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. 

 

THUNDER – inviting loving attentiveness

THUNDER – inviting loving attentiveness

The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
flows into a pure soul the way that light
rushes into a transparent object. 
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
the more complete the joy of heaven is.  
And the more souls who resonate together,
and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.

Dante

The stillness of the night melted into slow, drawn out rumbling.  In the haze of my sleepiness, my mind registered it as a sonic boom.  When the sound repeated itself a few minutes later, I remembered that it had been months since there had been any late-night planes passing overhead due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus on air travel. 

Flashes in the sky drew my attention and offered a partial answer to my confusion.  An unusual phenomenon had replaced a previously routine one.  Unlike fires and earthquakes, thunder and lightning rarely occur in coastal California.  The grumbling sky seemed be like a great being clearing its throat with “ahem.”  I felt a familiar alertness ripple through my body, with childhood memories of thunderous skies over the Great Plains that captured everyone’s attention.  Even the animals would perk up their ears and listen. 

Thunderstorms have a way of widening our perspective.  Their grandeur and splendor are both fearsome and dazzlingly enchanting.  Within a moment, separateness melts away and there is a roaring reminder of the sky’s all-encompassing embrace of our planet.  The entire globe is held by ethereal layers of space, as if to be a constant reminder that we are here to learn to emulate its compassionate and equitable lovingness toward all life. 

To further the lesson from the sky, a sweet fragrance wafted through the bedroom window, followed by the gentle thump of rain on the leaves of the trees.  A rhythmic harmony began to form as thousands of drops resonated together.  Dust washed away, the warm temperature began to drop, and the cycle of rain began anew.  The clouds continued to freely release their moisture, offering it back to the earth until the sky began to clear, revealing the sparkle of the stars.  

As we undergo our stormy times, nature and poets such as Dante inspire me to listen more closely to the timeless, wise undercurrents woven into our collective earth school.   I would like to believe that great “ahem” has gotten humanity’s collective attention, opening us to see that the sky shows us that everything is shared and everyone equally belongs; so, it is up to us to lovingly care for, and resonate, with one another and the rest of earthly species.   
 

Practice
This short practice invites awareness of the sky. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position, ideally outside.   
  • Reach up and gently squeeze the skin around your eyebrows, starting with the outermost edge of your brow and slowly moving inward toward the bridge of your nose.  
    • (You will be holding your brows between your thumb and index fingers.)
  • Then, repeat from inward to outward.  When you reach the outermost tip of your brows, gently massage your temples, your forehead, and then the bridge of your nose with the tips of your fingers.
  • If comfortable, close your lids and let your fingertips rest lightly over your closed lids.  Soften through your jaw and invite your breath to slowly lengthen.  If you wish, replace your exhales with a quiet sigh of “aaaah.”
    • (If uncomfortable closing and touching your lids for any reason, feel free to simple sit and breathe.
    • Gently open your eyes.

Practice – 

  • Allow your gaze to look downward toward your heart center.  
    • Still with your eyes looking toward your heart with a soft gaze, imagine there is a radiance emanating from your heart center and it is tenderly bathing the entire surface of your eye and your optic nerves with the light of loving awareness.  
    • Invite your entire eye area to relax with a sense of receptivity to seeing anew.  
  • Slowly look upward toward the sky.  Invite a continued sense of receptivity where you are seeing through your eyes, not “with” them.  
    • Through your eyes, receive an awareness of the ever-present embrace of the sky of our planet.  Invite your view to arise from the depth of your heart.  
    • Imagine your upper body is encompassed in a radiance infused with compassion, equitable lovingness, kind generosity, and deep joyfulness.  Then imagine you are seeing through the lens of this radiance.
  • Allow your eyes to come to a neutral view (a middle view between lowering your eyes and looking upward).  Either close your eyes or allow them to relax into a soft gaze.  Say to yourself, “thank you.”  Perhaps invite in an awareness of ways we can move forward toward a just world where everything and everyone belongs and resonates with their own brilliance for the well-being of all.
  • Pause and sit quietly for several minutes.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Stay as long as you are comfortable.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

 
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 97, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by NOAA. H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 


Fall virtual class “Support Wisdom in Your Life.” (6 Thursdays, 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT, Aug 27-Oct 1).  For more information, please visit the College of Marin Community Education

LOVE – seeing beyond preconceptions

LOVE – seeing beyond preconceptions

But love of God
hath so absorbed me
that neither love
nor hate
of any other thing
remains in my heart. 

Rābiʻa

Yesterday was a foggy summer morning.  The air had taken on form and texture.  Like a freshly painted canvas, it was heavy and wet with soft, silvery hues.  A subtle radiance seeped through the thinner layers of the fog, revealing the presence of light.

While in many ways this was a typical coastal California foggy day, it felt instead almost hallowed   A tranquil, loving gentleness enveloped the hillsides and canyon of the neighborhood.   There was a near stillness with an occasional cooing of a dove or rustle in the tree branches.  As if to seal in the divine sweetness, a large deer rested on the grasses of a nearby slope.  

I was grateful for my diligence in observing my habit of starting each day outside.  Sometimes this is just a brief greeting of the day while feeding the birds.  The peaceful atmosphere yesterday felt like an invitation to settle in for my morning contemplation outside.   

 When I had looked through the glass of the bedroom window, the fog appeared to be a flat lifeless mass of grey.  Although I am normally a very curious person, it took the force of my morning habit – rather than curiosity – to experience fog as the opposite of my mind’s predisposition toward viewing it as gloomy and foreboding. 

 Nature always seems to continually offer these lessons for us to see, hear, and touch anew, with reverent appreciation.   Just one moment of slowing down and getting a little closer to her pace and language can change our inner view.   I have now met fog in an entirely fresh way.  Along with that, I have a heightened awareness of showing up again and again for the possibility of softening preconceptions and being absorbed in a love beyond bias.

 These everyday moments can be anywhere and with anyone.  Accompanying our interactions with nature, there are our COVID-masked greetings in the store and along the street.  Also, there are the choices of what and how much to consume in food or ideas, and possessions.   And, our thoughts, speech, and actions.   Living and ancient sages and saints like Rābiʻa remind us to boldly walk the path of love and trust that little by little, light will permeate the haze and enfold us in love. 

Practice 
This short practice invites awareness of the path of  love. 

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.   
  • Slowly lean your right ear toward your right shoulder.  Smile gently and take few easy breaths.  Then, gently bring your head to center and pause.  When you are ready repeat on your left side. 
    • Note:  If you have a condition that is irritated by taking your head to the side, e.g., positional vertigo, please make adjustments that are suitable for you.
  • Pause with your head to center.  Invite a few easy breaths.

Practice – 

  • Hold your hands in front of you with your palms upward, slightly cupped.  Imagine your hands are holding a boundless amount of love.  No matter how much you receive or give away there is still an overflowing abundance of love.
  • As though washing your hair and showering, bathe yourself in this love from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet as well as the back, front, and sides of your body and head.  
  • Pause with your palms cupped in front of you.  An abundance of love still pours you’re your hands.
    • Lightly touch your sensory organs – nose, mouth, eyes, skin (choose one place, e.g., skin on your face), and ears. 
      • If you are uncomfortable touching your face during COVID-19, please feel free to hover your hands over these sensory organs. 
  • Pause with your palms cupped in front of you, again holding endless, pure love.
    • As though the love were rose petals, gently toss them upward and out into the space around you – in front, to the right, behind, and to the left of you. 
    • Repeat this one more time.  Imagine as you release love in all directions that it is traveling the distances of the world from nearby to the farthest lands and people. 
  • Pause with your palms cupped in front of you still holding boundless love.
    • Bring one hand over your heart and the other on top as though you are sealing in the awareness of eternal love within your heart.  Invite all its expression of equity, kindness, and compassion to inform your thoughts, actions, and speech. 
    • Bow your head slightly.  Invite all your sensory engagements to arise from your heart through your nose, mouth, eyes, skin and ear.  Invite them to be free of grasping and clinging and free of the conditioned filters that bring harm and injustice to others.    

Transition back into your day – 

  • Relax your hands into a comfortable position, e.g., turned downward onto your knees. 
    • Allow your eyes to rest in a soft gaze.  
    • Invite an easeful, calm breath.
  • Stay as long as you are comfortable, perhaps following the rhythm of receiving and releasing the breath with each inhalation and exhalations.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 105, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Alexander Kaunas.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020. 

Fall virtual class Support Wisdom in Your Life. (6 Thursdays, 3:10-4:30 p.m. PT, Aug 27-Oct 1).  For more information, please visit the College of Marin Community Education.  

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. 

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.

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