Insects

God
blooms
from the shoulder
of the
elephant
who becomes
courteous
to the
ant.

Attributed to Hafiz

An extra long strand of hair fell in front of my face. When I went to brush it away, I noticed it was extra silken and almost reached to the floor.   A small spider dangled a few inches above the floor.   Every year when the weather turns drier, spiders and other insects begin to appear in odd places in our home. This was a first.

Never before had a spider so boldly gotten my attention. Maybe it was a sign that I needed to look at the fragile attachments of my own precious web of habits and ideas. One example of my webbed mind is my believing that that even tiny beings like insects carry important messages.  Hence, I heeded the unexpected appearance of this spider.

It seemed the spider’s presence was simply a sign of the impending summer heat and the need to prepare accordingly.   So, thanking the spider for the guidance, I let it dangle from its thinly spun thread  and moved it to a protected spot outside.   There, we met more insects.  A stream of ants were making their way to some ripened plums on the sidewalk.

My morning encounter with the neighborhood insects reminded me of ancient teachings on connectedness. Our worldly existence is intricately woven together. Different cultures have different ways of expressing the thought that the mightiest are those who are gentle and respectful in their nature. Like the elephant in the poem attributed to Hafiz, the courteous are living expressions of the pure love and light unburdened by desire.

Insects in their delicate structures display living lightly on the planet. They are patient in their work.   Still, they are powerful.  Together, they can destroy an entire crop within hours. For the coming weeks, I will reflect on these qualities of these winged and multi-legged creatures. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice involves both being seated and standing. Choose a place that has minimal distractions.  Set your phone to airplane mode.  If needed, set an alarm for eight minutes.

  • Preparation –
    • Remove your shoes and socks. Begin seated with a gentle lift through the spine. If in a chair, place for feet on the floor.
    • Look around the room, listen to the sounds, feel the air and the texture of the 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 safe and in the midst of friends. The surface beneath me is supporting me, the breath is nourishing me, the space around me is enfolding me with love.”
  • Practice –
    • Stand.  Remember you are in the midst of cherished 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 that formed the rocks and sand for the concrete. Acknowledge the workers and their hands.
    • Keep a gentle breath. After couple dozen steps, pause. (No worries about counting the number of steps. An approximate amount is fine.)
    • Walk for another dozen or so steps. Acknowledge the walls, 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 that which you consider to be most supreme.   Imagine you are filled with love and kindness.
  • Transition –
    • Seated, place both of your feet on the floor.  Relax your palms in your lap. Allow your eyes to close or be gently open with a soft gaze. Breathe.
    • After a few moments, return to your day.

 

This poem is translated by Daniel Ladinsky and is reprinted with his permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 15, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.

 

 

Sun rise

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy.

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in Eternity’s sun rise.

William Blake

 

As the sun appeared on the horizon, the darkness of the night began to slip away.   The aroma of moist soil wafted through the open window, signaling the rain had ceased. It was a serene, beautiful, and graceful transition from night to day.

I could not help but revel in joy. If I were a bird, I would have swept across the sky singing a refrain of praise. I would alight on a tree and let it caress my feet with one of its of skyward branches. Then, I would stretch my wings as if to tickle the space that holds the tree and all the other beings as our earthly home hurtles around its axis – at the equator, the earth rotates at about a thousand miles per hour.

From the winged perspective, everything is an expression of joy. No one can own it, yet it is a secret ingredient of life. The closest we can come to know joy is within each breath. Like wings, the breath rises and falls, gives and takes, receives and offers, and seamlessly floats through the air. If we are upset, clingy, fearful, or greedy, the breath is stressed almost as though its wings are broken. If we are genuinely free, the breath soars.

As an embodied being, I am in awe of how Nature consistently wakes us up each day. Like a mother, she nudges us to see the eternal Absolute represented by the sun. She inspires us with the beauty of flowers, mountains, and hillsides. She possesses all the jewels – gems, ores, water, air, etc. – yet shares them freely. She nourishes us even though we ignore her and try to conquer her with our own inventions. And, as Blake reminds us, within each moment there is a “sun” “rise:” the constancy of the sun, and the continual movement of the earth that reveals – or lets us see the rise of – the sun each day. The horizon lets us enter into the forever and ever.

With each sunrise, I hope to remember to cherish the precious gift of being a living, breathing being and an integral part of the living, breathing earth. I will endeavor to remember as my father always reminded me, that “we are given breath when we come into this world and release it when we leave.” I hope you will join me.

Practice

This is an easy exploration of the relationship between our attitudes and activities with the breath.  It brings awareness to the breath as our vehicle for joy. This can be done seated or standing.  

  • Prepare –
    • Simply notice your breath. Notice the movement in the ribs, shoulders, arms, and torso associated with your breath.  Notice the rhythm of your breath. No judgment, just notice.
  • Practice –
    • Between each of the following practices, take a moment to stretch out through your hands and arms.  Take four to five deep breaths. Then, shake out through your arms and smile.
    • Hold each for about 3 seconds.  Then release.
      • Scrunch up your face tightly.   Notice your breath.
      • Glare as though looking at your phone or a screen. Notice your breath.
      • Frown as though concentrating deeply. Notice your breath.
      • Slump your shoulders and let your head hang forward. Notice your breath.
      • Make tight fists and squeeze all the muscles in your arms. Notice your breath.
      • Observe something beautiful around you, such as a flower. Notice your breath.
      • If you have a view of nature, rest your eyes on a tree or another part of nature. Notice your breath.
      • Smile, as though smiling from your heart. Notice your breath.
      • Touch your fingers lightly to your lips, kiss your fingers, and then release the kiss into the air by taking your hands outward and upward toward the sky. Notice your breath.
      • Release any unneeded tension in your shoulders and hands. Notice your breath.
  • Transition –
    • Take a few moments to sit quietly with your eyes closed or open (in a soft gaze).  Let the hands rest comfortably in your lap.
    • As you are ready, transition back into your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart:  108 Sacred Poems, page 79, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, and published by New World Library.

Spirals

For everything there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, a time to die…

Ecclesiastes 3.1

 

It seems I’ve been traveling quite a bit in the past couple months. Between the ups and downs of the planes, I felt the undulating cycles of life.   Spring flowers were in different stages of emerging and fading, new family members expected as another one passed, graduations and reunions, snow and sunshine, and so on.

The ancient cultures understood the constant rhythm of the universe with one cycle gliding into the next. They experienced life as three threads spiraling 3-dimensionally at lightning speed, clockwise and counter-clockwise and in different directions around an unchanging core.   Messages about this awareness were recorded with spiral carvings in caves, tombs, rocks and pottery around the world.

Even though our modern-day world is composed of straight-edged shapes in our architecture, furniture, streets, and screens, we exist within spirals. In nature, there are eddies, whirlpools, wind and smoke patterns, and lunar and solar cycles. Swirls and florets appear in elephant’s tusks, horns of wild sheep, pinecones, flowers such as the sunflower and calla lily, snails, snakes, shells, and galaxies.  Besides a corkscrew-like umbilical cord and coiled inner ear, our bodies have whorls and waves in our fingertips, blood flow, navels, and bones, muscle, fascia and breath.

The natural forces of our existence radiate together in proportional harmonics defined by the Golden Spiral and Fibonacci progression, mathematical truths on the radiating movement of energy.  Like an eternal song, everything vibrates together as a universal octave with eight steps and seven intervals. We see seven reflected in our days of the week, colors of the spectrum, and religious symbolism.

When I read this verse and/or hear it sung by the Byrds in Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” I feel quietly peaceful within the dynamic spiraling of opposites. Polarities seamlessly somersault, fold and unfold.   Blossoms appear and fade away, the in-breath cycles into the out-breath, and I sense the harmonic vibrating nature at play.   What on the surface seem like linear, isolated events – such as spring, summer, war, peace, birth, death – are instead praises to life arising and returning to the eternal source.   This inspires me to sing along. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This simple, short practice can be done seated or standing.   It is a playful exploration of the movement of sound. I suggest you read through the practice before beginning.

  • Preparation –
    • Hug all your bones by tightly squeezing all your muscles from head to hand to toe. Hold the hugging for three to four seconds.
    • Release. Be sure and let go through the palms of the hands and forehead. Smile and breathe freely.
    • Repeat two more times.
  • Practice –
    • Open your mouth to create an extended “aah” sound.
    • Imagine the pathway of the “aah” sound:
      • begins at your navel,
      • travels upward through your torso,
      • across the back of your throat and palate, and
      • out of your mouth.
        • You may find it helpful to gently drawn in and up on the abdominal muscles to strengthen the sound.
    • First, imagine that your “aah” is bounding up a ladder.
    • Then, imagine that your “aah” is bounding up a spiral staircase.
      • Play with the spiral of traveling counter-clockwise and clockwise, and broader at the base or narrower at the base.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Take a few minutes to sit quietly. Relax your hands and let them rest comfortably in your lap or on your thighs. Allow the eyes to be open with a soft gaze, or gently closed.
    • Invite the feeling of spaciousness in all your cells from the heart-center outward, from the tips of your fingers and toes and the crown of your head back into the center of your heart.   Clarity, openness everywhere.
    • In your own time, transition back into your day.

 

This verse appears in Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, page 6, published by New World Library. HEARTH is posted each full and new moon.

 

 

Loving Nature

I went everywhere with longing

in my eyes, until here

in my own house

I felt truth

filling my sight.

Lalla

 

Looking out the plane’s window, I was mesmerized by curvy pathways of the waters and the undulating contours of the earth.  Every bend in a river and every rise in the land seemed like individual brushstrokes shaping an unending scene of existence itself.

There was something peaceful about having a birds-eye-view of our planet earth. Within the landscape below, nearly nine million species were coming and going. Flowers were blooming, butterflies were coming out, and petals and wings were falling.  Viewed from above, it looked whole and serenely beautiful, free of all harm.

This flight experience reminded me that the mind is like the sky. When it is cloud-free, the view and perspective are clear.   But, most days there are clouds covering all or part of the sky. The cloudier it is, the less clear the view and the more likely we are to focus on the play of the clouds and forget the expansive, serene clarity that is always there.

It takes effort not to cloud the mind or feed its tendency of self-absorption. With a constant stream of impressions coming in from commercial entities and our social communities, our minds have come to long for continual stimulation. When we try to interrupt the techno-cravings, we look for a predictable engagement of time and environment, e.g., by choosing an online meditation, mindfulness or yoga tool.

Sages and other wise beings, such as the 14th century saint Lalla, speak of our essence as unbounded love and joy. When the mind is clear, it is luminous and filled with divine laughter.   Some texts refer to this clear mind as the “heart” mind. Its calming presence allows the everyday mind to recognize its impermanence and the ever-fluctuating nature of worldly reality.   This perennial wisdom inspires me to become aware of, and reduce, the clutter of my mind and home. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice can be at anytime during the day. it is designed to support letting go of unneeded thoughts and welcoming peace and serenity.  I recommend that you read through the practice before beginning.

  • Prepare
    • Turn all electronic devices to airplane mode. If you are wearing a watch and/or any other wrist items, remove it/them.   Ideally, place these items in another room.
    • Seated, allow your hands to relax with backs of the hands resting on the thighs. Relax the center of your palms and the fingers. If you are seated in a chair, rest both of your feet on the floor.
    • Eyes closed or open with a soft gaze, gently bring your attention to the movement of the breath. Without strain, slowly exhale. Slowly inhale.
    • Release any unneeded tension along your temples, forehead, and rest of face.
  • Practice
    • Lift the hands away from the thighs. Bend the elbows so that the forearms are somewhat parallel to the floor. Turn your palms downward and then let your hands relax. (Fingers dangling downward.)
    • Rotate the forearms so that your hands slowly rotate inward toward one another, then upward toward the heart, and then outward. Keep a relaxed feeling in your hands.
    • Allow the gesture to slowly angle outward. Elbows are softly bent and palms relaxed and upward.
    • With your eyes open or closed, pause for a minute or so.  Soft, gentle breaths.
    • Invite a feeling of simultaneously letting go and receptivity during the gesture and pause.
      • If it feels comfortable, repeat silently, “I welcome eternal truth, light, and love” during the pause.
  • Transition
    • Relax the backs of your hands onto the thighs. Allow the mind to follow the inhales and exhales for four to five minutes. Then, transition back into your day.

 

This poem is translated by Coleman Barks and reprinted with permission in Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems , page 24, Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (editors), New World Library (publisher).  The photograph is by Jennifer Vogt-Crockett.  HEARTH reflections are published each new and full moon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

sky-nature

This Sky where we live

Is no place to lose your wings

So love, love, love.

Hafiz

I awoke to the sound of doves outside the bedroom window.  Not stirring, I let my hearing and ears be bathed in the soft coos.  Their voices gently arose and faded into the morning stillness.

For a moment, one winged being was attuned to another.  One had unseen wings of the heart and the other, visible bird wings.  One listened.  The other sang.  Together, they praised the sky that would forever hold them.

“Adore the sky. It is the expanse in your heart where love and lightness soar.” Such was the message that the doves seemed to share that morning.   Ancient peoples had kinship with the sky. They shaped time and navigated by celestial phenomena. They recognized that the sky in all its abundance not only offers sunshine and rain but air for breath and our subtlest bodily sense of hearing.

Our finest use of hearing is truly listening. We all know it feels good to be really listened to.  I’ve experienced this from my husband Jay and my sister Gail.  They have a way of listening with the heart.   I used to think it was it was their common ear for music, but now I believe it is a livened sky-nature expressing respect and true love.

Like the dove’s song, the words of Hafiz uplift my heart and remind me to keep it aloft with love. There are many ways to bring love and our highest ideals into worldly life.  For this year, I have chose to refine and cultivate listening from and to my heart.   I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice is best done in the early morning to set the tone for the day.  It begins with preparation the night before.

  • Prepare (night before) –
    • Before bedtime, turn off screens and any ambient noise that is not needed for temperature control. Ideally, partially open a window in the bedroom.
    • Sit quietly for a few moments.
    • Set an intention to awaken on your own fifteen minutes before the alarm. Also, set the intention to not engage in technology until after a short, morning practice.
  • Practice (early morning) –
    • Awaken on your own 15 minutes before the alarm, ideally before sunrise.
    • Before arising, listen to the early morning sounds for a few moments.
    • Then, after a quick bathroom visit, find a comfortable place sit quietly for the practice below:
      • Take your palms over the center of your chest.
        • Notice the feeling of your hands touching one another and this symbolic spiritual heart center.
        • Imagine as though your true intelligence resides here instead of the head. Appreciate this innate connection to eternal love and truth.
      • Reach your palms outward to the sides as though your arms were wings of the heart. Take a full breath here.
      • Sweep your arms overhead, bring your palms together over the head, reaching upward to the sky.
      • With awareness, let your hands (palms together) move downward to the heart center.  As your hands pass in front of your face, invite an intention that throughout your day you will see, eat, and speak with a connection to love and the highest truth in your heart.
      • Return your palms to your heart center.  Pause for a breath.
        • Repeat above cycle for four more times.
      • Reach your palms upward and cup them over your ears. Invite an intention that throughout your day you will see, eat, and speak with a connection to love and the highest truth in your heart. Pause for a breath.
      • Return your palms to your heart center. Pause for another breath.
  • Transition into the morning. If you have the time sit quietly with awareness of vast sky within.

 

This poem  is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 4, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, and published by New World Library. It was translated by Daniel Ladinsky. This reflection was inspired by the recent death of my 94-year-old father.The photo is sunrise from the front of his home. HEARTH is posted on the days of the full and new moon.

 

 

 

joy

God, whose love and joy are present everywhere,

can’t come to visit you unless you aren’t there.

Angelus Silesius

 

The cycles of nature and life offer reasons to pause this week, which features a full moon and significant religious holidays such as Passover and Easter.   And there is also Spring, calling us out of winter with its soggy soil, migrating birds, and vibrant light and color. In this season of rejoicing, I am always inspired to look a little more carefully at my own life, clean out the accumulated emotional and material dust, give away excesses, and notice the joy in being on earth.

There is no better person than my 94-year-old father to remind me to surrender to the rhythm that life offers. Like other grain farmers in small farm communities, he has been shaped by the patterns of weather and the elements. He embodies the ancient wisdom of human life bridged between the heavenly sky above and earth below.   My dad has the lighthearted and grounded perspective, as above is below. We are part of this marvelous mystery.

When I read the 17th century monk-poet Angelus Silesius, I felt a sense of spontaneous delight, and of coming home.   It was as though there was springtime in my heart with an abundance of joy. No messy “I” clamoring for attention, simply cheerfulness and glee. It was as though all there was, was one big sandwich of joy – heavenly joy, joyful aliveness of Nature, and living joy in between.

The words of Sileius and other wise beings inspire me to pay attention to what I plant and nurture this season – in ideas, actions, habits, and attitudes. I plan to embrace the simple beauty in my surroundings, rituals, and everyday activities. Almost universally, beauty is acclaimed to give rise to kindness and joy. Beauty is a seamless link between the finite and Infinite.   To help make more room for beauty, I will not let the random apps, entertainments, and machines fill my attention.   I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice begins standing and is best done is a quiet space. It offers a reminder of joy, love, and beauty. I encourage you to read the practice and then adapt the wording and movement to best fit you.

  • Practice –  To begin, stand in a comfortable stance.
    • Feet.   Reach down toward the floor with knees bent. Cup your hands and imagine you are scooping up all material items that bring you love and joy. Stand and reach your arms outward and upward. Open your palms to the sky and pause there, palms facing up. Turn your face upward. Imagine the love and joy of your things is raining back down on you.
    • Navel. Open your hands in front of your belly. Imagine you are scooping your treasured emotions. Offer them up to the sky. Pause, hands and face upward. Let the love and joy rain upon you.
    • Heart.  Open your hands in front of the heart. Fill them with your deepest desires. Bring your hands overhead, pause, and let your truth rain back over you.
    • Throat. Hold your hands lightly over your throat, gather your most precious words.    With your hands reaching upward, let the sweetness shower over you.
    • Head. Cup your hands around the top of your head. Collect your most beautiful thoughts and best ideas. Reach your hands upward, let go, and let the love, joy, and beauty pour over you.
  • Prepare to return to your day –
    • Seated. Sit quietly.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 39, by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (editors), published by New World Library. HEARTH reflections are offered on each Full and New Moon by Kate Vogt.

 

river

losing its name

a river

enters the sea

John Sandbach

 

I recently returned from a short tour of India. It was my fifth visit, yet John Sandbach’s words best describe my experience.   There is a palpable sense that life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Everything finds a way to keep moving forward, seemingly trusting and surrendering to the flow of life.

Sandbach reminds me of the timeless importance of water and rivers to our earthly existence. Rivers were the site of early civilizations and continue to offer drinking and irrigation water, waterways, recreation, energy, and food sources for modern society. Hydrologists tell us that what they call the streamflow of rivers fluctuates 24/7. Even though they account for only a fraction of a percent of our fresh water, they are an integral part in the overall water cycle, sustaining aquifers and refreshing the oceans.

Rivers, water and oceans symbolize the ongoing current of all things.   Creation stories in ancient cultures view life borne of water. The Maori, Haitians, Sumerians, Japanese, Lithuanians, Nuxalk, and other peoples have water deities in their mythologies. The ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, arose from the sea. In Mesopotamia, a vast expanse of water represented absolute Wisdom. Jewish and other traditions use water for ritual cleansing. The River Ganges in India embodies the water of life and flows to the Infinite.

At its heart, water is an element of emotion, intuition, compassion, healing, rituals, cleansing, and the power of the feminine. It signifies the realm of spiritual and mental creation, growth, and realization.   Sandbach brings forth the reminder that flux is constant.   Whether we welcome it or not, change happens. Obstacles occur. If we deny, or try to tame or control, the dynamic energy of life, it will still be impartial to our particular wants and desires. Like the river, life follows the natural call to surrender to the journey to the ocean.

It takes a conscious effort to reframe our perspective that our lives are like nature, i.e., ever-changing without complete predictability.   Our more common pattern is to resist unwanted changes, and initiate desirable changes, such as how we look. This tendency to believe we are almost immune to change and unlike nature is, in part, because our Western thought was influenced by Descartes, Francis Bacon and others who helped shape the view of humans dominant over and separate from nature.   Journeys to India always remind me of my innate humanness to “be in the flow,” especially in letting my heart move toward unending Love. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This short practice can be done anywhere at anytime of the day. It is best done seated, either on the floor or on a chair. It offers a gentle reminder of our dynamic nature and that our lives are in our own hands. Various traditions work with the hands for healing and self-care. The fingers represent connections to our outer and inner self, e.g., through the organs, self-perception, the elements and the planets.

I encourage you to read through the practice before beginning and then following it to the best of your memory.

  • Prepare
    • Release, as much as you can, the muscles around your face, neck, and shoulders. If you are seated in a chair, place both feet onto the floor.  Invite either a soft gaze or closing of the eyes.  Allow ease and calmness into your hands and breath.
  • Practice –  Throughout, try not to rush the breath or the movements.  Repeat I – III, one to three times depending on your energy and ability to focus.  Begin with index finger, then the middle, ring and little finger on each hand.  Complete each part, i.e., I, then II, then part III, on both hands – either one hand at a time or together.
    • I.  Thumb to Fingertip
      • Exhale – Gently press the tip of your thumb to one fingertip, e.g., index finger.
      • Inhale – Extend that finger.
    • II. Thumb to Fingernail
      • Exhale – Gently press your thumb on to one fingernail.
      • Inhale – Extend the finger.
    • III.  Thumb to Whole Finger (thumb will be near second knuckle and the fingertip of that finger will simultaneously press into the palm.)
      • Exhale – Press your whole finger with the thumb.
      • Inhale – Extend the finger.
  • Prepare to return to your day –
    • Open the eyes if they were closed. Maintain a soft gaze and allow the hands to rest comfortably on your thighs or in your lap.
    • If you wish, take your fingertips and base of the palms lightly together in front of your heart, and pause, before returning to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 107, by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (editors), published by New World Library.   Photo from the River Ganges by Kate Vogt.  HEARTH reflections and practices are offered on each Full and New Moon.