Caterpillar

Caterpillar

This moment this love comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being.

Rumi
Trans. by Coleman Barks

It was one of those transformative moments. As I rounded the street corner near my home, my five- and-a-half-year-old neighbor Emma greeted me with a big smile.  She held up her palm and said, “Look.”  Her younger sister Ali quickly rushed forward, one hand upward, and with delight said, “Meet Magenti.”  Teeny, hairless, caterpillars were gliding across both girls’ hands.  

Instantaneously, warm memories flooded into my mind.  I found myself marveling at how something so distant in time can be so present.  I could feel the feet of the caterpillar creeping across my arm.  Yet, that was a memory from decades ago when my older sister Gail and I would sit on the sidewalk outside our back door and wait for the caterpillars to crawl onto the warm concrete.  

We could be completely absorbed in watching their patient and quiet movement.  Even though they moved slowly, they made steady progress.  When we picked them up to place them on our limbs, they would continue advancing to fearlessly explore the foreign terrain of our skin.  

In hindsight, these insects were great life teachers.  Whether they knew it or not, they were headed to winged transformation.  Some would become moths and others magnificent butterflies, but they didn’t try to rush ahead, or bypass their caterpillar stage.  They relied on their entire being to navigate their immediate environment.   

When unchecked, caterpillars are harmful to gardens and crops.  Yet, their graceful and light presence inspired my sister and me to be gentle, peaceful, and take care not to cause them any harm.  They sparked some of our deepest feelings of attentiveness and tenderness toward another being.   I saw the same caring behaviors in my neighbors Emma and Ali as they showed me their caterpillars.  

Life’s wisdom is tucked within these small and least glamorous moments.  They have the potency to be like a flash of lightening that melts the boundaries of time and space, shape and form, age and size.  We are able to instinctively recognize that this ever-changing outer whirl of measurement and judgment is a projection of our inner architecture of desires, aversions and fears. Such moments offer a glimpse of what Rumi calls, “many beings in one being.”  

It may seem boring, or maybe even arduous, to be more attuned to small moments.  Our human minds like to be entertained and dazzled, but also disengaged and slothful.  We have an extra challenge to attune our inner antennae toward transformative qualities of lightness, steadiness, patience, and quietness.  Yet, in addition to my regular inner contemplative focus, I will endeavor to be attentive to the little moments every day.  I hope you will join me.

Practice
This practice invites sensory awareness and relaxation.

Prepare – 

·         Turn your electronic devices to airplane mode.  Remove any non-medical measuring devices, such as your watch.

·         Stretch out through the palms of your hands and arms.  Roll your wrists and ankles around. Then, find a comfortable place to sit.  For example, this could be on a cushion on the floor, or on a chair or bench. Breathe a few smooth and easy breaths.

Practice – 

·         Gently stroke one hand with the other.  Then, lightly stroke your legs, arms, and face. 

·         With awareness of being human with multiple ways of experiencing the small moments of life, lightly touch 

  • Your nose, acknowledging it is the portal of breath and smells.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your nostrils.
  • Your mouth, acknowledging it is the portal of taste, nutrition, speech, and kisses.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your mouth, and at the root of your tongue into the throat.
  • Your eyes, acknowledging they are the portals of sight – colors, shapes, and forms.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your eyes and at the back of your eyes.
  • Your skin, acknowledging it is the portal of touch.  Invite a quality of relaxation on all surfaces of your skin, especially in the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, back of your body, and your face.
  • Your ears, acknowledging they are the portals of hearing.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your ears.
  • Your head, acknowledging it is the CPU of memory, thought, and processing.  Invite a quality of relations in the center of your skull.
  • Your heart center, acknowledging it is the seat of your eternal self.  Invite a quality of relaxation around the center of your chest.

·         Invite a quality of softness and gentleness into your inhales and exhales.  If comfortable, close your eyes.  Otherwise, leave your eyes in a soft gaze.  

·         Sit quietly.  Imagine you are being breathed – the breath comes in, then goes out. 

Transition back into your day – 

·         When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem  appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 80, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Bankim Desai.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

NOW AVAILABLE! Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry by Kate Vogt. BookLife Review: “Both experienced meditators and those still learning to cultivate intentionality and presence can gain much from this paean to thoughtfulness and peace.” 

Full Moon

Full Moon

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

There was a long beam of light across the water.  It seemed surreal, and even prompted a thought of whether there really was such a thing as extraterrestrial visitors from other planets.  Having had a day filled with synthetic hues in signage and screens, I laughed at myself for my being surprised by one of the most lasting, universal, and natural visual experiences – the glow from a full moon projected onto the earth.  

The moon – except during its darkest phase of newness – shines on all the lands and waters of the world.  It has no favorites and illumines whatever it touches whether that is noticed, or not.  Its presence influences the movement of the ocean, which covers nearly three-fourths of the globe.  When the full moon floods the darkness with pearly iridescence, everything is at least partially revealed.

Our dear friend, the moon, rarely makes the news – unless we land on it and then celebrate that landing.  I tend to feel that is like most of the “fixtures” of our lives.  They are the underpinning of our existence, but like the foundation of our homes and buildings, we forget that they are there.  Most of us actually don’t want the bedrocks of our lives to be making the news, because that might mean that there is something amiss.

It is unfathomable that the moon would go away within any of our lifetimes, but maybe, just as a precaution, we could notice it a little more often, and offer it appreciation for being there.  Maybe that will inspire us to notice the other everyday, regular stuff that sustains us, such as the trees, earth, our bodies and senses, and our unseen layers of support. 

After all, maybe the light of the moon is the invitation to notice what the sage poet Hafiz suggests – that all the world is standing on God’s jeweled dance floor.  Perhaps we are meant to glow and beam, seeing and being light in the world.  My sense is that this begins with an appreciation of and reverence for the ordinary.

Practice

This short practice invites appreciation of the ordinary.  

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable place to sit where your spine can be upright.  For example, this could be on the earth or floor, or on a chair or bench.  
  • Notice the surface beneath you and the support that is offering you.  
  • Breathe.

Practice – 

  • While still seated, systematically notice your body from the tips of your toes and fingers to the crown of your head, e.g., each toe, the top/bottom of the foot, the entire foot, the ankle, 
    • With each part of the body, with sincerity, say “Thank you. I appreciate you.”
    • As you come to the parts of your face, lightly touch your nose, then your mouth, eyes, cheeks, and ears.  
      • With each of these sensory organs, say, “Thank you. I appreciate you. Through you, I appreciate the world around me.”
  • Come to standing and begin to walk around with a sense of great appreciation of the earth that supports you.  Whomever or whatever is nearby, allow yourself to find that sense of true appreciation of all that co-inhabits this world.  
    • Walk for a few minutes.
    • Note: there is no right or wrong about where you are when you are walking and noticing your surroundings.  You could be alone at home appreciating the floor, a plant, a vase, or the light streaming through the window.
  • Come back to where you were seated.  Allow your eyes to rest in a soft gaze.  And, sit and breathe with a smooth inhalation as though you were sipping in the sweetness of all life.  On your exhales, gently yield that sweetness back to the world.
  • Give yourself a hug.  And, make a silent promise to move through the rest of your day with thoughts and gestures of appreciation.

Transition back into your day – 

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

This poem  is translated by Daniel Ladinsky and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 95, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The photo is by Lukas Robertson. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

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.

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