Giving

Giving

I was sad one day and went for a walk:
I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and
came near.
It often does not take more than that to help at times-
to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t
chat,
they just gaze with
their
marvelous understanding.
(St. John of the Cross, Trans. by Daniel Ladinsky)

 

Autumn is approaching in the Northern Hemisphere.  The daylight hours are slowly giving way to the longer nights, the squirrels are burying their winter stash, and the deciduous trees are baring their trunks.  Even if we miss the cues in nature, nonprofit groups remind us of the arrival of fall with appeals for funds, a new school year has begun, and retail sites are announcing discounts on seasonal products and services.

I feel at the very heart of this season is what I call giving-ness.  “Giving-ness,” to me, is a state where giving and receiving flow seamlessly. It is what sustains and nourishes us in our daily life.  My sense is that, like pure love, this intangible form of giving upholds the world.  With each breath, we exchange gifts with the trees.  Our food arises through the giving presence of the waters and soil.  Symbolically, we give back to the earth through our bodies.  The fall equinox offers a momentary balance in the otherwise constant swing between lightness and darkness.

St. John of the Cross and other mystics often use nature as a way to remind us that we abide in and are inherently part of giving-ness.  My hope is that this awareness will ripple into my daily choices and interactions.   Please join me.

 

Practice
This practice symbolically shakes off unwanted emotions and invites lightness into your heart.

Prepare—

  • Standing.
  • Gently shake one limb at a time, beginning with your right arm. Then, shake your right leg. Then, move to your left side and shake your left arm, and lastly, left leg.
  • Shake each limb for at least 30 seconds. If you have an injury, please take care.

Practice—

  • Begin by reaching both arms upward and apart.
    • Move slowly, as though you are caressing the space around you.
    • Allow the hands and elbows to be relaxed.
  • Then, slowly bring both hands to the center of your chest, with one hand resting over the other.
  • Continue this movement and add an awareness of the breath, as follows.
    • Inhale—Slowly allow your hands and arms to move upward into a “v” position.
      • Joints soft. Imagine you are reaching into the darkness.
    • Exhale—Slowly bring your hands over the center of your chest.
      • Place one hand over the other.
      • Imagine you are accepting lightness into your heart.
      • Allow a feeling of an inner smile as you receive this
      • gift of light.
    • Repeat 5–7 times.

Transition Back into Your Day—

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

 

This reflection is an excerpt from Our Inherited Wisdom:  54 Inspirations from Nature and Poetry, page 203-206, by Kate Vogt.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon. KateVogt©2021.

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Rain and Rejuvenation

Rain and Rejuvenation

I am filled with you.
Skin, blood, bone, brain, and soul.
There’s no room for lack of trust, or trust.
Nothing in this existence but that existence.

Rumi
Translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks

A few days ago the ground crumbled and crunched under footfall.  The leaves and pine needles in the wooded areas swirled in the dry winds.  Now, with the gift of rain, the soil has become spongy and receptive to the pressure of my boots.  Emerald green carpets are everywhere – covering fields, hillsides and lawns with precious blades of grass and ferns.  Dandelions sprouts have popped up within the sidewalk cracks, and ferns have filled every open space between stones.

The moisture brings a welcomed relief to what seems like an endless drought.  As the earth seems to be silently but visibly rejoicing, I feel my inner compass turn to join in this promise of renewal.  The few short showers remind me of the stalwart trust that my father had in the elements.  As a farmer in an area of the Great Plains that has very little annual moisture, he would say “it will rain – it always has.”   Like most of humanity prior to him, he had a humble and ongoing understanding of humans’ symbiotic connection with the elements and rhythms of nature.  

The rain reminds me of the necessity of tears to sustain our souls.   They can be those that come with laughter and joy, or sorrow and grief.   We need the rivulets and deluges to allow our deepest selves to speak and express far more than everyday words can ever say.   Without tears, we begin to forget the first language of the heart that knows compassion, caring, and companionship.   Yet, it is just those kind and gentle qualities that allow us to offer to one another a trusting haven, so that the rains can come again, offering revitalization and hope.  

Wise words from sages, prophets, and saints inspire me to see anew.  While pointing to the eternal essence, Rumi also helps me remember that the heart is woven into the broader ecology of the universe, where there is equitable kinship between humans, the elements, the soil, and all species.  He prompts my awareness that the ecology of the heart takes loving care and nourishment.  Otherwise, it feels dry and unsated, isolated and longing within its own desert.  

As humans, most of us have never been in full harmony within our earthly embodiment.  But, I feel the rain and the timeless wisdom of the ancients are invitations to embrace wholeness and the shared nature of the parts of the whole, whether within our body, community, nation, planet, or universe.  I feel they are invitations to see the whole of life within one heart.  And, in doing so, to have the courage to grieve and begin to repair the parts that have been forgotten or dismissed, so that the whole can inter-live and reimagine a dynamic world.  This is not easy, but I want to future generations to have the ability to know, “it will rain – it always has.”   

Practice 
This short practice invites a pause.

Prepare – 

  • Sit in front of a table or a desk.  Please find a place where you can be alone with yourself.
    • If seated on a chair or bench, evenly rest the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Gently tilt your head to one side for three or four breaths.  Slowly bring your head to center.  Pause.  Then, gently tilt your head to the opposite side for a few breaths before bring your head to center again.
  • Slowly roll your shoulders in one direction a few times.  Then, the other.  
  • Interlace your fingers with your palms facing your chest.  With your fingers interlaced, squeeze your palms and fingers together.  Notice which thumb is on top.  Then, switch the interlace so that your other thumb is on top.
  • Relax your palms wherever they are comfortable, e.g., on your lap.  
    • Allow your attention to turn toward your breath.  Just notice the quality of your breath – is it smooth, raspy, ragged.  Just notice.  After several breaths, continue on with your practice.

Practice – 

  • Place your elbows on the table in front of you.  Lean in toward the table.   
  • Bend your elbows and drop your forehead into your palms.  
    • If comfortable, allow eyes to rest in the heels of your palms.   
      • Find a comfortable place for your fingers.  For example, your fingertips can curl toward the crown of your head and your thumbs toward the sides of your head.
  • Allow the weight of your head to be fully supported by your hands.  As much as needed, repeat an awareness of letting the weight go.  (Often, we hold back from completely letting go.)
    • Invite the muscles in your shoulders, jaw, and neck to relax.  
  • Allow your breath to follow its own pattern.  You may even feel like sighing.  If so, follow the cues of your body and breath.
    • Perhaps imagine that you can release, even it temporarily, all the stress that you’ve been carrying.  Again, allow the breath to just be.
    • Stay here for as long as is comfortable.
  • Very slowly bring your head away from your palms; open your eyes into a soft gaze; begin to sit upright; and, then relax your hands back onto your lap or wherever they are comfortable.  

Transition back into your day – 

  • Remain in quietude for a few moments.  
  • When you are ready, return to your day.    

The verse appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 88, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.    Photo by Marc Zimmer.  H E A R T H is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2021. 

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New Moon Night

New Moon Night

There is a desert

I long to be walking,

a wide emptiness,

peace beyond any

understanding of it.

Rumi

I felt welcomed by the still darkness of the new moon sky.  All the universe seemed to be in a slumber.  The atmosphere was quiet as an invisible cloud cover shielded any light from the stars. The birds and neighborhood dogs had yet to stir.  Even the trees were soundless in the quiet, breezeless air.  

Although I was far from the Great Plains where I grew up, the boundless night evaporated all the miles and years to bring me home.  That place of home is where the dark nights absorb the sky and the land and erase any sense of separateness.  As a child, I would stand in awe of the immensity of such nights and felt that somehow a supreme, loving presence was everywhere, filling the darkness.

It seems fortunate to have a warm, childhood memory written into the shrouded nights.  It has the familiar and comforting texture of home, where you can settle in and ponder. The vastness seems like an empty stage, open to endless possibility.  Here, my own thoughts often ease into the calm stillness.  Nothing to know and nothing to need to know. Past, present, and even “the now” have no allure.

As the light of the day arises, I watch my thoughts come to life.  It has been a temporary respite.  I have had a glimpse of what Rumi calls “peace beyond any understanding of it.”   As the day moves on, I will carry that peaceful memory like a camel with its water.  It won’t be lost or hoarded – just carried along to be shared along the way.  Please join me.

Practice

This short practice offers quietude in the pre-dawn. If you have fear of darkness, please skip this practice.

Prepare – 

  • In early morning before sunrise, find a comfortable place where you can sit quietly in the dark.  
    • If inside, cover as much ambient light as you can, and leave the overhead lights off.
    • If outside, be wise about where you can sit undisturbed by outside lights, e.g., passing car lights.  Ensure you have chosen a place where you feel safe.  

Practice – 

  • With your eyes open, relax around the corners of your eyes and across the lids.
  • Imagine you are slowly easing yourself into the fresh sweetness of this early pre-dawn.
    • If helpful, systematically ease any unneeded tension in your muscles:
      • Across your face, your chest, your arms, your legs, and then your shoulders and back.
  • Then, just sit. 
  • Remember the sun will soon rise out of this quiet time of the day.

Transition back into your day – 

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

This poem  is translated by Coleman Barks and appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 69, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  The photo is by Jeremy Bishop HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2020.

Loving-Nature

Loving-Nature

What must come, comes.

Face everything with love,

as your mind dissolves

in God.

Lalla

The neighborhood where I was walking was quiet.  A flock of birds flew far overhead and a pair of doves were snuggled next to one another on a telephone wire.  Occasionally, a squirrel scampered soundlessly across a lawn and into a tree.  

Just as I turned the corner to a busier street, the silence was broken by the sound of a screen door slapping shut and a patter of footsteps.   A woman, who I later learned was named Irene, was running toward a faint sound of a high-pitched mewing.  Two grey kittens sat near the curb.  Nearby on the street was their mother, lying immobile on her side.

Irene must have sensed that the news was not good.   She had brought two shoeboxes with her.  Asking if I could help, I was handed a box, and she pointed to the kittens.  There was a soft cloth inside.  She headed toward the mother, knelt down, and then took a photo of the cat’s serene face before wrapping the cloth around her and placing her in the other box.   

Noticing my curiosity, Irene said, “The photo is for humility.  I want to remember that part of my humanness as I care for these kittens and help them grow.”   She paused and then continued, “It is too easy to forget that one of the roots of our human species name is humus, or earth, or dirt. Instead, we (as humans) often center the story around ourselves as being the rescuer when all I am doing is temporarily stepping in on behalf of another species.  The photo helps me remember that.”  

Irene’s words reminded me of my ancestors, particularly those on my father’s side of the family who had old-world farm values.  My dad Bob was keen to remind the younger generations that we don’t take any of our material possessions with us when we die, and we should do the best we can in looking after whatever is in our care.  As children, we were given chores such as feeding the farm cats in the barn.  Each chore inbred a sense of loving humility and responsibility toward the greater whole.  

It is no wonder that the name Irene is sometimes equated with “she who knows,” or “peace” in Greek mythology.  This Irene whom I met on the street carries the beautiful timeless value of humble lovingness.  Later I found out that she is a full-time city councilwoman, a regular volunteer and advocate for housing and employment for all, a mother of two, and a wonderful mentor to the neighborhood children.  She and her husband live simply, regularly feed stray humans and animals, yet stay healthy in their own bodies and minds.  The cat that died was one that Irene had raised after its mother had died of a similar car accident.  

The interruption to quietude on my morning walk offered unexpected insight into navigating life with an old-fashioned, but not outdated, attitude and perspective of the power of humanness to be more than just the sum of our products, possessions, and inventions.  We have the potential to remember and to care for this earthly home that we all share.  And, to remember that God and sacredness is within every life gesture and expression.   I endeavor to approach the coming year with a more loving and reverent spirit, and hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports your awareness of interconnectivity.

Prepare –

  • Free your hands and wrists of any personal devices.  Place them out of arms’ reach and find a comfortable seat. 
  • On both hands, slowly touch the tips of each fingers with your thumb. 
    • Pause for a breath or two as you with each finger.
    • Invite a sense of appreciation for the gift of having hands.

Practice –

  • With your palms relaxed, open your hands upward at a level, e.g. level of your waist or chest, where you can observe your hands.
    • Soften your wrists and your gaze.   Just observe your hands as though you are seeing them for the first time in your life.
      • Notice what you notice.   For example, the space between your fingers or the way the fingers and thumb connect into the palm. 
      • Perhaps recall how a baby observes his/her hands.
    • Imagine as you observe your palms, you were able to see all that has passed across these hands of yours – perhaps kittens or puppies, favorite treats, beloved family, flowers, trees, books, steering wheels and more. 
    • Consider gestures – soft and harsh – and other ways that you have expressed emotions with your hands.
    • All life is in your hands.   Stretching back eons, your hands arise from a long chain of connections.
    • Take a moment to bring your palms together in front of your heart.  Bow your head.  As the poet Lalla suggests, vow to touch everything with love and reverence. 

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 38, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  Photo by Jacayln Beales. HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Waterfall

Waterfall

There is a channel between voice and presence,

a way where information flows.

In disciplined silence the channel opens.

With wandering talk, it closes.

Rumi

It has been sunny and warm most of this fall season.   A friend Karen and I like to end our workweek with a walk, and we have found ourselves seeking partially shaded paths.  One leads through local neighborhoods to a canyon with a stream and lush vegetation.   Even with our lack of rain, water still ripples over a rocky streambed, making its way to an edge of a cliff where it spills into a canyon and continues its flow below.

The trail slopes gently from the upper to the lower part of the stream.  At the base of the waterfall, it feels timeless.  The water drops like tears from the outcropping above.  As it moves over the face of the stone, its sound shifts and changes.  Somehow it conveys emotions outside the reach of words, so it is comforting to pause within this worldly chasm of eternity – and to sit and listen.

All the stories of the world seem to be told within the falling water.  Just as tears can express our joys and sufferings, each drop stirs something within.  As Karen and I sat on a bench during our last visit to the waterfall, I felt a sense of the ever-present yielding and letting go of life.  For example, the day gives way to night, night to day, rivers to oceans and oceans to shores, plains into mountain and mountains to plains, exhales to inhales, and inhales to exhales.  And, the fall leaves yield to the earth where they form compost for new life.

Poets such as Rumi can bring us to the openness of the pause.  Within the space between the words there is the empty bridge to the next word or phrase.  It feels like an invitation to linger there, momentarily free of wandering.   Perhaps it is an invitation to notice and embrace the richness in the everyday moment.   I hope to pause and listen more to these wordless messages, whether from our nature-kin or ancient poets.  Please join me.

Practice

This short practice supports your unspoken understanding.

Prepare –

  • Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes. 
    • If in a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
    • If you have had a busy day, take a moment and shake out through your arms and legs – one at a time.

Practice –

  • Hold your head in your hands.  Allow your palms to cover your eyes. 
    • Invite the muscles around your jaw to release.
    • If you feel comfortable, invite an awareness of your sense of being here with yourself.
    • Pause here for a few breaths. 
  • With your head upright and a soft gaze, bring your hands over your ears. 
    • Invite the muscles around your belly to release.
    • If it feels comfortable, listen to the sound of your breathing.
    • Pause here for a few breaths.
  • With your head upright and a soft gaze, allow the backs of your hands to rest on your thighs. 
    • Invite the muscles around your forearms, wrists, and hands to release.
    • If it feels comfortable, imagine you are sitting in the presence of that which you hold most sacred according to your belief.
    • Pause here for a few breaths.   

Transition back into your day –

  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks.  It appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 33, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

Geranium

Geranium

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’ve come from.”

Rumi

Roots were sticking upward and dirt was strewn all over.  Given the overall condition of our planet and the increasing frequency of natural disasters, this upheaval was relatively minor.  A geranium plant was dangling over the edge of its pot.   Apparently a squirrel or bird had dug into the freshly added soil and uprooted the plant in the process.

I up-righted the geranium and gave it a little pat.   Notwithstanding my minimalist gardening attention, I have fondness for this geranium plant.  It is a model of resilience, because it has survived the appetite of the local deer that will eat even “deer-resistant” plants.

A few days later, a new blossom popped out from the geranium.  Upon seeing the cheery red color, I felt a sense of pride.  Then, I noticed the scraggly green stock, and remembered that this plant was not only a model of hardiness, but also had its own life capacity.  Perhaps it actually had needed to be repotted, i.e., it needed more room for its roots and not just new surface soil that I had added. 

The wildlife’s digging might have given the plant what it required:  a chance to be re-rooted. The dangling geranium could have easily dropped to the ground and found new life there.  My role likely was accidental. 

Such a small and ordinary life event was what I needed to reconnect with a sense of humility. Ironically, two common flower meanings for geraniums are folly and foolishness, both of which I find easy to fall into.  Our human minds seem to gravitate toward considering ourselves as the center of our life events and interactions, whether with other humans or the rest of nature.

Prophets and sage poets such as Rumi remind us to recall the source of all life – we are one of many species sustained by the invisible and ever-present grace of love.    For today, the geranium is my reminder to slow down and accept the lessons of each moment.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice supports our capacity to let go.

Prepare –

  • Stand with a hip-width stance. 
  • Shake out your right arm for approximately 30 seconds.  Then, your left arm.
  • Bend your knees and bounce gently up and down.  Your feet can be flat on the floor.

Practice –

  • Come to a seated position either in a chair or on the floor.
    • If in a chair, place the soles of your feet on the floor.
  • Place the backs of your hands on your thighs.
    • Five times, curl your fingers and thumbs toward the palms. 
    • Then, allow your hands to remain open. 
      • Relax across your eyes and around your jaw.
      • Allow your shoulders and palms to soften.
      • Invite your breath to be smooth and easy.
        • Close your eyes or ease them into a soft gaze.
        • Imagine all the tension and holding on is releasing from your body and mind.
          • Invite awareness that all is recycled.  As you let go, the universe absorbs and uses all.  Like leaves dropping from the tree in the fall, the release offers nourishments and makes room for the new.

Transition back into your day –

  • When you are ready, return to your day.

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks.  It appears in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 31, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.   Photo by Michael Beener.  HEARTH is posted each new and full moon.  KateVogt©2019.

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