Ocean of Love

Ocean of Love

The Ocean of Love
is a sea
where there is no shore;

And without the soul’s surrender,

there is no hope,
no sand.

Hafiz

The ocean was peaceful.  A green sea turtle rested on the warm sand and a young family lounged in the shade with their baby.  As I sat on a bench and absorbed the gentle flow of the waves, I let my mind settle on the quiet horizon between the water and sky. It was a seemingly perfect embrace of one blue merging seamlessly into another.

After having been absorbed in that infinite expanse for some time, my mind drifted back to the sounds and sights.  A few doves pecked at the ground near my feet.  Fresh sweetness – likely from a nearby plumeria tree – wafted into my nostrils.  

When I looked around, I noticed that other people had arrived at the beach.  A group of children played in the surf while their parents kept watch from the shore.  One person had taken on the role of monitoring the activity around the turtle, shooing people away if they got too close.  

The newcomer who captivated my attention was a neatly-dressed woman.  She stood on a rocky outcropping near the beach.  Rather than appearing lonely, her stance and demeanor emitted a sense of serenity and calmness.  In fact, she appeared as one with the vastness of the surroundings, which equally enveloped the turtle, the doves, and the children. 

While I was curious about what life journey had allowed her to shed the aura of separateness, this peaceful woman offered a beautiful, wordless expression of where her life journey had brought her.  This expression encompassed not only her presence, but the unassuming way she went about completing her purpose at the shore that morning.  

As though timed by the rhythm of the waves, she tossed one red rose blossom after another into the water.  She would reach into a somewhat crumpled paper bag, and carefully pull out and release each blossom.  Then, she stood and patiently watched a line of evenly-spaced red dots bobbing their way toward the horizon.  When the last one vanished, she also disappeared, walking over the stones toward the street and carrying her empty bag.

This anonymous woman and the translated words of the poet Hafiz invite all of us to come home – back to the ocean of eternal love that knows no separateness nor pretense.  As humans, we are a special species, yet somehow, we try to outwit the gifts of our existence: the divine to which we give many names, and our raw embodiment sustained by the giving-ness of other species, the solar and lunar orbs, and the elements.  The more entitled we are, or feel we are, the more buffered, or perhaps unaware, we are of the power of old-fashioned notions of kindness, acceptance, nongreed, humility, and reverence for all life.   Each day I will try to immerse myself in the ocean of love and hope that you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports your support of eternal love.

Prepare –

  • Free your hands and wrists of any personal devices. 
  • For this practice, it would be easiest to be seated on a chair or bench.  It can also be done in a reclining position.
  • Shake out through your feet and legs.

Practice –

  • Allow your breath to be smooth and easy.
  • Even if imagining, adopt a sense of receptivity toward a truly loving presence. 
    • To help connect to the sense of infinite, boundless love, reflect on:
      • Being in a place where you felt truly in awe of the mystery of life, e.g., in a sacred place, watching the night sky, observing a sunset, or holding a newborn baby; or,
      • This Hafiz poem; or,
      • Another Hafiz poem, “Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.”  Look what happens to a love like that—it lights the whole world.”  (translated by D. Landisky)
  • Point your left big toe toward the floor for a moment.   
  • Imagine you are dipping your toe in a sea of eternal love and light.
    • As you do this, remember your receptivity toward infinite love.  Imagine love and light are pouring into you through your left big toe.
  • If you haven’t already, relax through your toe and left foot.
    •  Imagine as love and light flow in from the toe into all of your body. 
    • As love and light pour in, imagine as though it is touching all those places within you where you hold your deepest fears, worries, judgments, greed, and feelings of hostility and sadness.  Not washing away, but touching and giving you momentary relief from their presence, and allowing you to receive love and light.
    • If you find a blockage or a sense that love and light only fill you so far, just let that be.  Smile.  You have dipped your toe in.
    • Breathe smooth and easy breaths throughout. 
  • When you feel sated in love and light, invite a sense of surrendering into a sea of love.

Transition back into your day –

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

This poem  is translated by T. R. Crowe and appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 60, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

Paradise

Paradise

The heart has its reasons which 

Reason knows nothing of.

Blaise Pascal

The ramp off the freeway was like a parking lot.  The road fed into a nearby shopping center, which was a sea of cars, both parked and in motion with drivers who were in search of parking spots.  I had forgotten that it was one of the busiest shopping days of the year.  Most of those with whom I had spoken over the last couple of weeks had declared a hiatus from shopping, so it wasn’t in my awareness to change my driving route.

To the east and across the road from the stores is a large preserve of wetlands.  When the tide is in, streams of water meander through the brass-colored expanse.  During the spring and fall, flocks of migratory birds make this a stopover on their way to their destination.  During the winter, the most visible bird is the egret with its white and graceful shape.  It is common to see moms or nannies with children, and people walking their dogs along the pathway.

As I sat in the traffic line, I turned my attention toward the open landscape.  There was a break in the otherwise grey sky.  A band of brightness shined through.  It reminded me of a similar pattern earlier that morning when a stretch of cloudless sky was bright orange.  Both felt a little like some greater force – God or cosmic intelligence – was sending a little seasonal wish for clarity to anyone who was noticing.  

Ironically, the road between the wetlands and the shopping center is called Paradise Drive. Each of us in the row of cars had our own experience of being there together.  And likely, most of us felt that paradise was something ahead –certainly, not where we were at the moment.  Yet, there we were, in a place given the name “paradise.” 

It was humbling to be forced to stop in the midst of the everyday flow of life.  Instead of sitting quietly at home in meditation or prayer, I was sitting in stalled traffic with nowhere to go but into that moment.  There was no other choice or option. Had I been zooming down the road, I would have missed the parting of the clouds and the play of paradoxical duality.  For no rationale reason, I felt there on Paradise Drive that I had glimpsed life’s heartbeat, or that which is neither here nor there, yet everywhere.  

This event inspires me to consciously step out of our cultural tendency to value the rationale mind and its capacity to analyze, categorize, and quantify all that comes near. Rather than measuring my breath or my steps or judging one direction as being better, I will cultivate a bit more reverence, compassion and loving respect as I breathe, walk, observe, listen, and move within the landscape of all life.  I hope you will join me. 

Practice

This short practice is a reminder of your expansive and divine nature.

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 – 

  • Place one hand over the center of your chest.  Place your other hand on top.
    • Feel the touch of your hands on your chest. 
    • Allow your hands to relax.
    •  Invite a sense of ease in your face, shoulders, chest, and breath.
  • With bent elbows and open palms, open your arms to the sides.    
    • Imagine you are holding the entire universe in your hands. 
      • If comfortable, feel as though you are holding the most beautiful and precious baby in your hands.  
      • Breathe softly and gently.
  • Again, place your palms over your chest, one hand on top of the other. Breathe.  
  • Again, with bent elbows and palms upward, open your arms to the sides.
    • Imagine you are holding the most sacred and divine presence in your hands.
    • Breathe softly and gently.
  • Allow your hands to relax in your lap.  
    • Breathe softly and gently.
    • Pause for as long that is comfortable.

Transition back into your day – 

  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 3, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

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.

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.

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