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. 

Earthworm – Tending to the Unseen

Earthworm – Tending to the Unseen

To learn the scriptures is easy,
to live them hard. 
The search for the Real
is no simple matter. 

Deep in my looking,
the last words vanished. 
Joyous and silent,
the waking that met me there. 

Lalla

Small things can sometimes provide fresh awareness, so over the years I have learned to slow down and pay attention.   Usually, it is an unexpected encounter – for example, a swarm of honeybees along my path prompted me to choose a different direction, a spider in the bathtub caused me to pause and not mindlessly run a tub full of precious water and instead, I let the spider be.    This morning it was an earthworm slithering where I was about to step.  It was making its way to a pile of moist dirt that had slid off the hillside abutting our apartment deck.    

Earthworms’ homes are underground.  An apt reminder that life relies on humble, gritty work beneath the surface.  Just on a pragmatic level, earthworms are constantly working underground.   Along with bacteria and microbes, they support the growth of plants that nourish all of us humans.  Literally, they do the dirty work of ingesting the organic matter in the soil so that their castes can be used for food for other creatures.  Aerating and moving soil, they are some of our invisible earthly caretakers.  

Outer life relies on the workings of the invisible.   At life’s rawest level, we are dependent on other species for our air and our food.   The sun appears and disappears, offering us a sense of the passage of time.  The origins of earth and water began billions of years ago and continue as fundamental underpinnings to life.   The more that our awareness filters out these hidden dimensions of our collective existence, the more likely we are to be unaware of the innerworkings of our own mind, attitudes, and perceptions.  And, by extension, the more likely we are to be unaware of the countless ways our lives are supported by the hardship and labors of others.  

The earthworm patiently does its part to provide health to the whole.  There is a harmonic balance between what the earthworm consumes and gives back through its existence.  It reminds me of the timeless wisdom to leave the world a better place than you found it.  Within that are reminders of caring for the entire organism of life, and the hard and tedious discipline of constant vigilance about the hidden dimensions of our thoughts and lifestyles.  I hope that through deep introspection and consistent, conscious living we will begin to shape a world of wholeness and well-being for all.   Please join me in this work.

Practice
This short practice invites awareness of the unseen.

Prepare – 

  • Begin standing. 
    • Please minimize any possible interruptions, e.g., silence your phone, so that you can sit quietly for the next few minutes. 
    • If comfortable, remove your shoes and socks.  It is okay to leave them on.
  • Wherever you are, notice the surface beneath your feet. 
    • If your shoes are off, notice the quality of the texture, e.g., smoothness, coolness – just notice without judging.  Lift your toes, spread them apart, and then slowly lower the toes – starting with your little toes, then your 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and big toes.
    • If your shoes are on, notice the texture of your sock or inner sole of your shoe.
  • Still standing, imagine the layers of support beneath whatever surface you are standing on, e.g., the foundation of the building, the soil, the microbes and moisture in the soil.   
  • With that awareness of the life beneath your feet, slowly walk in a clockwise circle. 
    • As you walk, reflect on these words –
      “Walk as if your feet are kissing the earth.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Practice – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  As you settle in, again notice the surface beneath you. Silently offer a few words of appreciation for the layers supporting you.
    • If you are in a chair or on a bench, allow both soles of your feet to rest evenly on the floor or earth.
    • Allow your hands to rest wherever is most comfortable for you, e.g., palms down on your thigh, palms on top of one another in your lap.
    • Invite a softening in the small muscles around your eyes, nose, ears, tongue, and throat.
  • Bring your awareness to the sides of your torso and arms – left side and right side. Perhaps linger your awareness on one side, and then the other.  Then, return to awareness of both simultaneously.  Breathe with ease for a few breaths.
  • Bring your awareness to the lower half of your body, remembering the support beneath you.  Shift your awareness to the upper half your body (including your head).   Then, of your body from head to toe.  Breathe as effortlessly as possible throughout.
  • Become aware of the back of your torso and head.  Relax the muscles along the base of your skull, back of your neck, tops of your shoulders, and backs of your arms.  Breathe.
  • Imagine the inner workings of your body – e.g., your spine, bones, veins, nerves, tissues, and organs (including your brain).  Imagine all those areas relaxing and saying “aaaah.” 
  • Place one hand on top of the other over your upper chest.  Imagine infinite spaciousness deep within the core of your being offering endless support, ease, acceptance, and clarity.  Imagine all your thoughts, words, and actions arise from that place.  Pause here for a few moments and breathe. 

Transition back into your day – 

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

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 99, 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. 

Our Inherited Wisdom”  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry by Kate Vogt.  This book is a perfect companion for your personal reflections. 

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.

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