from the shoulder
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.
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.