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.

Spring

As with lovers

When it is right, you can’t say

Who is kissing whom.

Gregory Orr

 

White petals fell onto my hair.  As three touched the strands I felt as though I had been kissed by Spring and her abundance of flowers and blossoms.  I let the petals linger and savoured the earth’s constant, yet usually invisible, caress.

It is easy to forget we live on the earth.  More and more our ideal is to be removed from our earthliness.  We eat with utensils, use sports equipment to play outside, and have machines to make us more efficient and productive.  Our newest forms of community are in cyberspace where we value quickness of the mind and fluency in emojis to express our feelings.   Spring and dramatic moments in Nature such as sunsets or the rush of rivers and waterfalls can draw us back into our awareness of the gifts of air, water, and our innate connectivity with  the earth and all life forms.

We are made to sense and be sensed.  Biblical and other ancient references remind us we are made of the dust of the earth.  As earthlings we need physical, not just cyber connection, to develop feelings of compassion, cooperation, and sharing.  Even the simplest interchange between one living form and another can create a chemical form of communication.  Humans touching one another can release the neurochemical oxytocin, or the love hormone, and create feelings of caring and kindness.  A hug puts gentle pressure on the sternum and studies indicate that the pressure on the chest or solar plexus can create white blood cells and promote immunity.

In some societies touch is already stigmatized.  An informal study of a group of people in a pubic place such as a coffee shop showed those in English speaking cultures touched once or twice over the hour.  Those in cultures speaking one of the romantic languages touched more than 100 times during the hour.

Gregory Orr’s words fall onto my heart and touch me in a similar way as the petals falling onto my hair.  They melt any sense of separateness from life.  As the barriers of fear and longing drop away, peace and love settles into each breath.  There is no need to cling to the grand “I” that asserts itself with wants and desires.  Instead, there is just sweet being with nothing to gain or achieve.  In the delicate surrender of grasping, the divine can freely ride the currents of life.

The kiss of lovers offers a symbolic reminder of the eternal kiss of life and the potency of loving touch.  We touch through our skin. Our lips, like our hands, are doorways between our inner and outer self.  One our first words, “ma,” is formed by bringing the lips together.   Unlike the hands, the lips are mostly reserved for touching others.

Springtime calls us to remember our innate wiring needs to interact with living forms.   In the past it was automatically part of life, but now it requires conscious effort. Over the next few months, I will be more aware of common ways of touching and being touched, e.g., handshakes vs. screens, and noticing the inner effect.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

  • Sit comfortably on a chair or the floor.  Take a few deep breaths.
  • Vigorously rub the palms together until you feel some warmth in your hands.
    • Eyes: With the eyes closed lightly touch the lids of your eyes feeling the warmth.   Allow the eyes to relax in their sockets.
    • Lips: Move the fingertips to the lips and let them rest there allowing the corners of the mouth to relax.  Soften the chin and release any unneeded tension in the face.
    • Ears:  Place the fingers over the ears and breathe.
  • Release the palms into your lap and sit quietly for five to ten minutes.

 

The poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems,  Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (editors), published by New World Library.  The reflection was inspired by a recent trip to the Ganges River, which flows from the highest mountains to the sea.

touch

Tenderly, I now touch all

things,

knowing one day we will

part.

St. John of the Cross (D. Ladinsky, translator)

 

I crave the ordinary – the kind of stuff that you can find around the globe. There are the big things like the horizon, clouds and the sky, sun and the wind. And, the little ones like the clatter of dishes, ruts in roadway.   In between are the hugs and gestures reminding me of life’s fragile beauty and interdependence.

The sense of touch keeps me in touch with my humanness. Wherever my touch goes, my mind goes.   I might even go so far as to rephrase “I am what I think” to “I am what I touch.” Because touch is a complex process involving sensors in the skin, neuro-pathways, emotions, and messages to different regions of the brain, it is constantly feeding my identity.   If I touch my palms together in prayer, calmness and equanimity are more pervasive.

Touch with other humans and nature is a dynamic, multi-dimensional communication. We know that babies need touch to learn bond, trust, and care.   Touching living forms opens the doorway to compassion, gratitude, and kindness.   We create through touch. Yet, now more than half of what we touch is a manufactured or processed product. This includes plastics, electronics, synthetic fabrics, and packaged food.

I believe that our individual, collective and planetary well-being literally lies in our hands.   Nearly 2,000 years ago the Platonists prevailed over Aristotle and declared touch as the most inferior of the senses. They felt touch was too reactive to outer influence and deemed sight as the superior sense.   I feel it is no accident that we find ourselves today in a culture where we are more drawn to touch metal and other objects that feed separateness rather than connectedness.  Unwittingly, we are in an optic-centric civilization where we are loosing touch with the modes of touch that deeply heal and nurture our capacity for civility.

To touch is to connect us to our earthly nature but also open us to our divine self. The Buddha, for example, points one hand toward the earth to bear witness to the enlightened realization that all is interdependent.   This is most apparent when we consider the subtle touch of air in our nostrils and the trees’ role with each breath. No matter how sophisticated we become mentally, humans are part of, not separate from, earth, air, and nature. Our more loving and spiritual self arises out of the ordinary, not away from it.

When I read the words of St. John of the Cross, I feel the grace of being touched.   His words seem to have been written for our contemporary times as a gentle reminder to reconsider what and how we touch.   He evokes appreciation for that which sustains the world – seen and unseen.  One day we will part.  Until then, I want to stay in touch.  Please join me.

 

Practice

This practice can be done at anytime. It helps bring awareness of your hands. Approach this with a sense of playfulness and exploration. Smile.

  • Take a moment to look at your hands.
  • Open the palms and hold them comfortably in front of you.  (Palms facing you.)
    • Move the fingers around.   For example, touch the fingers together and apart. Stretch out through the palms. Imagine you were looking at your hands for the first time ever.
  • Turn your hands over with the backs of the hands facing you.
    • Move the fingers around.  For example, spread the fingers apart. Play an imaginary piano letting your fingers dance across the keys.  With the fingers softly curled inward, roll the hands in circles a few times each direction.
  • Make sounds with the hands.
    • For example:  Flick the nail of side of each finger against the thumb. Click the fingers. Clap your hands.
  • Hold your hands in different ways.
    • For example:  Clasp them. Interlace the fingers. Squeeze them.
  • Bring the hands lightly cupped over your nose.
    • Feel the breath on the palms of your hands.  Relax the jaw and the eyes.  Breathe for several breaths.
  • Bring the hands over the center of your chest.
    • First, with one hand over the other. Take a few breaths and notice the movement in the chest associated with the rhythm of breathing.
    • Then, lightly bring the palms together.  Form the shape of a flower bud with the finger tips, and the heels of the palms, touching one another.  Leave a little space in the center of the palms.
  • Let the hands relax on your lap. Close your eyes and sit quietly for as long as you like.
  • Before your transition back into your day, perhaps set an intention to be gentle with your touch.

 

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (editors), page 83, published by New World Library.

 

LOVE

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

 

It is stormy outside. The winds are unpredictable and the rainwaters are filling the rivers and creeks. There are regular alerts to possible flooding and landslides. Trees have fallen and no doubt there will be lasting shifts in the landscape.

The intensity of the weather reminds me of the sages’ wisdom that life is ever-changing. One moment we feel as though everything is stable and predictable. And, the next moment we are in unfamiliar territory. Big life events, storms, and major shifts in the outer world have a way of revealing the tenderness and fragility of existence.

Saints and sages tell us that these cracks in our routines offer a chance to greet our inner self, the one who has been there all along and will always be. At the heart of hearts, nothing changes. There is only pure, boundless love. It is the love that holds us and gives us clarity, creativity, and capacity to serve the world with loving knowingness, equanimity, and compassion.

I feel Shakespeare gives voice to timeless love through the famed words of Juliet. These lines stand alone, like Juliet on her balcony as she speaks them into the darkness. It is almost as though Shakespeare is reminding us to unearth our deepest passions and to know that there is only one desire that can free us – and that is to know that we are love. The death of the two lovers to me is a symbolic end to longing and expectation. It is when the separate rivers of life have returned to the infinite sea of love.

Centuries later these lines continue to inspire us. Regardless of whether they are for romantic love or for our highest calling of love, they bring us together in the name of love. For the next few weeks, I will begin each day with thanks for another day of loving.

Practice

This short practice of about 3 minutes is best done seated. It can be the opening to another practice.

  • Preparation – Rub your hands vigorously together until you feel some warmth in your fingers and palms.
  • Practice –
    • Touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger simultaneously with both hands. Quietly say, “Love touches me.” Repeat this with the middle, ring, and little finger.
      • Pause and breathe. Relax your hands and let them rest wherever is comfortable.
    • Place your palms on your thighs. Quietly say 3 times , “Love strengthens me.”
      • Pause and breathe. Relax your hands and let them rest wherever is comfortable.
    • Give yourself a hug, i.e., wrap your arms across your chest and hold each shoulders. Quietly say 3 times, “Love holds me.” Repeat with the opposite arm on top.
      • Pause and breathe. Relax your hands and let them rest wherever is comfortable.
    • Cross your hands over your heart. Quietly say 3 times, “Love gives me clarity”
      • Sit quietly for a few minutes. And, then transition back into your day.

 

These lines are from Mala of Love:  108 Luminous Poems, page 32, Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (editors), published by New World Library.