To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of re-enchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little know organisms live within walking distance of where you sit.
Splendor awaits in minute proportions. -
E.O. Wilson

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Touch the Earth

The Buddha is shown sitting with his hands in many different positions or "mudras." My favorite is that of the Shakyamuni Buddha who is shown seated in the traditional cross-legged "lotus" position with his right hand reaching down to touch the Earth.

According to tradition, on the night of Shakyamuni's awakening, as he sat in deep meditation under the bodhi tree, the tempter Mara visited him with numerous threats and distractions, including vast armies of demons and seductive dancing girls. When these failed to unseat the aspiring Buddha, as a last ditch effort Mara challenged his right to sit upon "the throne of enlightenment."

"Who bears witness to your attainment of Buddhahood?" demanded Mara.
In answer, Shakyamuni is said to have reached the fingers of his right hand down to touch the ground. "I call the Earth as my witness," he declared.
One legend has the Earth quaking. Another says that "myriad thousand-fold flower blossoms" rained down from heaven. Still another shows the Earth Goddess herself emerging with her body half out of the ground to confirm the Buddha's attainment. Every legend agrees, however, that the Earth itself bore witness to the appearance of a Buddha, or "World Honored One."

Sometimes as a form of worship do prayers that involve movement. These are called prostrations. In Plum Village in France where the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh lives, the people remember the Shakyamuni Buddha's story, and because they love and respect the Earth, they do a meditation called Touching the Earth. They kneel and put their heads, arms and hands on the Earth, and as they do so they breath and remind themselves of how they are connected to the Earth and all that is, has been, and will be.

The Touching the Earth prostration is one way to intentionally touch the Earth with your body. If you would like to try it here is how:
Sit on your knees or in a lotus pose if you are very flexible

Hold your palms together with fingers pointing up and thumbs slightly tucked in, this is called the lotus mudra because it is thought to look like a lotus flower bud.

Lower your head to the ground and stretch your bent arms forward with your palms up to receive blessings.

Breathe in and out slowly ten times then raise yourself to a seated position again, breathe in and out several time and repeat two more times.

As you do so, consider that to practice Touching the Earth is to return to the Earth, to our roots, to our ancestors, our parents, and all our teachers, and to recognize that we are not alone but connected to a whole stream of spiritual and blood ancestors.

The gestures we make can remind us that we are the continuation of our grandparents, parents, and teachers that that we are also the seed of future. We are their continuation and with them, will continue into the future generations. We touch the earth to let go of the idea that we are separate and to remind us that we are the Earth and part of Life.

When we touch the Earth we can imagine ourselves becoming smaller, with the humility and simplicity of a young child. We can recognize that we are just one small strand in the web of creation, but at the same time we are part of the universe.

When we touch the Earth we can imagine ourselves becoming great, like an ancient tree sending her roots deep into the earth, drinking from the source of all waters. When we touch the Earth, we breathe in all the strength and stability of the Earth, and breathe out all our fear and sadness and feelings of not being good enough. As our bodies touch the Earth, we know that we are part of one circle as big as the universe.

Wherever you are today, you might consider devoting some time to touching the Earth in your own way. TOUCH THE EARTH

Greet your circle. Look around. Has anything changed? Are the colors changing? How does your circle smell today?

Move around your circle touching and being touched by all that is there
How does your circle feel today? Touch your circle by exploring with different parts of your body how your circle feels. What happens if you take off your shoes? If you touch something with your cheek? With the inside of your arm? Can you find
______ Something rough
______ Something smooth
______ Something dull
______ Something pointy
______ Something soft
______ Something hard
______ Something bumpy
______ Something squishy
______ Something crumbly
______ Something wet
Write down what you found for each of these touch sensations.

Touch is a two-way street. YOU touch something and at the same time something TOUCHES you! What kinds of feelings and thoughts do you have as you touch the things you have come to know? The word "connect" can mean to join or fasten things together, to establish communication. By touching things in your circle, do you feel more connected?

Gather a few kinds of leaves from your circle. Place them in a small bag or container that you can easily reach into. Pull out one leaf. Sit and hold your leaf. Trace its shape with your fingers, feel its texture. Is it furry or smooth or sticky? Notice if you can feel the veins on your leaf. Are the edges smooth or toothed? When you feel you "know" your leaf, return it into the bag you brought to the circle.

Now try to finding your leaf inside the bag. No Peeking! Just use your hand and fingers and your memory of the leaf you know. Can you find it?

How might the sense of touch connect your more to people and places in your daily life? Do we value and take more care of that with which we are connected? How might we value touch more in our lives?

Before you leave maybe you will want to "touch the Earth" once more inside your circle to say thank or goodbye to this place you are beginning to know so well.

Forever Oneness,who sings to us in silence,
who teaches us through each other.
Guide my steps with strength and wisdom.
May I see the lessons as I walk,
honor the Purpose of all things.
Help me touch with respect,
always speak from behind my eyes. Let me observe, not judge.
May I cause no harm,
and leave music and beauty after my visit.
When I return to forever
may the circle be closed
and the spiral be broader.
~ Bee Lake ~
(an Aboriginal poet)

This photo of Buddha with his hands in the "touching Earth" mudra is one I took in a Buddhist monastery in Sikkim.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin."

This Sunday we will explore our circles using the sense of touch.

Recent scientific studies have shown that our sense of touch profoundly affects how we view the world and influences our thoughts and behaviors. Textures, shapes, and weights can influence judgments and decisions. For example:
• People sitting on hard, cushion-less chairs are less likely to compromise in price negotiations than people sitting on softer chairs.
• Interviewers holding a heavy clipboard are likely to think job applicants take their work more seriously than if the clipboard is less weighty.
• People judge others to be more generous and caring after they have briefly held a cup of warm coffee rather than a cold drink.

Physical concepts such as warmth, hardness, and roughness are among the first feelings infants develop and remember, and are critical to how young children and adults eventually develop abstract concepts about people and relationships.

How might we deepen our relationship with the natural world we live in by touching it with more curiosity and intentionality? By being more aware when it are touched by it?

It will be my last Sunday with you out on the Path. I hope to see you there. Sparrow will conclude the summer outdoor Church in the Woods series on August 29.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Circle of Breath/Sense of Smell


Kissing a Horse
by Robert Wrigley

Of the two spoiled, barn-sour geldings
we owned that year, it was Red—
skittish and prone to explode
even at fourteen years—who’d let me
hold to my face his own: the massive labyrinthine
caverns of the nostrils, the broad plain
up the head to the eyes. He’d let me stroke
his coarse chin whiskers and take
his soft meaty underlip
in my hands, press my man’s carnivorous
kiss to his grass-nipping upper half of one, just
so that I could smell
the long way his breath had come from the rain
and the sun, the lungs and the heart,
from a world that meant no harm.

Opening: In many cultures scent and the smoke rising from fragrant herbs are seen as ways of making our prayers and meditations more real. In India the early morning is filled with the scent and curling smoke of lit incense stick as an offering to the gods . The rising smoke carries our gratitudes and praise up into the wind and into all that is.

Seat yourself comfortably. Close your eyes. With each breath, feel or imagine the exchange between the outer environment of the air around you and the inner environment of your body. The outer environment becomes part of the inner environment with each breath you take in, and the inner environment releases to the outer with exhalation. You are literally breathing with every form of breathing life. As you sit under this apple tree it is breathing out oxygen through it leaves and breathing in the carbon dioxide that you are breathing out. You are trading breaths back and forth with fishes, trees, grasses, birds, mammals, and the entire atmosphere every breath as long as you live. Our breathing is a daily part of the Earth's breathing. Every single day, all of the life on Earth joins to take one big breath. This happens as plants photosynthesize, creating an increase of oxygen on the daylight side of the planet and a complementary decrease of oxygen on the night side of Earth. Breathe in – day. Breathe out – night. On a grander scale, the Earth breathes as the seasons shift from hemisphere to hemisphere.

What is your favorite smell? What does that smell remind you of?

With each breath air passes over about 5 million tiny receptors in our noses, and we smell. Smell gives us information about place, about where we are. And more than any other sense, it evokes emotion.

Today in your circle:

First, take a look around. Is your altar still there? What happened to the berry you placed there?
• practice reciprocity by sitting and mindfully exchanging breaths with the plants (and the animal who ate your berry?) around you.
• Now close your eyes and breathe in. What do you smell right now?
• Open your eyes. How many smells can you find? Be adventuresome and curious. Get down on all fours and smell the dirt. Smell the bark of trees, rub small bits of leaves and plants between your fingers and inhale the scent. (for this exercise, you may pick a small bits of plants, but be careful not to taste or put your fingers near your mouth or eyes. Also, stick to trees and ferns if you aren't sure you recognize poison ivy!).
• See if you can find
______ Something sweet-smelling
______ Something sour-smelling
______ Something flowery
______ Something minty
______ Something bad-smelling
______ Something pine-like
______ Something lemony
______ Something fruity
• Do any of the smells you find bring back a memory ? another place? Or event? Or person? It is thought that our ability to feel emotions may have evolved from our sense of smell. Do you associate any of these smells with a particular feeling or emotion? Write down any thoughts or remembrances the smells of your circle have evoked.

by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blackberries and the Circle of Life

Yesterday was the quintessential summer day. How lucky we were to gather together under our old, sacred apple tree to consider the blackberry with all its seeds!

Read the poem August by Mary Oliver

Find and eat a blackberry or other seedy fruit. What do you notice? Ah yes! the seeds. What are seeds? The circle of life. Where do seeds come from? Where do they go? What nourishes them? What happens if they aren't nourished?  Notice the plants around you. Where are they in this circle of life? Flower, plant, seed head?

We have been journeying to our "circle" for four weeks now, and our circles have offered up many gifts. Using natural things within your circle, build a little altar in your circle or somewhere out in nature and place a berry or other fruit there in gratitude for all you have seen and heard and felt within your circle. You are offering the blackberry as an act of reciprocity – as a gesture that you are in communion with nature, exchanging gifts, sharing in the life of the woods.

Write down in your journal what you imagine happening to the seeds inside that blackberry.

Look around your circle. How have all the plants gotten there? How did they begin? Look closely. Can you find any seeds? Draw or paint a seed.

Our ideas and feelings can be seeds, too. The wise Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said that our minds are like a field, or
a plot of land in which every kind of seed has been planted,
seeds of suffering, happiness, joy, sorrow, fear, anger, and hope.
The quality of our life depends on which of these seeds we water.
The practice of mindfulness is to recognize each seed as it sprouts,
and to water the most wholesome seeds whenever possible.
What sorts of seeds can you imagine waiting inside you? Draw or write down the seeds that are inside of you. Which of your seeds to you want to water and feed?  What might happen to you if these seeds grow?  (Parents: you might ask your children what dreams or hopes or wishes they have that are like little seeds inside of them. How do they think they could help those seeds grow.)

                              Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower.
                                                                        Shigenori Kameoka

See "For Further Reflection" for additional poems about blackberries.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Being a Person
By William Stafford

Be a person here.
Stand by the river, invoke the owls.
Invoke winter, then spring.
Let any season that wants to come here make its own call.
After that sound goes away, wait.
A slow bubble rises through the earth
and begins to include sky, stars, all space,
even the outracing, expanding thought.
Come back and hear the little sound again.
[Come back, and hear that call.]
Suddenly this dream you are having matches
Everyone’s dream, and the result is the world.
If a different call came there wouldn’t be any
world, or you, or the river, or the owls calling.
How you stand here is important.
How you listen for the next things to happen.
How you breathe

Many Hindus and Buddhists believe that OM is the sound the universe made when it was created
Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.

Seat yourself comfortably, and begin to chant Om which is actually three syllables - ah - oh- m.  Chanting allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal sound, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.  When you chant OM try to feel the vibrations in your head and your chest, feel them moving outward into the world and at the same time deep inside. Now open your ears and listen:  (here we listen to recordings of whales, loons, peepers, an owl, and a wolf.  You can easily find these sounds to listen to on your computer. 

Once your ears are open go to a place outdoors.  Greet your circle or your temporary place with gratitude. Revisit the colors you enjoyed last week. In any way that feels right to you, ask your circle to "speak" to you this morning. Get seated comfortably and focus on listening.

Today there are two things to do in your circle. First do some active listening. Here are some things to try, adapted from tracker, Tom Brown, Jr.:

1. Open your ears. With the onslaught of sounds we face in society, we loose a significant portion of our sense of hearing. Turn up the volume of everything that is around you. What can you hear? Listen bigger! Can you hear more?
2. Try closing your eyes to minimize distraction and concentrate on hearing.
3. Instead of trying to identify and name the sounds, just listen to them, enjoy them as a musician might enjoy a fine orchestra. Can you hear sounds within sounds.
4. Amplify the sounds by cupping your ears with your hands. Your ears become more directed. It is a little like using binoculars to enhance your sight. Learn from the dog… when a dog hears its name, it looks in the direction of the sound and then perks its ears up. Play with cupping your ears to determine distance and range of a sound.
5. Place your ears next to natural objects like rocks, trees, log, or even heavy brush. Sometimes these can "catch" or amplify sounds. Move around your circle a bit. Does what you hear change?
6. Try to identify maker of sound. Can you see what is making the sound?

Second, use your voice to try to mimic the sounds you hear. Don't worry that someone will hear you, just be part of the world you are in. Have fun joining in.

What sound can you make using things you can find within your circle?

Choose one sound that you can make with either objects or your own voice that seems best for your place, the one that makes you feel like you are singing WITH your place.  Consider how hearing more fully might change your relationships with nature, strangers, your friends and family, and yourself. 

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

~ Gregory Orr ~

How can you turn yourself into song? How can you sing yourself awake?