Hallowed Life

Hallowed Life

The weight of arrogance is such
that no bird can fly
carrying it.
And the man who feels superior
to others, that man
cannot dance,
the real dance when the soul takes God
into its arms and you both fall
onto your knees in gratitude,

a blessed gratitude
for life.  

St. John of the Cross

The weight of arrogance is such that no bird can fly carrying it. And the man who feels superior to others, that man cannot dance, the real dance when the soul takes God into its arms and you both fall onto your knees in gratitude, a blessed gratitude for life.  St. John of the Cross

The moon once again is fully bathed in the light of the sun, giving the appearance of a glowing disc in the night sky.  Like the solar source of its radiance, the moon illumines the surface of the earth with a glistening luster.    

As a child, I would pause outside on such nights, and be filled with a dual sense of a spooky eeriness and joyful astonishment.   The land around my parents’ farm gleamed with a surreal translucence.  The large buildings, such as a Quonset, and equipment such as tractors, had a ghostly weightlessness as though they were simply mirages floating within the moonlight.   All was aglow, regardless of shape or size.

Now, several decades later, I am still captivated by this primordial dance of the moon endlessly cycling from being completely visible to invisible – all due to its orientation to the sun.  I find the phases of the moon are a sobering reminder not only of ever-changing nature of my mind, but also of how the continual churnings of thoughts obscure clarity.   Yet, about every thirty days, the light shines evenly and free of impediments, offering hope for my heart to soar in infinite luminosity, with untainted compassion.

Universally, sages, prophets, saints, and elders model our innate human capacity to reflect – and revere – the boundless radiance.  They inspire us to recognize the sweet interconnectedness of all life, where no spirit is superior to the other and where each is a precious part of the whole.  The Indian poet Tukaram offers an image of all life belonging on God’s “jeweled dance floor.”  Navajo wisdom offers steady reverence for the earth, sky, moon, sun, and all beings.  And, the mystic St. John of the Cross honors the ever-present grace of divine light, inviting us to let it freely shine in gratitude for this hallowed life.

I continually venture to embody the wisdom that lives within natural phenomena and sacred poetry, and hope you will join me.  

Practice 
This short practice invites appreciation of the sacredness of the earth.

Prepare – 

  • Choose a place where you can be undisturbed for a few minutes.  If you are using your phone for this mini-practice, consider placing it on silent.  Also, if comfortable, remove your shoes. 
  • Standing (Note: if your balance is feeling unstable, feel free to be seated for this portion.) 
    • Slowly rotate your right ankle, a few times one direction and then the other.

Repeat with your left ankle.

  • Gently lift up the toes on your right foot and spread them apart.  Then, curl them under.  Repeat a few times and then do the same on your left foot.
  • Lightly tap one foot on the floor a few times, then the other. 

Practice – 

  • Standing quietly.
    • Pause.  As best as you can, balance between your left and right side, and front and back. 
    • Notice where your feet are touching the surface beneath you. 
      • If inside, acknowledge the floor and all the resources that made the floor.  If wooden, for example, acknowledge source of the wood, e.g. the trees, as well as the humans that laid the planks of the floor, and all the earthly resources that nourished them so that they could do the work.   Acknowledge the concrete foundation, and the stones from the riverbed that made the concrete, and the waters.
      • Whether inside or outside, acknowledge the soil and its life, e.g., the insects and microbes.  Then acknowledge the layers of earth, e.g., the rocks and whatever is unique to where you are.
      • Wherever you are, acknowledge the First Peoples of the land of your area.
  • Still standing, begin to slowly walk for a few minutes, e.g., in a small circle
    • Consider all the life beneath your feet.  As invited by Thich Nhat Hanh, “walk as though your feet are kissing the earth.”  Consider also the awareness that the earth is kissing your feet. 
  • Pause again, standing quietly. 
    • Reach your hands upward to the sky. 
    • Imagine that you are receiving the luminous light of a full moon through your open hands, and that light is pouring down your arms into your torso and down through your legs to your feet. 
    • Lightly touch the top your head with your fingertips and imagine as though that light is washing away all tendencies toward judgement and self-centeredness with joyful love, compassion, and equanimity. 
    • Then, rest your hands over your heart center with remembrance that the four horizontal directions begin and end with the light of your own heart.
      • With gratitude for the gift of life, say “thank you.”

Transition back into your day – 

  • Find a place where you can sit quietly for a few moments.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    


The verse appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 11, 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.  KateVogt©2020. 

Bark – staying in touch

Bark – staying in touch

I know a cure for sadness:
Let your hands touch something that
makes your eyes
smile.

I bet there are a hundred objects close by
that can do that.

Look at
beauty’s gift to us –
her power is so great she enlivens
the earth, the sky, our
soul. Mirabai

Mirabai

Near our apartment is a small, wooded park.  It is nestled between two streets with a ravine in the center.  On both sides are magnificent coastal redwood trees. They are only echoes of their parent trees, some of which would have been as wide as a two-story house is high, at the time those trees were milled by the colonizers more than a century ago.  This park is a type of haven where this second growth can thrive as living representation of the story of this locale, and beyond. 

Each day when I take a neighborhood stroll, I pass through this park.  The wide path is cushioned with the redwoods’ needles, so there is a quietness that muffles even the sound of the teenage boys daring one another to ride their bicycles down the steep slope.   I like to linger with the trees for a few moments of touching and admiring their bark.  

Just being near the beautiful reddish-brown bark of these giant conifers reassures me that dominance doesn’t necessarily mean oppression and destruction.  It can be compassionate, gentle, and genuinely equitable.  The redwoods’ bark has a larger role than just protecting the tree.  Its soft, almost spongey fibrous texture of outer bark is home to many types of insects and other invisible species that are integral to the vitality of the multi-dimensional web of life.   

When I touch the bark of redwoods, I am reminded of the words attributed to the 15th century ascetic Mirabai.  The beauty of the redwoods, like all of nature, continually invites us to pause and re-connect with the most fundamental part of our embodiment – we are part of a dynamic, earthly organism that gracefully and generously offers the air, ground, and endless nutrients for the well-being of all.  

Ancient sages such as Mirabai offer us both:  a warning –  e.g., if we remove ourselves from nature, humans will become coarsened toward one another;  and, guidance – e.g.,  stay in touch with something greater than us.  As a small way of heeding their wisdom, I will continue to touch the redwoods as a reminder of our innate human capacity for honesty, endless loving kindness, sharing and caring.  

Practice 
This short practice invites awareness of our connection with nature.

Prepare – 

  • For this practice, either be outside, or, if inside, be near a living plant.    
  • Standing, gently shake your forearms and hands for a few times.  Roll your shoulders around in any way that is comfortable for you.  Smile.  Smile again.  And, then really smile at how silly you might feel just smiling.  
  • Invite a few deeper inhalations of your breath.  Then, smile again.

Practice – 

  • Take your hands in front of you, palms facing one another.  
    • Slowly, take them apart and then back together a few times, similar to playing an accordion.  
    • Allow your palms and wrist to be relaxed.   Perhaps add a feeling of playfulness to this movement.
    • Breathe.  
      • As you inhale, invite your hands to move away from one another; and, as you exhale invite your hands to move closer together.  
      • Imagine as though you’re are playing music with your breath. 
      • Maybe sway gently with these movements.
      • Do this for at least a minute.
  • Come near a tree or other living plant.  Smile as though you are with a dear friend.
    • Hold your hands on either side of your plant friend, close but not touching.  If it is extra large, choose just a branch or a smaller part of the plant.  
      • Similar to above, allow your hands to gently and slowly move away from and then closer to the plant.  If you wish, connect the movements with your breath (as above).
      • If you are comfortable, imagine as though the plant is breathing.  Imagine your breath and movements are synchronize with the plant’s breath.  If you have found it comfortable to do this, be playful and free.
    • Now, lightly touch the plant.  Smile.
      • If you are comfortable, allow yourself to feel any sense of touch in return.
    • Say, “thank you” to your plant.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Find a comfortable place to sit quietly for a few moments.  
    • Allow your eyes to rest in a soft gaze.  
    • Invite an easeful, calm breath.
  • Touch your heart center lightly with your fingertips.  With a smile, say, “thank you.”
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 9, 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.  KateVogt©2020. 

Bat and Butterflies

Bat and Butterflies

We bloomed in Spring.
Our bodies are the leaves of God

The apparent seasons of life and death
our eyes can suffer;
but our souls, dear, I will just say this forthright

they are God Himself,
we will never perish
unless He does.

St. Teresa of Avila

The body of a small bat lay at the roots of the tree.  It looked as though it had just been in flight, with its clearly defined head and body and outstretched wings.  Yet, it was on the earth not in the sky, and visible at the peak of daylight and not at night.   As I stood and observed this microcosm of our greater outer world, two blue butterflies flew by. 

Living in a semi-urban as I do, it is easy to forget that the wilderness is always nearby.   Since the onset of the 2019 coronavirus, unexpected encounters with the wild have become the new norm.  Today, it was the bat and the butterflies along the trail.  Yesterday, it was a doe and her fawn outside the kitchen window, dragonflies leading the way on a nearby trail, and a skunk scampering across a street in broad daylight.  

Throughout different cultures, the presence of wild species carries timely messages.  The bat, for example, signifies letting go of anything that comes in the way of our divine nature.  That can be old habits that cloud our thinking, clinging to the impermanent, attitudes of judgment, and self-indulgent behaviors.   For most of us, this type of letting go feels like a loss of life as we know it.   The butterflies inspire us to have the courage to let go and embrace the gentler, wiser aspects of our humanness.   

For me, there is some comfort in this ancient observation that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, and vice versa   Whenever I am not clear about what is happening within the wilderness of my own mind, I turn off my phone, put on my sneakers, and go out for a walk, even if only for ten or fifteen minutes.  As I walk, I remember that there are insects and microbes in the ground beneath me, even if it is paved over.  That helps me remember my embodiment is like a cell within the living organisms of the earth and universe.  Whether it is a bat or a butterfly, a redwood or a rose, most often some other being during my walk attracts my attention and sheds light onto whatever had moved me to the walk in the first place.  

It is nearly impossible to make sense of the scope of death and upheaval that has come with the presence of the coronavirus, but I take solace and hope from other species that if we heed their subtle messages, the road ahead will be much less painful.  It is time for us to let go of our habitual distractions, and instead step up to the responsibility of being attentive, caring, loving, and compassionate to all beings.  If we read the words of St. Teresa of Avila again and again, we may indeed discover that this is a time to rise up to our truest selves.   I am willing to try this steeper path and hope you will join me. In the meantime, please stay well.

Practice
This short practice invites an appreciation of being part of the larger whole.

Prepare – 

  • If possible, find a safe and comfortable place to be seated outside.  Inside is also fine.    
    • Wherever you are, acknowledge the surface beneath you by offering a silent appreciation for its steady support.   
    • Allow your hands to rest on your thighs or on your lap.
  •  Acknowledge the space around you – front, back, sides, and above.  Invite awareness that as you sit and move through the world, this space is always there.  It offers you complete awareness of your surroundings. 
    • Note:  We often only relate to what is directly in front of us, especially when using our technological tools.  Yet, we take in and share information holistically.

Practice – 

  • Soften your gaze and the area around your eyes.  Imagine you are looking from the back of your head rather than from the surface of your eyes. 
  • Keeping your 360° awareness, allow your breath to move into your lungs – front, back, sides, lowest and uppermost parts of the lungs.
    • Without forcing, breathe with this awareness for six breaths.
  • For three breaths, invite your arms to move with your breath:
    • As you inhale, allow your arms to move out to the sides, slightly back, and overhead.  If you have shoulder conditions, please adjust as needed.
    • As you exhale, allow your arms to return to the sides of your body.
  • For three breaths:
    • Bring your palms into a soft lotus bud shape (gentle prayer position) in front of your heart. 
      • Pause for a breath
    • Keeping your palms in prayer position, inhale your hands overhead, taking them up the center line of your torso and face to overhead. 
      • Pause there for a breath.
    • Keeping your palms in prayer position, exhale your hands back to your heart center.  Repeat.
  • Allow your hands to rest in your lap.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit quietly for a few moments.  
  • Then, consider ways you might move through your day with awareness of the world around you.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

This poem is translated by Daniel Ladinsky and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 73, 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.  KateVogt©2020. 

NOW AVAILABLE!!   My new book “Our Inherited Wisdom”  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry  (click for online purchase).  This is a perfect companion for your personal reflections. 

Owl

Owl

As you fill with wisdom,
and your heart with love,
there ’s no more thirst.  

There ’s only an unselfed patience
waiting on the doorsill, a silence
which doesn’t listen to advice
from people passing on the street.   

Sanai

It is the month of May, and our neighborhood is teeming with flowers of all colors, shapes, and sweet scents.   Some blossoms like the California poppy are native to this region and others have been imported from distant lands.  Their collective presence creates a sense of lightness, as though their coming into their beauty had been effortless.  Yet, their growth has been nurtured by the light and heat of the sun, insects and birds, moisture, minerals in the soil, and the phases of the moon.   

As the daytime wanes, the heightened fragrance in the air announces the coming of night.   Then, the smells give way to sounds.  On a clear night, constellations of the stars are visible, and this week there is a supersized full moon.  In the depth of the night, there is an occasional howl of a coyote and or a bark of a dog.   Within the last few weeks, an owl has settled into the neighborhood, revealing its presence with its rhythmic hooting.  

Although I couldn’t see the owl, I am sure, with its keen sense of vision and observation, that it was aware of my efforts to peer through the darkness in the hope of seeing its form glide through the sky.  After the passage of a couple minutes, I chose instead to let go of the trying to see it and just appreciate that an owl was temporarily visiting our semi-wooded neighborhood.  I stood outside and felt the cool night air on my arms and face.  Silence enveloped me, offering reminders of times of feeling simultaneously safe, yet alert, when staying in a tent in the wilderness earlier in my life.  

“Keep your wits about you,” arose into my awareness.   Immediately, a sort of sixth sense arose, allowing me to intuit the night’s wholeness.  The surrounding trees had eclipsed the moonlight so where there normally would have been shapes and forms, there was only an expanse of darkness.  I had to rely on an innate set of “wits” to detect subtle movements around me, and to be able to respond in focused and discerning ways.   I thought of the owl, and all the owls around the world who are heralded by humans for their patient ability to observe and see what most species can’t, and to move with quiet, fluid precision.   Some cultures consider them as omens of death – not only loss of embodiment, but the demise of established systems and well-worn habits.

The wings that carried this owl to our neighborhood were those of sorrow and grief.  Near and far, a large number of humans are experiencing multitudes of loss and change.  The comfortable din of busy-ness has been momentarily muted, baring all that we normally can choose not to see.  This is a sad time of transformation. 

Other species have stepped forward with timeless messages of listening to our inner guidance; paying attention to and caring for the little things, especially those that go beneath our radar and that we take for granted; revering all that supports our comforts; taking and consuming only what we need; letting go of old patterns and voices of those that feed our fears and judgments; being courageous as we face the unknown; being patient, listening, and observing, then acting with discerning focus; offering beauty, sweetness, and kindness in all that we say and do; and, being filled with lasting truth and wisdom.   At the core of these is a change in heart toward thirst-less love.  Please join me in stepping into the nighttime of love, where all belong.  

Practice
This short practice invites an appreciation of silence.

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position on the earth, floor, or on a chair. 
    • If on a chair, allow the soles of both feet to rest on the floor. 
  • Invite your breath to be free and easy, again without forcing. 

Practice – 

  • Close your eyes, or keep a quiet gaze.  Breathe:
    • As you inhale, imagine your breath is radiating outward from your heart center simultaneously in all directions – back, sides, front, up, down.  Relax your belly and release tension around your shoulders, chest, eyes and jaw.  
    • As you exhale, imagine your breath is softening into your heart center, deeply nourishing the very core of your being.
    • Breathe this way for six breaths.
  • Lightly place your hands over your ears. 
    • Continue with the pattern of breathing above for another three breaths. 
  • Allow your hands to rest in your lap.  Lightly smile and continue this heart-centered breath for another three breaths.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit quietly for a few moments.  
  • Then, consider ways you might move through your day with an inner sense of quietude, and how that might manifest in your thoughts, speech and actions.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 83, 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.  KateVogt©2020. 

NOW AVAILABLE!!   My new book “Our Inherited Wisdom”  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry  (click for online purchase).  This is a perfect companion for your personal reflections. 

(May 2020 – NATURE WISDOM FOR OUR FUTURE (video length is 1 min 47 sec)

Gentle Giants

Gentle Giants

Our hands imbibe like roots,
so I place them on what is beautiful in the world, 

And I fold them in prayer, and they
draw from the heavens light. 

St. Francis of Assisi

As I stepped outside to feed the birds, the neighborhood redwood trees were bathed in the early morning light.  In this bucolic view, there was no visible trace of the pain and suffering in the world.   There was only light, and sky, and treetops. 

It made me wonder if such beauty always carries a sense of hope for harmony and peacefulness among all earthly beings.  Certainly, the redwoods themselves are living reminders of the power of equanimity.  Their strength and ability to weather storms is ever-present in their graceful, columnar trunks and evergreen needles.  

There is a hidden beauty to these Coastal Redwoods.  Rather than their prominence or grandeur, their secret charm is in their natural way of being.   Unlike the giants in most of our human mythology, the redwoods are gentle sentinels.  For thousands of years, they have modeled true generosity, kindness, and steadfast devotion to the wellbeing of the whole.  They support all life around them from beneath the ground to the uppermost regions, e.g., other plants, insects, worms, mammals, reptiles and birds, along with the health of the soil and air.  At their roots, they intertwine with and nourish one another from generation to generation.  

Almost everywhere on earth, there is some part of nature with similar altruistic qualities of the redwood.  The soil itself offers the ground for us to live and move, not to mention being a source of our food.  It has mostly been in the last couple of centuries that our human species has experimented with shaping economies and group attitudes in opposition to our earthly inherited values of cooperation, altruism, non-greed, and being grand in our gentleness.

Now with our global pause on this Earth Day, we are challenged as humans to reflect.  We have a choice as to whether we can humbly acknowledge our own ancient, human ancestors who gave us the ethical roots on which we grow and stand.  Ironically, their tenets reflect those natural ones of our earthly home.  Or, do we choose to continue the path on which name, fame, impatience, and indulgences are all that matters?   

The choice is ours – individually and collectively.  I’m choosing to listen to the ancient beings – human sages and saints, and earthly caretakers like the redwoods.  I hope you will join me.

Practice
This practice invites gratitude for our earthly home.

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position on the earth, floor, or in a chair.
    • Allow your spine to lengthen upward.  Try to gently lift from your pelvis, navel area, and then lower ribs.  
  • Wherever you are – inside or outside – acknowledge one or two parts of the natural earth that sustains your body, e.g., the ground beneath you. 
    • Pause for each and imagine as though you are holding them in your hands.  Notice how that feels, for you e.g., scary, calming, reverential. 
  • Invite your breath to be free and easy, again without forcing.  Perhaps smile to further support ease in your breath. 

Practice – 

  • Lightly place your hands on:
    • Your thighs, acknowledging the grace of solidity within you.
    • Your lower belly, acknowledging the grace of beauty within you.
    • Your navel area, acknowledging the grace of vitality within you.
    • Your chest, acknowledging the grace of transformation within you.
    • Top of your head, acknowledging the grace of equanimity within you.
  • Bow your head with your hands in front of your heart with gratitude for these gifts that are represented in the gentle giants and the rest of natural world around us.  
  • Then, allow your hands to relax lightly in your lap or on your thighs.  Sit quietly and allow yourself to breathe with an even length between your inhalation and exhalation.  

Transition back into your day – 

  • Gently rub your hands together.  As you do this, invite a sense of loving, caring attentiveness not only to your hands, but to all that they touch, create, and express.
    • Then, if you wish, hold your hands, palms open and upward, in front of your chest. Imagine you are holding the entire earth with caring, loving attentiveness.
  • Relax your hands into your lap or on your thighs once again.  
  • Sit quietly for a few moments.  And, when you are ready, return to your day with renewed appreciation for your embodiment and earthly home.

This poem is translated by Daniel Ladinsky and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 86, 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.  KateVogt©2020. 

NOW AVAILABLE!!   My new book “Our Inherited Wisdom”  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry  (click for online purchase).  This is a perfect companion for your homestay. 

Resilience

Resilience

u
n
i
v
e
r
s
e
?
?
?

Tukuram

Within the last few weeks the sky has grown clearer and the plants more vibrant. Wildflowers are blossoming on vacant lots and tree branches are reaching across walkways, causing pedestrians to bow down or walk aside. Fragrances from the lilacs, jasmine, and roses add a sweetness to the air. Throughout the day, the sound of songbirds has replaced the usual murmur of traffic.

I am deeply grateful for the luxury to pause and notice nature as our species grapples with unfathomable levels of change and loss.  Even those of us with basic comforts are jarred into discovering new patterns and rhythms, letting go of a sense of predictability and control, and having courage to face the emotional and mental effects of our separateness from touch and togetherness. 

It has been a gift to observe nature’s dynamic and multi-dimensional response to the slowing of our human activity.  It reminds me that we are part of a dynamic bio-organism, with inbuilt systems and feedback loops for adjusting to disturbances and changes. While our protocol of physical distancing supports our bodily and mental immunity, the rest of nature is actively practicing resilience.  

Each part is part of a resilient whole.  When we look at the word “universe,” we see this word no longer holds any meaning if any of the letters were missing.  All is part of a larger family with a collective of diverse, individual stories.  Natural intelligence weaves all of life together.  The pandemic challenges us to shift our inner dial toward more conscious living with shared values of honoring our nature-, human- and ancestral-kin, as we reconnect with the transformative and caring qualities of gratitude and love.    

When we tune into a reverent, holistic attitude toward life, then perhaps we will find that the universe that we thought was out there somewhere has always been within.  Until then, I wish you safety, resilience, and wellness.

Practice
This short practice supports bodily awareness.

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable seated position on the floor or in a chair.
    • If you are on a chair, rest the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Inhale and sweep your arms out to the sides and up overhead.  On an exhale, sweep your arms down to your sides.
    • Soft, gentle, movements and breath.

Practice – 

  • Still seated, acknowledge the different parts of your body.  Lightly place one hand on each part of the body in the following sequence.  
    • Torso area: Heart, lower belly, navel, upper chest, throat.
    • Upper Limbs: right hand, left hand, right arm, left arm.
    • Lower Limbs: both feet (if you can’t touch your feet, no worries, Instead, just point toward them), both legs.
    • Head: nose, mouth, eyes, cheeks, ears, crown of the head. 
      • Note:  For the areas around your face, e.g., eyes, you can just imagine the touch.
  • Pause and breathe 6 breaths.
  • Repeat.  At each part of the body, say “You are an integral part of the whole.”

Transition back into your day – 

  • Come to a seated position.  
    • If comfortable, close your eyes.  Otherwise, invite a soft focus to your gaze. Invite your breathing to be gentle and comfortable.
  • Sit quietly for as long as is comfortable.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 103, 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.  KateVogt©2020. 

NOW AVAILABLE!!   My new book “Our Inherited Wisdom”  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry  (click for online purchase).  This is a perfect companion for your homestay. 

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