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

Dawn

Dawn

Night is passing,
sun comes by dawn,
Awaken now, beauty’s essence,
heart of love.
Hakim Omar Khyyám

 

As the New Year began, I reflected on the number of people I know who had lost someone special recently. Funerals and services have been held for daughters, mothers, wives, husbands, sons, fathers, sisters, and brothers. Some deaths were sudden and unexpected and some came after a long struggle with illness.   Yet, all brought about grief and sorrow, which the survivors are each quietly traversing in their own way.

While the calendar gives a sharp demarcation between the past and the future – between December 31 and January 1 – these recent losses seemed to be a reminder of the more nuanced relationships of endings and beginnings.   As humans, we need time and a sense of past and future to anchor us within our ever-changing lives.

Nature has her own way of offering us comfort and strength.   We rely on the regularity of the patterns of the sun and the moon. Each morning the sun appears on the horizon, awakening the day. Like a sweet mother, she rouses everyone and sets them in motion toward their life activities.   At first light, diurnal creatures begin stir, birds sing, roosters crow, dogs begin to bark, and eventually there is the arrival of the din of vehicles and mechanical beeps.

A primal part of us senses the magnificence of the daily arrival of the sun.   The sun nourishes us not only through the growth of plants for our food, but through its light and vital energy. Different studies have shown that exposure to sunlight can reduce anxiety and calm the nerves. It stimulates inner systems, such as the metabolism of minerals and helps glands that take care of internal secretion. It is the natural source of Vitamin D connected to the production of the hormone endorphin, which gives us the feelings of satisfaction and happiness.

It is not surprising that ancient sages viewed dawn as symbolic of hope, the end of the shadows of pain and hardship, and the promise of renewal. The parade of colors across the sky surpasses even the greatest of human inventions and evokes a raw awareness of the powerful essence of life. We somehow recognize that within this one dawn there are the many dawns that have come before and will come afterward. Magnificent, splendid, glorious beauty glimmers in the morning light and lovingly charms the sun to shine anew.

This dawning of the day inspires the deepest part of us – our inner sun – to rise into and be held in the loving embrace of the divine.   Through the simple language of nature, the poet Hakim Omar Khyyám offers praise to the sanctity of life held in a peaceful balance between life and death, night and day. As the New Year moves forward, I will endeavor to awaken with the dawn, and hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice can be done anytime, but preferably at dawn.

  • Prepare
    • Sit in a comfortable position, either on a chair, or the floor.
    • Stretch your hands and arms out to the sides. Reach through the center of your palms to your fingertips.
    • Cross your arms across the front of your body and give yourself a big hug.
    • Allow your hands to rest in your lap. Let yourself release tension physically, mentally, and emotionally.
  • Practice
    • Reach your arms upward and slightly outward as though reaching into the expanse of the sky. Then, allow your hands to return to your lap.
      • Close your eyes if that is comfortable. Otherwise, keep them in a soft, somewhat inward gaze.
    • Imagine as though are lovingly surrounded and enfolded by the beauty of the early morning light. Allow the gentle glow to absorb any of your current worries or fears.
    • Quietly shift your attention to the quality of your inhalation and exhalation. Invite the transitions between the in- and out-breath to be smooth, even, and quiet.
    • Allow the feeling that your breath is infused with the soft radiance of dawn.
      • Imagine that each cell, each atom of your being is silently uttering, “Love. Peace. Joy.”
      • Throughout, gently allow these utterances to melt any deep gripping of the muscles around your heart, sternum, back ribs, navel, entire neck and shoulder area, face and entire skull.
      • For as long as is comfortable, allow yourself to receive the abundant awareness of love, peace, and joy ebbing and flowing. Let its presence hold you like a cradle stretched between night and day.
    • Still attentive to your breath, smile and stretch your palms outward in gratitude for the awareness of the light of love. If your eyes were closed, open them into soft gaze.
  • Transition back into your day
    • Sit quietly for a few minutes. Observe your surroundings. Imagine as though each item had joined you over the last few moments and were now glimmering with love, peace, and joy.
    • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 9, 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.

 

A Leaf

A Leaf

For everything there is a season,
a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die…
BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES 3:1-2

 

As I opened the front door to go on an early morning walk, a leaf floated onto the doorstep. It was heart-shaped and golden in color. I’d swept away a basketful of leaves the day before. The weather had been windy, and now it was calm with no detectable breeze.

The fallen leaf reminded me of that the ebb and flow of life. Solstice was approaching. It marked the onset of winter here in the Northern hemisphere. On the other side of the globe, spring would slide into summer.  Everywhere there was renewal and release, darkness and light, birth and death.

The leaf, which had been a bud a few months ago, also was in transition. On the tree, it had had many roles. Primarily, along with other leaves, it provided nourishment for the tree. Chlorophyll, a special plant chemical, absorbs and coverts the light of the sun into useable sugars and starches, which fuel the tree’s growth and stability, even in the shorter days of winter.

If it could have told me its life story, I imagine that the leaf would have said that it began its journey as a minuscule rise on a branch. It had sprouted using the energy from the prior generation of leaves. Then, it unfurled and became part of a new community of leaves.   Together, they had not only fed the tree, but also helped provide protection and a home for numerous birds, squirrels, and insects. They weathered a drought and seamlessly worked together to produce oxygen and make shade for the world.

Once the days shortened, the leaf pigment changed. The canopy of green slowly shifted to the hues of the sun. At the same time, there had been an inner chemical transformation. Not only had the chlorophyll given way to carotenoid to create the beautiful golden color, but also the tree’s cells were ready to release each leaf to the earth. Clinging wasn’t an option. Its next purpose was to create a layer to help the ground absorb water. As it decomposes, it will provide nutrients for the soil, so that a new generation can flourish.

I gently picked up the leaf and moved it to an uncultivated area along the street. There, it could continue its life journey.   It would be undisturbed by rakes, brooms, or mechanized leaf blowers. Somehow, I felt an appreciation toward this tree. After all, it had reminded me of how nature is a metaphor for life.

Prophets, sages and saints often point to the flowers, trees, seasons, and other parts of nature as ways to prompt our deep memory of eternal wisdom.   A leaf signifies truth. The sun and sunlight are symbolic of divine light and love. Many ancient religions view all of life as leaves on a universal tree.  On the surface, the leaf on my doorstep seems insignificant. It is one of trillions of leaves. Yet, its story reveals the richness of a life that simply receives and is a conduit for light.  That alone inspires me to adopt a light-hearted motto, “leaf it.” I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice offers a personal connection with a leaf.

  • Prepare –
    • Find a fallen leaf from a deciduous tree and gently pick it up. If you are not near trees, then simply imagining a leaf is fine.
    • With the leaf lightly held in one of your hands, find a comfortable seated position.  You may choose where you sit, e.g., in- or outside. Wherever you are, allow your spine to be upright with its natural curvatures. If you are in a chair, place the soles of both feet on the ground.
      • Take a few easy breaths. Allow your lower abdomen slowly expand on each inhale and release on the out breath.
        •  Note:  Your hands can be resting with palms open either on your thighs, or on top of one another.
          • Relax any tension in your hands, jaw, back of the eyes, and at the base of the back of your skull.
    • Gently close your eyes, or keep them in a soft gaze.
  • Practice –
    • Without actively looking or touching, just notice the leaf.
      • Notice its lightness and texture. Feel its weight in the palm of your hand.
      • Continue your reflection on the leaf, without analyzing or forcing. Just imagine as though you are holding something precious in your hand. And, that you want to let its richness and beauty soak into your awareness.
        • If your mind is too active, try gently guiding it toward appreciating the leaf and its story.
          • For example, appreciate its life being fueled by a prior generation of leaves and then being the nourishment for the next.   Or, appreciate its ability to be steadily tethered during the intensity of the wind and rainstorms.
        • As your sit here, allow your breath to be smooth and easy.   Continually, release the tension in your palms, shoulders, face, neck, and behind your eyes.
      • Stay with this first part of the practice if your mind is distracted. If you feel you have been able to let go and just be present, then allow yourself to shift your awareness to your heart center.
        • Imagine your heart is like a leaf, free of human fears and worries.
          • Allow the tension around your heart center to release.
          • Imagine there is only lightness and expansiveness without a tangible beginning or end.
            • Remember, for this moment, you are a leaf free of human fears, attachments, and worries.
          • Continue a smooth, easy, and unruffled breath.
            • Stay here for as long as you are comfortable.
          • Transition Back Into Your Day –
            • Still seated, gently open your eyes if they were closed. With a soft gaze, notice the earthly light around you. Gently smile.
            • When you are ready, return to your day.  (If you picked up a leaf, eventually return it the earth.)

 

This verse from the Bible also appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, 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©2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mountain

The Mountain

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.
Li Po

 

A low cloud hid the mountain peak. There was only a hint of a rise in the land peeking out under the billowy, grey shape.  It seemed as though the mountain had been tucked in by the sky for a much-needed nap from eons of activity. Not only had it been in formation for millions of years, but also it has undergone countless, seasonal shifts, bringing bursts of water, wildlife, and color to its slopes.

The shrouded mountain reminded me of stalwart people who are always behind the scenes in life. There are the ones whom I have never met, such as the prophets, saints and spiritual masters, whose wisdom flows like ripples of grace through life. Then, there are people like my ancestors who are the foundation of my abilities to negotiate life’s ups and downs.

I particularly think of my father Bob Vogt, who had a steady, easeful presence. Much of his work life was spent in silence as he cared for the plants, soil, and the large farm vehicles used for tilling, sowing and harvesting. He understood the rhythms of nature. As a farmer, his life decisions were intimately linked to the amount and timing of the rains and snows. In a semi-arid region, his patience required a level of faith and confidence in natural abundance and divine will that most of us who live in urban areas cannot even imagine.

If you asked him if he were worried about whether it would rain, he’d answer, “It will rain.  It always has.” He would say that it doesn’t help to worry about the weather, or any of those things or people, over which you have no control. Instead, he modeled doing the best we can by making consistent and informed effort, and being sincerely grateful for what we have. Even with his discipline and sense of responsibility, he seemed to have an ample inner pool of humor and light hearted-ness to keep him and those around him grounded.

A ray of sun broke through the clouds revealing the upper edges of the mountain. Even though my memory could direct me to where I was going, I felt a tangible relief to see the mountain. The peaceful, undulating ridge line gave me a solid sense that I was oriented in the right direction – toward the stillness of mountain.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

  • Prepare –
    • Begin seated.
      • Gently shrug your shoulders up and down and few times.
      • Open your mouth wide and yawn, or try to yawn. Smile.
      • Shake through your wrists. Open and squeeze your fingers.
  • Practice –
    • If comfortable, close your eyes. Otherwise, keep your eyes slightly open with a soft gaze.
    • Allow your hands to rest comfortably in your lap.
    • Bring to mind someone who has helped you in your life. This might be someone who genuinely wanted the very best for you.
      • Allow yourself to wholeheartedly think of that person. If your mind wavers, gently bring your thoughts back to thinking about that person.
      • Imagine every cell in your body is thinking of that person who truly loved and helped you.
      • Take three to four smooth, even breaths.
      • Then, silently utter “thank you” a few times from the depths of sincerity.
  • Return to your day –
    • Sit quietly for as long a you feel comfortable.
    • Return to your day.

 

This poem appears on page 123 in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   The translation of the poem is by Sam Hamill. The practice was inspired by Mr. Roger’s Rule.

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©2018.

 

 

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