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.”
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.
- 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.