Butterflies

To wake at dawn with a winged heart;

To rest at noon hour and meditate on love’s ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with …a song of praise upon your lips.

Khalil Gibran

 

In the midst of the current human and natural disasters, it seems almost naïve to be optimistic about our collective future. Yet, around the planet there are daily miracles and feats not only by people, but also by some of the smallest life forms.

Butterflies, for example, have been around for an estimated 50 million years. These beautiful insects exhibit the capacity for change more than another living creature. They crawl as caterpillars, cocoon, and then, lightly float away with delicate and colorful wings. Species, such as the Monarch, can travel several thousand miles. They are pollinators for some plants, and indicators of healthy ecosystems, as well as controllers of aphids and other pests.

Across cultures, butterflies represent beauty, renewal, simplicity, keen vision, peace, playfulness, and the interdependence of all life.  They represent individual transcendence from the societal pull toward gossip and dissatisfaction to a mind immersed in humble gratitude, kindness, and joy.

This metamorphosis takes personal effort. There is an ancient story of a butterfly that died when a person, intending compassion, tried to free a butterfly from its pupa by cutting it open.   But, unfortunately, the person disrupted the natural cycle of the butterfly, which needed to build its wings by freeing itself from the cocoon.  Transformation happens from the inside out.

Innately, all of us are butterflies.   We are at different stages in our life cycles. Some of us are enveloped in furthering anger and blame, and others have freed themselves of these patterns. The 19th century poet, Khalil Gibran, offers a sweet reminder that each moment of the day is filled with the grace of unseen love.   For the coming weeks, I will choose to follow the wisdom of Gibran.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This simple practice brings awareness of the rhythmic nature of your breath. Like the emergence of wings of a butterfly, first there is a symbolic release and then gentle flight.

  • Prepare –
    • Set the intention to go offline for five to ten minutes. Clear your environment of digital and audio distractions, e.g., turn your digital gadgets to airplane mode, remove your wrist watch.
    • Find a comfortable seated position – either on the floor or in a chair – and gently settle into the earthly support beneath you. Your eyes can be closed or open with a soft gaze.
    • Allow the backs of your hands to rest on your thighs.
    • Wrap the fingers of your right hand around your right thumb.
      • While continuing to hold the right thumb, do the same with the left hand. (If you are left handed, begin with the left and then add the right hand.)
      • Lovingly hold both thumbs and breath for a few breaths.
  • Practice –
    • Move your thumb and individual fingers in sync with the breath:
      • Inhale –
        • Gently open your palms, thumbs, and fingers to relax into a soft and open hand.
          • Return to this hand position with each subsequent inhalation.
      • Exhale –
        • Three exhales for each finger, lightly touch the tip of your thumb (simultaneously on both hands).
          • With the tip of your index finger.
          • With the tip of your middle finger;
          • With the tip of your ring finger; and,
          • With the tip of your little finger.
    • Move your entire hand in sync with your breath:
      • Smooth Inhale and Exhale – 
        • With minimal effort, allow your entire hand to gently open with each inhale and relax inward with each exhale.
          • Imagine that your inhales flutter outward from the deepest core of your heart to every cell in your torso, limbs, digits & skull.   Imagine that your exhales quietly settle back into your heart center.
          • Continue for as long as is comfortable.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Stretch through your palms. Open your eyes if they were closed.  Stretch out through your arms. Return to your day.

This poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, page 55 , and published by New World Library.

 

 

Solitude

Which is worth more, a crowd of thousands,

or your own genuine solitude?

A little while in your room will prove more valuable than anything else

that ever could be given you.

Rumi

 

The back screen door swung closed behind me.  I paused for a moment to ponder my options for this warm fall morning.   I could visit our farm horse Shorty out in the pasture, or a climb up the ladder on the windmill, romp with the dog, or maybe check on the dirt hole that my older sister and I had excavated the day before.   A cloud that looked like a dragon caught my eye.  It was turning into a flock of sheep.  I plopped down on my back and I was at play with the daytime sky.

Such solitude was normal for me.  The adults around me were from generations of farmers who modeled comfort with being alone – as much as being together with others.   From an early age, I was in training to have ease with both being by myself and relating to the community and surrounding nature.  Whether doing simple chores such as feeding the outdoor cats – we always had a dozen or so – or being free to explore, I was encouraged to be responsibly independent, yet acutely aware that I am part of the greater society and rhythms of life.

It has been decades since I’ve lived on our family wheat farm in Western Kansas, but my inner landscape reflects my childhood experience.  Unlike the current references to the “flattening” of psyche, the nearly uninterrupted horizon at my home breeds a sense of expansive possibilities within me.  It shaped a sense of inner peace and capacity for selfhood where I comfortable with being with myself, being cyber free for a period of time and having an unscheduled calendar for a period of time.   I’ve yet to find solace with being in the deep wilderness alone in a tent, but have roamed around the globe trusting the inner way-finding garnered in the flatlands.

The world’s ancient poets and saints, like the 13th century poet Rumi, lauded the jewels of genuine solitude – inner contentment, steadfastness, clarity, light-heartedness, creativity, and compassion. When each person is rooted inwardly, a thriving community can arise, much like a forest of hundreds of individual trees.   Concepts such as one and many lose their meaning because all are part of the whole and the whole is made of the parts.

Often solitude is equated with the modern form of loneliness and isolation that makes us fearful, clouds our minds, weakens our immunity to the commercial din, and leaves us susceptible to letting others shape our thoughts and lives.  Yet,  the modern version is almost the opposite of the solitude that humans have known from the earliest times where the well-being of the human and earthly forest begins with the strength of each sapling.  In the coming weeks, I will make space for solitude in my life by being cyber-free for one day each week. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice is a reminder that we constantly interact with the world through our senses, breath, hands, and feet.

  • Prepare –
    • Sit with your spine upright. If you are in a chair, rest the soles of the feet on the floor.
    • Scrunch up you face a few times. Open and close your jaw. Stretch out through your hands.
  • Practice –
    • Bring your hands in front of your face with your palms facing you and fingers pointing toward one another.
    • With your fingers, seal off the sensory inputs:
      • Index fingers gently resting on the eyelids;
      • Middle fingers resting lightly on the fleshy part of the nose;
      • Ring fingers resting above the lips on the outer corners of the mouth;
      • Little fingers resting below the lips on the outer corners of the mouth;
      • Thumbs resting on the ear lobes.
    • Breath 6-12 smooth, even inhales and exhales (with the fingers lightly sealing off the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.
    • Let your hands rest in your lap. Eyes closed or with a soft gaze.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Sit for a few moments before returning to your day.

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.

Tears

What is it you want to change?

Your hair, your face, your body? Why?

For God is in love with all those things

and he might weep when they are gone.

St. Catherine of Siena

 

Carolyne had become a shadow of herself.   The feisty, insightful artist that I had known was barely visible in the woman who sat across from me.   It was almost as though she had taken her talent as an accomplished painter and transformed it into an image of whom she thought she should be – inside and out.   She had created a slender, coiffed manikin able to talk about the weather, organizations she was supporting, and a other general topics.

I felt sad.  It was as though Carolyne’s uniqueness had been paved over. No amount of my weeping would ever bring back her drive for artistic work. Instead, like the flooded streets of Houston, all the wild, unruly part of her that made her a great artist was now hidden beneath impervious layers, and she is unable to respond to any watery downfall. With her more intuitive and natural self sealed away, tears could no longer seep into her heart.

Being with Carolyne’s reminded me of the gift of crying.   When tears flow, our thoughts and voice are stilled. We cannot talk when we weep. There is only the rush of the waters from our eyes and the release within the recesses of our heart.   Gradually, our own sorrows and attachments dissipate. We become deeply aware of the enormity of loss in the world – not just Carolyne’s voice and the works of art she will never create – but the multitude of disasters, tragedies, calamities, and injustices. Then, with pure knowingness and awareness in the heart, there is exuberant joy for the gift of tears and the clarity they bring.

Tears are a response of the heart. They represent moments beyond what the mind can comprehend. Around the world there are legends about the first appearance of tears and traditions that ritualize tears.   Weeping has symbolized the overflowing of the waters of divine love.  Tears are signs of ecstasy, grief, gratitude, elation, longing, and the grace of transcendence. When tears are cool to the touch, they are considered an expression of one being in the state of superlative happiness.

The symbolism of tears and weeping appears in the writing of saints and mystics around the world. To weep with longing for God was to know God.   Unlike Carolyne, who sought societal acceptance through crafting a safe and predictable persona, female mystic saints, like St. Catherine of Siena, often challenged societal norms and were fiercely independent. They sought to connect with God through prayer and devotion. Rather than become immune to worldly suffering, they embraced it and served the poor and destitute.   Their similarity to Carolyne is that they took extreme measures to transform their minds and bodies – but for the purpose of being apt vessels of divine messages.  Those messages continue to nourish those who weep for the divine.

For the next several weeks, I will notice dew and rain drops. They are there as reminders that tears are always present for strength.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice rests the eyes, the container for tears. I recommend you read through the practice before you begin.

  • Prepare –
    • Sit at a table, or any other even surface. (You will be cradling your head in your hands with your elbows resting on the table.)
    • Yawn and stretch out through the jaw.  Then, stretch through the fingers and arms.
    • Breathe in a relaxed and easy manner. Let go of any need to change the breath.
  • Practice –
    • Rub your hands quickly together until you feel some warmth in your palms.
    • Place your elbows on the table. Bend the arms so the palms are facing you.
    • Lower your head toward your palms.
      • Rest your eye sockets (eyelids closed) in the heels of your hands.
      • Curl the fingers lightly over the forehead and hairline.
      • Let the thumbs curl lightly toward the temples.
    • Easy gentle breathing. Relax through the jaw and shoulders.
    • Appreciate a sense of deep release. Stay as long as feels comfortable for you.
  •  Transition –
    • Eyes closed or with a soft gaze, move the head away from the hands into a normal position.
    • Smooth, easy breath
    • As you are ready, quietly return to your day.

This poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Sacred Poems, page 5, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, and published by New World Library. It is translated by Daniel Ladinsky.

 

CELESTIAL LIGHT

Like a great starving beast

my body is quivering

fixed on the scent of

Light.

Hafiz

 

It seems fanciful that a new moon can appear to shimmer. Yet, about once about every eighteen months, there is a radiant glow around a new moon. It occurs when the two orbs of the moon and the sun seem to mate in the daytime sky and the moon has cloaked the sun.

I admire the odd and wondrous relationship between this unlikely pair. They couldn’t be more different in their natures. The moon is tiny and constantly mobile, whereas the sun is massive – four hundred times larger than the moon – and ever steady and luminous. Still, they have an intimate interconnection and model balance and altruism with their unique and vast differences.

The sun, in spite of its center-stage prominence in the solar system, freely offers warmth and light to all. In some cultures and religions, the sun’s radiance is an archetype of the immortal, supreme light and love that holds life. And, the moon is its partner reflecting light into the darkness. It helps stabilize the earth’s rotation and regulate our tides. Together, they provide us with energy, illumination, inspiration, and our calendar.

Ancients recognized the magnificent power and significance of these two spherical bodies. Nowadays, we need a cosmic jolt to renew the awe of our raw link to them and the rest of life. When the dark moon covers the sun, it is like a power outage, especially in the locations where eclipse will be visible.

For days, and some human lore says for months, things can be turned upside-down before and after a solar eclipse.   There can be distressing energies, turbulence, and waves of negativity and misfortune. Plants, animals, humans and the elements can be affected. The change in the gravitational pull may cause quakes and other unusual terrestrial phenomena. We may feel forced to leap into the new. Still , all is not gloomy; near the totality of the eclipse, the sun reveals its brightness and presence by giving the moon a glimmering appearance.

Poets like Hafiz remind us that light is always there. It will always illumine us, even we ignore or forget about it, or when we think it has abandoned us in our bleakness. Like the moon, we have the capacity to reflect or eclipse the light, with the former being the more normal way of being and latter temporary and occasional.

We can either look upward or downward to the glow, to the heavenly or to cyber messages.   Both can take us inward and both impact how we interact outward.   For my guidance, I choose the more mysterious one that shines in everyone and all aspects of life. I hope you will join me.

 

Practice

This practice can be done anywhere and at any time for any length of time, except for when driving.

  • Practice –
    • Begin by simply noticing that you are breathing. Perhaps notice the rhythmic movement around your ribs and collarbones.
    • Then, shift your attention to how you feel when you become aware of your breathing.
      • Perhaps notice how your facial, throat and shoulder muscles responded. Did they tense up, or relax?
      • If they became tense, take a few deep inhales through the nostrils and breathe out through the mouth making a sound like a sigh, or the rush of air outward. Maybe shake your arms and hands to release tension.
      • Once there is a sensation of some release, then continue.
    • As the muscles around the upper torso let go, invite your awareness to move your lower torso. Allow your abdominal muscles to gently relax on your inhales. No need to force. Just allow for some awareness of letting go of tension in your lower torso.
    • Then, just let your breath rhythmically glide in and out. Allow it be easeful and comfortable. Like the moon moving through its lunar phases, invite a steady and natural ebb and flow. You are being breathed.  You have all you need in this moment.
    • Stay for as long as you like. Savor the mysterious quality of your breath.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Invite a feeling of an inner smile.
    • Turn your palms upward and stretch through your palms and fingers.
    • Look upward and with heartfelt sincerity say “thank you.”

 

Translated by Daniel Ladinsky, this poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 32, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.  HEARTH is published on the new and full moon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth

Surprised by all that love is

I remain alert in stillness.

František Halas

 

Having grown up on a farm, I maintain a childlike amazement of the natural world. Within the period of an hour, an overcast sky clears, baring a blue expanse. A fawn, still with spots on its back, wanders across the hillside near the kitchen window. The mother trails behind. A heart-shaped stone appears on a pathway that I have traversed dozens of times.

Awe feels like a natural state of being. I close my eyes and it is there. I open my eyes and the world appears as a composite of whirling miracles sustaining the whole.   If my amazement drops away, a hearty clover sprouting through a sidewalk crack pulls it back. Or, it might get pulled back the sight of dirt and wriggling worms in a place that just a few weeks prior was a pile of dried leaves. That soil will nourish plants that will in turn nourish me.

I recognize the turmoil, cynicism, and imbalances of our times, yet my rural upbringing instilled in me that reverence is fundamental to life.   Microbes mattered, as did insects and seeds, and the community gatherings for worship and helping one another when needed. There was an understanding that no matter how advanced humans become with our inventions, we are part of a living web. Like all mammals, our bodies still need air, food, water, and face-to-face connections between our selves and environments.

The tuffs of grass, billowing rain clouds, and the splendor of sunsets are persistent in trying to get our attention. Like loving friends, they invite us to slow down, put the phone aside, and notice them. If we are quiet enough, perhaps we’ll rest in awareness that they are always with us, supporting us.   Perhaps when we stop and commune with Mother Nature long enough, we’ll be surprised to find a neglected gem in ourselves – such as, kindness, tolerance, humility and love.

Wise poets, saints, and sages like Halas remind us that enlightenment is found within the everyday. When we can see that the wind does not cling, the sun freely offers light without expectation, and the dishes sing when we handle them with care, we know all that love is. This wisdom becomes more challenging to follow, as our mindscapes become the new commercial frontier.  Yet, I choose to claim my own mind territory and fill it with raw wonder until there is only alert, stillness. This is a stillness that is impervious to outer distractions but deeply caring for our collective well-being. I hope you will join me.

 

Practice

This is a meditative offering.   Choose a time and place – indoors or outdoors – with minimal distractions.  

  • Prepare –  Sit comfortably on an even, firm surface. Rest the back of your hands on your thighs. Release tension around your temples and the corners of your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Practice –
    • Imagine yourself as a flowering plant.
      • Relax your hips toward the earth. Lengthen your spine upward as though it were a stem. Like leaves, allow your shoulders to gracefully release away from the neck like leaves.
    • Breathe with ease for 7 to 10 breaths.
      • On inhale: Imagine your body absorbing the light of the sun.
      • On exhale: Imagine that the sunlight penetrates more and more deeply into your core.   Let it spark a feeling of ever-present love.
    • Breathe gently and freely another 7 to 10 breaths.
      • On inhale: Invite the glow from your heart to slowly extend to the inner surface of your body.
      • On exhale: Relax and allow the rays to recede back into your heart center. Release any remaining tension around your chest, abdomen, throat, and back of the skull as though clearing space for your inner light to shine more brightly.
    • Sit quietly for several minutes. In this stillness, you are a flowering plant.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Place the palms together in front of your heart and gently bow your head.
    • Breathe smoothly and evenly for a few breaths. Release the backs of your hands back onto your thighs and slowly lift your head.
    • Gently open your eyes to return to the garden of life.

 

This is a poem excerpt from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 28, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, and published by New World Library. The practice was a “flowering light” meditation, which I contributed to the Yoga Journal in 2010.

 

 

 

 

Loving

Not speaking of the way, not thinking of what comes after,

Not questioning name or fame,

Here, loving love, you and I look at each other.

YOSANO AKIKO

 

When the front door opened, he wagged his tail and ran across the yard.  This was his routine greeting.   Poochie was a mix of dog breeds with a short, compact build and a lighthearted personality.  My older sister and I surmised that he had come from the circus.  This was, in part, because he had magically strayed onto my dad’s farm shortly after we had buried our prior dog.  Poochie also intrigued us with his tricks, such as dancing on his hind legs.

This little dog gave me lifelong lessons.  He effortlessly embodied love.  He offered me a raw experience of loving, and being loved, which in turn led to an experience of wholeness and universality within myself.  When I was outdoors with him, separateness disappeared and the labels of “girl” or “dog” melted away.  Our common earthly substratum – the elements of earth, water, fire and air – playfully danced on the eternal horizon between the manifest and un-manifest.   There was that simple lesson that all I needed to do was open the door – and there was love.

These poetic words of Shō Hō , pen name Yosano Akiko, invite an exquisite taste of love. Although known for her sensuous voice, I feel Shō Hō’s symbolic poetry is like a flower. On the surface, she binds us to our earthly nature with the desire to capture and hold onto the beauty and freshness she offers.  Yet, when we reach for the “you” and “I,” at the end of the poem, she gracefully points us back to a fullness and completeness held in “loving love.”

In the face of our times that values and promotes what Shō Hō refers to as “thinking what comes after, name and fame, and speaking of the way,” I still believe in the potential of love to blossom within each individual. In the next few weeks, each morning I will recall the love that Poochie taught me, and that my ancestors modeled, in an effort to live by that love in all that I eat, touch, and say.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice can be done anywhere, anytime. It brings awareness of the loving support in the world around us.

  • Prepare – Set your phone on airplane mode. Interlace your fingers, stretch your fingers out in front of you, and reverse your palms. Invite two to three full breaths into your lungs. Let your hands release into your lap and notice their natural weight on your thighs.
  • Practice –
    • With your hands resting in your lap, recall being in a place, or situation, where you felt completely safe, trusting, supported, calm, joyful, and maybe even in presence of unimaginable magnificence.
      • If you have difficulty doing this, slowly look around at your surroundings and find something from the natural world that you find beautiful – a flower, a plant, a wooden floor, a cotton fabric. (Ideally, the choice is not an image of another human.)
    • Invite this memory (of being totally safe, trusting, supported, in awe, and/or being loved) to seep into your awareness.  Imagine as though this sweet memory is spreading throughout your entire being.
      • You may wish to imagine that with each inhale this sense is slowly expanding outward from deep within your heart center.   Like rays of the sun, it radiates out in all directions. And, each exhale, you savor the sweetness as it nourishes each cell.
    • Take your time with this. You may feel or notice resistance. If you do, try to gently coax your awareness toward this subtler, more peaceful memory.
  • Once you feel the sweetness having gently filled your entire being, sit quietly.
    • Imagine: awakening into this feeling; moving through your day; eating your meals; talking and interacting with others; and, falling asleep with this feeling.
    • Know that this sweet, gentle part of you is always there.
    • Throughout, invite the facial, neck and shoulder muscles to release.  Invite a soft gaze in your eyes.  Your breath is easy and relaxed.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Invite this feeling to settle into the tips of each of your fingers.
    • Take your time before returning to your phone. Instead, consider sealing in this practice within the environment around you through touching your surroundings. (If you are in a public place, you can imagine touching the senses or your surroundings.)

 

This poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 31, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, translated by Kenneth Rexroth, and published by New World Library.   The photo is of an anonymous dog.

Brambles

Cut brambles long enough, sprout after sprout,

and the lotus will bloom of its own accord:

Already waiting in the clearing, the single image of light.

The day you see this, that day you will become it.

Sun Bu-er

 

It is summer in the Northern Hemisphere.   Along the central California coast, the weather is predictably unpredictable, vacillating between cool, foggy days and clear, sunny ones.  Around the neighborhood, delicate white blossoms on the blackberry bushes are transforming into plump, juicy fruit.

On my daily walks, I find myself reaching into these thorny shrubs.  Each time I laugh at myself for succumbing to the promise of a perfect berry in exchange for a few snags on my sleeve and nicks on the arm.  More than once I’ve been caught by the well-honed lure of this persistent plant.  It prompts the memory of a sweet flavor squirting in my mouth, and in turn that memory fuels my desire for one more tasty bite of berry.

Sun Bu-er, a 12th c. female Daoist master, gracefully reminds us that brambles, such as blackberries, are like unwanted thoughts and habits.  They masquerade as generous friends with the invitations of pleasure.  Yet, their true intent is their own tenacious survival by overtaking anything in their way and creating impenetrable, tangled masses.  Their sprouts are hidden beneath the surface, thus making it difficult to stop their growth.

Once the brambles are stemmed, they become extinct. Sun Bu-er offers a beautiful poetic glimpse of bramble-free consciousness. She lets us touch that awareness: It is always there, waiting to welcome our awareness. She allows us to see without seeing, and to know without knowing. And, she seems to bless us with luminous, unhindered clarity.

As the summer progresses, I will continue to notice how easily subtle enticements and distractions lure me from the path of clearing into the thicket.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports letting go in your hands.  It can be done seated or reclined.  

  • Prepare –
    • Find a comfortable seated or reclined position. If reclined on the floor, rest on your back, drape your legs over cushion, and allow your heels to rest lightly on the floor.
    • Stretch wide through your palms and fingers. Then, gently shake the hands.
  • Practice –
    • With the backs of your hands resting your thighs. If you are reclined, rest them on the floor. Allow your palms to softly open toward the sky.
      • Invite a smooth, calming, gentle inhale and exhale.
      • From the tip of each finger, release and let go of unneeded tension across the finger and palm to the wrist.
        • Begin with the little fingers on both hands, i.e., simultaneously letting go of tension in the little fingers on both hands.
        • Then, repeat with the other four fingers: your ring fingers, middle fingers, index fingers, and lastly the thumbs.
      • Keep the sense of having let go in the fingers and palms, all your hands to roll over so the fingers are now turned downward.
        • If comfortable, silently speak to your hands. For example, “completely relax. They are free to do nothing but let go.” “I appreciate all that you do to care for me. You help me wash, nourish myself, navigate, communicate, create, give hugs…and much more.”   “For now, I make no demands on you. You are completely clear and free.”
      • Let the dialogue fade. Imagine as though with each breath, your hands and fingers release just a bit more.
        • Sit or rest quietly.
  • Transition back into your day when you are ready.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 59, Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (Editors), New World Library (publisher).