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.

Loving-Nature

Loving-Nature

What must come, comes.

Face everything with love,

as your mind dissolves

in God.

Lalla

The neighborhood where I was walking was quiet.  A flock of birds flew far overhead and a pair of doves were snuggled next to one another on a telephone wire.  Occasionally, a squirrel scampered soundlessly across a lawn and into a tree.  

Just as I turned the corner to a busier street, the silence was broken by the sound of a screen door slapping shut and a patter of footsteps.   A woman, who I later learned was named Irene, was running toward a faint sound of a high-pitched mewing.  Two grey kittens sat near the curb.  Nearby on the street was their mother, lying immobile on her side.

Irene must have sensed that the news was not good.   She had brought two shoeboxes with her.  Asking if I could help, I was handed a box, and she pointed to the kittens.  There was a soft cloth inside.  She headed toward the mother, knelt down, and then took a photo of the cat’s serene face before wrapping the cloth around her and placing her in the other box.   

Noticing my curiosity, Irene said, “The photo is for humility.  I want to remember that part of my humanness as I care for these kittens and help them grow.”   She paused and then continued, “It is too easy to forget that one of the roots of our human species name is humus, or earth, or dirt. Instead, we (as humans) often center the story around ourselves as being the rescuer when all I am doing is temporarily stepping in on behalf of another species.  The photo helps me remember that.”  

Irene’s words reminded me of my ancestors, particularly those on my father’s side of the family who had old-world farm values.  My dad Bob was keen to remind the younger generations that we don’t take any of our material possessions with us when we die, and we should do the best we can in looking after whatever is in our care.  As children, we were given chores such as feeding the farm cats in the barn.  Each chore inbred a sense of loving humility and responsibility toward the greater whole.  

It is no wonder that the name Irene is sometimes equated with “she who knows,” or “peace” in Greek mythology.  This Irene whom I met on the street carries the beautiful timeless value of humble lovingness.  Later I found out that she is a full-time city councilwoman, a regular volunteer and advocate for housing and employment for all, a mother of two, and a wonderful mentor to the neighborhood children.  She and her husband live simply, regularly feed stray humans and animals, yet stay healthy in their own bodies and minds.  The cat that died was one that Irene had raised after its mother had died of a similar car accident.  

The interruption to quietude on my morning walk offered unexpected insight into navigating life with an old-fashioned, but not outdated, attitude and perspective of the power of humanness to be more than just the sum of our products, possessions, and inventions.  We have the potential to remember and to care for this earthly home that we all share.  And, to remember that God and sacredness is within every life gesture and expression.   I endeavor to approach the coming year with a more loving and reverent spirit, and hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports your awareness of interconnectivity.

Prepare –

  • Free your hands and wrists of any personal devices.  Place them out of arms’ reach and find a comfortable seat. 
  • On both hands, slowly touch the tips of each fingers with your thumb. 
    • Pause for a breath or two as you with each finger.
    • Invite a sense of appreciation for the gift of having hands.

Practice –

  • With your palms relaxed, open your hands upward at a level, e.g. level of your waist or chest, where you can observe your hands.
    • Soften your wrists and your gaze.   Just observe your hands as though you are seeing them for the first time in your life.
      • Notice what you notice.   For example, the space between your fingers or the way the fingers and thumb connect into the palm. 
      • Perhaps recall how a baby observes his/her hands.
    • Imagine as you observe your palms, you were able to see all that has passed across these hands of yours – perhaps kittens or puppies, favorite treats, beloved family, flowers, trees, books, steering wheels and more. 
    • Consider gestures – soft and harsh – and other ways that you have expressed emotions with your hands.
    • All life is in your hands.   Stretching back eons, your hands arise from a long chain of connections.
    • Take a moment to bring your palms together in front of your heart.  Bow your head.  As the poet Lalla suggests, vow to touch everything with love and reverence. 

Transition back into your day –

  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 38, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Jacayln Beales. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Geranium

Geranium

I was delighted with myself,

having offered everything I had;

my heart, my faith, my work.

“And who are you,” you said,

“to think you have so much to offer?

It seems you have forgotten

where you’ve come from.”

Rumi

Roots were sticking upward and dirt was strewn all over.  Given the overall condition of our planet and the increasing frequency of natural disasters, this upheaval was relatively minor.  A geranium plant was dangling over the edge of its pot.   Apparently a squirrel or bird had dug into the freshly added soil and uprooted the plant in the process.

I up-righted the geranium and gave it a little pat.   Notwithstanding my minimalist gardening attention, I have fondness for this geranium plant.  It is a model of resilience, because it has survived the appetite of the local deer that will eat even “deer-resistant” plants.

A few days later, a new blossom popped out from the geranium.  Upon seeing the cheery red color, I felt a sense of pride.  Then, I noticed the scraggly green stock, and remembered that this plant was not only a model of hardiness, but also had its own life capacity.  Perhaps it actually had needed to be repotted, i.e., it needed more room for its roots and not just new surface soil that I had added. 

The wildlife’s digging might have given the plant what it required:  a chance to be re-rooted. The dangling geranium could have easily dropped to the ground and found new life there.  My role likely was accidental. 

Such a small and ordinary life event was what I needed to reconnect with a sense of humility. Ironically, two common flower meanings for geraniums are folly and foolishness, both of which I find easy to fall into.  Our human minds seem to gravitate toward considering ourselves as the center of our life events and interactions, whether with other humans or the rest of nature.

Prophets and sage poets such as Rumi remind us to recall the source of all life – we are one of many species sustained by the invisible and ever-present grace of love.    For today, the geranium is my reminder to slow down and accept the lessons of each moment.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports our capacity to let go.

Prepare –

  • Stand with a hip-width stance. 
  • Shake out your right arm for approximately 30 seconds.  Then, your left arm.
  • Bend your knees and bounce gently up and down.  Your feet can be flat on the floor.

Practice –

  • Come to a seated position either in a chair or on the floor.
    • If in a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Place the backs of your hands on your thighs.
    • Five times, curl your fingers and thumbs toward the palms. 
    • Then, allow your hands to remain open. 
      • Relax across your eyes and around your jaw.
      • Allow your shoulders and palms to soften.
      • Invite your breath to be smooth and easy.
        • Close your eyes or ease them into a soft gaze.
        • Imagine all the tension and holding on is releasing from your body and mind.
          • Invite awareness that all is recycled.  As you let go, the universe absorbs and uses all.  Like leaves dropping from the tree in the fall, the release offers nourishments and makes room for the new.

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 31, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   Photo by Michael Beener.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Reflection

Reflection

Who speaks the sound of an echo?

Who paints the image in a mirror?

Where are the spectacles in a dream?

Nowhere at all – that’s the nature of mind!

Tree-Leaf Woman (c. 9th century poet)

As the sun began to set, the pond became still.   My husband Jay and I were taking a late afternoon walk around this small body of water in Northern California.  Walking a trail high above the water’s surface, we were feeling gusts of wind at the higher elevation, yet visually experiencing the calmness below.

We continued our walk in silence.   We were both in awe of nature’s endless capacity to express volumes of wisdom within a single moment.  The sensory dichotomy between the breeze on our skin and stillness below was a simple reminder that even though life may feel chaotic, in our heart of hearts there is steadfast peacefulness.

Jay and I both had loved resting on the floor in our early school years while listening to the teacher read a story.  Here on the trail, we had both dropped into that childlike ability to be completely absorbed in the ancient story unfolding around us.   Perhaps it was imaginary, but it felt as though the sky, sun, wind, and the water had noticed our attentiveness to their conversation – and lessons. 

By the time we had finished our circumambulation, the pond had become a glistening mirror.  There was a near perfect reflection of the sky above.   They appeared to be two skies, both with broad brushstrokes of deep purple across a canvas of oranges, reds, blues, and pinks.   This was another sweet reminder of nature’s stillness offering the grace of clarity of life as it is. 

Within the ups and downs of life, I am deeply grateful for the abiding wisdom tucked within the flora and fauna, the elements, and all forms of life.  As the fall season settles in, I will take more moments to listen and observe this wordless wisdom.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports your awareness inner peacefulness and love. 

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Gently circle one hand over the other 3-4 times.  This will feel as though you were wringing your hands.
  • Lightly rest the heal of your palms over your eyes for a few moments. 
    • Take a few deep breaths and imagine that on each inhale that pure joy and love are flowing into every cell of your being.

Practice –

  • Walk to a place where you have a hanging mirror. 
  • Bring your face within about eight inches of the mirror.
  • Look into your own eyes.
    • Say to yourself silently, “I see the love that you are.  At your heart of hearts, you are pure peace.”
    • Repeat a few times while continuing to look deeply into your own eyes.
      • There is no right or wrong here, but try to relax and receive the grace of seeing and speaking to your innermost self.
  • If you wish, try looking at friends and family in this way throughout the day.

Transition back into your day –

  • Gently stroke your eyelids and your face with your fingertips.
  • Bring your palms together in front of your heart.  Pause here for a few moments.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 102, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Natural Elders

Natural Elders

The weight of arrogance is such

that no bird can fly

carrying it.

St. John of the Cross

It is an early summer morning.  There is a soft breeze wafting through the kitchen window and the nighttime is slowly giving way into the promise of the rising sun.  I treasure this seemingly timeless time of day.  It always feels as though the world is woven with threads of beauty and love. 

This morning pause always gives me a sense of the infinitude of life, especially the divine ever-presence expressing itself in the guise of millions of species.   Within this open and peaceful moment, there is a primal remembering of intertwined reverence and harmony, known to ancient and indigenous peoples from near and far.

If I could crawl into the existence of another species or part of nature – a flower, a stream, a grain of sand, a tree, or an animal – likely this moment would be the norm.   All beings experiencing interconnectedness, riding the rhythms and cycles that existed long before humankind.   Characteristics such as lightness, gentleness, and caring are easy to find throughout the natural world.   It is almost as though there is an inherent understanding that greed, pride, and arrogance would hinder, rather than support, the well-being of the earth’s species and all that sustains them. 

The insights of sages and saints like St John the Cross inspire me to slow down and notice the preciousness of the natural world, not only in the moments of the early morning but also in each seed, leaf, rain drop, and wag of a tail.   The poetic words of these wise elders also inspire me to appreciate the relative youth of humanity compared to the longevity of the cosmos, the planet, and other species. 

We abide within an ocean of wisdom.  And, as a young but potentially wise species we have the capacity to decide to excel in empathy, kindness, compassion, sincere gratitude, and love.   Other species are there waiting to teach us the basics, as are the timeless words of saintly guides such as St. John the Cross.   This is a pathway of courage in which we walk through our personal and collective traumas and sufferings, yet we are endowed with collaborators along the way:  the support of one another, and the grace of the divine.  I would love to reclaim some small part of the potentiality of our humanness.  Please join me.

Practice

This practice supports connection with your surroundings.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • If possible, go outside and find a quiet place to sit. 
    • Optional:  Stay inside and find a comfortable place to sit.   Ideally, have a plant or flower nearby.
  • Close you eyes for a few moments.  Imagine that you could relax the surface of your eyeballs and the lids of your eyes. 
    • If you wish, you can gently rest the heels of your hands on your eyes to help release tension around the eyes.

Practice –

  • Open your eyes and slowly look around as though you are seeing your surroundings for the first time. 
    • Resist any temptation to take a photograph.  Just savor the ability to look and notice what you are seeing. 
    • Allow any sounds to register in you awareness but without distracting your taking a few moments to just observe and be together with your surroundings.
  • Choose one non-mammal part of nature and allow yourself to explore this other living being with a sense of curiosity.   
    • Just notice what you notice.    Do this without staring, just a soft gaze.
    • Then,  let the observing and noticing go, so that you are simply together with your planetary friend.
    • Stay here for 5-10 minutes.
      • Then, say “thank you,” rise and come to standing.

Transition back into your day –

  • Stretch out.  Smile. 
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 11, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Elm Tree

Elm Tree

Complaint
is only possible
while living in the suburbs
of God.
Hafiz

As I read this poem by Hafiz, I found myself tempted to complain about complaining. It sometimes seems easier to share a story about a mishap or mistreatment, or an unexpected event.  Fortunately there was post-it note on my desk reminding me of “an elm tree.”

There was elm tree that stood for decades in the front yard of my parent’s farm in Western Kansas on the High Plains.  It was planted by my father and survived droughts, disease, lightening, gale force winds, blizzards, high heat, hail, and ever-changing weather. Yet, it steadily grew without complaint.

As a child, I would rest in the grass and watch the elm’s leaves dance in the wind and sunlight. It seemed to always be there whenever I needed comfort.   For example, I appreciated its quiet presence when I sat next to it after our dog Poochie died, and later, our dog Rider. In my early teens, when my best friend started dating the boy whom I secretly loved, the elm silently reassured me that life goes on. Outdoor family photos often included some part of the tree, even if only its shadow.

Even after I moved to Europe for a while, it offered inspiration. When I first attempted a yoga pose named “tree,” it was there to teach me. Initially the lesson was just with physical balance, which was extra challenging with my inner-pronated feet.   The balance on one foot came as I learned to use my feet with the same stability as my childhood tree-friend that was securely tethered to the earth. Its cousins in the form of the wooden floor fully supported me.

Over the years, more of its limbs died and broke off. For at least ten years, my father would announce, “this would be the year” when he would have to cut down “that old elm.” In his usual succinct way, his announcement would be short, followed by a pause inviting some feedback or comment. Each year, there was a silent message that his commitment had grown stronger and that we need to prepare ourselves that eventually the elm would really be cut down.

During that decade, I thought about what it would really be like when the elm was gone. I would miss its crusty old bark and graceful presence. I would miss its lopsidedness from having lost limbs in stormy weather. Its trunk had grown wide with age and seemed to sink more solidly into the ground. In the warm seasons, the leaves that sprouted on its branches still rustled delicately as though singing to a cloudless blue sky. Its branches continued to reach upward and outward as though expressing its eternal beauty and presence.

Whenever I visited, I sat down on a walkway close to this gracious tree. I would trace its shape with my eyes from its base where the roots sank into the ground up to its uneven and mostly barren branches. One consistent message was that it was what it was, nothing more and nothing less. It was a singular expression of the divine Self. Rather than trying to be the sky, a blade of grass, or any other part of nature, the elm’s energy was focused on being a tree.

On my last visit with the family elm tree, it had this message:  “Sway with the wind but remain steady. Be still and feel the raging storms rush over you. Accept the storms and allow a part of yourself to release in return. Time is for release and change. Listen. All that you need to know is there.  Open your arms to the sky as I reach my limbs toward the heavens. Mirror the seasons to the fullest, so that others might share in your splendor.   Each season has its beauty. If it is fall, do not mourn springtime. Be a witness to others as I have been to you. Tolerate and nourish those around you for they compliment your natural brilliance.  When your body becomes diseased, remember your true self. For even though I have been stricken with elm disease, I am still the elm that I have always been. Anchor yourself firmly in the universal wisdoms no matter how rich or sparse they may seem. Be. Just be.”

It is now nearly ten years since my father cut down the elm. Even though both the tree and my father are gone, their lessons live on.

Practice

  • Prepare –
    • Sit on the floor or in a chair. If in a chair, place the soles of both feet on the floor.
  • Practice –
    • Rub your palms together vigorously for a few seconds. Then, place your hands lightly over your eyes. Breathe as though you are caressing the breath.
    • Rub your palms together again. Then, place your hands over your jaw and sides of the face.   Breathe softly and gently.
    • One last time, rub your palms together. Then, place your hands over your heart with one hand on top of the other. Breathe.
    • Release your hands to the sides of your body. Sweep your hands and arms upward . Pause for a breath with your hands are overhead.
    • Bring your palms together overhead. Then, with                                                                                                                                                                                                                            the palms still together, lower your hands to your heart.
    • Bow your head slightly. Make a vow of to be complaint free.
  • Transition into your sleep –
    • Stay seated. Close your eyes or have a soft gaze. Sit quietly for several minutes.
    • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 12, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.

HEARTH is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom . . . every day,” please visit katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2019.

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