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).

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.