your every thought, word, and movement
is always, always
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky
I stared at the leafless geranium plant. Yesterday this plant being had been filled with red buds and sprouts for new leaves. Just as my heart was torn between sadness for the plant and happiness for the sated deer, a blue dragonfly landed on the bare stock.
Change is rarely easy, but everything is born, lives and dies of change. That is the message I imagined hearing from this beautiful and elegant insect. Dragonfly ancestry stretches back millions of years – by some accounts over 300 million years. Similar to the butterfly, the dragonfly has humble beginnings in a lengthy larval stage before developing the wings to gracefully and briefly caress the sky.
I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation between the dragonfly and the geranium. The dragonfly seemed to be encouraging the geranium to sprout new leaves, and to remember that life will continue onward. The sunlight, winds, clouds and rains will come and go. There might be other visitors – slugs, worms, and different forms of insects. But, as in the past, the leaves will grow and flourish until they eventually turn to nourishment for the earth or again for the deer.
The dragonfly embodies the capacity to see and move in all directions. It is no wonder that they are symbols of transcendence and the capacity to live with full awareness in every moment. Their all-seeing and all-pervasive capacity – along with their magically exquisite presence – has inspired renderings of them in stories, myths, legends and art in cultures around the world.
For me, this dragonfly offered me a few symbolic reminders. One, to step back and allow for a wider, more compassionate perspective, i.e., one beyond the duality of sadness and happiness. And, that such a transcendental sight arises out of seemingly unremarkable shifts. Our luminescent inner being is always present, ready to emerge and express itself in beautiful words and movements.
This practice supports awareness of sight.
- Seated, rub the palms of your hands together until you feel some warmth.
- Gently bow your head and place the heels of your palms over your eyelids. If you are near a table, please feel free to rest your elbows on the table and cradle your fingertips upward over your forehead and upper scalp.
- Invite a release of any tension in the muscles in your jaw and behind your eyes.
- Stay here for a few moments, gently breathing and allowing your eyes to have a mini-break.
- Release your hands and allow them to rest in a comfortable position. Allow your head to come back to an upright, neutral position.
- Slowly blink your eyes a few times. Perhaps smile, appreciating the rest you have offered your eyes from their constant use during the daytime.
- Take your time and look around at your surroundings. No hurry. Take time to look upwards, from side to side and across the surface of the floor or earth.
- After a few moments of looking around while seated, consider standing and looking around at your surroundings behind you.
- If you are near a window or are outside, softly gaze into the distance for a few moments.
- Return to seated and lightly brush your fingertips over your face and eyes.
- (Optional) If you like, sit quietly for a few moments with your eyes closed. Imagine there is a gentle radiance deep within your heart-center and that its glow lights up the entire inner surface of your body (front, back, sides, and through your limbs and neck to the soles of your feet to the crown of your head). Invite yourself to be absorbed in the feeling of radiance. As you are ready, shift that feeling to a sense you are one glowing and loving eye aware of all life. After a few moments with this feel, slowly look around again.
Transition back into your day –
- Sit quietly for a few moments. Allow your hands to rest in any position that is comfortable, e.g., palms upward on your thighs.
- When you feel ready, transition back into your day.
This poem is an excerpt from Mala of the Heart: 108 Luminous Poems, page 58, by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (editors), published by New World Library. Photo by Clint Patterson. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2023.
The great sea has set me in motion,
set me adrift,
moving me like a weed in a river.
The sky and the strong wind
have moved the spirit inside me
till I am carried away
trembling with joy.
In a recent storm of wind and rain, I watched some trees bow their crowns toward the earth. Several hours later, as the weather calmed a bit they straighten upright. As they did so, they seemingly shook their leaves with joy. A melodic rattling sound filled the air.
Trees have long inspired me to reflect on characteristics such as resilience, patience and grounded-ness. This began with an elm tree, which my father had planted in our front yard. Throughout my childhood and teens, this tree was a steady source of insight into living wisely with grace. The elm grew and expanded day after day regardless of drought, high winds and low levels of annual moisture in the form of rain or snow.
Even though I have lived and visited areas of the world with many different trees, the elm is still my inner image of a tree. That is, when I hear the word tree, my first thought is one with a firm, thick trunk, curvy branches, and an abundance of leaves, which would disappear in the colder months and reappear with warmth. To bypass this stubborn latent impression in my mind around the word tree, I find myself referring to other types of trees by their common name, such as oaks, pines, redwoods, or – as with the trees that I observed with the flexible trunks – palms.
Palms are among the oldest plants on earth, given some references to a palm fossil that is 80 million years old. They are well-grounded with strong and deep roots, and most grow slowly. Although there are more than a couple thousand species of palms, the ones with tall, thin, pliable trunks are most visible. Their star-shaped, feathery fronds float high in the sky, where, like natural weather vanes, they reveal the level of calmness or gustiness in the wind.
These ancient beings have been significant in many cultures and religions throughout human history. They offer messages of patience, humility, and grounded-ness. They are reminders of life essentials – sun, earth, air, and water. Many have a long life of up to a century, and thus offer reminders of longevity. With their stable roots and pliability, they offer insight into a balanced wholeness of strength and pliability. They can grow in a desert, yet generously offer a respite to others.
For me, the palms that gracefully moved in the storm inspired me to experience trees anew. And, just perhaps, allowed me to momentarily experience their endless wisdom alive within myself.
This standing practice supports awareness of grounded-ness
- Use airplane mode for whatever digital device you are using to read through this practice. Remove all other electronics and devices from your immediate surroundings, including any digital watches.
- If comfortable, remove your shoes and socks.
- Gently shake out through your limbs, one at a time.
- In an imaginary way, gently cleanse your hands, face, neck, arms, torso, and legs with light strokes.
- Soften your gaze and facial muscles. With a sense of appreciation, slowly look around at your surroundings. If you feel your gaze harden when you do this, try to relax the inner and outer corners of your eyes and then imagine you are visually sipping and savoring your environment.
- Find a stable, easeful and comfortable stance. To do this, perhaps try a few different positions with your feet until you find a distance between them where you can effortlessly find a gentle lift in your spine through the crown of your head.
- Explore the connection of your feet with the surface beneath you. Perhaps rock a little forward and back and then side to side. Lift and spread your toes and slowly place them back down. Notice where your foot connects and where it rises slightly away from the surface beneath you.
- Slightly bend your knees and then straighten them (without hyperextending or locking your knees). Do this a few times with a sense of fluidity. Notice if tension arises in your face or upper torso and let it go.
- Imagine you are being securely held through this connection. If you wish, you might envision yourself as a tree with deep and broad roots.
- With this rootedness, imagine a gentle breeze blowing along one side of your body. And as that breeze connects with your skin on that side, your trunk naturally bends (slightly) toward the opposite side. Play with letting this imaginary breeze come from other directions – front, back, diagonally – and allowing your body to sway with the wind. As you do this, feel as though you can trust your grounded-ness and rooted-ness.
- Perhaps invite a sense of stronger breezes brushing up against you while you remain steadily trusting of the depth and strength of your support.
- If you wish, you can add your arms and allow your upper limbs to be moving with this imaginary wind. Feel free to be creative with this exploration.
- Slowly return to a calm stance. Invite an awareness of the lingering movement associated with your breath as your rib cage and belly expand on inhalation and soften on the exhalation. If comfortable, close your eyes for a few breaths and appreciate the gift of the air as it comes in and goes out.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Come to a comfortable seated position. If on a chair or bench, notice the soles of your feet connecting with the surface beneath you.
- Gently tilt your chin downward and soften your gaze toward your heart center. Continue to allow your awareness to be absorbed in the quiet, easeful movement associated with your breathing. Allow this to be effortless and free of tension or forcing.
- Just breathing, sit quietly for a few moments.
- When you are ready, transition back into your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 79, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2023.
The Angel that presided o’er my birth
Said ‘Little creature, form’d of joy and mirth,
Go, love without the help of anything on earth.’
The fall season seems to offer new experiences. Most recently, it was a rare sighting in our neighborhood. We expect to see the deer eating the ivy, spiderwebs spanning across open spaces and squirrels hiding acorns. In the fall there is an occasional family of wild turkeys walking along the street, yet our year-round rodents usually remain invisible.
So, I was surprised to see a grayish-brown mouse making its way across the sidewalk. And even more surprised that the mouse paused and looked at me, perhaps as curiosity; or, perhaps the pause was a reminder that I was the invader of the territory of this small mammal whose ancestors have lived on the planet much longer than my human ones.
I had grown up being frightened and somewhat repulsed by the sight of a mouse. Yet, somehow the brief meeting with tiny being left me feeling humbled. Yes, mice are considered invasive for consuming gardens, crops, and other human food sources.
Yet, looking into the eyes of this neighborhood mouse, I saw a representative of a creatively resourceful and diligent community. As a group, they collectively adapt to ever-changing conditions, and value cleanliness. They move swiftly with agility, yet are able to be completely still. I find these qualities inspiring and humbling.
The presence of this mouse seemed like an invitation to notice the nuanced shifts of the fall season. Not only had the colors of the leaves changed, but the sounds and smells have become more muted over the past few weeks.
This awareness infused me with an unshakable sense of humility for the grace embedded in the fall season. Life begins. Life recedes. Fall represents a slowing down and a returning to the earth. It brings gentle reminders that the words human and humility are closely related through the root word humus, or dirt, soil, earth.
The mouse disappeared into its hidden underground world. Perhaps it was a divine messenger carrying boundless wisdom, or at least a reminder to humbly notice the subtle, the spurned and the small. Whatever the reason, I thank the mouse for pausing and getting me to pause and be a little more aware.
This practice fosters awareness of the nature of fall.
- Remove any potential distractions—for example, take off your watch, and put your phone on airplane mode. If comfortable, remove your shoes.
- Either standing or seated, curl your toes under and then lift them up. Do this a few times.
- Gently shake out one leg a few times, Then, the other. Shake out both arms, either one at a time or simultaneously
- Breath in through your nostrils while inhaling. Then, quickly exhale through your mouth while making the sound of a quick “hah.” Repeat three times.
- Reach your arms into a v-position, palms rotated toward one another (i.e., not facing forward). Stretch out through your fingers. Inhale deeply a few times. Exhale through your nose in any way that feels comfortable, e.g., quickly, slowly, etc.
- If comfortable for your back, bend forward, bringing your fingers down toward the earth. Then, come to an upright position sweeping your arms outward and upward, back to a v-position. Exhale, return to a forward fold, hands toward the earth.
- (Optional: Simply stay upright through your spine and move your arms upward and then to the sides of your body.)
- Repeat this forward fold movement six to twelve times.
- As you exhale and bend downward, silently say to yourself, “I let go of all thoughts that are troubling to me or to others. I let go of all behaviors that are troubling to me or to others. I let go of all forms of self-knowledge that are troubling to me or to others.”
- As you inhale and rise upward, silently say to yourself: “I reach up and outward. I am whole.” (Feel free to modify and personalize the wording.)
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Sit quietly for a few minutes.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 11, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The photo is by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
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
we will never perish
St. Teresa of Avila
The morning air is cool and damp. Scattered around the ground are fallen leaves. They are mostly gathered in small mounds with a few solo ones spread in between. Their groupings seem to mirror the patterns of the leaves on the overhead tree branches, which allow for ample space for everyone. Above the space, sunlight shines through the branches and below, is revealed the underlying support – the earthen soil.
Within these mini communities of leaves on the ground, there is a wide variety of hues. While a few are evenly green, most are a mixture of shades of yellows, greens, and browns. Their bodies are varying shapes and sizes, yet all are still held together by a fine network of veins extending out ward from their central midrib. Some are small, others large. Some have frilly edges, and some are smoothly tapered from base to tip.
Like their kin still living on the tree, these leaves’ mobility relies on the shifting air currents. With stronger winds they swirl and rustle. With light breezes they flutter, with their movement evoking barely more than a whisper. When the air is still, they also are still, and seemingly content to be just as they are and where they are. There seems to be no longing to anything otherwise.
Their peacefulness inspires me to wonder about my inclination to clear them away. Not only do these leaves emit echoes of those still attached to the tree, but their presence seems to represent a microcosm of the broader web of existence. They cause me to pause, and acknowledge that these leaves are part of a living cycle offering nutrients and support to the next generation of leaves. I leave them be.
This practice supports awareness of community.
- Standing, face toward the East (or, if you are unsure, face what feels like the East). Reach your hands outward in the eastern direction, palms upward. Imagine you are reaching into infinitely. Make a quarter turn to your right and again reach your hands outward, this time to the southern direction. Repeat this two more time and then return toward facing the East.
- Pause there. Feel your feet supported by the ground beneath you. Appreciate the strength of your legs and their role in holding you upright.
- Slowly walk clockwise three times. Imagine you are spiraling from your center outward, i.e., with concentric circles, each one slightly larger than the prior one.
- Still standing, again pause, facing each direction. Acknowledge and offer gratitude to those who support you in each direction – human and non-human. This includes strangers, the land, the plants, trees, and others.
- Then, walk counterclockwise three times. Imagine you are retracing your steps, spiraling inward toward your original position at the beginning of practice.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Come to a seated position. If you are in chair or on a bench, please rest the soles of your feet on the ground. Allow your hands to relax in any position that is most comfortable for you, e.g., on your thighs – palms upward or downward, in your lap.
- Take a few quiet breaths, inviting a relaxed and easeful quality to your breath. Allow your rib cage to gently expand outward in all directions as you inhale and slowly recede inward as you exhale.
- After a few breaths, slowly lengthen your inhalation. As the air enters your lungs, silently offer gratitude for the air and its continue presence. If you have a particular faith, allow the air to be infused with the presence of that which you hold most supreme. Continue with several more slightly longer inhalations, in reverent stillness.
- Then, slowly invite your exhalations to lengthen. With each exhale, imagine that as the air flows outward, the air is radiating in all directions, and is filled with loving gratitude. Invite an awareness that this loving gratitude is touching all realms of your earthly community from, near to far. If you have a particular faith, surrender into the feeling of infinite support from that which you hold most supreme. Continue for several breaths.
- Allow your breath to return to a natural breath, and then sit quietly for several minutes.
- When you feel complete, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 73, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The photo is by Michal Janak. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
You are the sky and the ground.
You alone the day, the night air.
You are the meal that’s being brought,
the sandal knot, flowers and their watering.
You are all this.
What could I possibly bring You!
Translated by Coleman Barks
The early morning seemed oblivious of the weather prediction of uncomfortably high temperatures and winds later in the day. Instead, everywhere seemed awash with messages of loving comfort and peacefulness.
Overhead the clouds still carried faint traces of lavender and orange. The air conveyed soft cooing sounds of doves and a light rustle of the cottonwood and elm trees. A monarch butterfly glided between a row of stately red cedars.
The ground stretched beyond the sounds and movements into a smooth, even horizon. It was a wide expanse of flat land that allowed for an undisturbed evenness. There, the sky and earth calmly held one another and all life.
For me, there was an overwhelming sense of belongingness in this early morning moment. There was a visceral feeling that the outer horizon is a continuum of the inner horizon. And within that feeling was a twinkle of the divine everywhere – seemly invisible but continually visible in the profound miracle of the ordinary.
I am moved by such moments to steadily listen to and surrender into the messages of loving comfort and peacefulness for the whole of life – each grain of soil, each tree, every insect and bird, and every human and other moveable being.
This practice supports awareness of reverence within everyday life.
- Gently close your eyes. Imagine that you can release any tension in your eyelids and your eyeballs. Slowly move your eyes up to down, left to right, and then diagonally (first, upper right to lower left, and, then upper left to lower right).
- Open your eyes with a soft gaze. Slowly let your eyes scan around the area where you are. Silently acknowledge the gift of the space around you.
- Allow your eyes to rest on the floor or ground beneath you. Then slowly shift your gaze to a few other spots. As your rest your eyes in a particular spot, notice the textures, colors, etc., without judgment.
- Return your gaze to the first spot.
- Note: If you are indoors, let your mind take note of the source of the materials. For example, a natural wood floor would come from trees. A concrete floor would likely come from sand that has been ground and mixed with water.
- Then, lightly close your eyes and sit quietly for a few moments with a feeling of great reverence for life. (Please feel free to keep your eyes open, if that is more comfortable for you.)
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Continue to sit quietly for a few moments.
- Notice the gentle rise and release of your breath. Acknowledge the gift of breath as an ever-present reminder of your constant link to all of life.
- When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 91, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. The practice is an excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom: 54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry, page 217-218. The land reference is my childhood homelands in Greeley County, Kansas in the Great Plains U.S.A. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.
W. B. Yeats
It may be difficult to find hope in the swirl of contemporary events; yet, the rhythms of the seasons and day and night continue. Here, in northern California, dew magically arrives overnight. Although tiny and almost imperceptible, dew carries countless messages of hope.
Dew feels like the voice of divine grace. These ephemeral watery beads are living expressions of the temporariness of each moment, each life. Almost indiscernibly they appear and then disappear. Their fullness glistens in the early morning light, allowing us a glimpse of impermanence as a precious gift to be treasured with each breath, step, and gesture.
The glimmering allows a momentary portal for noticing how the presence of dew quickens withered leaves. Hardened soil softens. Without bruising or harming, dew gently – and freely – offers moistness to all. The gracious softness blossoms into countless gifts of beauty and nourishment for other beings. Each translucent drop offers the promise of abundance, regeneration, and transformation.
In his praise to teachers, the poet Yeats offers a nod toward the magnanimity of dew. In these times, I feel drawn to more intimacy with wordless messages of the divine that are written into the everyday landscape. Dew, sunrise, sunset, mountains, rivers, oceans, insects, birds, and other sacred manifestations model ways to live and be. I feel these living beings are timeless teachers inviting humans to be in relationship with oneself, one another, and all life.
Dew has endless lessons, such as the power of interconnectivity, transience, lightness, and equality. It also invites a connection with moisture, and during these times, the dew of the eyes. And, when spelled in reverse, dew is wed, offering inspiration for life to be loving marriage between heaven and earth.
This practice supports awareness of sadness and dewy eyes.
- Find a location free of interruptions for about ten minutes. Allow yourself to settle into a relaxed position – e.g., seated on a chair or on the floor, resting on your back.
- Allow yourself to tune into the support of the earth beneath you. Then, invite your body to relax into the supportive awareness that the earth supports all life forms.
- Gently place your hands over your face with your fingertips lightly resting on your eyelids. Invite your senses to take a mini vacation – your eyes can soften and look inward; the back of our tongue can relax with no need to speak for the next several minutes; and, your skin can just sense the quiet support of the earth.
- After a few breaths, remove your hands from your face and allow them to rest over your heart center in any way that is comfortable. Invite some easefulness into your breath.
- Allow the weight of your hands to be like the dew, lightly resting on your chest.
- Allow yourself to notice your general state of your emotional being. No judgement, just feeling and noticing. Your senses and body are relaxed.
- Please note: If you discover that you are feeling extra vulnerable, anxious or uncomfortable, I recommend you skip this and the remaining part of this practice. Instead, I recommend you return your awareness to the support of the earth beneath you, and the light touch of your hands on your chest, allowing yourself to notice the gentle movement of the breath.
- With your hands placed wherever they are comfortable, scan back through your body, senses and breath while inviting ease throughout. Breathe there for several breaths.
- Then, slowly, slowly invite a connection to the feeling of sadness. Just noticing the qualities of sadness, where you feel it in your body, senses, or breath – noticing without judgment, allowing yourself to sincerely explore this emotion. Perhaps allow for moisture – a dewiness – to form in your eyes. Stay here for a few breaths – inhaling in, exhaling out.
- To aid your connection to sadness, you may wish to recall what gives rise to this universal emotion: for world events, those who don’t have enough food, water, or shelter, personal loss or losses, or general sorrow.
- Transition your hands to your belly, allowing them to lightly rest there. Breathe in. Breath out. On your inhalation, invite in understanding and compassion. On your exhalation, invite understanding and compassion to lightly settle in every cell in your body – like dew on the grass. Breathe here for a few breaths.
Transition Back into Your Day—
- Stretch out. Imagine as you stretch that you are stretching understanding and compassion outward to the earth, the sky, and all beings.
- Relax from your stretch. Imagine as you relax, the dew of understanding and compassion has settled everywhere.
- Reach your hands to the opposite shoulders and give yourself a hug. Smile. Imagine you are both whispering and hearing the words, “Thank you. I love you.”
- Pause. When you are ready, return to your day.
This poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 28, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. Photo by Josuha Hoehne. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2022.
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