Trees – living essence

Trees – living essence

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.

Hanshan
Trans. by Tony Barnstone

 

This morning I was introduced to Lillie.  While the name might sound like a new app or clothing line, Lillie is something more rare—she is a lithe, 101-year old woman.  A tiny fraction of one percent of the world population is centenarian.  The wrinkled face and hands give a hint of a century of living, but like most her age, she doesn’t dwell on the hardships of epidemics and wars, or unrealized aspirations.

In tree years, Lillie would be a sapling among some species.  For example, a spruce in Sweden is recorded to have lived about 9,550 years.  Even as sapling, Lillie’s demeanor and attitude reflect the generosity of trees.   She loves caring for her daughter and son-in-law, not because they house her, but because she has a tree-like nature. There is a continual offering of strength, stillness, protection, nourishment, stability, refuge, receptivity, giving, and serenity.

Trees have long served as symbols of lasting wisdom.  Most world cultures have tales of sacred trees. For example, in the ficus family: the pipal or bodhi (F. religiosa) repre- sents happiness, longevity, and prosperity; the banyan (F. bengalensis), eternal life; and the sycamore (F. sycomorus), infinite connectivity between life and death.  There are references to trees of life, knowledge, and perfection. And, there are promises that whoever knows the tree will be the knower of all truth. Their verticality is a reminder of our own rootedness in the earth, upright trunk and crown reaching toward the heavens.

As I read this poem by Hanshan, a 9th century poet- hermit, I felt as though I was near an ancient elder.  Hanshan reaches across time and gathers together universal stories of our shared roots and lasting, spiritual nature. His imagery of a valley is symbolic of life itself as fertile and transitory.  And, of the tree itself, it conveys a timeless essence, full of beauty and free of all rivalry and to amass more than is needed.  I feel as though if I look carefully, I can find this or a similarly seasoned tree nearby.  When I do, I will sit near its roots and simply listen.

 

 

Practice 
This practice supports awareness of living essence in all realms. 

 Prepare— 

  • Standing, gently shake out your arms, wrists and hands.
  • Still standing, close your eyes (if comfortable).  In your mind’s eye, imagine being able to see beyond the immediate space where you are to the surrounding landscape in all directions.  For example, there may be hills on the distant horizon in one direction, and vast open grasslands in every other direction.  Imagine that landscape within your heart.  Pause for a moment and seal in the memory of that landscape before opening your eyes.

Practice— 

  • Then, settle into a comfortable seated position.  If you are on a chair or bench, allow the soles of your feet to rest on the floor.
  • Imagine you are a tree, and the earth is receiving your roots.  Your roots are nourished by the water, the soil, and all the micro-nutrients.  Feel your roots deepening and growing in all directions.
  • Momentarily recall that wherever you are on the planet you are part of the full story of the Earth along with countless other living beings.  Invite an appreciation of the Earth lovingly offering courage and strength to you through your roots.
  • With continued awareness of the embrace of the soil, close your eyes (if comfortable) and return to the sense of the landscape abiding within your heart.  Notice the spaciousness of the landscape.  Pause for a moment, bathing in a sense of inner and outer spaciousness.  Open your eyes, if they were closed.
  • Shift your awareness back to the part of your touching and rooting into the Earth.  Become aware of the part of you rising up from the surface of the soil, e.g., the trunk of your body.   Imagine within the landscape surrounding you there is a forest of trees – all with firm, steady trunks.  Appreciate all life nourished by the Earth and the spaciousness.  Pause here and breathe with that awareness.
  • Slowly become aware of the crown of your head, and the spaciousness not only in all horizontal directions but infinitely stretching above you.  Imagine you have invisible limbs reaching into this upper spaciousness and receiving the warmth and light of the sun.  Pause here and breathe with that awareness of being rooted, growing upward, and spreading in all directions.
  • Once again, close your eyes and remember the landscape in your heart – all beings including you abide there in the expanse of life.  Appreciate that you are the body of the whole, you are wholeness.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Sit quietly for several minutes.  Rest the backs of your hands rest on your thighs, palms upward.
  • When you feel complete, return to your day.

 

 

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 111, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   The reflection is an excerpt from “Our Inherited Wisdom:  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry” by Kate Vogt, page 38-40. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2022.

VINES – voices of interconnectivity

VINES – voices of interconnectivity

Sometimes afraid of reunion, sometimes
of separation: You and I, so fond of the notion
of a you and an I, should live
as though we ’d never heard those pronouns.

Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

 

On first glimpse, the weather seems normal in our neighborhood.  There are the usual patterns of morning and evening fog cover.  The deciduous trees have large, green crowns and the midday sky is a clear blue.  Yet a closer look shows troubling signs of drought, such as shallow water in the creeks and an earlier than usual appearance of deer and other wildlife searching for food at lower elevations.

I am not sure if it is merely my imagination, but it seems that with the drought, one plant form seems more prolific than ever.  In recent weeks, I’ve been noticing more and more vines.  They are creeping across sidewalks and stairs, wrapping trunks of trees, and enveloping gateways and fences.

Regardless of the type of vine, each has masterfully found a way to grow and flourish wherever it was planted.  They move beautifully by fluidly meandering and creatively spiraling around whatever is nearby.  Some of them adorn themselves with magnificent blossoms, and others produce clusters of fruit.

It is no wonder that vines have long been considered as wise models of endurance, steadfastness, and immortality.  Vines are featured in the mythology of the Mayans, Aztecs and other early peoples of what is now called the Americas for their transcendent qualities and medicinal values.  Ancient Celts recognized the grapevine as being a voice of interconnectivity and representing the eternal life of all things in the universe.  Ivy was lauded by early Egyptians for its everlasting soul, and later by Greeks and Romans for unwavering vigor and abundance.

In their robustness, vines resourcefully thrive.  Once they make a connection with something, they cling and rarely let go.  Yet sometimes they are overly attached, and suffocate other plants or cause fissures in foundations and structures. Their vitality is singular in an inherent drive for survival, but successful in intact environments where they can continually bond and develop.

Hence, for me, vines are a living reminder that true wellbeing is the wellbeing of the whole and all the parts.  They remind me of the delicate, relational interdependence of all living beings.  A vine that overtakes too much loses the others on whom it has survived, and thus dies and is left as a dry twig.  Perhaps, by paying attention to vines, I’ll be a little more aware of the grace of life and notice the ways I overreach and otherwise block its flow in everyday living.  I hope you will join me.

 

Practice
This practice brings awareness of the interconnection between breath and subtle actions.   

Prepare—

  • Seated or standing.
  • Simply notice your breath. Perhaps, notice the movements associated with your breath, e.g.,  in your ribs, shoulders, belly, and back.   Or, notice the rhythm of your breath as you inhale and exhale.  Just noticing with no need to change anything.
  • Now, intentionally, invite a sense of ease in your breath, i.e., breathing with as little effort as possible.

Practice—

  • Between each of the following practices, take a moment to stretch out your hands. Then, shake out your arms and smile.  Within each practice, notice what happens to your breath, e.g., notice if it still feels easeful and effortless.   (Note: If you are feeling tension in your breath, please pause for a few moments before continuing.)
    • Scrunch up your face tightly. Notice your breath.
    • Glare, as though looking at your phone or a screen. Notice your breath.
    • Frown, as though concentrating deeply. Notice your breath.
    • Slump your shoulders and let your head hang forward. Notice your breath.
    • Make tight fists and squeeze all the muscles in your arms. Notice your breath.
    • Observe something beautiful around you, such as a flower. Notice your breath.
    • If you have a view of nature, rest your eyes on a tree or another part of nature. Notice your breath.
    • Smile, as though smiling from your heart. Notice your breath.
    • Touch your fingers lightly to your lips, kiss your fingers, and then release the kiss into the air by moving your hands outward and upward toward the sky. Notice your breath.

Transition Back into Your Day—

  • Take a few moments to sit quietly with your eyes closed or open (in a soft gaze). Let your hands rest comfortably in your lap.
  • As you are ready, transition back into your day.

 

 

This poem appears in Mala of Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 40, 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” by Kate Vogt, page 273-274.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2022.

 

 

OAKS – mighty beings

OAKS – mighty beings

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.

Hanshan
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.

 

Practice
This practice invites awareness of living with a steady yet light presence. 

Prepare— 

  • 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.

Practice— 

  • 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.

 

 

 

Dappled Light

Dappled Light

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?

Rumi
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.

 

Practice
This short practice supports awareness of the grace of light.

Prepare—

  • 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.

Practice—

  • 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.

 

GROUND

GROUND

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!

Lalla
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.

 Practice
This practice supports awareness of reverence within everyday life.

Prepare—

  • 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).

Practice—

  • 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waterfall

Waterfall

Since I was cut from the reed bed
I have made
this crying sound. Anyone
separated from someone he loves
understands what I say:
            Anyone pulled
           from a source
          longs to go back.

Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks


The morning light was intense.  Its radiance blurred the usual distinctive outlines of the trees and pathways.  In the near absence of these visual cues, I felt the soundscape pour into my awareness.

A swoosh passed overhead, reminding me of the crows along this path accompanying any passerby with aerial playfulness.  One of my shoelaces clicked rhythmically with each footstep.  Between the trill of sound birds, there was an occasionally rustling of the tree branches.   Just as the sun shifted and shapes began to reappear, I felt myself drawn toward a distant roaring.

There was something primal about the consistency of this sound.  Rather than a roar, it was perhaps more akin to a purr or even a steady murmuring of “aaaah.”   It was something outside my inner textbook of rumbling sounds, most of which are human-created roars with machinery or large crowds.  This murmuring seemed to be a call to remember the sacred sound of life.

A continuum of “aaaah” not only expressing euphoric exaltation of awe but, even more poignantly, the gut-felt wail of deep torment and heartache.  Even symbolically, the expansive openness of a long “a” disappears into the crisp brevity of the “h,” which then leaves a void for the “aaaah” to arise again.   An endless cycle gracing, shedding and renewing itself within each breath, pulsebeat, footstep, or any other earthly gesture.  Here, that gesture was a waterfall.

Although I could not yet see the falls, the path meandered in the direction of the sound.   Along the way there were giant boulders and rock faces shaped long ago by glaciers.  Meadows stretched across open spaces, offering soundless expression of the same snowmelt that relentlessly and loudly sighed “aaah” in tumbling over the rocky cliff.  Soon, moisture would evaporate and again rise upward toward the sky, forming clouds; then, likely another round of snow, later melting in the intensity of sunlight.

 

Practice
This practice supports awareness of an inner anchor of peacefulness in the midst of chaos. 

Prepare— 

  • Either standing or seated, slowly stretch your arms outward and upward.  (If you have shoulder issues, please adjust this movement to your comfort level.)   Breathe here for one or two gentle breaths.
  • Slowly, on an exhalation bring your palms to the top of your head allowing their weight to rest there.  Breathe her for one or two gentle breaths.
  • Then, on your next exhalation, allow your hands to slide down across your face to your shoulders, torso and thighs.  If comfortable, slide them down your legs toward the floor.  Imagine as though all the tension in your body is melting away with the warmth of your hands.
  • Slowly, on next inhalation, come back to a neutral spine, either standing or seated upright.  Again, breathe here for several gentle breaths.

Practice— 

  • Seated.
  • If comfortable, close your eyes.  Invite an awareness of the surface beneath you fully and unconditionally supporting your weight and offering a sense of peaceful groundedness.
  • Invite a few easy breaths. Then, rest one hand over the other on your heart center.
  • Allow yourself to feel the gentle movement associated with your breathing beneath your hands – a slight expansion on the inhalation and gentle softening inward of the ribs as you exhale.
  • With your hands still resting on your heart center, quietly say the sound “aaaah” 5-6 times, allowing each to seamlessly arise after one another.
  • Invite your hands to rest on your thighs in any position that is comfortable.  Mentally, repeat the sound “aaaah” 5-6 more times.
  • Pause. Invite a sense of peaceful, inner spaciousness.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Sit quietly for several minutes, in any way that is comfortable.
  • Then, when you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 12, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2022.

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