Starlight

Starlight

Quiet yourself.

Reach out with your mind’s skillful hand.

Let it go inside of me

and touch

God.

Don’t

be shy, dear.

Every aspect of Light we are meant

to know.

St. John of the Cross

The night sky has been clear for the last several days.  As the sun vanishes on the horizon, glorious oranges and pinks give way to the purplish vastness of twilight.  And then comes the steady radiance of a planet or two followed by the emergence of star after star.

With the moon being new, the stars are literally the stars of nighttime.  They have no competition from the lunar glow, and shine brightly in the cloudless sky.  As constellations begin to take shape, I am reminded of the saying “as above, so below.”   Or, “as without, so within.”

For me, these starry nights offer several luminous messages, beginning with equanimity, togetherness, spaciousness, and interconnectedness.   The backdrop of the infinite openness of space is enriched by the presence of each individual star holding its own light without stealing from the other.  Instead, their proximity to one another creates celestial forms echoing the dynamic and interdependent web of earthly beings, e.g., humans, animals, and birds.     

The “twinkle” of the stars offers another insightful message, which is that things are not always as they appear.  While the sky appears to be filled with sparkling jewels, the glistening is an illusion.  A star’s light is refracted as it passes through the turbulence of the earth’s atmosphere.  This distortion gives the starlight the appearance of “twinkling.”  A similar phenomenon happens with my perception as it gets skewed by the churnings of my mind. 

Perhaps the most humbling message is the call to invoke brightness in the midst of instability and change.  And, to trust that behind the churnings is a steady light that can be known when the mind is cloudless, i.e., peaceful and clear.  As St. John of the Cross reminds us, we are meant to know, and have the capacity to know, the light that lights up all the world.  May we all turn toward the heavens during this upcoming season of light.

Practice

This short practice fosters awareness of our connection to the universe.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. 
    • If you are on a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Cover your eyes with your hands. 
    • Allow your thumbs to rest on your temples.  Lightly touch the tips of your little fingers between your eyebrows and the tips of your index fingers slightly above that (near the area known as your “third eye.”
    • Invite ease into your eyes and breath.
  • Release and relax your hands into your laps.  Allow your eyes to either be softly closed or in a gentle gaze.

Practice –

  • Bring awareness to the area where you were resting your little and index fingers.  Imagine that area is an open window.
  • Inhale
    • Imagine as you inhale that a light is emanating through that “window” area on your forehead and reaching into the entire universe.
  • Exhale
    • Imagine as you exhale that a light is shining through that “window” area on your forehead and expanding into your skull and nervous system.
  • Continue for several smooth and easy breaths.

Transition back into your day –

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

This quote translated by Daniel Ladinsky appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 106, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   Photo by Isaac Mehegan.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

A Question

A Question

Birth, old age,

sickness, and death:

From the beginning,

this is the way

things have always been.

Any thought

of release from this life

will wrap you only more tightly

in its snares.

Dieu Nhan

Some questions are profound.  I have come to expect them to be posed by the prophets, poets, or great sages of the world.  But it was the three and half year old Eli who looked up and asked me, “Who are you?”  Her intonation was such that she was asking from a place of curiosity, not fear or confrontation. 

My automatic response was to offer my name.  “I’m Kate,” I answered, but it was clear from the look on her face that a mere label was not what she was looking for.  It was a search for how I fit into her world, or what my relationship was to her.  I had greeted her mom Ami as we gathered our mail from our mailboxes.  Eli prompted me to give her a better answer by opening her eyes a little wider and quietly observing my face.  “I’m your neighbor,” I said, as I pointed the direction of our apartment.  Eli smiled and began to tell me stories about her day.

After our short conversation, Eli’s question lingered at the back of mind.  Probably the most truthful answer I could have given would be to acknowledge that I don’t know who I am, but I am working on it.  Naturally, that answer is too esoteric for most anyone regardless of their age.  Yet I’ve learned enough to recognize that there is an indescribable part of me that is, just is.

Until I can fully answer Eli’s question, I am her neighbor and am still held in the cycles of life’s joys and sufferings.  Perhaps I should have pointed Eli toward Dieu Nhan who was born a princess, married and widowed.  She traversed through the phases of life until there was not even the thought of being a someone.  As with other wise beings, Dieu Nhan transformed into a fountain of compassion, kindness, and light-heartedness. 

I trust that the imagined journey is freedom, and that earthly embodiment is its lesson.   I am thankful that we live in the midst of wisdom, which abides day by day, from dawn to dusk, and moment to moment.   The trees, plants, animals, wind and sun are always there to remind us to see the infinite space holding all life.   Please join me in answering Eli’s question, “Who are you?”

Practice

This short practice supports our capacity for direct perception.

Prepare–

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. 
    • If you are on a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Sway your upper body from side to side a few times.  Return to stillness.
  • Slowly move your eyes side to side, up and down, at a diagonal from one upper corner of the eye to the other, and then the other direction.  
  • Blink your eyes a few times.  Then, open your eyes and mouth wide, as if you are fully amazed.   Relax your face but with a slight smile, sincere not too forced.

Practice–

  • Close your eyes and imagine the warmth of the sun is seeping into your lids and nourishing your entire being.  Soak up the giving nature of the sun to nourish the plants and support life on earth. 
  • Imagine yourself radiating the beneficial warmth of the sun.  Just soft, warm light.
  • Open your eyes into a soft gaze and allow your eyes to receive the sensory impressions (e.g., colors, shapes, dimensions, shadows, light, textures, design, or distance).   Just receiving, just experiencing, and just observing with no need to label or analyze.   
  • After a few moments, lightly close your eyes again and receive whatever experience arises.  Note:  If it is more comfortable for you to keep your eyes open in a soft gaze, please feel free to do so.
  • If you have lost the gentle smile, invite it to return.

Transition back into your day–

  • With your eyes in a soft gaze, slowly scan the room or space where you are, simply observing.   Invite a sense of child-like delight in being alive.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 78, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Crows

Crows

Knowledge always deceives.

It always limits the Truth, every concept and image does.

From cage to cage the caravan moves, but I give thanks,

for at each divine juncture my wings expand

and I touch Him more

intimately. 

Meister Eckhart

A faint sound greeted my ears as I opened the front door.  The morning air was otherwise still.   There were shades of pink lingering on the wisps of clouds.  As I descended the stairs toward the street, the sound came closer.  It was like an echo of “-aw” “-aaaw” four times, and then it faded.

The disappearance of the sound disturbed me.   Normally, a symphony of different pitches and lengths of caws arises soon after the first one begins.    The vocalization of the local crows is a routine morning phenomena that I’ve come to expect.   Like the roosters crowing at dawn, the crows here open the day with their distinctive voice.  Whenever I sleep much past dawn, I can rely on a few to perch on an electrical wire outside our bedroom window, and chant a continuous series of four long and short caws until I look out at them.  Their silence is rare and in the past, it related to an impending storm or quake of the earth.  

Fortunately, my concern was quickly eased.  While driving out away from home, three crows appeared and began to glide along in front of my car.   For several minutes they coasted ahead of me, perfectly synchronizing their pace with mine.   I laughed at myself for at first feeling as though they were escorting me along the road.  Then, I noticed a slight tension in my hands.  It was more than necessary for guiding the car.  Here I was, a human clinging – albeit lightly – to a steering wheel, driving in a metal container along the paved earth.  Yet, the crows were soaring effortlessly in the freedom of the open sky. 

These rather largish birds with their silken black color have long captured the attention of humans around the world.  Most of the mythology – from Asian to Europe to Northern Africa to the Americas – portrays these mysterious feathered beings as bad omens, particularly of an impending death. If that is the case, then I welcome their elegant grace in inspiring a little laughter in me.  In that light-hearted moment, there was a mini-death of any sense of superiority as a human.  I actually felt quite silly transporting my body around in an invention built with, and fueled by, an untold amount of planetary resources.  While the crows move freely with the gift of their wings, my journeys are along predictable routes buffered from the air, earth, and those very things that sustain all of life.

My father who lived until the age of ninety-three always reminded my four siblings and me, as well as his couple of dozen grandchildren, that it is important to laugh at yourself every day, and to know that all of life is just on loan.   As a person with a graduate degree, I had to unravel myself from an idea that knowledge comes from books before I could appreciate his simple, but wise guidance.  Now, I treasure each little moment of laughter as it brings me a little closer home to myself.  I hope you will laugh along with me.

Practice

This short practice supports our capacity to let go.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. 
    • If you are on a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Make tight fist with both of your hands and hold for several seconds.
  • Release the fist and lightly shake your lower arms and hands.
  • Lightly brush your fingertips across your face, each of your arms, your torso and your thighs. 

Practice –

  • Close your eyes for a few moments.  Imagine any unneeded tension is melting.  Let it go from your face, chest, and rest of your body. 
  • Open your eyes into a soft gaze. 
    • With each inhale, imagine every cell in your body is smiling.
    • With each exhale, imagine your entire body is saying “aaah” as though you were settling into a hammock or a similar comfortable place.   
  • Continue for a few minutes.
  • Notice the space between your toes.  You might need to wiggle your toes a bit.  Notice the space between your arms and your body.  Notice the space between your fingers.  Notice the space behind you and all around you. 
  • Invite an aura of ease into those spaces and imagine that ease is seeping into your skin, tissues, muscles, and organs.  Invite ease into the core of your being.  Breathe. 
  • Imagine you could hear yourself laughing.   Laugh along with yourself.
  • Stand up and shake everything out – arms, legs, feet, hands – and sway from side to side as though you were a moving freely in the air.

Transition back into your day –

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

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 35, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Reflection

Reflection

Who speaks the sound of an echo?

Who paints the image in a mirror?

Where are the spectacles in a dream?

Nowhere at all – that’s the nature of mind!

Tree-Leaf Woman (c. 9th century poet)

As the sun began to set, the pond became still.   My husband Jay and I were taking a late afternoon walk around this small body of water in Northern California.  Walking a trail high above the water’s surface, we were feeling gusts of wind at the higher elevation, yet visually experiencing the calmness below.

We continued our walk in silence.   We were both in awe of nature’s endless capacity to express volumes of wisdom within a single moment.  The sensory dichotomy between the breeze on our skin and stillness below was a simple reminder that even though life may feel chaotic, in our heart of hearts there is steadfast peacefulness.

Jay and I both had loved resting on the floor in our early school years while listening to the teacher read a story.  Here on the trail, we had both dropped into that childlike ability to be completely absorbed in the ancient story unfolding around us.   Perhaps it was imaginary, but it felt as though the sky, sun, wind, and the water had noticed our attentiveness to their conversation – and lessons. 

By the time we had finished our circumambulation, the pond had become a glistening mirror.  There was a near perfect reflection of the sky above.   They appeared to be two skies, both with broad brushstrokes of deep purple across a canvas of oranges, reds, blues, and pinks.   This was another sweet reminder of nature’s stillness offering the grace of clarity of life as it is. 

Within the ups and downs of life, I am deeply grateful for the abiding wisdom tucked within the flora and fauna, the elements, and all forms of life.  As the fall season settles in, I will take more moments to listen and observe this wordless wisdom.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports your awareness inner peacefulness and love. 

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Gently circle one hand over the other 3-4 times.  This will feel as though you were wringing your hands.
  • Lightly rest the heal of your palms over your eyes for a few moments. 
    • Take a few deep breaths and imagine that on each inhale that pure joy and love are flowing into every cell of your being.

Practice –

  • Walk to a place where you have a hanging mirror. 
  • Bring your face within about eight inches of the mirror.
  • Look into your own eyes.
    • Say to yourself silently, “I see the love that you are.  At your heart of hearts, you are pure peace.”
    • Repeat a few times while continuing to look deeply into your own eyes.
      • There is no right or wrong here, but try to relax and receive the grace of seeing and speaking to your innermost self.
  • If you wish, try looking at friends and family in this way throughout the day.

Transition back into your day –

  • Gently stroke your eyelids and your face with your fingertips.
  • Bring your palms together in front of your heart.  Pause here for a few moments.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 102, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Sweeping

Sweeping

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

It is late August, and open meadows and deciduous trees are turning from green to brown.  The deer have re-appeared outside our back windows after spending the summer foraging on the slopes of a local mountain.  Their hooves make a crunching sound as they wander through the dry grasses and leaves in search of ivy and other edible plants. 

As the summer gives way to fall, I admire how artfully the wind helps the tree let go of its leafy garb.   The tree seems to rejoice as the breeze arrives.  The two seemingly dance together making a rustling sound and swaying movement.  Then, when their dance is complete there is celebration.  Like confetti, a group of leaves scatter through the air and flutter onto the ground.

Almost overnight, it seems the porch and walkways are adorned with different patterns.   No longer tethered, leaves are free to ride the currents of even smallest of wind gusts, pirouetting across the surface to form little leaf mounds on the pathway.  It is then I gather my broom and begin sweeping.   

Stroke by stroke of the broom, I lose myself in the unity of the movement and sound.   Whoosh, whoosh.  Whoosh, whoosh.  Whooooosh.   As the leaves slide in front of the broom, they are like words of the saga of existence of all beings – birth, death, inhale, exhale, receive, give, whoosh, whoosh. 

Within that saga, there is the mystery of immeasurable wholeness within the ordinary occurrences and tasks of daily living.   I am grateful to the wind, trees, and turning of the season to tune me back into the gift of sweeping.  I am also grateful for my rural ancestors modeling chores and work as an expression of reverence, and being an integral part of life.   As fall moves along, I will continue to sweep.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports your awareness of tree wisdom.  Ideally, outside.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • Sit near a tree, or in a place where you can observe a tree. 
    • If inside, ideally have a window open so that you can hear outside sounds.
    • Say “hello” to the tree.  Thank it for doing all that it and other trees share with your breath, shelter, paper, and inspirations.
    • Resist the temptation to take a photo. 

Practice –

  • Sit with the tree. 
    • Imagine you are seeing this tree for the first time. 
    • For example,
      • Notice its size, its limbs, and maybe its roots. 
      • Notice its qualities and characteristics such as it peacefulness.
  • Close your eyes, or allow them to settle into a soft gaze. 
    • Acknowledge to yourself that you are in the space of the tree’s home.
    • Imagine that you can feel the tree’s presence.   
      • Notice any natural sounds in and around the tree, yet let that awareness float by without analyzing the source of the sound.  
      • If comfortable, sit quietly without any effort to learn or observe the tree.  Allow any awareness or insight about the tree to arise and fade.
    • Rise.  Touch the tree and say “thank you.” 
      • If inside, imagine you are touching the tree.

Transition back into your day –

  • Hold your arms around the tree, or imagine that.  Make a commitment to visit it again soon.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 40, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Natural Elders

Natural Elders

The weight of arrogance is such

that no bird can fly

carrying it.

St. John of the Cross

It is an early summer morning.  There is a soft breeze wafting through the kitchen window and the nighttime is slowly giving way into the promise of the rising sun.  I treasure this seemingly timeless time of day.  It always feels as though the world is woven with threads of beauty and love. 

This morning pause always gives me a sense of the infinitude of life, especially the divine ever-presence expressing itself in the guise of millions of species.   Within this open and peaceful moment, there is a primal remembering of intertwined reverence and harmony, known to ancient and indigenous peoples from near and far.

If I could crawl into the existence of another species or part of nature – a flower, a stream, a grain of sand, a tree, or an animal – likely this moment would be the norm.   All beings experiencing interconnectedness, riding the rhythms and cycles that existed long before humankind.   Characteristics such as lightness, gentleness, and caring are easy to find throughout the natural world.   It is almost as though there is an inherent understanding that greed, pride, and arrogance would hinder, rather than support, the well-being of the earth’s species and all that sustains them. 

The insights of sages and saints like St John the Cross inspire me to slow down and notice the preciousness of the natural world, not only in the moments of the early morning but also in each seed, leaf, rain drop, and wag of a tail.   The poetic words of these wise elders also inspire me to appreciate the relative youth of humanity compared to the longevity of the cosmos, the planet, and other species. 

We abide within an ocean of wisdom.  And, as a young but potentially wise species we have the capacity to decide to excel in empathy, kindness, compassion, sincere gratitude, and love.   Other species are there waiting to teach us the basics, as are the timeless words of saintly guides such as St. John the Cross.   This is a pathway of courage in which we walk through our personal and collective traumas and sufferings, yet we are endowed with collaborators along the way:  the support of one another, and the grace of the divine.  I would love to reclaim some small part of the potentiality of our humanness.  Please join me.

Practice

This practice supports connection with your surroundings.

Prepare –

  • Turn your phone and any other devices to airplane mode.
  • If possible, go outside and find a quiet place to sit. 
    • Optional:  Stay inside and find a comfortable place to sit.   Ideally, have a plant or flower nearby.
  • Close you eyes for a few moments.  Imagine that you could relax the surface of your eyeballs and the lids of your eyes. 
    • If you wish, you can gently rest the heels of your hands on your eyes to help release tension around the eyes.

Practice –

  • Open your eyes and slowly look around as though you are seeing your surroundings for the first time. 
    • Resist any temptation to take a photograph.  Just savor the ability to look and notice what you are seeing. 
    • Allow any sounds to register in you awareness but without distracting your taking a few moments to just observe and be together with your surroundings.
  • Choose one non-mammal part of nature and allow yourself to explore this other living being with a sense of curiosity.   
    • Just notice what you notice.    Do this without staring, just a soft gaze.
    • Then,  let the observing and noticing go, so that you are simply together with your planetary friend.
    • Stay here for 5-10 minutes.
      • Then, say “thank you,” rise and come to standing.

Transition back into your day –

  • Stretch out.  Smile. 
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred, page 11, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

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