Gracious Embrace

Gracious Embrace

I was delighted with myself,
having offered everything I had:
my heart, my faith, my work.

“And who are you,” you said,
“to think you have so much to offer?
It seems you have forgotten
where you’ve come from.”

Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

A sweetness entered my awareness as I opened the front door.  Immediately, the inner grumpiness dissipated with an infusion of fresh early morning air.  The mood change had come about because I had arisen an hour earlier than my biorhythms had expected.  It was the Sunday when time had “sprung” forward an hour for the annual shift to daylight savings time 

 Outside it was mostly dark.  A few stars lingered in the sky that was giving way to light.  Silhouettes of nearby redwood trees and rooftops were beginning to appear.  Soon, the bustle of the town would begin.  I stood still and savored this moment that I had almost missed.

This morning embrace was a humbling reminder of the gracious essence of existence.  For eons, life has dynamically folded and unfolded within an invisible, infinite unknown.   The tides ebb and flow.  Living beings are born and die.  Laughter rises and fades.  Perhaps it is the sheer immensity of reality that causes us to narrow our focus to our little irritations such as the time change and its impact on our sleep. 

 Rumi invites us not to get overly attached to our experiences or beliefs in life.  We can so easily take any one of them as our own, and then wrap it in judgment and arrogance, or fear and anger, or even delight and happiness.  For now, I’ll stick with reverence and awe.  I hope you will join me.


Practice
This short practice invites ease.

Prepare – 

  • Turn your electronic devices to airplane mode.  Remove any non-medical measuring devices, such as your watch.
  • Stand.  Stretch.  Then, gently shake out your limbs – one at a time.  

Practice – 

  • Standing, bring your hands in front of your chest and open them like a book.  Imagine that you are holding your truest self within your hands.  Let this be a reminder of your own inner sweetness and kindness.   Then, bring your hands into prayer position in front of your heart-center. (Let your fingertips and base of your palms touch.  Leave a little space in the center of your palms.)
  • In the following, you will be quietly saying the words “Namo Namaha,” which can loosely be thought of as “not mine.”  You may wish to re-read the poem by Rumi to support this practice.   
    • Inhale:  Sweep your arms out to the side and upward.  Bring your palms in prayer position over your head.  Pause.  Take a full breath.
    • Saying or chanting “Namo Namaha” (Nah-mo Nah-ma-hah), bring your hands back to prayer position in front of your heart-center.  Pause. Take a full breath.
      • Remember that feeling of holding your highest self in your hands.  
      • For the movement, you may:
        • keep your palms together and let them slide down the center of your face and upper torso;  or, 
        • sweep your arms out to your sides and back to your heart-center.
    • Repeat this six times.  

Transition back into your day – 

  • Come to a seated position.  If comfortable, close your eyes.  Otherwise, invite a soft focus to your gaze.
  • Sit quietly for a few moments.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 31, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by M. Wrona.  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”   This is a perfect companion, whether you are quarantined or just need to uplift your mood and mind.  Here’s is some of what BookLife, a magazine for bookstores and libraries, has to say:  

  • ” Vogt’s calm mentorship invokes a sense of peace and gratitude. “
  • “… [Vogt] does an excellent job making the poem, personal story and practice for each element feel cohesive and mutually relevant.”
  • “[Vogt’s] practices are easy to understand and execute while remaining original and inspiring.” 
  • “Both experienced meditators and those still learning to cultivate intentionality and presence can gain much from this paean to thoughtfulness and peace.” 
Caterpillar

Caterpillar

This moment this love comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being.

Rumi
Trans. by Coleman Barks

It was one of those transformative moments. As I rounded the street corner near my home, my five- and-a-half-year-old neighbor Emma greeted me with a big smile.  She held up her palm and said, “Look.”  Her younger sister Ali quickly rushed forward, one hand upward, and with delight said, “Meet Magenti.”  Teeny, hairless, caterpillars were gliding across both girls’ hands.  

Instantaneously, warm memories flooded into my mind.  I found myself marveling at how something so distant in time can be so present.  I could feel the feet of the caterpillar creeping across my arm.  Yet, that was a memory from decades ago when my older sister Gail and I would sit on the sidewalk outside our back door and wait for the caterpillars to crawl onto the warm concrete.  

We could be completely absorbed in watching their patient and quiet movement.  Even though they moved slowly, they made steady progress.  When we picked them up to place them on our limbs, they would continue advancing to fearlessly explore the foreign terrain of our skin.  

In hindsight, these insects were great life teachers.  Whether they knew it or not, they were headed to winged transformation.  Some would become moths and others magnificent butterflies, but they didn’t try to rush ahead, or bypass their caterpillar stage.  They relied on their entire being to navigate their immediate environment.   

When unchecked, caterpillars are harmful to gardens and crops.  Yet, their graceful and light presence inspired my sister and me to be gentle, peaceful, and take care not to cause them any harm.  They sparked some of our deepest feelings of attentiveness and tenderness toward another being.   I saw the same caring behaviors in my neighbors Emma and Ali as they showed me their caterpillars.  

Life’s wisdom is tucked within these small and least glamorous moments.  They have the potency to be like a flash of lightening that melts the boundaries of time and space, shape and form, age and size.  We are able to instinctively recognize that this ever-changing outer whirl of measurement and judgment is a projection of our inner architecture of desires, aversions and fears. Such moments offer a glimpse of what Rumi calls, “many beings in one being.”  

It may seem boring, or maybe even arduous, to be more attuned to small moments.  Our human minds like to be entertained and dazzled, but also disengaged and slothful.  We have an extra challenge to attune our inner antennae toward transformative qualities of lightness, steadiness, patience, and quietness.  Yet, in addition to my regular inner contemplative focus, I will endeavor to be attentive to the little moments every day.  I hope you will join me.

Practice
This practice invites sensory awareness and relaxation.

Prepare – 

·         Turn your electronic devices to airplane mode.  Remove any non-medical measuring devices, such as your watch.

·         Stretch out through the palms of your hands and arms.  Roll your wrists and ankles around. Then, find a comfortable place to sit.  For example, this could be on a cushion on the floor, or on a chair or bench. Breathe a few smooth and easy breaths.

Practice – 

·         Gently stroke one hand with the other.  Then, lightly stroke your legs, arms, and face. 

·         With awareness of being human with multiple ways of experiencing the small moments of life, lightly touch 

  • Your nose, acknowledging it is the portal of breath and smells.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your nostrils.
  • Your mouth, acknowledging it is the portal of taste, nutrition, speech, and kisses.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your mouth, and at the root of your tongue into the throat.
  • Your eyes, acknowledging they are the portals of sight – colors, shapes, and forms.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your eyes and at the back of your eyes.
  • Your skin, acknowledging it is the portal of touch.  Invite a quality of relaxation on all surfaces of your skin, especially in the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, back of your body, and your face.
  • Your ears, acknowledging they are the portals of hearing.  Invite a quality of relaxation around your ears.
  • Your head, acknowledging it is the CPU of memory, thought, and processing.  Invite a quality of relations in the center of your skull.
  • Your heart center, acknowledging it is the seat of your eternal self.  Invite a quality of relaxation around the center of your chest.

·         Invite a quality of softness and gentleness into your inhales and exhales.  If comfortable, close your eyes.  Otherwise, leave your eyes in a soft gaze.  

·         Sit quietly.  Imagine you are being breathed – the breath comes in, then goes out. 

Transition back into your day – 

·         When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem  appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 80, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Bankim Desai.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

NOW AVAILABLE! Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry by Kate Vogt. BookLife Review: “Both experienced meditators and those still learning to cultivate intentionality and presence can gain much from this paean to thoughtfulness and peace.” 

Full Moon

Full Moon

If God
invited you to a party and

said,

“Everyone in the ballroom tonight will

be my special
guest,”

how would you then treat them when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And Hafiz knows that there is no one in

this world who is not standing upon

His jeweled dance

floor.

Hafiz

There was a long beam of light across the water.  It seemed surreal, and even prompted a thought of whether there really was such a thing as extraterrestrial visitors from other planets.  Having had a day filled with synthetic hues in signage and screens, I laughed at myself for my being surprised by one of the most lasting, universal, and natural visual experiences – the glow from a full moon projected onto the earth.  

The moon – except during its darkest phase of newness – shines on all the lands and waters of the world.  It has no favorites and illumines whatever it touches whether that is noticed, or not.  Its presence influences the movement of the ocean, which covers nearly three-fourths of the globe.  When the full moon floods the darkness with pearly iridescence, everything is at least partially revealed.

Our dear friend, the moon, rarely makes the news – unless we land on it and then celebrate that landing.  I tend to feel that is like most of the “fixtures” of our lives.  They are the underpinning of our existence, but like the foundation of our homes and buildings, we forget that they are there.  Most of us actually don’t want the bedrocks of our lives to be making the news, because that might mean that there is something amiss.

It is unfathomable that the moon would go away within any of our lifetimes, but maybe, just as a precaution, we could notice it a little more often, and offer it appreciation for being there.  Maybe that will inspire us to notice the other everyday, regular stuff that sustains us, such as the trees, earth, our bodies and senses, and our unseen layers of support. 

After all, maybe the light of the moon is the invitation to notice what the sage poet Hafiz suggests – that all the world is standing on God’s jeweled dance floor.  Perhaps we are meant to glow and beam, seeing and being light in the world.  My sense is that this begins with an appreciation of and reverence for the ordinary.

Practice

This short practice invites appreciation of the ordinary.  

Prepare – 

  • Find a comfortable place to sit where your spine can be upright.  For example, this could be on the earth or floor, or on a chair or bench.  
  • Notice the surface beneath you and the support that is offering you.  
  • Breathe.

Practice – 

  • While still seated, systematically notice your body from the tips of your toes and fingers to the crown of your head, e.g., each toe, the top/bottom of the foot, the entire foot, the ankle, 
    • With each part of the body, with sincerity, say “Thank you. I appreciate you.”
    • As you come to the parts of your face, lightly touch your nose, then your mouth, eyes, cheeks, and ears.  
      • With each of these sensory organs, say, “Thank you. I appreciate you. Through you, I appreciate the world around me.”
  • Come to standing and begin to walk around with a sense of great appreciation of the earth that supports you.  Whomever or whatever is nearby, allow yourself to find that sense of true appreciation of all that co-inhabits this world.  
    • Walk for a few minutes.
    • Note: there is no right or wrong about where you are when you are walking and noticing your surroundings.  You could be alone at home appreciating the floor, a plant, a vase, or the light streaming through the window.
  • Come back to where you were seated.  Allow your eyes to rest in a soft gaze.  And, sit and breathe with a smooth inhalation as though you were sipping in the sweetness of all life.  On your exhales, gently yield that sweetness back to the world.
  • Give yourself a hug.  And, make a silent promise to move through the rest of your day with thoughts and gestures of appreciation.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit quietly for a few moments.
  • 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 95, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The photo is by Lukas Robertson. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

New Moon Night

New Moon Night

There is a desert

I long to be walking,

a wide emptiness,

peace beyond any

understanding of it.

Rumi

I felt welcomed by the still darkness of the new moon sky.  All the universe seemed to be in a slumber.  The atmosphere was quiet as an invisible cloud cover shielded any light from the stars. The birds and neighborhood dogs had yet to stir.  Even the trees were soundless in the quiet, breezeless air.  

Although I was far from the Great Plains where I grew up, the boundless night evaporated all the miles and years to bring me home.  That place of home is where the dark nights absorb the sky and the land and erase any sense of separateness.  As a child, I would stand in awe of the immensity of such nights and felt that somehow a supreme, loving presence was everywhere, filling the darkness.

It seems fortunate to have a warm, childhood memory written into the shrouded nights.  It has the familiar and comforting texture of home, where you can settle in and ponder. The vastness seems like an empty stage, open to endless possibility.  Here, my own thoughts often ease into the calm stillness.  Nothing to know and nothing to need to know. Past, present, and even “the now” have no allure.

As the light of the day arises, I watch my thoughts come to life.  It has been a temporary respite.  I have had a glimpse of what Rumi calls “peace beyond any understanding of it.”   As the day moves on, I will carry that peaceful memory like a camel with its water.  It won’t be lost or hoarded – just carried along to be shared along the way.  Please join me.

Practice

This short practice offers quietude in the pre-dawn. If you have fear of darkness, please skip this practice.

Prepare – 

  • In early morning before sunrise, find a comfortable place where you can sit quietly in the dark.  
    • If inside, cover as much ambient light as you can, and leave the overhead lights off.
    • If outside, be wise about where you can sit undisturbed by outside lights, e.g., passing car lights.  Ensure you have chosen a place where you feel safe.  

Practice – 

  • With your eyes open, relax around the corners of your eyes and across the lids.
  • Imagine you are slowly easing yourself into the fresh sweetness of this early pre-dawn.
    • If helpful, systematically ease any unneeded tension in your muscles:
      • Across your face, your chest, your arms, your legs, and then your shoulders and back.
  • Then, just sit. 
  • Remember the sun will soon rise out of this quiet time of the day.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit quietly for a few moments.
  • When you are ready, begin your day.

This poem  is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 69, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The photo is by Jeremy Bishop HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

Ocean of Love

Ocean of Love

The Ocean of Love
is a sea
where there is no shore;

And without the soul’s surrender,

there is no hope,
no sand.

Hafiz

The ocean was peaceful.  A green sea turtle rested on the warm sand and a young family lounged in the shade with their baby.  As I sat on a bench and absorbed the gentle flow of the waves, I let my mind settle on the quiet horizon between the water and sky. It was a seemingly perfect embrace of one blue merging seamlessly into another.

After having been absorbed in that infinite expanse for some time, my mind drifted back to the sounds and sights.  A few doves pecked at the ground near my feet.  Fresh sweetness – likely from a nearby plumeria tree – wafted into my nostrils.  

When I looked around, I noticed that other people had arrived at the beach.  A group of children played in the surf while their parents kept watch from the shore.  One person had taken on the role of monitoring the activity around the turtle, shooing people away if they got too close.  

The newcomer who captivated my attention was a neatly-dressed woman.  She stood on a rocky outcropping near the beach.  Rather than appearing lonely, her stance and demeanor emitted a sense of serenity and calmness.  In fact, she appeared as one with the vastness of the surroundings, which equally enveloped the turtle, the doves, and the children. 

While I was curious about what life journey had allowed her to shed the aura of separateness, this peaceful woman offered a beautiful, wordless expression of where her life journey had brought her.  This expression encompassed not only her presence, but the unassuming way she went about completing her purpose at the shore that morning.  

As though timed by the rhythm of the waves, she tossed one red rose blossom after another into the water.  She would reach into a somewhat crumpled paper bag, and carefully pull out and release each blossom.  Then, she stood and patiently watched a line of evenly-spaced red dots bobbing their way toward the horizon.  When the last one vanished, she also disappeared, walking over the stones toward the street and carrying her empty bag.

This anonymous woman and the translated words of the poet Hafiz invite all of us to come home – back to the ocean of eternal love that knows no separateness nor pretense.  As humans, we are a special species, yet somehow, we try to outwit the gifts of our existence: the divine to which we give many names, and our raw embodiment sustained by the giving-ness of other species, the solar and lunar orbs, and the elements.  The more entitled we are, or feel we are, the more buffered, or perhaps unaware, we are of the power of old-fashioned notions of kindness, acceptance, nongreed, humility, and reverence for all life.   Each day I will try to immerse myself in the ocean of love and hope that you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports your support of eternal love.

Prepare –

  • Free your hands and wrists of any personal devices. 
  • For this practice, it would be easiest to be seated on a chair or bench.  It can also be done in a reclining position.
  • Shake out through your feet and legs.

Practice –

  • Allow your breath to be smooth and easy.
  • Even if imagining, adopt a sense of receptivity toward a truly loving presence. 
    • To help connect to the sense of infinite, boundless love, reflect on:
      • Being in a place where you felt truly in awe of the mystery of life, e.g., in a sacred place, watching the night sky, observing a sunset, or holding a newborn baby; or,
      • This Hafiz poem; or,
      • Another Hafiz poem, “Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.”  Look what happens to a love like that—it lights the whole world.”  (translated by D. Landisky)
  • Point your left big toe toward the floor for a moment.   
  • Imagine you are dipping your toe in a sea of eternal love and light.
    • As you do this, remember your receptivity toward infinite love.  Imagine love and light are pouring into you through your left big toe.
  • If you haven’t already, relax through your toe and left foot.
    •  Imagine as love and light flow in from the toe into all of your body. 
    • As love and light pour in, imagine as though it is touching all those places within you where you hold your deepest fears, worries, judgments, greed, and feelings of hostility and sadness.  Not washing away, but touching and giving you momentary relief from their presence, and allowing you to receive love and light.
    • If you find a blockage or a sense that love and light only fill you so far, just let that be.  Smile.  You have dipped your toe in.
    • Breathe smooth and easy breaths throughout. 
  • When you feel sated in love and light, invite a sense of surrendering into a sea of love.

Transition back into your day –

  • Sit quietly for a few moments.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem  is translated by T. R. Crowe and appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 60, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

Loving-Nature

Loving-Nature

What must come, comes.

Face everything with love,

as your mind dissolves

in God.

Lalla

The neighborhood where I was walking was quiet.  A flock of birds flew far overhead and a pair of doves were snuggled next to one another on a telephone wire.  Occasionally, a squirrel scampered soundlessly across a lawn and into a tree.  

Just as I turned the corner to a busier street, the silence was broken by the sound of a screen door slapping shut and a patter of footsteps.   A woman, who I later learned was named Irene, was running toward a faint sound of a high-pitched mewing.  Two grey kittens sat near the curb.  Nearby on the street was their mother, lying immobile on her side.

Irene must have sensed that the news was not good.   She had brought two shoeboxes with her.  Asking if I could help, I was handed a box, and she pointed to the kittens.  There was a soft cloth inside.  She headed toward the mother, knelt down, and then took a photo of the cat’s serene face before wrapping the cloth around her and placing her in the other box.   

Noticing my curiosity, Irene said, “The photo is for humility.  I want to remember that part of my humanness as I care for these kittens and help them grow.”   She paused and then continued, “It is too easy to forget that one of the roots of our human species name is humus, or earth, or dirt. Instead, we (as humans) often center the story around ourselves as being the rescuer when all I am doing is temporarily stepping in on behalf of another species.  The photo helps me remember that.”  

Irene’s words reminded me of my ancestors, particularly those on my father’s side of the family who had old-world farm values.  My dad Bob was keen to remind the younger generations that we don’t take any of our material possessions with us when we die, and we should do the best we can in looking after whatever is in our care.  As children, we were given chores such as feeding the farm cats in the barn.  Each chore inbred a sense of loving humility and responsibility toward the greater whole.  

It is no wonder that the name Irene is sometimes equated with “she who knows,” or “peace” in Greek mythology.  This Irene whom I met on the street carries the beautiful timeless value of humble lovingness.  Later I found out that she is a full-time city councilwoman, a regular volunteer and advocate for housing and employment for all, a mother of two, and a wonderful mentor to the neighborhood children.  She and her husband live simply, regularly feed stray humans and animals, yet stay healthy in their own bodies and minds.  The cat that died was one that Irene had raised after its mother had died of a similar car accident.  

The interruption to quietude on my morning walk offered unexpected insight into navigating life with an old-fashioned, but not outdated, attitude and perspective of the power of humanness to be more than just the sum of our products, possessions, and inventions.  We have the potential to remember and to care for this earthly home that we all share.  And, to remember that God and sacredness is within every life gesture and expression.   I endeavor to approach the coming year with a more loving and reverent spirit, and hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports your awareness of interconnectivity.

Prepare –

  • Free your hands and wrists of any personal devices.  Place them out of arms’ reach and find a comfortable seat. 
  • On both hands, slowly touch the tips of each fingers with your thumb. 
    • Pause for a breath or two as you with each finger.
    • Invite a sense of appreciation for the gift of having hands.

Practice –

  • With your palms relaxed, open your hands upward at a level, e.g. level of your waist or chest, where you can observe your hands.
    • Soften your wrists and your gaze.   Just observe your hands as though you are seeing them for the first time in your life.
      • Notice what you notice.   For example, the space between your fingers or the way the fingers and thumb connect into the palm. 
      • Perhaps recall how a baby observes his/her hands.
    • Imagine as you observe your palms, you were able to see all that has passed across these hands of yours – perhaps kittens or puppies, favorite treats, beloved family, flowers, trees, books, steering wheels and more. 
    • Consider gestures – soft and harsh – and other ways that you have expressed emotions with your hands.
    • All life is in your hands.   Stretching back eons, your hands arise from a long chain of connections.
    • Take a moment to bring your palms together in front of your heart.  Bow your head.  As the poet Lalla suggests, vow to touch everything with love and reverence. 

Transition back into your day –

  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 38, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Jacayln Beales. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

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