There’s a tree that existed before the woods,
in age twice as old.
Its roots suffered as the valley changed,
its leaves deformed by wind and frost.
People all laugh at its withered aspect,
caring nothing about the core’s beauty.
When the bark is all stripped off,
only essence remains.
Trans. by Tony Barnstone
Rustle. Rustle. Rustle. I turned around expecting to see another walker on the path, but there was no one there. No person. No squirrel. No sign of a moving being. Perhaps I had imagined the sound of movement behind me. The long shadows likely had amplified my awareness of being on a quiet, and somewhat remote, pathway late in the day.
There was a warmth in the air and few rays of sunshine lit the path ahead. Spiderwebs glistened in the light, offering a quiet reminder of the life around me. A light breeze moved the webs in rhythmic waves revealing silvery threads stretching from the circular masterpiece to a vast network of thick, curved branches.
Oak trees lined the pathway. Their crowns intertwined forming a lacy, green archway overhead. Faint traces of light blue showed through the openings, reminding me of the expansive space of the sky and universe beyond. Surely if the soil were transparent, another network would have been visible – the roots reaching outward and downward while steading the trunks and limbs, which appeared more than twice the age of the eldest human.
It was humbling to consider their oak relatives elsewhere in the world with a lifespan up to one thousand years. And, even more humbling to appreciate that their ancient relatives reach back millions of years. It is no wonder humans have long adored, admired, and even worshiped these magnificent tree-beings. Their longevity and expansive outer form invite a broader view of life beyond the entanglements that we have created for ourselves, inspiring a pondering and embracing of larger life purpose and meaning.
Wherever rooted, the oak is a steady witness. As a continual bearer of wisdom to whomever comes near, the oak emanates strength, steadfastness, and stability; conveys contentment, community, connection, and completeness; and, bears beauty, breath, and balance with grace and serenity.
Oaks are known for their resilience, often withstanding severe weather conditions and inhospitable growing conditions. They are also unsurpassed earthly friends, endlessly offering shade, shelter, protection, healing, solace, and nourishment to animals, birds, insects, humans, and all beings. Their trunks are transformed into musical instruments, boats, furniture, wine barrels, houses and sacred arches.
Rustle. Rustle. Rustle. The scurrying sound of an oak leaf pushed by the wind along the surface of the path. Together, the wind and leaf offered an invitation to pause and notice the true loving essence beneath the color, age, shape, and all other superficial outer labels and measurements. More often I will try to pause, firmly planted, inviting connection to heavenly truth and honesty with earthly roots. I hope you will join me.
This practice invites awareness of living with a steady yet light presence.
- If comfortable, remove your shoes and socks. Then, stand either on the earth or bare floor. Lift and spread your toes a few times, then curl them under once or twice.
- Invite your weight to balance evenly between your feet, i.e., with somewhat equal weight on your left and right foot, and the front and part of your feet. If it feels difficult to sense a balanced weight, please no worries. Feel the support of the ground beneath you. Silently offer gratitude for this enduring support for all life.
- To an extent that is comfortable, bend both of your knees coming into a half squat. Please take care to keep your directly over your ankles, i.e., not leaning forward. Your arms may be at your sides or on your waist. Pause here a few seconds and feel the strength in your thighs and appreciating the support beneath you and within your own body. Then, return to standing.
- Still standing, reach your hands toward the sky. Please take care and do this in a way that feels comfortable for your shoulders. Imagine as though you are firmly rooted to the ground beneath you. Simultaneously you are lifting upward through your torso and arms.
- Softly spread through your palms and fingers. If this creates tension in your shoulders, neck, or face, invite your elbows to bends until you feel some ease in your body and breath, wiggle your fingers and sway your forearms as though being gently moved by a breeze. Silently, offer gratitude for the expansive space that holds the entire universe.
- Slowly lower your arms, crossing your arms across your upper chest and allowing each hand to rest on the opposite upper arm or shoulder. Allow yourself to receive a hug from yourself. Slightly bow your head and silently offer appreciation for all that you are and all that and those who have and are supporting your in endless ways. Thank them for being your earthly kin. Then, change the cross of your arms and thank yourself for being an expression of love and friendship toward yourself and life to the best of your ability. Pause here, inviting a gentle, easy breath.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Transition to a seated position. If you are in a chair or bench, please rest the soles of your feet on the ground. Rest your hands over your upper chest, either with palms together or one hand lightly resting on top of the other over your heart-center.
- Gently recall the strength and support beneath you, the lightness above you, and the kinship around you. Invite in a glimpse of the feeling that from the moment of your birth you have been held, lifted up, and loved within and without. If you have a particular faith, silently offer prayerful gratitude for the presence of sacred grace in every moment. Pause here, inviting a gentle, easy breath.
- Allow your hands to rest wherever they are comfortable, e.g., on your thighs or on your lap. Sit quietly for several minutes.
- Then, when you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 123, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The photo by a photographer who goes by the nickname AVTG. This HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
You’re in my eyes.
How else could I see light?
You’re in my brain.
This wild joy.
If love did not live in matter,
how would any place have
any hold on anyone?
Translated by Coleman Barks
A delicate pattern of lacy forms covered the pathway. Wavy lines of all thicknesses connected varying sizes of triangles, hearts, and rectangles. As a breeze picked up, these shapes shifted and moved as though they were dancing across the earthy floor.
Had I gone for my walk at my usual time early in the day, I would have missed this joyful interplay of the noonday light with the tree branches and leaves. It had been grey and overcast that morning, so the path would have a been a quiet stretch of brown soil and twigs. A clearing of the clouds had turned this brown quietness into a storybook of the mystical, intricate web of existence.
The trees’ summertime crowns full of leaves revealed the presence of the otherwise invisible air as it moved those leaves. The movement allowed the light to shine and show itself through the open spaces between the shadows of forms. The ground held the silent interchange of the air and the light while hinting of the hidden latticework of the tree roots below.
Within the trees and their dappled light, I felt my own mortal interdependence with the worldly elements. I felt grateful for divine luminosity quietly shining through the thicket of impatience, persistent curiosity, and other busy patterns of my mind. All seemed to be held by love.
Beyond the treed area the path opened into a clearing. While the day had begun overcast, ahead in the clearing was pure, unhindered light.
This short practice supports awareness of the grace of light.
- Lightly shake out each of your limbs.
- Then, sit in a comfortable seated position. (If you are in a chair, please place the soles of your feet on the floor.)
- Slowly and gently invite ease into your face, shoulders, hands, and breath.
- Still seated, gradually reach your arms out to your sides and then upward into a V-position. Breathe deeply.
- Then, slowly lower your arms and bring your hands in front of your chest. Open your palms as though you were ready to gather water from a running faucet.
- Pause here for four breaths. As you pause, imagine a soft, gentle light flowing into your palms.
- Then, imagine you are slowly bathing yourself in light.
- For example, gather light in your palms and then lightly sweep hands over your face and throat. You might also gently stroke down each arm and leg, and across the front and sides of your torso.
- As you do this, imagine your skin is absorbing the light.
- When finished, pause and imagine the light is settling into every cell in your body. Invite your hands to rest in any position that is comfortable.
- Silently say “thank you for the ever-presence of light.”
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Move in any way that feels natural. Perhaps allow your arms to move like limbs of a tree swaying in the wind and receiving the light. If comfortable, smile.
- When you are ready, return to your day, full of the grace of light.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 48, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The practice is an edited excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry by Kate Vogt, page 254-255. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
You are the sky and the ground.
You alone the day, the night air.
You are the meal that’s being brought,
the sandal knot, flowers and their watering.
You are all this.
What could I possibly bring You!
Translated by Coleman Barks
The early morning seemed oblivious of the weather prediction of uncomfortably high temperatures and winds later in the day. Instead, everywhere seemed awash with messages of loving comfort and peacefulness.
Overhead the clouds still carried faint traces of lavender and orange. The air conveyed soft cooing sounds of doves and a light rustle of the cottonwood and elm trees. A monarch butterfly glided between a row of stately red cedars.
The ground stretched beyond the sounds and movements into a smooth, even horizon. It was a wide expanse of flat land that allowed for an undisturbed evenness. There, the sky and earth calmly held one another and all life.
For me, there was an overwhelming sense of belongingness in this early morning moment. There was a visceral feeling that the outer horizon is a continuum of the inner horizon. And within that feeling was a twinkle of the divine everywhere – seemly invisible but continually visible in the profound miracle of the ordinary.
I am moved by such moments to steadily listen to and surrender into the messages of loving comfort and peacefulness for the whole of life – each grain of soil, each tree, every insect and bird, and every human and other moveable being.
This practice supports awareness of reverence within everyday life.
- Gently close your eyes. Imagine that you can release any tension in your eyelids and your eyeballs. Slowly move your eyes up to down, left to right, and then diagonally (first, upper right to lower left, and, then upper left to lower right).
- Open your eyes with a soft gaze. Slowly let your eyes scan around the area where you are. Silently acknowledge the gift of the space around you.
- Allow your eyes to rest on the floor or ground beneath you. Then slowly shift your gaze to a few other spots. As your rest your eyes in a particular spot, notice the textures, colors, etc., without judgment.
- Return your gaze to the first spot.
- Note: If you are indoors, let your mind take note of the source of the materials. For example, a natural wood floor would come from trees. A concrete floor would likely come from sand that has been ground and mixed with water.
- Then, lightly close your eyes and sit quietly for a few moments with a feeling of great reverence for life. (Please feel free to keep your eyes open, if that is more comfortable for you.)
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Continue to sit quietly for a few moments.
- Notice the gentle rise and release of your breath. Acknowledge the gift of breath as an ever-present reminder of your constant link to all of life.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 91, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The practice is an excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry, page 217-218. The land reference is my childhood homelands in Greeley County, Kansas in the Great Plains U.S.A. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
God blooms from the shoulder of the
elephant who becomes courteous
to the ant.
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky
In driving through an area where there had been devastated by wildfires two years earlier, I had expected to see an ashy and charred expanse. Instead, there was an abundance of new life showing up in a variety of stages of regeneration, ranging from wildflower meadows and grasslands to vibrant shrubbery sporting every hue of green.
Had I slowed down and tuned into the even subtler signs of renewal, likely my nose, ears, and skin would have been overwhelmed with a multiplicity of expressions of renewal. Still, there was ample potency within just what my eyes could absorb. Certainly, I felt stirrings of relief that seemingly bleak circumstances continue to carry the possibility of thriving inter-beingness.
The natural cycles and phenomena of earthly existence continually express such possibility. Small beings such as insects live among elephants and other large forms of life. The seasons yield one to the other as do the ocean waves. Microbes and worms quietly shape the ground free of concepts such as nationality or ownership.
Our longest living human cultures, as well as prophets and sages, reverently hold the wisdom of wholeness and inter-beingness. In turn, this wisdom lovingly embraces all life. Like the sun, it illumines freely and endlessly. Yet, as with the sun, e.g., in solar and lunar eclipses, during nighttime, and on cloudy days, this wisdom can appear absent in bleakness.
Fortunately, nature is an ever-present reminder that we live in the midst of abiding, sacred wisdom. This earthly home is where we learn to truly love, forgive, and humbly release our micro-habits of judgment, hate, greed, and superiority. The timeless qualities of wisdom are woven into nature, such as the resilience born out of the wildfire, wordlessly sharing teachings on ways to rediscover customs to live together with courtesy and reverence.
This practice supports awareness of sacred inter-beingness.
- Seated, place your elbows on your knees and your head in your hands.
- Note: If are wearing glasses, please consider supporting your head with your hands on your forehead, or removing your glasses.
- If this strains your back, please place your elbows on a higher surface such as a table.
- Let the weight of your head be heavy in your hands.
- Imagine all your tension is releasing and flowing out through your fingers.
- Breathe without forcing the breath, i.e., as easily and freely as comfortable.
- Slowly, allow yourself to return to an upright, seated position. Continue to imagine tension draining out of your facial muscles, your eyes, and your scalp. Imagine it flowing easefully out through your arms and fingers.
- Move fluidly through your torso, neck and arms. Imagine you are moving in the ocean of loving, sacred wisdom. Then, imagine you are an integral part of this wisdom – not separate, but an expression of loving beauty, reverence, and joy.
- Slowly, come to standing and move in any way where you feel you are innately expressing lovingness, kind gentleness, and compassion to the surface beneath you and space around you.
- Then, still standing, move as though this lovingness and other sweet, peaceful qualities are being shared and absorbed in every cell in your body. Follow your instincts. You may feel inclined to stretch, hug, or even kiss parts of your body.
- Move in a way that feels like a joyous appreciation of the vast inner ecology of your being – tissues, cells, organs, bones, emotions, memory, breath, and more.
- Then, imagine – if it doesn’t come naturally to you to feel aliveness in all life – your surroundings are as vibrantly alive as you are. Again, move with this awareness of inter-beingness held within and expressing abiding, loving wisdom.
- Come to stillness, standing. Breathe and just notice the ground beneath you offering ease and stability, your bones offering ease and stability, and your breath offering ease and stability.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- When you are ready, come to a seated position.
- Sit quietly for several minutes, in any way that is comfortable.
- Bring your palms together in front of your chest and bow your head in gratitude for the sacredness of earthly life, perhaps vowing to live with more awareness of the pulse of sacred inter-beingness and the grace of courtesy and reverence in everyday gestures and speech.
- Allow your hands to relax in your lap. With a soft, loving gaze, slowly look around where you are – up, down, side to side, and perhaps behind you.
- Then, when you are ready, return to your day with renewed awareness of wholeness.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 15, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate
love ’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the
beloved in your heart and a song of praise
upon your lips.
As the other side of the earth experiences piercing sounds of death and destruction, here the song birds permeate the air with their sweet melodies. Their voices are most pronounced in the early morning, but continue throughout the light of day. I do not know their names, or their migratory or evolutionary journey, but still feel the stirrings of a kinship far beyond labels and form.
Some part of me joins their joyful praising of existence. The notes rise and fall on unseen currents. No part of life is free from this hymn of notes fading and emerging. Even though we may not always aware of it, life pulses in a gentle rhythmic stream of seasons, tides, breath, and heartbeat. Within this harmonic beingness, there is the endless sacred grace of life.
It brings tears to my eyes to be enwrapped in nature’s continual prayerful expression of life. The oldest human traditions, lifestyles and languages synchronize with this communal grace. There is an inherent reverence for living and all life forms, and a deep surrender to an unnamable yet ever-present divine. Clothing, food, water, sunlight, and all the elemental underpinnings of life are cared for with unsurmountable gratitude, and with appreciation of a reciprocity of being cared for in return.
Sages, prophets and poets like Kahlil Gibran lift us up with reminders that the beloved divine is boundless. They carry forward the lessons from our ancient human ancestors of surrendering into praiseful way of speaking, living, and being together. There may be occasional soloists, but the blessed song gathers the microbes, plants, birds, sky, and humans into a vibrant, regenerative chorus. May these troubling times remind us of the gift of the morning song.
This practice brings awareness of our interconnectedness with other humans and other species.
- Choose a day when you have some extra time in the morning.
- The night before, just as you are ready to go to sleep: offer a word of gratitude that throughout the day, your existence has been supported in all sorts of invisible ways.
- When you awaken from your sleep the next morning, notice what you first notice. No judgment, just noticing.
- Then, intentionally invite your awareness to the areas of your body which actively engage with the world: e.g., your feet, hands, skin, nose, mouth, eyes, ears, breath, and mind. In any way that is comfortable for you, offer gratitude to all parts of you that seamlessly allow you to navigate the world.
- Pause. Slowly, shift your awareness to your breath. Perhaps, for a couple breaths rest both hands on your chest to support your awareness of the gentle expansion of your ribs on an inhalation, and softening on an exhalation. Notice this movement is like wings rising and falling.
- Then, for several breaths, invite in a sense of gratitude for the reciprocity of breath with the trees: as you inhale, invite awareness that as the breath enters your body, the trees are exhaling; and, as you exhale, invite awareness that as the breath moves outward, the trees inhale.
- If you have a particular faith or connection with a divine presence, take a few moments in loving prayerfulness.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Arise. If you have time, sit quietly for a few moments.
- When you are ready, move into your day with a sense of reverent praise.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 51, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The photo is by Tom Bradley on Unsplash. The practice is a modified excerpt from “Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry” by Kate Vogt, page 141-43, available through Bookshop, or order through your local independent bookstore. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.
Join me in one of my upcoming classes, exploring the unified wisdom of the earth, the soul, and the divine.
I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once He asked me to join Him on a walk
through this world,
and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed He lingered a bit longer
before any face that was weeping,
and before any eyes that were laughing.
And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship
God too would kneel down.
I have come to learn:
God adores His creation.
St. Francis of Assisi
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky
It is winter now in the northern hemisphere. Even though the temperatures are mild here on the mid-California coast, the morning air is cool and crisp, and the sky is a deep winterish blue. Walks in the nearby grove are filled with sounds of the stream having been replenished with long stretches of rainfall. A sweet smell arises from the fresh soil formed from the matter that once was a carpet of leaves and grasses.
On these winter walks in the grove, a sense of astonishment continually washes over me. In my mind, the northern coastal winter is season-less, with none of the usual markers of frost or snow. Yet, within a few steps outside, that mental architecture yields to raw messages around me. Like the decaying foliage, the thoughts and pre-conceptions crumble in the presence of the pure aliveness seeping in through my senses.
It is particularly the aroma of new earth that frees me of the wintery ideas. Soil in the making is simply miraculous. And, for a multitude of organisms, soil itself is a truly miraculous offering ground, sustaining and nourishing life from the smallest bacteria to the biosphere of Earth. Although soil forms over a long period of time, the earthly scent stirs a primal memory within me of the humble awe of belonging and of being lovingly held in a divine way.
To accept soil as miraculously sacred inspires me to walk a little more gently among other living beings – human and non-human. The acceptance allows me to remember the pain and suffering of other “soil”-beings who live or have lived, especially those whose essence has been suppressed, eradicated, and/or paved over. It invites an ever-greater sense of gratitude for the farmers and workers who care for dirt, grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and the bounty to feed the hungry world. It prompts a dedication not to further sully this sacredness with plastics and other products, which take hundreds of years to biodegrade and cause early death to oceans and other living beings.
Overall, soil offers a reminder that the words “human” and “humility” connect through the Latin word for soil, humus. Whether our faith believes in a divine creator or not, St. Francis of Assisi’s words point to a wisdom carried by religious, indigenous and other traditions around the world: life is a flowing ecology with a continual unseen web of interconnectedness and reciprocity. There is a universal trust in the sacred value of all life, even soil. This ground where we live – and where we return as ashes or dust – is the ground of unbounded, divine love.
Please join me in honoring the simple yet miraculous gift of soil.
This practice is more like a prayer of appreciation for soil.
- Find a comfortable seated position, e.g., on a chair, the floor.
- Allow yourself to feel the surface beneath you, especially where there is a connection between you and that which is supporting you. Invite an awareness of the layers of support beneath you, e.g., the floor, the foundation of the building, the soil, the microbes in the soil, the multiple layers of earth. Then, invite a sense that your weight is gently and lovingly being held by these layers of support.
- Scan through your body from your ankles to the crown of your head. Notice any unneeded tension you might using to hold you upright and invite it to soften with the trust that you are being safely held.
- Keeping a sense of being held by the support beneath you, allow a slight lift from your seated surface through your torso to the crown of your head.
- Seated, invite your palms to rest on your thighs with your fingers relaxed. If comfortable, stay here for a few gentle breaths.
- Imagine your palms could speak to your legs through the quality of a sincere and honest touch of kindness and gratitude for this part of you that is closest to the soil. If you are seated on the floor and have easy access to your feet, take a few moments to also rest your hands on your feet before returning them to your thighs.
- Notice any shift in the muscles in your thighs as you let your own hands gently rest on your legs. (Note: If for any reason you feel any aversion toward this part of the practice, please feel free to skip it, and to make any adjustments you feel you need to.)
- Standing, pause and once again invite a connection to the surface beneath you. If comfortable, trace through the cues in the “prepare” section above. (Note: If standing is not accessible to you, please skip this standing portion.)
- Slowly begin to walk in a smallish circle clockwise. Walk for a couple minutes, or as long as is comfortable for you.
- Imagine you are stepping on the skin of a living being whom you adore and who adores you. This being is the soil and can handle you weight but treasures the chance to commune with you – and adore you – through your feet and footsteps. Invite your breath to be easeful as you walk together with the earth.
- Return to a seated position. Silently acknowledge the soil, all life forms, and the gift of communing through your feet and lower body with the earth.
- I offer these words for your inspiration: “I acknowledge the soil. I acknowledge the soil’s endless capacity to hold and nourish me. I offer gratitude to all those who protect and care for the soil – e.g., the small farmers, farm workers, gardeners – and endeavor to do my part in caring for the soil in the way it cares for life. I revel in and honor the belongingness of all beings sustained and nourished by the soil. And, I acknowledge my digestive system and its ability to receive and digest the offerings of the foods from the soil. I am grateful for my feet and legs and my ability to stand and to make choices to do the least harm possible. I offer reverence to the Divine for these gifts.”
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Sit quietly for a few moments, with the eyes and ears tuned inward.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
The poem by St. Francis of Assisi appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 94, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The practice is a modified version of a practice in “Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry” by Kate Vogt, page 341-43, available through Bookshop, or order through your local independent bookstore.
H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022. Please visit katevogt.com for my current and upcoming groups and classes.