OAK TREE – loving connections

OAK TREE – loving connections

Look
what happens to the scale
when love
holds
it.

It
stops
working.

Kabir
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Ancestors.  That was what was on my mind as I gathered oak leaves from our deck.  With each stroke of the broom, I felt reminded that behind every living being is an ancestral story.  Whether known or unknown, the ancestors are present in the continual making of that tale.

It seemed like a mundane task to be sweeping leaves after the recent winds and rains had loosened them from the tree.  Yet, I felt graced by the vitality and generous abundance of the oak tree branching over our deck.  Squirrels and winter birds were surviving the chillier months because of this tree.  And, the leaves I was gathering would eventually become usable compost to nourish other plant life.

The oak tree reminded me of my grandmothers.  Like the oak, they were the living embodiment of resilience and strength.  Their presence exuded a noble beauty.  They were wise, well-grounded and had an expansive reach; furthermore, they were endlessly resourceful in addressing their challenging conditions and situations.

As I swept, I felt the loving connection of life’s ancestries.  The broom moved back and forth.  I stood still between the side-to-side movement. The present holding the past and the future.  Seen and unseen simultaneously present.  Everything breathing together.  The trees exhaling usable oxygen, and then taking in the carbon dioxide offered by humans and other moving beings.  Divine love infusing the to and fro, removing all separation, revealing love, pure love.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of love from the inside out.

Prepare— 

  • Hug yourself. Shift so that your other arm is on top, and re-hug yourself.
  • Gently squeeze each arm, one arm at a time, using the opposite hand. Begin at your shoulder, then move down to your elbow and then your wrist and hand.
  • Pretend to wash your face with your fingertips.
    • For example, gently brush your fingertips up from your eyebrows to the hairline, and then down across your temples and cheeks.

Practice— 

  • Find a comfortable seated position, either on a chair or on the floor.
    • Allow your spine to be in a neutral, upright position and your breath to be free and unhindered.
  • Rest the back of one hand, i.e., palm upward, in the center of your lap.
  • Then, as though holding hands with yourself, rest the other palm in the palm in your lap (i.e., the palm is upward on your lower palm; and downward on the upper. The palms are at a 90-degree angle).
    • Imagine that your lower palm is the hand of your most loving friend.
      • Relax the muscles in that arm. Invite the relaxation to flow from your heart-center, shoulder blades, shoulder, entire arm, and fingers.
    • Invite your upper hand to soften and receive the loving support.
  • Allow your eyes to gently close, or find a soft gaze.  Relax the muscles across your face. Allow your breath to be soft and smooth.
  • Stay for as long as comfortable, preferably at least one minute with each hand on top.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Place the backs of both hands on your thighs. Invite a few full, gentle inhalations and exhalations. Allow for a slight pause between your inhales and exhales.
  • Sit quietly for a few moments.
  • Give yourself a hug and sincerely say to yourself, “I love you.”
  • When you are ready, transition back into your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 34, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The practice is from Our Inherited Wisdom:  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry, authored by Kate Vogt, page 317-318.  Photo by Jan Huber.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon on katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2024.

 

MUSHROOMS – ancient beings

MUSHROOMS – ancient beings

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

 There was a shift in a neighborhood hillside, resulting from an immense amount of rain over the past few weeks.  With that amount of moisture, I had anticipated the possibility of an alteration.  My mind had imagined a slippage of the soil down the hill, or the unseating of a boulder or tree; however, the shift caused the reverse.  Instead of the hill bringing damage to our neighborhood, it brought the opposite.

One morning after a particularly heavy rain, the hill literally mushroomed into life.  Birds were singing, squirrels chattered and the deer quietly meandered and grazed among the new grasses.  The hill itself had become a collage of brilliant greens and browns, featuring speckled creamy tan and golden yellow mushrooms.

The appearance of the mushrooms made me smile, in part because they bloomed overnight, seemingly out of nowhere; but also, because they are some of the most fascinating beings on earth.  When the only possibilities seem dire, mushrooms appear in abundance.  They take decay and usher in hope and renewal – e.g., wildflowers can grow out of the transformative work of mushrooms on decaying leaves or branches.

Not surprisingly, the mushroom ancestry is considered to be more than a billion years old.   The part that appears suddenly after rains – or, after devastations, such as wildfires – are the fruits of their invisible origins from a vibrant, underground web of life.  Their presence offers reminders of the delicate inter-weaving of all life as well as the constancy of transformation.

Personally, I have come to consider mushrooms a bit like loving tricksters: they blossom out of darkness, reveal life in the midst of seeming death, and flower out of the invisible.   In addition to being symbols of balance, or the simultaneous holding of all opposites, mushrooms magically show up to nourish, purify and transform whole environments.   I’m glad that they show up as potent reminders that loving wisdom lives.  The mushrooms remind me that love is still present here and now, even in the smallest particles of existence.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of possibility.  Allow for a minimum of ten minutes.  Invite a soft and receptive gaze throughout.

Prepare— 

  • Find a place where you can sit quietly. Please remove any potential digital distractions, e.g., watches and electronic devices (other than the one you are using).
  • Once you come to seated, take a few moments to notice how you feel, being as non-judgmental as possible.
    • Perhaps ask your body, “How are you doing today?” and then notice anything that arises in your awareness.  And/or, check in with your mood or breath.
  • Without trying to “fix” whatever your noticed, instead invite an awareness of whether you instinctually feel like moving, breathing, etc. in a particular way.  Then, allow yourself to follow that instinct.
    • If nothing arises, please no worries.  This is only an invitation.

Practice— 

  • Once you feel ready to focus on a simple practice, find a comfortable seated position.  If you would feel more comfortable reclining or standing, please feel free to again follow your instinct.
  • Bring one hand – or, both hands if that feels more natural – into your line of vision.
    • Observe your hand(s) – the front, back, the shape and the types of movements.  Notice how your hands feel, e.g., slightly tense, somewhat stiff or achy, or perhaps relaxed.
    • Open and close your hand(s), perhaps noticing any mood shift between a closed and open palm.
    • Ask your hand(s), “How are you feeling in this moment?”  “Is there anything you need, or I can do for you?”
    • Please invite this exploration to be with as little judgement and analysis, just noticing your hand(s).
  • Without trying to “fix” whatever your noticed, invite yourself to lovingly support your hands in any way toward which you instinctually feel draw.
    • Examples might be: nothing; holding one hand in the other; kissing your fingers or hands; saying “thank you” to them; or, anything else.
  • Invite both your hands to rest wherever they are comfortable, and in any position that is comfortable.
    • Note:  for some, this might mean resting them on a cushion or some surface other than your lap or thighs.  Invite yourself to notice and care for whatever your hands find most supportive.
    • Invite a sense of ease and support into your hands – your palms, backs of your hands, fingers, thumbs and wrists.
  • For several minutes, continue sitting with your hands supported, quietly breathing – easefully inhaling and exhaling.
    • If comfortable, with each inhalation, imagine as though infinite loving and peaceful possibility is flowing into your hands; and with each exhalation, infinite loving and peaceful possibility begins to flow throughout your cells.
      • If you find this accessible, perhaps slowing invite this possibility to spread beyond your body into all directions – above, below, and horizontally (east, west, south, north) – as an offering to all life.

Transition back into your day –

  • Perhaps once again notice the hand you began with (or, both if you started with observing both).  Invite an awareness of the space around your hands and fingers, and with that the awareness, that loving possibility is nearby.
  • Bring your hands to your shoulders – each hand the opposite shoulder – and give yourself a hug.  Reverse the direction.  You are filled with infinite loving and peaceful possibility.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

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.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon on katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2023.

 

Please join me for my 2024 Winter/Spring classes:
Feb 22 – Mar 7, 2024, Pathways to Peace: Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Compassion and Other Universal Principles – Register here.
Mar 28 – Apr 11, 2024 Ecological Awareness in Spirituality: Ancient Roots and Modern Relevance – Register here.
Both classes meet on Zoom, 3 Thursdays, 3:10-4:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

SPIRALS – life cycle

SPIRALS – life cycle

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, a time to die…

Ecclesiastes 3.1

It seems I’ve been traveling quite a bit in the past couple of months.  Between the ups and downs of airplanes, I felt the undulating cycles of life.   The trees and plants are in different stages of emerging and fading, creeks rejuvenate after a stretch of drought, the moon waxes and wanes and the tides rise and fall.

The ancient cultures understood the constant rhythm of the universe, with one cycle gliding into the next.  They experienced life as three threads spiraling 3-dimensionally at lightning speed, clockwise and counter-clockwise and in different directions around an unchanging core.   Messages about this awareness were recorded with spiral carvings in caves, tombs, rocks and pottery around the world.

Even though our modern-day world is composed of straight-edged shapes in our architecture, furniture, streets, and screens, we exist within spirals.  In nature, there are eddies, whirlpools, wind and smoke patterns, and lunar and solar cycles.  Swirls and florets appear in elephant’s tusks, horns of wild sheep, pinecones, flowers such as the sunflower and calla lily, snails, snakes, shells, and galaxies.   Besides a corkscrew-like umbilical cord and coiled inner ear, our bodies have whorls and waves in our fingertips, blood flow, navels, and bones, muscle, fascia and breath.

The natural forces of our existence radiate together in proportional harmonics defined by the Golden Spiral and Fibonacci progression, mathematical truths on the radiating movement of energy.   Like an eternal song, everything vibrates together as a universal octave with eight steps and seven intervals.  We see seven reflected in our days of the week, colors of the spectrum, and religious symbolism.

When I read this verse and/or hear it sung by the Byrds in Pete Seeger’s  “Turn! Turn! Turn!,”  I feel a hidden nexus within the dynamic spiraling of opposites.  Polarities seamlessly somersault, fold and unfold.   Blossoms appear and fade away, the in-breath cycles into the out-breath, and I sense the harmonic movements of nature.   What on the surface seem like linear, isolated events – such as spring, summer, birth, death – are instead moments of life arising and returning to the eternal source, again and again.

Practice
This practice can be done seated or standing.   It is an exploration of the movement of sound.  I suggest you read through the practice before beginning.

Preparation –

  • Hug all your bones by tightly squeezing all your muscles from head to hand to toe.  Hold the hugging for three to four seconds.
  • Release.  Be sure and let go through the palms of the hands and forehead.  Smile and breathe freely.
  • Repeat two more times.

Practice –

  • Open your mouth to create an extended “aah” sound.
  • Imagine the pathway of the “aah” sound:
    • begins at your navel,
    • travels upward through the torso,
    • across the back of the throat and palate, and
    • out of the mouth.
      • You may find it helpful to gently drawn in and up on the abdominal muscles to strengthen the sound.
  • First, imagine that your “aah” is bounding up a ladder.
  • Then, imagine that your “aah” is bounding up a spiral staircase.
    • Play with the spiral of traveling counter-clockwise and clockwise, and broader at the base or narrower at the base.

Transition back into your day –

  • Take a few minutes to sit quietly.  Relax your hands and let them rest comfortably in your lap or on your thighs.  Allow the eyes to be open with a soft gaze, or gently closed.
  • Invite the feeling of spaciousness in all your cells from the heart-center outward, from the tips of your fingers and toes and the crown of your head back into the center of your heart.   Clarity, openness everywhere.
  • And, then transition back into your day.

This post is an excerpt from my book Our Inherited Wisdom:  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry, pages 151-154.  HEARTH is posted each full and new moon.

SEEDS

SEEDS

Self inside self, You are nothing but me.
Self inside self, I am only You.

What we are together will never die.
The why and how of this?

What does it matter?

Lalla
Translated by Coleman Barks

Another calendar year has begun and there is the promise of new beginnings and shedding the old.  Here in the northern hemisphere, nature echoes this sense of hope for release of the past and offering of renewal.  The red-breasted birds referred to as robins have reappeared, and tiny buds are showing on the plants.  Leaves are decaying and forming fresh soil for new growth.

Still, nature reveals that this apparent single, calendar moment of transition is actually a concentrated glimpse of the paradox of life itself.  The first day of a year appears isolated and separate from others.  My perspective is that the first day of the calendar is like a seed – it simultaneously holds the fullness of the past and the potency of the future.

Yet, like seeds, day one is infinitely connected.  No day or seed exists without the presence of others that have come before, or without the possibility of those yet to come.  They both rely on the timeless pulsebeat of yielding and becoming –night into day and day into night.  They both offer subtle reminders that a seemingly single entity is possibly a composite of all that has ever been and ever will be.  As such, everyone, everything and every moment is sacred.

So, with this shift into an apparent new beginning, I’ve been appreciating seeds as sacred gifts filled with divine messages.  In just the last few days, I’ve found seeds everywhere – on busy urban streets, along waterways, among the roots of old-growth trees and on remote trails.  They have been still, resting where they landed, quietly portraying life’s humble truths.  I feel there is much to learn from the seeds, and hope you will join me.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of your transitions.

Prepare— 

  • Find a place where you can sit quietly.
  • Before taking a seat, clear the immediate area of any potential distractions, e.g., watches and other electronic devices.
  • Then, gently shake out your limbs, inviting a release of any unneeded tension or holdings in your body.  Take your time.  If you’ve had a stressful day, you might wish to jog in place or walk around a bit to help your body transition into sitting quietly for a few minutes.

Practice— 

  • Seated, take four to five quick exhales through your nostrils. Follow this with a gentle inhalation.  Repeat this two more times.
  • Then, gently rest your hands on your belly.  Invite an awareness of a slight expansion of your belly and lower torso as the breath comes into your body on an inhalation, and the slight contraction of the same are on an exhalation.
  • Once you feel you have some awareness of the movement associated with your breath coming in and receding, feel free to move your hands to your lap, thighs or any other comfortable position.   Invite a sense of softness in your facial muscles, neck and upper torso.
  • Quietly and gently inhale through your nostrils. (Try to maintain the soft expansion of your belly and lower torso as you inhale.)  Invite your inhale to be smooth and even.  As you do this, quietly say to yourself, “Inhaling.”
  • Pause slightly at the end of your inhalation.
  • Then, quietly and gently exhale through your nostrils.  (Try to maintain the soft contraction of your belly and lower torso as you exhale.). Invite your exhale to be smooth and even.  As you do this, quietly say to yourself, “Exhaling.”
  • Pause slightly at the end of your exhalation.
  • Continue this breath rhythm for six to twelve breaths.  Then, slowly allow your breath to return to a more natural rhythm.
  • Sitting quietly, silently appreciate your breath as part of the timeless pulsebeat of yielding and becoming.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 89, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The drawings are one’s I made of seeds and other gifts from the trees in Kona, HI.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon on katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2023.

TREES – life’s essence

TREES – life’s 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
Translated by Tony Barnstone

The trees were aglow. Their leaves and branches glistened and seemed to shine from the inside out. Occasionally there was a silhouette of a bird perched on a branch offering a melodic sound, almost as praise to the radiance.

Although the trees were being bathed in the rays of the setting sun, the luminosity revealed their inherent selflessness and generosity. Regardless of how trees are treated, they quietly nourish endless life forms, particularly breathing beings such as humans.

Given their peaceful nature, human cultures throughout the world have long respected trees for more than being practical resources for mortal life. They are also revered as messengers of pure light as they effortlessly express kindness, patience, humility, resilience, harmony and unity.

I have come to view trees as tranquil reminders to shed the destructive tendencies born of greed, anger and delusion; and, instead be a loving sentinel of eternal light benefiting the welfare of all beings.  I can learn a lot from their kind stillness.

Practice
This practice helps bring awareness that all directions radiate from the heart.

 Prepare—

  • Place your phone and other digital tools in airplane mode.  Remove watches and activity trackers from your wrist. If comfortable, remove your shoes.
  • This is a standing practice..
  • Shake out your right side, first your right arm and then your right leg. Repeat, on the left side.  Shake each limb for about a minute.
  • Playfully dance around for a few moments.

Practice—

  • Standing, place your hands over your heart with one palm over the others. Imagine you are free of greed, anger and delusion and overflowing with pure radiance and love.  Relax your arms along your sides.
  • Still standing, slowly turn in a circle, counterclockwise. Imagine as you turn you are surrounded by radiance and love and radiance.   Return to the original direction you were facing.
    • (Note: if you cannot visualize quarter-turns, try imagining facing the four horizontal directions, beginning facing the easterly direction and then turning a quarter-turn toward the south, etc. Or, imagine that you are standing in the center of an analog clock. You begin facing the number 12, and then, turn and pause at the numbers 3, 6, 9, and 12.)
  • For the following practice, you will slowly be making 4 quarter-turns to your right, pausing at each turn until you are again facing the original direction.
  • At each quarter-turn, pause. While pausing, again place your hands over your heart, and then slowly stretch your arms outward (palms upward) as though offering flowers from the depth of your heart to all that abides in that direction.
  • When your return to your original direction, place your hands over your heart as a reminder of your infinite radiance, dignity, love and generosity.  Then, offer flowers to the earth, and then to the heavens and all that abides below and above.
  • Pause in stillness, remembering the quietude of the trees.

Transition Back into Your Day –

  • Come to a comfortable seated position.  If you wish, place your palms over your heart-center again with a slight bow of your head.
  • Pause and sit quietly for long as you are comfortable before returning to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 111, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon on katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2023.

Cloudlike Nature – Poppy

Cloudlike Nature – Poppy

Observe your life, between two breaths.
Breath is a wind, both coming and going.
On this wind you have built your life —
but how will a castle rest on a cloud?

Avicenna

The clouds were near the earth.  They were soft and frilly with delicate, gentle edges.  If translucence were a hue, then that was theirs.

As I gazed at them, I was captivated by their luminous beauty.  Even though my mind was familiar with the fleeting transience of all life, especially clouds, I felt suspended in their presence.  It seemed as though eternality was gracing the world in form as a way of remembrance of the imminent kiss of birth and death.  They existed, yet just as they arose out of womb of vastness, there they would also return.

These clouds, however, were first seeded in the soil and then unfolded in the sky.  They were like flowers known as poppies.  Their blossoms are cloudlike and elegantly transcendent, yet vibrantly expressive of the quieter qualities that foster and uphold generations of peacefulness: for example, gentleness, patience, prayerfulness, groundedness and non-greed.

While humans have long held poppies as reminders of the deeper meanings of life, poppies remain as invitations to have the courage to remember the cloudlike nature of all existence.   Just like gazing upward into the sky, gazing upon a poppy invites the mind to move in new and fresh patterns, and to release old patterns as easefully as the poppy wilts or the cloud disappears.  I hope to learn more from these quiet flowers and hope you will join me.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of spaciousness.

Prepare— 

  • Remove all your electronic devices except the one you are using for this practice.
  • Take a few moments to freely move around, inviting your body to fluidly and organically stretch and move.  Feel free to sigh or make sounds as you move in new patterns.

Practice— 

  • Find a comfortable position – seated, standing, lying.  Look around the area where you are.   Invite a sense of looking anew, noticing not only the forms and shapes and colors but the areas of spaciousness.
  • After a few moments, allow your gaze to softly linger in one of the areas of spaciousness.
    • Ideally, this would be upon a field, the sky, or something natural.
    • Please no worries if you are in an enclosed space where the options are the floor, a wall, the ceiling or some other constructed spaciousness.
    • Note:  If you are standing, you might wish to shift your position.
  • Linger here, softly gazing into the spaciousness.  Imagine you looking from the depth of your being or your heart center.
    • If possible, invite an openness to any subtle shifts within your body, breath and awareness.  Perhaps you begin to feel a slowing down, more easefulness in your breath, the presence of an underlying peaceful calmness or even the opposite of any of these.  There is no right or wrong.  This is only a short practice.
  • Stand and again stretch and move organically.  Invite freedom to move, breath, and express in any way that is emerging.

Transition Back into Your Day

  • Find a comfortable seated position and sit quietly for a few moments.
    • If comfortable, softly close your eyes, allowing your breath to move in its own organic way.
  • Perhaps silently repeat to yourself a few times, “Spaciousness is my eternal friend.  She is always there within me and surrounding me.   Spaciousness is everywhere, in every being.   May we offer one another spaciousness.  May we not claim the spaciousness of others.  May more compassion and clarity arise from spaciousness.”
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes.
  • When you are ready, transition back into your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 55, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon on katevogt.com. KateVogt©2023.

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