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.

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.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary

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.

William Blake

Most of the day had been stormy with high winds and heavy rain. I had gone out to feed the birds and pick up the mail in the early morning, but otherwise had stayed inside. It felt like a luxury to be somewhere warm and dry without any necessity to navigate the wet roadways and detours around debris and flooded areas.

Serendipitously, the day was unscheduled with no work or other appointments.  I needed to physically be nowhere other than home. I felt an impulse to begin filling up the day with phone calls and conversations online. Yet, I couldn’t let go of the awareness of the gift of shelter and the choice to retreat into that.

At both the deepest and broadest level is the sanctity of the heart, and its abundance of love and joy. Within the heart, everyone and everything belongs. There is room for all life – the sky, mountains, oceans, lands, and the objects and species residing in those regions.   Divine love and joy are the essence of the heart.

The rainy day made me reflect upon a more basic form of sanctuary – four walls, roof, and floor, and a consistent place to rest our head and nourish our body. Instead of getting lost in my social media, I chose instead to clean and care for the philodendron, fern, and other houseplants by watering them and trimming the leaves. Albeit small, the apartment felt like a castle filled with the blessings of safety, comfort, love, and wellbeing.

I have done nothing special in this life to be one of the privileged humans to have a shelter. Although I have not asked them, my guess is that like me, most of my family members take for granted the sanctuary of home. I am grateful to the inclement weather to have caused me to slow down and appreciate shelter and the rich blessings in my life.

Practice

This practice supports awareness of the body as an earthly home.

Prepare
  • Stretch out. Give yourself a hug.
Practice
  • Hold your upper right forearm with your left hand. Gently squeeze.
  • Hold your mid right forearm with your left hand. Gently squeeze.
  • Hold your right wrist with your left hand. Gently Squeeze.
  • Hold each finger on your right hand with your left fingers. Gently squeeze.
  • Hold your right hand with your left. Gently squeeze.
  • Repeat with the opposite arm and hand.
Return to Your Day

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

Note: In the last line of this poem, scholars are unsure in reading Blake’s handwriting whether it is “live” or “love;” or, “king” or “thing.” In other words, instead of “Go, love without the help of anything on earth,” it is “Go, live without the help of any king on earth.’

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 11, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Benjamin Wong on Unsplash.

H E A R T H 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.

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