Shadow – an invitation to belonging

Shadow – an invitation to belonging

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
Trans. by Daniel Ladinsky

In recent weeks dragonflies, butterflies, and occasionally a hummingbird have floated alongside me for part of my regular neighborhood walk.  That always sparks childlike delight within me.  Yesterday as I walked in our neighborhood, a shadow traveled beside me.  It was only for a few steps, yet long enough for me to try to ascertain my visceral response from among some of these possibilities: fear, indifference, curiosity, etc.

Oddly, the shadow generated a feeling of comfort.  It enlivened my awareness of belonging to this small part of the planet where I know the undulations and curvatures of the land.  It is much different here from the land where I was raised and will always be my true home.  There, pure openness of the prairie expands in all directions, with wild winds and ever-changing displays in the sky of colors, clouds, and constellations.  That is living on the vast Great Plains of North America. Here, along the coastal west, redwood trees and ferns give way to the wetland grasses along waterways flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

I’d like to believe that more and more humans are beginning to remember our elemental belongingness not only with one another but with all beings – large and small.  Our embodiment is delicately woven of the earthly nutrients, warmth and energy of the sun, patterns of the moon, fluidity of the waters, and grace of the air and space that holds all.  There are the words “kind” and “kin” at the end of the name for our species, beautifully speaking to our innate nature of reciprocity and interrelationship and capacity for compassion.

I was feeling a sense of kinship with my companion shadow.  With its wings evenly stretched to the sides around a perfectly oval core, it glided alongside me.  There was a warm feeling of being shown how to tune inward and synchronize with the harmony that was already pulsing inside me, as well as around me.  This was a neighborhood crow.  Within those few seconds of its presence, I too was gliding and feeling the inseparability and wholeness of the universe, and belonging.

Perhaps this is the divine universality and equality that poets like Hafiz gracefully nudge us to remember through their poetic elegance.  Whether it is the crow, some other part of nature, or Hafiz’s timeless words of wisdom, I welcome reminders to live and move with more awareness, reverence and gratitude for each morsel of life.  I hope you will join me.

Practice
This short practice supports childlike playfulness

Prepare— 

  • Standing, loosely shake out your limbs one at a time.  For example, relax your right arm and shake it out and move it about for thirty seconds or so.  Then, move on to your right leg.
    • Take your time.
    • If you have injuries, please take care and adjust these movements to support your well-being.
  • Then, rotate each of your wrists and ankles, ending with a slow rolling of your chin downward from one side to the other.

Practice  – 

  • Still standing, stretch your arm to the sides, opening up your palms and breathing in deeply.  On an exhale allow your arms to slowly relax to your sides.  Continue let your arms open up like the wings of a bird on an inhalation and relax on an exhalation two more times.
    • Again, please take care if you have any joint issues.
  • With your arms continuing to gracefully move like wings, allow yourself to glide around the room or whatever space you are in, letting your footsteps be light and playful.
  • Continue this for as long as is comfortable, improvising and spontaneously following your playful inspirations.
  • When you are ready, imagine you are coming to rest on a branch.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.  Slowly allow your breath to settle down.
  • Sit quietly for as long as is comfortable.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 95, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo from the Getty collection on iStock.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.

 

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Registration through College of Marin Community Education  – (415) 485-9305

 

Life Trail

Life Trail

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

 

The sky was a deep blue and the earth was covered with swaths of green.  Among the low growing plants, soon to bloom into a rainbow of wildflowers, there was a narrow dirt trail.  It was an offshoot of a larger trail, but it looked inviting in the way it meandered and flowed through the open mountain meadow.

Within just minutes of being on the trail, I felt the quiet community of boulders, rocks and vegetation.  It seemed appropriate to pause and acknowledge their pristine presence.  From the condition of the path and the lack of footprints in the patches of snow crossing over the path, it was clear that few humans had tread this way.

The pause allowed my ears to attune to the avian melodies but also to any possible reptilian or mammalian movements in the grasses.  A subtle rumbling of the wind in the treetops prompted a mental scan of the contents of my backpack, ensuring there was extra layers of clothing and water and food for both my husband Jay and me.  All was well.  We could move onward.

Being in the wilderness is a more normal human experience than we think.  The trail ahead is always unknown.  Even with maps, preparedness and fine-tuned planning, the unexpected is the journey of all life.  Yet, few humans choose to take the road less travelled – the one where we embrace each moment with a keen awareness of the vulnerability and simultaneously pure wondrousness of our embodiment.

There is sweet, but difficult, surrender in accepting that the only certain pattern is change.  Wise poets such as Rumi remind us to keep walking, yet not to follow the more familiar pathway lined with fear.  I would like to believe that instead, he and other sages are inviting us to courageously follow the road of love and its expressions in compassion, equity, and equanimity. And, in doing so, come together for the benefit of the well-being of all.

Practice
This practice supports awareness of walking

Prepare— 

  • Find a comfortable seated position.
  • Invite an awareness of your surroundings – the space around and above you, and the earth beneath you.   Feel free to look around or even touch your surroundings.
  • Slowly shift your awareness to your skin – back, sides, front, top and bottom – and then the inner surface of your body.  Notice any places where you might be holding unneeded tension and gently invite those areas to relax.
  • Steadily and gradually shift your awareness to your breath in any way that is comfortable for you.  Notice the quality of your breath today – smooth, ragged, deep, shallow – inviting acceptance of this awareness.

Practice  – 

  • When you are ready, come to standing.
    • If comfortable, remove your shoes.
  • Standing evenly on both feet, notice the soles of your feet and where they touch the surface beneath them.  If you are on a floor, imagine you are standing on the earth.
    • If you chose to leave your shoes on, imagine you can feel the surface of the earth through the soles of your shoes.
  • Silently say to yourself, “The earth is a living organism.  Even though I am standing on its skin, I am part of its life.”
    • Repeat this three times.
    • Pause and in a non-judgmental way, notice any emotional response you may have to considering the earth as a vital, living being.
    • Silently greet the earth and say “thank you for allowing me to stand and walk on you.”
  • Slowly begin to walk, taking each step with gratitude and appreciation of the gifts of the earth.
    • Walk as long as you wish.  Invite an awareness of your inner experience.  Feel free to pause or move in any way that seems appropriate for you.
  • In your own time, return to a seated position.

Transition Back into Your Day— 

  • Sit quietly.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 2, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.

 

 

Rain Commons

Rain Commons

Being is not what it seems,
nor non-being.
The world’s existence
is not in the world.

Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

Plop. Plop. Plop.  A sound of renewal reverberated through the bedroom window.  Small rain droplets fell smoothly from the eaves onto tree leaves.  Plop (silence), plop (silence),  each droplet was giving voice to the underlying pulse of life.  Like notes of the song of time, each one was offering sweet praises from whence it came and where it will arise again – from heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

There had been no thunder or lightning announcing the rain.  Yet, there was no need for a weather report.  The sky had greyed, while chilly winds swirled in the treetops. Spiders began weaving webs in protected areas, the birds culled and pecked more vigorously than usual, and squirrels disappeared.  Even the smell within the air sweetened.

The steady plops on the leaves told the story of this rain shower.  Moisture from the earth had risen upward toward the sky, helping form clouds that then stretched across the sky.  Because clouds naturally dissipate, the moisture returned downward as rain.   It was a simple story, without dwelling upon the delicate nuances of the grace of rain.

Still, the rhythmic plopping felt like a reminder that the basal story of life is held within each raindrop.  As moisture returns from the sky, it feeds the rivers, streams, aquifers, and other natural bodies of water.  It nourishes the soils, bringing a banquet of fresh textures, shapes, aromas and sounds.  It contributes to nutrients and breath for the earth’s rooted, winged, finned, and roaming beings.  A single raindrop carries timeless stories – that the whole is collective of all its parts, and the parts reflective of the whole.

Beyond the eaves, there was an enclave of raindrops.  They were a community of belonging in which each carried the title of “rain.”  Every droplet was rain.  Every one – plop, plop, plop – inviting us to hear its story, to listen, and to understand we too are rain.

Practice
This short practice invites awareness of water.   

Prepare – 

  • Standing:
    • Stand on one foot, lift the other foot and move your ankle around.  Shift sides.
      • If comfortable, do this without shoes.
    • With both feet on the floor, curl your toes under.  Then, lift them up and spread your toes wide apart.
      • Repeat three times
    • Bend your knees with hips back far enough so you can see your toes.
      • Pause here for three breaths. 

Practice – 

  • Imagine you are outside after a big rain.  The sun is shining and the air is warm.  There are puddles of water all around you.
  • Walk around the perimeter of these imaginary puddles.  See the ground as wet, but firm.
    • Notice the rhythm and quality of your step.
    • There is no right or wrong.  Just noticing your feet and how they are connecting to the surface beneath you.
    • Continue, and notice how the rest of your body feels and responds as you do this.  Perhaps notice any sensations or feelings.
  • Approach one of the imaginary puddles.  Step one foot in and then the other.  The water is ankle deep, not deeper.
    • Begin to walk around in the puddle.
      • Again, notice the rhythm and quality of your step.
      • Notice how the rest of your body feels and responds as you do this.  Perhaps notice any sensations or feelings.
    • Pause.
    • Now, invite yourself to step and make splashes in the puddles.
      • Again, notice the rhythm and quality of your step.
      • Be aware of how the rest of your body feels and responds as you do this.  Perhaps notice any sensations or feelings.
      • Perhaps step into another puddle and continue.
      • When you are ready, step out of the puddle back to the firmer ground.
    • If comfortable, say “thank you” to the water.
  • Still standing, reach your hands out in front of you, palms upward.  Imagine it is raining.  Allow your palms to fill with water.  Then, holding the water, slowly lift your hands upward into a V-shape and offer the water back to the sky.
    • Holding your arms in the V-shape, breathe for three breaths.
    • Open your fingers so the water can flow back down to the earth.
    • Bring your hands over your heart – one hand over the other.  Bow you head slightly.  Allow your eyes to rest in a soft gaze or closed.
      • Silently:
        • Thank the rain.
        • Thank the waters that flow across the earth.
        • Thank the waters and fluids that flow within you.
        • Thank the water keepers and caretakers who work to preserve the flow of water for the well-being of all.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Seated.  Sit quietly for as long as comfortable.  Invite a soft awareness of your breath.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  This  poem appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 93, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The photo is by “kahika” on Unsplash.   KateVogt©2021.

 Spring Wisdom Circle – If you would like to know about the philosophical underpinnings of these H E A R T H reflections, this Spring I am offering an online study group, 5 Thursdays, 3:15-4:45 p.m. PT, May 6-June 10, 2021.  Please contact me for more information.

 

 

 

Remembrance

Remembrance

Dear God, please reveal to us
your sublime
beauty

that is everywhere, everywhere, everywhere

so that we will never again
feel frightened.

St. Francis of Assisi
Trans. by Daniel Ladinsky

 

A loud siren was booming throughout our neighborhood. I was inside the house, putting clothes into the washing machine, but the sound fulfilled its purpose. As with most people who suddenly hear an alarm, my mind immediately shifted into high alert and sifted through the possibilities for its activation. Even though my husband and I live in an area prone to earthquakes and fires, I quickly dismissed either of those options, as there had been no ground shaking, and rain was pouring down. The neighborhood dogs began to howl. Then I remembered that a prescheduled test of our town’s firehouse siren had been announced some days ago.

While it is an absolute necessity that we alert one another to impending danger—especially with the preponderance of natural disasters—I wonder what our world would be like if humans had invented “sublime beauty” alerts. If we had regular sirens for every stunning natural occurrence, we’d be enveloped in constant awe of everything that sustains us.

Instead, we have used our ingenuity for threat alerts. Not the necessary ones like my neighborhood firehouse alarm, but a stream of promises to soothe every fear—be better looking, more productive, healthier, richer, more balanced, calmer, or happier. The modern commercial space subtly taps into our woes and wraps us into the comfort of their brand’s product, app, or service. As a result, our lifestyles and habits rarely bring us in direct touch with nature.  Our food is pre-packaged, our outdoor exercise requires equipment, our contemplation relies on apps.

Somehow, humanity has allowed itself to become enamored with cleverness—forgetting that homo sapiens refers to “wise human,” not “clever human.” Other species sing praises to the co-existence of all of life in an abundance of glorious shapes, forms, sounds, and fragrances. There are upheavals and invasiveness in other species, but we are unique in our trail of efforts to conquer, outsmart, and ignore the sacredness of all of life.  We need the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi more than ever to bring us back in sync with one another, the planet, the divine, and ourselves.

The daffodil is where I choose to begin the re-righting of my human perspective, from a separatist to a holistic view. It is among the first spring blooms and is lauded around the world as a messenger of renewal and abundance. Its trumpet-shaped crown is an uplifting announcement of the unfolding of new energy and hope.  It inspires me to tune into the wise messages that nature has to share.   I hope you will join me.

Practice
This practice supports appreciation of your everyday surroundings.

Prepare—

  • This practice involves both being seated and standing. Choose a place that has minimal distractions. If comfortable, remove your shoes and socks.
  • Begin seated, with a gentle lift through the spine.
    • If in a chair, place both feet on the floor.
  • Look around the room, listen to the sounds, feel the air and the texture of your clothing on your skin.
    • Do this as though you are looking at, listening to, and being with cherished friends.
  • Place one palm on your heart and then the other on top.
    • Breathe a few breaths.
    • Relax through your palms, jaw, eyes, shoulders and torso.
  • Release your hands to your thighs.
    • Breathe free and easy.
    • Breathing, say to yourself, “I am in the midst of friends. The earth is supporting me, the breath is nourishing me, the space around me is enfolding me with love.”

Practice—

  • Remember, you are in the midst of friends who support, nourish, and enfold you in love.
  • Slowly begin to walk around the room.
    • Let each step be a gesture of your respect for the floor.
      • If it is wooden, acknowledge the trees that were the source of the wood.
      • If concrete, acknowledge the riverbeds and water formed the rocks and sand for the concrete.
      • Acknowledge the workers and their hands that built the floor.
    • Keep a gentle breath. After couple dozen steps, pause.
      • (No worries about counting the exact number of steps. An approximate amount is fine.)
    • Walk for another dozen or so steps.
      • Acknowledge the walls, the ceiling, and their sources. Acknowledge the air and the trees that cleanse the air. Pause.
    • Stand by your chair.
      • Acknowledge the source of all life. Acknowledge God, or whatever you consider to be most supreme.
      • Imagine you are filled with love and kindness.

Transition Back into Your Day—

  • Seated, place both of your feet on the floor.
    • Relax your palms in your lap.
    • Allow your eyes to close, or to be gently open with a soft gaze. Breathe.
  • After a few moments, return to your day.

H E A R T H reflections are posted each new and full moon.  In celebrating the one-year anniversary of Our Inherited Wisdom:  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry by Kate Vogt, this post is an excerpt of that book, pages 9-12.  The photo is by Marian Kroell.

If you would like to know about the philosophical underpinnings of these H E A R T H reflections, this Spring I am offering an online study group:  “Spring Wisdom Circle,” 5 Thursdays, May 6-June 10, 2021, 3:15-4:45 p.m. PT.   Please contact me for more information.

 

 

Light

Light

Hark to the unstruck bells and drums!
Take your delight in love!
Rains pour down without water, and
the rivers are streams of light.
One Love it is that pervades the whole
world, few there are who know it fully.
They are blind who hope to see it
by the light of reason, that reason
which is the cause of separation —
The House of Reason is very far away!
Kabir
Translated by Rabindranath Tagore


Everything around seemed to glisten in the afternoon light.  The ocean stretched into the sky, shimmering evenly across its surface.  A set of islands appeared to be floating with the lightness of the clouds on the distant horizon.

The grasses on the hillside where I stood sparkled with different shades of green.  As the currents of the wind shifted between calmness and soft breezes, the blades of the grasses gracefully followed.  The blades seemed to be tracking some ancient rhythm as they harmonically twisted and turned together, offering a visual verdant dance of light.

Beneath my feet, the footpath also twinkled in the sunlight.  Small chips of stones on the dirt path caught the light, giving a sense of an earthly mosaic.  Having been raised in Kansas, I was reminded of a lit pathway of the Wizard of Oz and its promising ‘yellow brick road.’

With all the nature around me glowing on this spring afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel an awareness of the loving Light that pervades all life.  Universally, prophets, saints, and sages represent quiet testaments of the ever-present gift of Light. They have reminded us to let go of our attachment to labels and differences, which hold us in an illusion of separateness and cause us to suffer within the trappings of our own mind’s fondness for itself.

It is no wonder that a halo of light enfolds our dearest prophets and wise beings.  They embody the pure love, equanimity, peacefulness of eternal Light.   Every fragment of their presence endlessly radiates compassion and kindness.  Like the sun, they bathe the ocean, the grasses, the soil, and all living beings with the blessings of Light.

I am grateful for this sweet moment on the hillside, where the solar light reminded me that timeless truth is carried within the forces of nature.   All I need to do is pause, let go of expectations, listen and observe.  Or, I should say, “try” to take these simple steps.  Still, I hope you will join me.

 

Practice
This short practice invites awareness of daily light.
You may wish to read through this practice the day before practicing.

Prepare – 

  • Rise early enough time before dawn so you can:
    • First, take care of your early morning hygiene and any personal habits.
    • Then, make your way to a window or outdoor spot where you can witness the first light of the day for at least five minutes.
      • Unless needed for a medical condition, leave your digital devices, including those on your wrist, behind.

Practice –

  • Standing or seated, face the eastern direction where the sun rises.
    • Find a comfortable position.
    • As though you are meeting a close friend, invite a sense of ease – and perhaps delight – into your awareness.
    • If possible, allow yourself to be fully present for the next few moments with the rising of the sun.
      • Promise your mind that there will still be time to do all that it wants to do.  Perhaps let it know that for now it gets to take a little break from its constant work to run ahead of itself, full of anticipation, expectation, and evaluation.
  • Once positioned, lightly close your eyes for one or two breaths.
    •  Invite your entire eye area to relax.
  • Gently open your eyes, yet “see” with your entire being.
    • Imagine your entire being is made of tiny eyes, all soaking in the full experience of morning’s first light.
    • Try to wholeheartedly be present with dawn – the sounds, the sensations, the fragrances, the shapes, the colors, and the forms.
      • Perhaps note your overall mood, feelings, impulses, and awareness;  however, invite a sense of friendliness toward yourself, setting aside judgments and self-criticisms.
    • Note:  You may be used to only using your eyes for observing an occurrence such as dawn.   If you choose to use only your eyes for this part of the practice:
      • Consider the advice from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” and “We see only what we know.”
      • Consider all the many sages across the ages to try seeing from your heart, i.e., observe with loving awareness.
  • Feel free to stay and quietly observe as long as comfortable.
  • Silently acknowledge your inner light.
    • Take one hand over your heart and the other on top.
    • If comfortable, close your eyes. Otherwise, allow them to remain open in a soft gaze.
      • Notice the gentle weight of your hands over your heart-center. Perhaps smile.
      • Acknowledge the loving Light within your heart and its endless capacity for compassion, kindness, equanimity, and joy.
      • Breathe three breaths.
      • After your three breaths, three times reach your hands from your heart up toward the sun and back to your heart.

Transition back into your day – 

  • Sit – or stand, if you have been standing – quietly for a full breath.
  • When you are ready, return to your day.

 

This  poem appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 59, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2021.

 

 

New Moon – humble beginnings

New Moon – humble beginnings

I was delighted with myself,
having offered everything that 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
trans. Coleman Barks

“Moon.”  It was simple one-word exclamation.  Yet, to be sure that I understood her latest discovery, my youngest neighbor – a toddler named Natalia – reached her arm toward the sunny afternoon sky and pointed.  She repeated, “moon?,” although this time with an inflection of curiosity.  

As I mimicked her – pointing upward and whispering moon – Natalia beamed at having successfully communicated.  She was with her grandmother, who seemed equally proud. Apparently Natalia was excited about her new understanding that the moon is up there in the daytime sky, and had been testing everyone along their afternoon walk.  

It seemed like such an insignificant interaction, yet it caused me to ponder the ethics within our verbal exchanges, e.g., honesty, humility.  There is so much that happens within milliseconds.  Natalia had, in her own childhood way, deemed me as a grown-up who would responsibly respond to her in that moment.  

Part of my pondering came about because it was a day of new moon, when the moon is not only absorbed in the nighttime hues but invisible during the daytime.   Our minds in many ways are similar to the moon, with the potentiality to fully reflect the luminosity of eternal truth.  Yet, for the most part, our mind only catches glimpses of the truth.   

The famous Sufi Rumi reminds me that, within the shadowy orbits of life, I should remember that my human mind is vulnerable to misperception.   I found his words helpful as I reflected on how trustingly Natalia looked to others for affirmation with her learning to communicate and navigate the social nuances of human connections.  She offered a small lesson in the humility of remembering the deep responsibility that comes when someone asks for our advice or opinion.  In the coming weeks, I hope to continue to reflect on the gift from Natalia. 


Practice

This short practice invites awareness of inner awareness.

Prepare – 

  • Find a quiet spot where you can sit with minimal distractions or interruptions.
    • If seated on a chair or bench, evenly rest the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Take a moment to shake out through your arms and roll out through your shoulders.
  • Then, sit quietly with your hands comfortably resting on your thighs.  Invite awareness to your breath.  Just take notice of how it feels in this moment, e.g., raspy, calm, and smooth? 

Practice – 

  • For each of the following, take six breaths.  Invite your breath to be smooth and even:
    • Close your eyes (and take six breaths)
    • Again with your eyes closed, place your middle fingers on your eyelids, index fingers on your forehead, and thumbs on your temples (again, take six breaths)
    • Repeat the previous by moving your thumbs onto your ear flaps, i.e., closing off the outer sounds (again, take six breaths)
      • Note:  you may wish to lightly rest your ring fingers on the outer edges of your nostrils and your little fingers on the corners of your mouth.
  • Relax your hands in lap.  Sit quietly, either with your eyes closed or resting in a soft gaze.  
    • Notice any areas of your body where you may be holding extra tension.  Gently shift your awareness to an area that feels tense.  Invite more calmness and relaxation into that area with each inhale, letting go of tension on the exhales.  Repeat with as many areas of your body as you wish.   

Transition back into your day – 

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

The verse  appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 31, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2021. 


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  • Transcendental Love, course #4916, 5 Tuesdays, 3:10-4:30pm PT, Jan 26-Feb 23
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