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.

Stay tuned.  HEARTH will have a new cyber-home in June.

Deer

Keep walking, though there is no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move in the way fear makes you move.
Rumi

 

There was a loud snap outside our front door.  It was early morning and the world was yet to stir – that is, most of world. Some other being was also up and moving around. I paused for a few seconds and listened. My ears were greeted by peaceful silence and I felt myself slip into inner quietude.

If there is any time that I feel at home, it is pre-dawn. These early twilight hours feel open and expansive like endless horizon of the Great Plains where I grew up. It is as though there is fullness posing as nothingness. On the surface, it seems as though nothing is happening – no birds are singing, no traffic, no smells of coffee – but yet, the mystical beauty and potentiality of all life is there.

As the tranquility slipped into the background, I could feel my senses come alive. My nose registered the scent of fresh jasmine and my eyes the approaching day. There was the faint outline of two shapes hidden in the trees near our front steps.  In the early light, the two forms were barely discernable.

Two deer –  a mother and fawn – were grazing the wild grasses. Their translucent presence gave the appearance that they were otherworldly beings in earthly form. In the lore of mythology, deer are considered to be messengers of grace, serenity, gentleness and innocence. They convey the qualities for navigating difficult and unpredictable terrain with calmness, lightness, and acuity. Instead of living in fear, they swiftly move away. They are revered in stories for being able to hear the wordless wisdom of great teachers and for melting the hearts of demons with their loving gaze.

Divine messages are everywhere. They are tucked in the cycles, rhythms, and countless beings of nature.   They invite us to harmonize our minds and hearts with our planetary existence and responsibilities, all with loving humility. I feel that to “move within,” as Rumi proposes, is to embrace, and live by, our finer, subtler qualities written in the language of the planet and cosmos. This language is echoed in the words of sages, saints, prophets, and wise poets.

The quietude of pre-dawn and the deer can open us to discovering the rich reservoir of gifts that reside within and all around. I feel the first step is fully re-connecting with the net of reverence for all life. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice brings awareness of pre-sleep habits.

  • Prepare –
    • Choose an evening where you feel you can attempt to be cyber-free for one hour before bedtime.
  • Practice –
    • One-hour before you plan to get into bed, minimize the potential influences on your mind.
      • Drink only tap water or herbal tea.
      • Disconnect, i.e., from your phone, computer, television, tablets, e-readers, and all digital devices.
      • Limit reading any material related to politics, war, self-improvement, society or famous people, or work-related material, e.g., books, papers or magazines.
      • Be aware of your sleeping space. Ideally, move all electronics at least five feet from where you rest your head at night, and out of reach of your hands. Try using a non-electronic alarm clock.
      • Note how this this feels.
    • During that “free” hour.
      • Take extra time with your nighttime habits, e.g., brushing your teeth.
      • Look around your sleeping space.
        • Lightly touch –
          • The things you have chosen to have near you during your sleep.
          • Your bedding and pillows.
          • Imagine that all these things are your friends.
          • Allow yourself to feel genuinely grateful for these friends.
    • Transition into your sleep –
      • Either before you get into bed, or when you first get to bed
        • Take one of your hands to your heart.
        • Consider beneficial qualities you really value in yourself, e.g., gentleness, light-heartedness,
          • Choose one as your intention for the next day.
          • Take ten easy, breaths.
            • Say to yourself – now, “breathe in;” and, “now, I breathe out.”
        • Sweet dreams 

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and re-printed with his permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 2, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Matthew Schwartz on Unsplash.

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

 

 

Springtime Fields

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
Rumi

 

As the season changes to spring in the northern hemisphere, it feels as though nature is inviting us to begin anew. As the days are grow longer, migratory birds reappear along with insects, such as butterflies and bees. Fresh leaves are unfurling on the trees, tulips and daffodils are forming buds, and mountain creeks have reappeared.

The springtime meadows and fields are wide expanses of green. I have many memories associated with fields as the new growth emerges. My earliest ones are from my childhood when I would ride with my dad to look at his fields.   I could barely see out of the pickup window, but was captivated by the immensity of the flat Kansas horizon and vastness of the blue sky and green land.   More recent ones are from hikes with my husband Jay to large meadows in the wilderness

These memories carry a sense of spaciousness, peacefulness and the promise of eternal abundance. To me, open spaces are both symbolic and physical reminders of the essence our of humanness. On a practical level, they are the sources of the plants that nourish our bodies. Regardless of our dietary preferences, plants form the foundation of nearly all of the worlds’ foods.

Symbolically, we can rest our minds and hearts in the boundless openness. There, there is only pure awareness.   It has no purpose other than to nourish the soul of all. It is ever abundant, eternally free and open. In the world, it sprouts seeds of kindness, equanimity, gentleness, and compassion. These are rooted in the universality of truthfulness, non-harming, and non-greed.

The springtime fields can remind us of how to be authentically “human.” The word human, as with humility, derives from the Latin word, humus, earth. The earth itself is nourished and fertilized by the changing of seasons. Leaves from last year’s trees are nutrients for renewal. As we let go of old paradigms and habits, new growth can occur.   I believe that we once again can remember that we are connected to all life through our breath and food, and through the enduring field of divine love.   Perhaps we can join Rumi there.

Practice

  • Prepare –
    • Find a comfortable seated position. If seated in a chair, place both feet on the floor.
    • Take a moment and vigorously shake out your arms. Imagine as though you are letting go of habits of gossip, judgment, and finding fault with others.
      • If comfortable, shake your arms alongside your body and overhead.
      • When you feel complete, let your hands relax in your lap.
    • Stretch your mouth wide, and make an imaginary yell from deep in your belly.
      • Imagine as though you are clearing out any debris of insecurity, lack of confidence or clinging to scarcity.
      • Relax your mouth.
    • Take a few deeper breaths.
  • Practice –
    • Place your hands over your heart.
      • Choose one of the following qualities that you would like to grow within your newly cleansed inner field: kindness, equanimity, gentleness, or compassion.
    • Breathing naturally
      • Silently, lovingly, and slowly repeat the quality your have chosen.
      • Feel as though that every cell in your mind and body is longing for, and soaking up, that quality. Particularly pay attention to the palms of your hands, the center of your head, and your mouth – the areas of your thoughts, words, and actions.
      • Let your entire being be infused with that sense that you are that quality.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Slowly stretch your hands and arms outward and upward.
    • Bring your palms lightly together over your head. Then, with the palms still together, lower them to the front of your heart in a prayer position.
    • Nod your head downward toward your heart and with a sense of humility, offer gratitude for your capacity to let go of old habits and embrace new, qualities for the wellbeing of all. If you have a particular faith, please adjust this prayerful gesture according to your belief.
    • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and re-printed with his permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 74, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash.

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

 

 

 

 

Squirrel

Squirrel

If you want money more than anything,
you’ll be bought and sold.
If you have a greed for food,
you’ll be a loaf of bread.
This is a subtle truth:
whatever you love, you are.
Rumi

 

Wildlife often grazes on a hillside outside our kitchen window. Yesterday, as I was eating breakfast, a squirrel romped across the hill and then scurried up a tree. After a few minutes it darted back to the ground and began digging up and moving some of its stashes. I am sure that whatever it has, there will be just enough to sustain its nourishment through the winter.

I marvel at wild species’ ability to use only what they need. Unlike humans, they rarely over-consume. Most are careful with their food sources, i.e., not over-grazing, polluting, exploiting, or destroying, but leaving enough to foster regeneration.   Like the squirrel, they accurately predict what will carry them through leaner times. Overall, they model timeless principles of non-greed, trust, respect, patience, responsibility, and authenticity.

Abundance is something that is innately understood and often shared in the natural world. As humans, we struggle to reconnect with this fundamental aspect of our existence. It isn’t surprising that, universally various religions warn us to beware of the pursuits of gluttony, pride, lust, envy, anger, greed, and sloth. Most of us likely feel as though we have these in check, especially since we can readily identify them when we see them in others.

However, with almost every aspect of our life orchestrated by commercialism – from pregnancy to sickness to death – the words from the poet Rumi are even more valid now than they were in the 1200s during his lifetime. Slothfulness, for example, has seeped into our lives in the guise of convenience. Gluttony seems to be woven into the comforts of our paved, plastic, and metallic world.

Rumi’s words “whatever you love, you are” inspire hope that we as humans can once again fall in love with what has been there all along:  Not only the eternal love of the divine, but that love expressed in every aspect of nature.  Small children understand this until they are conditioned to separate themselves from that awareness.  I endeavor to reclaim that gift of our humanness being joyfully alive and in kinship with our sacred world. To do that, I choose to intentionally cultivate and squirrel away those qualities that engender peace and love, e.g., kindness, gentleness, and respect.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports gathering eternal, loving values.

  • Prepare –
    • Find a comfortable seated position. If seated on a chair, place the soles of both feet on the floor.
    • Quietly notice your surroundings – what is beneath you, around you, above you. Notice your body, sense of self, and breath. Say “thank you” to all.
  • Practice –
    • Choose one inner value that you would like to be-friend; for example, gentleness, calmness, kindness, or loving-ness.
      • Take your time.
      • Just like a squirrel that patiently collects and stores acorns, you are embracing one inner value to guide and support you in life.
    • Breathe sweetly as though sipping in the air.
      • Inhale: Imagine you are greeting your value and inviting into every aspect of your being.
      • Exhale: Imagine as though it is comfortably settling into every dimension of who you are.
        • Allow yourself to trust that like a well-cared for plant, your value will steadily grow and deepen its roots.
      • Let yourself be absorbed in the sweetness of your value for as long as is comfortable.
    • Transition back into your day –
      • Place your hands over your heart to seal in your friendship with your eternal value.
      • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and re-printed with his permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 5, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Ian Tuck on Unsplash.

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.

 

 

 

 

Daffodil

Daffodil

Dear God, please reveal to us
your sublime
beauty
that is everywhere, everywhere, everywhere
so that we will never again
feel frightened.
St. Francis of Assisi

 

There was a loud siren booming throughout the neighborhood. I was inside putting clothes in the washing machine, but the sound fulfilled its purpose. Like most humans, my mind immediately shifted into high alert and sifted through the possibilities for the alarm. Even though my husband and I live in an area prone to fires and earthquakes, I quickly dismissed either of those. There had been no ground shaking and rain was pouring down outside. The neighborhood dogs began to howl, and then I remembered there was a prescheduled test of our town’s firehouse siren.

While it is an absolute necessity that we alert one another to impending danger – especially with the growth of natural disasters – I wonder what our world would be like if humans had invented “sublime beauty” alerts. Imagine if we had regular sirens for every stunning, natural occurrence. We’d be enveloped in constant awe of everything that sustains us.

Instead, we have used our ingenuity for threat alerts. Not the necessary ones like my neighborhood firehouse alarm, but a stream of promises to soothe every fear – be better looking, more productive, healthier, richer, more balanced, calmer, or happier.   The modern commercial space subtly taps into our woes and wraps us into their brand’s product, app, or service. As a result, our lifestyles and habits rarely bring us in direct touch with nature. Our food is pre-packaged, our outdoor exercise is with equipment, our contemplation is with apps, etc.

Somehow, humanity has allowed itself to become enamored in our cleverness – forgetting that homo sapiens refers to ‘wise human,’ not ‘clever human.’ Other species sing praises to the co-existence of all of life in an abundance of glorious shapes, forms, sounds, and fragrances.   There are upheavals and invasives in other species, but we are unique in our trail of efforts to conquer, outsmart, and ignore the sacredness of all of life.   We need the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi more than ever to bring us back in sync with one another, the planet, the divine, and ourselves.

The daffodil is where I choose to begin the re-righting of my human perspective from a separatist to a holistic view. It is among the first spring blooms and is lauded around the world as a messenger of renewal and abundance. Its trumpet-shaped crown is an uplifting announcement of the unfolding of new energy and hope.   As a warning, its botanical name narcissus is a reminder to be a ‘wise,’ rather than ‘clever,’ human, to tune into the “sublime beauty” messages, and to listen to the wisdom that they have to share.   I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice cultivates loving tenderness in your touch.

  • Prepare –
    • Find a comfortable seated position. If seated on a chair, place the soles of both feet on the floor.
    • Stretch out through your palms and fingers. Then, gently squeeze each finger with the fingers of the opposite hand.
  • Practice –
    • Slowly, lightly and gently stroke the palm and fingers each hand a few times. Stroke with kindness and gentleness as though you are touching the most beautiful thing on earth.
    • Allow your hands to rest in your lap or on your thighs. Fingers relaxed and palms upward. Quietly sit and breathe softly and gently.
      • Imagine as though your breath is caressing you from the inside out. Receive this inner kindness. Savor it.
    • Transition back into your day –
      • Look at your hands. Say ‘thank you’ to them for helping you communicate with the life in the world.
        • Silently vow that as you go about your day, you will be aware of your hands each time they grasp or touch something or someone.
          • For example, as you pick up your fork before you eat, wash your face, fill your car with gas, hug a friend, or feel rain or sunshine on your face.
        • Before you re-enter your day, lightly touch your fingertips to your heart center, symbolically sealing in your vow.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 20, 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.

Hummingbird

True love gives us beauty, freshness,
solidity, freedom, and peace.
True love includes a feeling of
deep joy that we are alive.
Thich Nhat Hanh

 

As I turned the corner toward my front door, a streak of color darted before my eyes. A soft hum penetrated the air, giving me the sense that I had entered an ancient temple infused with the peaceful chanting of Om. Almost instantaneously, I felt a childlike joy in this encounter with a hummingbird.

It is not surprising that this tiny bird sparked such feelings of delight.   Hummingbirds playfully move through the air as if they are dancing with the light.   Their aerobatic agility allows them to fly in all directions at full speed. With their fast wingbeat – 50-80 beats per second – they can appear to stand still when they hover, as though suspended in time.   This mirage of timelessness is echoed in their wings’ figure-eight pattern, or the symbol of immeasurable and boundless infinity.

The sign of infinity represents eternity and balance. In more modern times, it brings timeless messages of true love and the gifts of strength, vitality, peace, and beauty. There is simultaneously a sense of the divine and the eternal grace of existence.  It is buoyant and unburdened by the heaviness of brooding over the past or tension of worry over the future.   It offers a reminder to lighten up and tune into the heart of life.

I feel that the hummingbird carries the tranquil messages of infinity, and fills us with gratitude for the sweet nectar of life. With acuity for authentic sweetness, the hummingbird eloquently slides its slender beak past the bitter exterior of plants to fully delve into the sweetness within. Its inward journey not only retrieves the nectar, but harmoniously gives back to the plant by pollinating the flower.

Sages, saints and masters such as Thich Nhat Hanh are like hummingbirds transmitting timeless wisdom and filling us with awe and hope.   It is as though they lovingly nourish us with seeds of truth.  The beauty of nature and their wise words are reliable doorways into our deepest and most sincere selves.   Over the next few weeks, I will be more attentive to the small moments of wisdom. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports the sweetness of loving abundance.  Allow at least fifteen minutes. 

  • Prepare –
    • Choose a place with there is minimal ambient noise or light. Put your digital devices out of reach and turn the volume off.
    • Sit in a comfortable position, either on a chair, or the floor. Note: This practice could also be done resting on your back. Make any adjustments you need for comfort.
      • If on a chair, rest the soles of your feet evenly on the floor.
  • Practice –
    • Slowly, shift your attention to your breath. Notice the gentle expansion in your torso on the inhalation, and the release on the exhalation.
      • Gradually lengthen your breath, keeping it smooth and even.
    • The following has three segments, each segment with three breaths.
      • Breath throughout:
        • Inhale – Say to yourself, “Every part is loving abundance.”
        • Exhale – Let the feeling of loving abundance settle into every cell.
      • The three segments with the above breath:
        • Sweep your awareness from:
          • your hips to your legs to your feet, and to the tips of your toes;
          • your shoulders, your torso, arms, and to your toes; 
          • the top of your head, your body, arms, and to your toes.
    • Gently breathing, let loving abundance seep inward,:
      • e.g., into your tissues, muscles, organs, neural and circulatory networks, respiratory system, and your bones.
        • If you find areas that feel heavy or agitated, just notice them. Imagine that you can gently reassure them that you have noticed them, yet, for now, they may just rest in loving abundance.
      • When you feel ready, invite your awareness to shift to the center of your chest, symbolically the deep and timeless core of your being.
        • Imagine that deep within you is a beautiful, vast space that stretches into infinity. It is filled with loving abundance.
        • Let your awareness delve into that sweetness, enfolding and enlivening you with the nectar of loving abundance.
          • Remain here for a few breaths.
    • Bring your palms over your heart, one hand on top of the other. Imagine as though this gesture is sealing in the vitality, peace, and joy of loving abundance.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Sit quietly for a few minutes.
    • Perhaps set an intention to notice “loving abundance” as you move throughout your day.
      • e.g., in the water flowing from a facet; the food that you prepare and eat; your friends and family; your home and belongs; the air you breath; and, all of nature.
      • You live in the midst of living abundance. You are loving abundance.
    • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 64, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash.

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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