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.

Summertime

Summertime

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 came from.”

Rumi

It is summertime in the Northern Hemisphere.  Even though I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where it can get cool and foggy for stretches of time, there are ample signs of summer.  The streets around the local public schools are quiet, the peony blossoms are giving way to the dahlias, and the stone fruit and tomatoes have returned to the local Farmers’ Markets.

Being someone who has always loved the outdoors, I savor – and, admittedly cling to – many of my childhood memories of this season, including long days and spending time with either of my grandmothers.   Both of them would let me tag along under the pretense of my helping as they gardened, canned, sewed, and cooked.  It was pre-internet so some of my richest lessons about living life came from being with these two women.  They modeled a long list of qualities that I could only hope to embody – patience, whistling and humming as they worked, attention to simple beauty, kindness and gentleness even toward the weeds, creativity and resourcefulness, re-purposing materials long before it became popular, and so many more.

At the heart of their presence was humility, which was not born out of martyrdom or arrogance but was a result of a real understanding that all of life is borrowed. Although they didn’t talk about it, my guess is that if I had asked why they didn’t boast about, or claim originality in their creations and their contributions to the world, they would have looked at me as though I were from the moon.   They, along with my grandfathers, had survived the Depression, world wars, and Dust Bowl, and had raised 6 children. 

Had I asked this question of my grandmothers and had they gotten over the confusion of how a granddaughter could even dream up such a question, I imagine their answer would paraphrase a biblical verse about all life being on loan.  They would not have known that this was a universally understood truth by poets such as Rumi and sages from around the world.  Nor would they need to have known that.  They lived this wisdom, and without ownership of it, passed it along to the next generations.   

Silently, they transmitted the message that every breath, morsel of food, idea, skill, strand of DNA, or material good is simply borrowed while we are here on the planet.   It is up to us to live in such a way that we carry forward this basic truth through the way we treat others, care for the earthly realm, and go about our ordinary but significant lives.   My prayer for these times is:  may the sounds and experiences of summertime fuel us with remembrance and understanding of life beyond the veneer of ownership, superiority, and competition.  May we be humble homo sapiens, wise earthly beings.   Please join me with your own prayer.

Practice This practice supports appreciation of being embodied.

Prepare – Sit comfortably, either on the floor or on a chair. 

Practice –  

  • Raise your palms to the level of your face.  Relax through the center of your palms and your fingers.  Looking at your hands, imagine that you are seeing them for the first time, not even knowing that they had the name “hands.”   Maybe turn them over or move them around.   Allow yourself to be amazed.
  • Bring your palms close to your nose.  Rest your fingertips lightly on your forehead and thumbs on the side of your face.   Noticing your breath, imagine that this is the first time you have felt the moisture and temperature of your breath.  Allow yourself to be amazed.
  • Bring each hand to the opposite arm – anywhere on the arm.  Squeeze up and down your arms and hands.  Imagine you are hugging a long-lost friend.  Smile.
  • Continue.  Gently squeeze the back of your neck, your thighs, and your waist.
  • Look down at your feet.  Wiggle them around.  Allow yourself to marvel at them as though you had never seen them before.
  • Lightly squeeze your hair.  Then, gently brush your fingertips over your face.
  • Smile.  Each part of you is borrowed:  For example, your breath from the work of the trees, your energy from food sustained by the work of the plants and the elements, and your ideas from generations of teachers and ancestors.  

Transition Back to you Day –

  • 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 131, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.  

Rocks and Stones

Rocks and Stones

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Tukuram

In our human-centric world, it is refreshing to be away from the phone, computer, and car – and to slow down and get back in touch with some primal wisdom.  Although it wasn’t our main intention, my husband Jay and I benefited immensely from leaving these modern conveniences behind while we travelled in Spain for a couple weeks.  Because of a stretch when we would be hiking in the mountains of Cantabria, we had only taken basic needs.  

Along the way, we began noticing the constant presence of rocks and stones:  cobbled walkways; ancient caves; cathedral spires; medieval walls; convent floors; sculpture; river beds; and, of course, the mountainous peaks.  This isn’t surprising given that many of the major nature sites of the world are associated with rocks: e.g., Mt. Everest, the Grand Canyon, Table Mountain, and the rock bed of Victoria Falls.  Similarly with human-made sites, such as the Mayan Ruins, the Great Pyramid of Giza, Stonehenge, Hagia Sophia, the Western Wall, Easter Island, Machu Picchu, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Taj Mahal, Vatican City, as well as our contemporary churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.   Human mysteries and treasures are sealed in rocks, such as prehistoric paintings and petroglyphs.  

For us, our most notable wonder was a massive rock outside of one of our hotel windows.  If it were a skyscraper, it would have been at least 30 stories high.  It had trees and wildflowers poking out of its cracks and crevices, and different species of birds flitting in and out of its orifices.   It oozed a tranquil peacefulness and seemed to inspire a calm joviality in everyone around the hotel.  

Although the terms are used interchangeably, the word rock usually refers to a large, solid, grounded mass whereas a stone generally is movable.  In some cultures, rocks are acknowledged as carriers of the most primal memory of existence.  Rather than memory being exclusively a capacity of the human brain, in those cultures memory refers to the universal and unspoken remembrance of fundamental, and unshakeable, truths.  

For humans to experience the wise memory held within rocks, we can venture into a cave.  Travel into a cavernous space within a rock takes us to the inward world.  The winding tunnels are an inner world reflecting the unseen – and unrecognized – stillness underpinning the outer world.   We are challenged to meet our fears and accept the unknown within the womb of the rock.  Our ordinary habits of navigating the world are useless in its darkness, inspiring us to surrender to the guidance of silence and inner knowing. 

Rocks and stones are considered healing and comforting, and in the form of gems, are prized for their beauty and rarity.  They are used as trail markers in open territory and added to burial sites to ground the non-embodied spirits.   Our earliest tools were shaped of stone, and modern-day tools rely on the extraction of ores.  Overall, rocks and stones have far more ancient beginnings than our human species.  It might be wise for us to shift our perspective about, and regain respect for, the steadfastness, divine meaning, and generous abundance of rocks.

Practice

This practice supports awareness of steadfastness.

Prepare – 

  • Stand barefoot without an extra mat or rug between you and the floor, walkway, or earth.  

Practice – 

  • Allow yourself to become limp like a rag doll.  Relax through your shoulders and arms.  
  • Bring your awareness to the soles of your feet.  Notice the base of your big and little toes and the center of your heels.  Feel as though you had roots at those points connecting you, and receiving nourishment from the earth.   
  • While staying rooted, energetically draw upward through the inner arch or each foot, sides of your ankles, your legs, pelvic floor, and the vertebrae in your spine.  
    • Standing here, allow ease in your breath.  Take a few smooth, easy breaths without forcing or judging.  If you are familiar with any yogic breathing techniques, feel free to breathe in that way.
    • Allow yourself to appreciate the stability of the surface beneath you.  Silently, say “thank you for being my rock.”  

Transition back into your day – 

  • 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 101, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019. 

Wind

Wind

The reeds give
way to the
wind and give
the wind away.


A. R. Ammons

As I walked along the water in a nearby meadow, I heard a faint rustle.  I paused, expecting to see a small rodent scurry into the grasses.  Instead, a bed of reeds waved at me.  

Their gentle swaying and rustling evoked a fond childhood memory of peering out the passenger side of my father’s pick-up truck as he drove along the ripening fields of wheat.   The truck seemed like a boat in the middle of a rippling green sea.   I trusted my dad to navigate us across the undulating vastness until we returned home.     

There was near silence inside of the truck.  The truck would rattle as it pitched over the ruts and bumps in the ground.  If the wind were strong, the cab would become its own musical instrument as the wind passed through its crevices.   Otherwise, as with most of my farm relatives, my dad was adept at observing and listening to messages of the wind.  

In most ancient cultures and religions, the wind represents God as well as the divine soul of life.  Like God and Spirit, it is formless and invisible to the human eye. Yet, we know that it is there through its visible, felt, and audible effects on the objects, shapes and forms in the world.  For example, the reeds and the green stalks of the wheat are pliable and easily express the presence of the wind.  Even something firm such as the oak tree in an Aesop’s tale can be toppled by a gale.

Wind forever remains untouched.  It carries the clouds, pollen, and fragrances without clinging or holding onto them.  It announces shifts in temperatures, rain, and stormy weather.  In the form of our breath and speech, it reveals our state of well-being by being shallow, raspy, labored, calm, smooth, or easeful.  In its transformative nature, it removes impurities and blows away odors, but it also fans fires and imbalances in the atmosphere. 

Reeds are particularly capable of giving voice and shape to the wind.  Like other plants, reeds are sacred sanctuaries offering both wisdom and respite from the noise and harshness of the world.   Yet, they are unique in that their flexible and open core allows them to fluently give voice to the wind.  When cut, separated from their bed, and made into a reed flute, their sound can become a pure and unbroken expression of the breath of God animating all life.   Until then, its sound causes us to pause and attune our awareness of divine reality tucked within the wind and world around us.  Please join me in listening to the rustle of the reeds.

Practice

This practice supports awareness of your breath

Prepare – 

  • Sit outside or somewhere away from the pings and beeps of machines and any other potential distraction.
    • If seated on a chair, place the soles of both feet on the floor.
    • Gently close your eyes.  Or, if it is more comfortable for you, keep them open in a soft, focused gaze. 
    • Allow your shoulders to soften away from your ears.
  • Rest the backs of your hands on your thighs and imagine as though you are holding a fragile flower in the palm of each hand.

Practice – 

  • Invite your attention to the movement in your torso associated with breathing: a gentle expansion of your belly with each inhalation and a release and softening on the exhalation.  
    • Slowly, allow the rhythm of the movement to be smooth, relaxed and gentle.  
    • Continue with this awareness for another six breaths.
  • For the next six to eight breaths, allow the breath to come in through your nose on the inhalation.  Instead of an exhalation, quietly sing the sound “Aaah.”   
    • As you sing, imagine the sound 
      • begins from the base of your spine,
      • rises upward along your spinal column through your cervical spine in your neck to the back of your throat, across your palate and out through your mouth.  
  • Return you awareness to the movements in your torso:  expanding in all directions and releasing inward.

Transition back into your day – 

  • 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 115, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Shedding

Shedding

God is no-thing,

concealed in the now and here:

the less you reach for him,

the more he will appear.

Silesius

These past few days I’ve had the impulse toward shedding.  It feels like an inner pull to embrace the light of the season.  With the upcoming solstice, lightness is happening on both sides of our planet – leaves on the deciduous trees on one side and mammals letting go of their coats on the other.

I feel lucky that I have the time in my schedule to follow this inspiration and lighten up my environment, which for me almost always leads to an inner lightening up.  For example, yesterday I decided to give away a raincoat.  Had I not worn it once, it would have still had a price tag on its sleeve.  I laughed as I added it to the collection of other things that would be welcomed and used by others.

That raincoat represented a part of me that also needed to go – the snarky part of me that has been bewildered by how anyone could buy something, store it away, and not use it.  Hah.  There it was, hanging in my closet!  A flood of compassion flowed in that moment toward me and every other human.  Within our normal life pattern of gathering, nesting, and protecting our families and ourselves, we tend to accumulate and get caught up in our stuff.  It takes some kind of prompt to get us to lighten up and get some perspective on habits mostly of our own making.

The verb “shedding” is pliable and has multiple meanings.  I find it interesting that the idiomatic usage of “shed light on” stems from earlier times where “shedding” inferred clarity or discernment.  It is with that sense that I felt myself “shedding tears” for our humanity being wrapped in our attitudes and environment.

It is no wonder that the prophets and indigenous elders reminded us of basic truths, such as the light is always there.  We only need to realize it.  Thankfully, solstice and other phenomena of nature can stir our memory of the light, and prompt us to let the light shine into the closets of our minds.  Then, the shedding comes naturally, without effort.  For many, that light is called God.

Practice

This short practice offers awareness of the light.

  • Prepare –
    • Turn your phone, tablets, and computer to silent.  If you are wearing an electronic tool, remove it. Exception is for medically required electronics.
    • Find a comfortable seated position.
      • If you are seated in a chair, place both of your feet on the floor.
  • Practice –
    • Take a moment to vigorously shake out your arms and hands.
      • Try to this in as relaxed as way as possible, i.e., let your upper limbs be loose.
        • If you have joint injury, adjust the movement as needed.
    • Slowly, nod your head up and down a few times.
      • You may close your eyes or leave them in a soft gaze.
        • Invite a sense of relaxation around the lids and corners of your eyes.
        • If you have cervical injuries, imagine this movement.
    • Pause with your chin turned lightly upward.
      • Smile gently with your lips closed.
      • Invite a few, deeper inhalations. Imagine as though it is a quiet, warm day and you are outside. The air smells sweet and you can feel the warmth caressing your face.
    • Pause with your chin turn lightly downward.
      • Imagine from the backside of your eyes, you could allow your gaze to settle upon your heart.
      • Smile gently with your lips closed.
      • Invite a few, deeper exhalations. Imagine as though there is a soft, luminous glow in the center of your heart.  On each exhale, your entire being is being bathed in that light.
    • Pause with your head to center.
    • Sit quietly for a few moments.
  • 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 19, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.

HEARTH is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom Every Day,” please visit katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2019.

Impermanence

Impermanence

Come quickly – as soon as
these blossoms open,
they fall.
This world exists
as a sheen of a dew on flowers

Izumi Shikibu

This has been a busy week with a lot of driving, errands, work, and just trying to squeeze a full week into three days. My husband Jay and I had taken a four-day weekend to be part of the 100th anniversary of my family’s wheat farm in Western Kansas.

For me, busyness always amplifies my awareness of the raw nature of existence. As I hurtle along the freeway or dash in and out of buildings, time collapses. Within what seems to be less than a second, I have left someplace and arrived at another. Just as soon as a new moment arises, it dies and another new moment arises.

Similar awareness of the impermanence of worldly reality might arise while noticing my breath or mind. Thoughts and emotions come and go and the breath flows in and out. The cells in my body are constantly replacing themselves. Even smiles arise and disappear. Within the macrocosm, twilight merges into dawn, dawn into full day, day into dusk, twilight, and nighttime.

When life is compressed, I have a glimpse of the beautiful, yet tenuous interconnectivity of our species and the planet, as well as the mystery of divine light.   I am reminded of my father, who without words, shared reverence for God and the grace of God’s light to enliven the world, and the universal life cycle of the plants, the sky, and all beings.

Instead of expounding on his views, my father offered practical insight into how to respect the gift of life within all its changes. He regularly commented that life is on loan. He would add that we own nothing other than the responsibility to care for that which is in our care. There is nowhere to get to and nothing to accomplish other than to do the best we can with what we have in each moment.

Practice

This short practice offers awareness of the ebb and flow of life.

  • Prepare –
    • Find a comfortable seated position. If seated in a chair, place both feet on the floor. Breathe a few easy breaths.
  • Practice –
    • Sustain a slowly, smooth, and even quality to your breath. If it feels rushed or jagged, adjust the pace until the quality is silken, with minimal disturbance in the transitions. For twelve breaths:
      • Inhale
        • If you have a respiratory condition, choose what is comfortable for you, e.g., simply sitting quietly; or, continuing with the breath while lessening your attention to the inhalation and gently pursing your lips on the exhalations.
      • Exhale
      • Continue for six breaths. Allow your awareness to settle on your breath. You are just breathing in, and breathing out.
        • If you have a belief or faith, bring in the appropriate awareness of the divine within each breath.
      • If comfortable, continue for another six breaths. Savor the sweet, gentleness ebb and flow of the breath.
      • Allow the awareness of your breath to fade into the background.
  • Transition Back into Your Day –
    • Sit quietly for a few moments.
    • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Jane Hirshfield and reprinted with permission in Mala Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 118, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library. .

HEARTH is posted each new and full moon and written by Kate Vogt. To learn more about Kate Vogt and her “Living Wisdom . . . every day,” please visit katevogt.com.  KateVogt©2019.    HEARTH is transitioning to a new home — sign up and location to be announced soon.

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