Light

Even after all this time the sun

never says to the earth, “You owe me.”

Look what happens to a love like that –

it lights up the whole world.

Hafiz

 

December is filled with holidays celebrating light. In spite of any gloom in our lives – loss of a job, illness, cultural shifts, or simply the longer nights in the Northern hemisphere – there are continual reminders that light illumines our lives and the world.

Of the over 170,000 words in the English language, one of the more commonly used words is light. Its linguistic roots from Old English echo back to leoht, which refers to daylight as well as spiritual illumination.   Someone we cherish, whether the divine or another person, is the “light of our life.” An awakening to the truth is “to see the light.”   As a noun, light can mean the energy producing brightness, a glow, or symbolically God or the Inner Light. It brightens, kindles, animates, highlights, and reveals the way.

Sages and saints tell us that our natural essence is light. We are at heart radiant beings. One who realizes this is often referred to as “enlightened.”  With such realization, we light up the world around us with no expectation of return.   Just as the holidays and traditions celebrate light, the sun is a steady reminder of this eternal truth. Our luminosity can shine with playful laughter and joy in the simple tasks and occurrences of daily life.

During this season of light, I will explore ways I can lighten up my life, such as de-cluttering my home and attitudes. I will also be aware of every time I say, hear, or read the word light and let that ignite and inspire more ways to be the light that I already am.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice is best done at the beginning or end of the day when you have the fewest distractions.

  • Prepare –
    • Invite quietude – Turn your phone to airplane mode and put it aside. Remove items from your wrists such as your watch or any non-medical monitor. However, if you know you only have a set amount of time, please feel free to use an alarm.
    • Sit comfortably – Come to a seated position, either in a chair or on the floor, where your spine is effortlessly upright. If seated in a chair, place the soles of the feet on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor, please place a cushion or a block under your feet.
    • Relax your hands – Give a gentle squeeze to each hand by placing the thumb of the opposite hand on the palm and wrapping the other fingers over the back of the hand and squeeze.  Then, let the hands relax on your lap in any position that is comfortable.
    • Relax your eyes and face – Either close your eyelids or have them open. If open, let your eyes rest in a soft, gentle gaze. Relax your forehead, jaw, and chin.
  • Practice –
    • Imagine a steady, radiant glow of light. This could be similar to that of the early morning or late day sun.   Imagine that with that light there is an overwhelming presence of well-being, protection, and love.
    • Imagine that
      • the building that you are in is infused with light – every wall, ceiling, floor, window, and door as well as the roof and foundation.
      • the room you are in is made of light
      • the cushion or chair that you are seated on is made of light
      • you are bathed and enfolded in light
      • you are luminous…you are the steady, radiant glow of light
      • there is only light.
        • Note: You may wish to open your eyes to quietly read aloud each layer of imaging light. Then, sit quietly imagining that layer. Follow your pace of awareness.  Savor the light.
  • Return to your day –
    • If your eyes were closed, slowly open them. Allow the awareness of your breath to seep in. Notice the gentle movement of the chest and ribs associated with the breath.
    • After several breaths, slowly lower your chin to your chest and rock your head from side to side in half circles. Shrug through your shoulders. Stretch through your palms and squeeze your hands. Before standing, stretch through your toes and feet.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 52, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.

 

Weeds

The great sea has set me in motion, set me adrift,

moving me like a weed in a river.

The sky and strong wind have moved the spirit inside me

till I am carried away trembling with joy.

Uvavnuk

 

The road darkened as we wound our way toward the coastline just north of San Francisco.    In the minutes prior to this recent turn in the road, the surrounding hillsides had glistened as the plants basked in the midday light.   But, the stand of eucalyptus trees in this section of the highway had swallowed most of the sunshine.

These large trees harken back to Australia where their fossils date back to 35 million years ago.   Their journey to North America was in the late 1800s when some of the 600 species of eucalyptus were imported for timber farms.   The timber project withered, but the eucalyptus remained.   Today, they are as much loved and wanted for shade and windbreaks as they are an unwanted presence. For the latter, their flammable oil can serve as gasoline to wildfires. And, their fast-growing nature stifles endemic plants by blocking out sunlight and out-competing other plants for water and other nutritional resources.

I was raised to believe that weeds are part of life. They may be undesirable, but they exist and are to be removed as lovingly as seeds are sown. Weeds are adaptable, tenacious, and wild. They grow abundantly and multiply easily. Weeds are not always weeds. When plants are called “weeds,” they are growing in the wrong place and are interfering with the growth of preferred plants, such as a crop, lawn, or garden. In a different location, those “weeds” might be cultivated for beneficial qualities. For example, pigweed often is an invasive plant, but it is also cultivated as amaranth, which is a food high in protein and minerals.

The word weed normally refers to plants, but it also can refer to anything, anyone, or any being that is perceived to be troublesome or unprofitable. On a micro level, weeds can be our thoughts.   Wise prophets and sages remind us that all of life is flowing and moving together.  It is up to us to be attentive and care for the innermost space of our heart by nourishing it with meditation, love, and prayer. This will help neutralize the tenacious weeds of the mind, such as fears, worries, hankerings, and judgments. Once free, our heart will sing in joy like Uvavnuk, a 19th century Netsilik Eskimo woman, who was a great shaman.   Her glowing joy brought delight and relief to others.

Over the next few weeks, I will listen to myself in conversations to see if I am feeding the tenacious weeds of the mind through inattentive talk. I hope you will join me.

 

Practice

This simple practice can be done anywhere at any time.

  • Prepare –
    • Find a comfortable seated position. Your eyes may be open or closed. Allow your hands to rest comfortably in your lap.  If you are seated in a chair, place both feet on the floor.
  • Practice –
    • Inhale a smooth and even breath.
      • As you inhale, silently say to yourself, “I am glowing with joy.”
      • Imagine that every cell in your body is radiant joy.
    • Exhale a smooth and even breath. Not forcing.
      • Bask in the glow, as though you were a flower in full bloom absorbed in the light.
    • Repeat for 12 breaths.
  • Return to your day –
    • Bring your left palm over your heart. Place your right hand on top.
    • Pause here for a few breaths.  Invite a gentle smile on your lips, in your eyes, in your heart, and in every cell of your body.
    • Transition back into your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart, page 70, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, and published by New World Library. The photo credit is the Presido, San Francisco, CA. HEARTH is produced and posted by Kate Vogt each new and full moon.

Reeds

All day and night, music,

a quiet, bright

reedsong. If it

fades, we fade.

Rumi

 

As I walked on the path toward the sea, I felt more and more peaceful. The roadway sounds had dropped away and the surface beneath my feet was softening. The trail meandered along a hillside covered with grasses of different colors and varieties. Birds were making their way to the lower side of the slope, which was filled with reed beds.

A local ecologist had recently written that reeds are important to the life of the landscape. Their rhizomes stabilize the sediment in marshy areas and their stalks help protect the shore. In addition to structural support they are a food plant for some species. They also improve the conditions for healthy microbial functions, regulate pollution control, and help support healthy water and climate. Large reeds, such as those along the Nile, can grow two or more meters high.

The reed connects us to our human story. Throughout the world, reeds have provided for our earthly necessities, e.g., food, bedding, containers, medicine, and instruments.   Our human heart and spine are like the reed in their flexibility and centrality to overall vitality. When healthy, they all quietly cleanse, nourish, support, and protect overall harmony and balance, and become conduits to knowing our immortal nature.

When transformed into a flute, the reed forms one of the most ancient and mystical musical instruments.   The pains and sorrows of our life experiences are said to be the holes in the flute. And, when the flute speaks, it wails of being severed from the reed bed and its deepest longing to return to its origin.   The voice of the flute arises from the breath of the divine playing the reedsong through the musician’s breath.   Sincere listeners can hear the reed’s secret song, melt any residual sense of separateness, and merge into the embrace of eternal divine love.

It is no wonder that I felt more peaceful as I neared the open ocean. The reeds were calling me home. In the coming weeks, in awareness of the reeds’ message, I will be more attentive to caring for this precious embodiment as being integral to the well-being of all. I will particularly be attentive to the use of my voice, since like the reed flute, sound is an expression of the breath and breath is a divine gift. I hope you will join me.

Practice

This seated practice helps bring awareness of ever-present love.

  • Prepare –
    • Turn off nearby electronic devices and remove your watch.
    • Find a comfortable seated position. If you are in a chair, please have both of your feet on the floor.
    • Notice the surface(s) beneath you and effortlessly balance your weight between the left and right sides.
    • As you settle down toward the earth, allow your spine and crown of the head to gently lengthen upward.
  • Practice –
    • Breathe a few comfortable and easy breaths.
    • With the eyes in a soft gaze or closed, imagine you are seated on a circle of rhizomes in the earth beneath you.
      • Imagine those rhizomes represent eternal love.
      • Allow those rhizomes of love to grow outward, forming a larger circle of love around you. Let each of those rhizomes sprout love, so that you are simultaneously the center of love, and encircled in love.
      • Breathe, imagine love flowing from one circle to the other. Allow your self to be surrounded, nourished, supported, and enfolded in love.
        • If you wish, continue to grow the rhizomes of love outward. With each outward growth, pause and receive the flow back to the inner circle.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Sit quietly for several moments. Soak up the wisdom from the reeds.
    • Return to your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 96, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, and published by New World Library. HEARTH is posted every full and new moon.

Light In The Fall

While the rose said to the sun,

“I shall ever remember thee,”

her petals fell to the dust.

Rabindranath Tagore

 

It is fall in the Northern Hemisphere.   The nighttime hours are lengthening, the plants are shedding their summer coats, and at least half of the bird species are migrating south.  The daytime sky has taken on shades of grey and cloudy signals of unruly storms.

Unlike its joyful counterpart, spring, fall is bittersweet.  The bitter is in the season’s stark reminders of loss and release. Colorful leaves and petals gradually disappear, as do the sounds of songbirds and fragrances of the blossoms.  The trees and air are left naked with bare branches and silence. Free of their adornment, the trees invite us to let go of our unneeded trimmings, i.e., habits, stuff, or ideas.

Mother Nature balances the bitterness with sweetness. With each leaf or floral petal that drops to the earth, there is renewal. Not only is there nourishment for the soil and new food for new growth, the trunks and stems reveal their structural essence.   The limited amount of sunlight during the winter can shine through the open spaces between their branches, giving warmth to the soil. So too, we can make room for the light of awareness to seep in when we deeply accept the currents of life.

Rabindranath Tagore offers beautiful metaphors of the rose, sun, and dust as reminders that all arises from and returns to infinite light and love.   Life is loss and renewal, falling and rising, giving and receiving, and letting go and grace.   Dust is the minutest aspect of all matter that we can see. The universal message of the rose is pure love and joy, and the sun, heavenly light.   In the coming weeks, I will always remember the sun both for the sustenance of the cycles of life and as a reminder of the light of truth.

 

Practice

This simple practice is best done at home.

  • Prepare –
    • Sit upright, either on a chair or a cushion on the floor. Eyes may be gently closed, or in a soft gaze.
    • Stretch out through your arms, hands, and sides of your torso.
  • Practice –
    • Place your left palm over your spiritual heart-center (this is symbolically at the center of your chest). Then, place your right palm over the top.
    • Three times:
      • Inhale – Reach your hands upward and slightly outward from your heart center (will be like you are reaching toward the sky with your arms in an open “V” shape). Imagine as though you are reaching up and gathering the light of the sun into your palms.
        • If you follow a particular faith, imagine these and the following movements as a prayer.
      • Exhale – Bring your palms back over your heart.
    • With your fingertips, lightly touch the following areas of your body and head. Imagine as though you are placing light in those areas.
      • Feet, ankles, knees, hips, lower belly, navel area, upper chest/shoulders by crossing your forearms across your body to take the opposite hand to each shoulder, elbows, wrists, hands (gently stroking each hand with the other), and throat.
      • Temples, jaw, nose, mouth, eyes, cheekbones, ears, back of your skull, center of forehead, and top your skull.
    • Let your hands return to your heart-center, and let them gently rest there with minimal tension in the shoulders, arms, or hands.
      • Six to twelve breaths, according your comfort and time
        • Inhale – Imagine as though the light glowing deep within your heart-center.
        • Exhale – Imagine as though the glow of the light rises up from the core of your heart-center along the spine and up to the upper, inside center of your skull.
          • Suspend the exhale – Briefly linger at the end of the exhale and imagine the entire inner surface of your skull is glowing.
        • On the next inhale, reach your arms upward and outward with open palms. Imagine as though you are returning the light to its source. Silently, say “thank you.”
      • Return to your Day –
        • Release your hands onto your thighs with the palms upward.
        • Simply sit and breath until you are ready to re-enter your day.

 

This poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, page 56, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt and published by New World Library.

 

 

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.