.  Instead, the only discernible forms were the telephone wires and houses across the street.  The sky and towering redwoods were enshrouded in an expanse of grey.   I sighed.  Even in this changing world, there are some consistencies such as the foggy weather along the California coast during the summer. 

The view out the window felt like snapshot of clouded perception where the bigger picture is obscured and our vision is limited to the nearby.   The light of the sun, for example, is always there even if we can’t see it.  Whether covered by clouds or fog, or invisible because of the turning of our planet causing night and day, the light stays like a steady axis to the wheel of change.   

The 14th century poet from Hafiz invites us to an unencumbered perspective where we see the world through the lens of eternal light.    There we see wholeness, equity, and abundance rather than a world restricted by the language of subject and object and labels and measurements.   Hafiz inspires us to step into the luminous center in the midst of the whirls and gain fresh perspective, and perhaps even touch the endless grace of God’s love.  

The summer fog will be my reminder to try to live and act with love and the light at the core of my heart for the wellbeing of all.   I invite you to join me. 

Practice
This short practice invites awareness of the ever-presence of love

Prepare – 

  • Standing,
    • Gently shake out each of your limbs. 
      • Lightly roll your shoulders around.

Practice – 

  • Still standing.  With your hands in front of your heart in prayer position, face:
    • East (if you are not sure where the eastern direction is, wherever you are is fine.)
      • Acknowledge that the sun rises in this eastern direction kindly offering continuous light around the world. 
    • South
      • Acknowledge the expanse of land in this southern direction offering in equanimity a ground to live and move to all life. 
    • West
      • Acknowledge that the sun sets in this western direction offering compassion and care to all beings.
    • North
      • Acknowledge the Northern Lights this direction offering the joyful gift of light in darkness.
    • East
      • Acknowledge all the directions, including that of above and below, come together in the center of your heart.  Acknowledge that the qualities of kindness, equanimity, compassion, and joy are present in all directions joining the outer and inner with endless love.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position, and sit quietly.  Allow yourself to feel that the eternal light is filling you from the crown of your head to the tips of your fingers of toes.   For as long as is comfortable, allow yourself to be bathed in that light.
  • When you are ready, transition back into your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 95, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Casey Horner.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

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