Nature Contemplations

I’ve been quiet these past months, emptying out. Essay has yielded to haiku. Deeper contemplations turn into simple verses–words that witness the emptiness we try to fill with more words. These haiku were written last month [October, 2022] while visiting Rockport Massachusetts.

Bumblebees swimming 
Freely through the fall asters
Purple perfect day!

Today is a good day
Old friends together again
All better now

Old man raking
Golden orange leaves
Gathering light the old way

Crisp autumn morning
Gathering leaves the old way
Rake and hand as one

Burning bush blushing
Reds against the steel gray sky
Inner life on fire

Chill autumn winds
Black tea steaming
On the windowsill

Blazing orange leaves 
Captured my wandering heart
Moment of stillness

Chill autumn winds
The yellow leaves are streaming
While my black tea is steaming	

Sleek black cormorants
Hundreds lifting from the marsh
The sound, o the sound

Face settled in a slight smile
The waters flowing through her
This old mariner

What joy!
Now coming back to my breath
From far, far away

A rainy morning*
My mother’s smile crosses my lips
I remember you
*My mother’s maiden name was Rainey.

Crows claim this dead tree
Blowing fiercely in the rains
Screaming? Ranting? Praising?

Sound of thunder wings
Dense cloud of cormorants
Rise out of the marsh

Leaves –color of light 
Color of blazing fire dance
The pilgrim comes home

Leaves tumble to Earth
Snow geese going south again
The pilgrim comes home

Always the ocean
The light, sound, the far-away
Coming home to me

Crisp fall day 
Walking the cemetery 
Remembering the dead

Shiny world shines through
Dark day, signature of crow
Fills the air with light

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Being in Nature

May 3, 2022

Just Sitting

Here I sit on a park bench in downtown Austin waiting to meet some friends. As I reach for the ubiquitous cell phone to pass the time, the thought comes to me to just sit. Then how shall I be? I’m surrounded by the usual downtown noise—life in the city. My feet rest on cement. I’m encircled by columns of cement, glass and steel which obscure most of the sky. My senses seek life.

I turn away. Drawn into the winds with their mighty gusts, filling the trees with ecstatic green life. The trunks sway, the leaves dance in merriment. Everything is moving, thrust forth by the invisible hand of life. Drawing near to the wind, I’m breathing the trees’ breath, filling my lungs with their murmurings, returning my breath to the endless pool of breath. Touched by this sizzling electric life pervading trees and air, I sit in stillness. I am present. I need nothing. I am existence itself.

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Being in Nature

March 6, 2022

In the middle of the night
moon and stars hidden beneath 
mantle of unknowableness,
in predawn aloneness
I awoke suddenly and felt my fear--this 
creaturely presence which has lodged inside me
since before my birth, yet unknown to me. Suddenly,
I knew it had always been here
riding beneath my days and nights
shadowing me, sapping me 
of the strength to meet my life 
as it was meant to be.

I felt it everywhere in my body, knew it had inhabited
me with eerie stealth—the contraction 
I have always carried. I felt it everywhere.
Then I knew it meant me no harm.
Was looking for a place to belong.
To be let in, embraced. 
A window opened. A breeze entered.
My body shivered in the darkness.
I breathed or, rather, I was breathed— 
Breath of God filled me.
O Ukraine, my Heart aches for you.
O World of suffering…

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The Return Journey Through the Elements

February 26, 2022

We are born in the incubator of Ether. Seeded with all the qualities of life and sent to Earth to manifest the Divine Splendor. It’s a long journey from the starry heavens to the Ether realm, and to the gravitational field that is Earth—heavy, dense Earth.

We enter the domain of the Earth element, bewildered, torn from the divine arms. It’s beautiful here but hard to make any sense of why we are here. We eat, play, study, suffer, celebrate life and, finally, when we are ready, we begin to seek the answer to the great mystery. We seek our purpose. Slowly, we come to realize it is the divine purpose wanting to manifest through us as love.

We enter the domain of the Water Element, deepening our inquiry. We fall in love, have a family, have a career but something keeps gnawing at us and won’t leave us alone. We suffer disappointments, losses, deep wounds. We feel alone, alienated, angry. We try to make sense of the suffering, not knowing that it is God’s way of preparing us for the next stages of our journey. The chasm in the heart grows bigger and our longing to understand grows stronger. Love is knocking on the door of our heart.

We enter the domain of the Fire element. There’s an intensity in our solar plexus. It feels hot, tight, dark, as if something is smoldering there. As we look within, we see a flame and we sense it is burning something. The flame is pure and as this substance burns, smoke and heat rise up into the heart. We are burning with the passion to dissolve into love. The smoke carries the finer and more subtle aspects of the heart forward. What is left finally is ash, the essence of the transformational process which becomes compost for future cycles of transformation.

We enter the domain of the Air Element. The smoke continues on its journey, lifting our consciousness out of the limitations of the physical body. We are so light, floating like a cloud—free of all pain and suffering. Love has consumed us and taken us into its arms. We have grown wings.

We return to the realm of Ether, having awakened to our divine purpose, having awakened as the divine purpose–LOVE. From our exalted state, we see the immeasurable suffering on Planet Earth. The One Heart, of which we are a cell, reaches out through the vastness of space to embrace all of humanity. A slight breeze stirs. A threshold is crossed. Something opens…

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Being in Nature

For Thich Nhat Hanh
White Chrysanthemum
January 28, 2022

Tonight, as I prepare to sleep
your body is turning into a torch,
a field of luminosity, a brilliant planet.
Smoke is seeping from the crematorium.
Smell of sandlewood everywhere. Your essence 
spreading out among your gold-clad disciples 
and beyond. White chrysanthemums—your
favorite flower—hang with white lotus buds
in streamers—a curtain of beauty covering
the grey cement hut: your final resting place
before you disperse to the ten directions.
The Sangha body breathes and grieves
and breathes again. Today as your body 
burns and turns to ash, as your spirit climbs
the stairs to the highest heaven, the sun shines bright.
Your Presence deeply enlightens our being.
It will rain tomorrow and, in the days to come.
Our tears, freely falling, will nourish Earth.
Tomorrow we will greet you in the faces of our friends.
And we will smile—the smile 
of perfect understanding.

Paméla Overeynder
True Sun of Understanding

This poem was written on the day of Thich Nhah Hahn’s memorial service and funeral in Vietnam. Because of amazing satellite technology, we were able to watch the entire memorial service, followed by a procession with Thây’s body from the monastery where he was Abbot into Hue where the casket was placed on a truck decorated with chrysanthemums. We watched the whole procession to the crematorium. We watched as Thây’s body was brought to the cremation chamber and was placed inside. We watched the community holding vigil with chants, songs, and poetry, with mindful breathing, and exquisite silence. We watched the community do walking meditation around the altar to Thây and around the cremation chamber. Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha. 

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Being in Nature

Wolf Full Moon

January 21, 2021

I glance at the moon so round and full of light, feeling Her pull on my heart—magnet to magnet. I enjoy a stunning moment of connection. Thinking I’ve had the experience, I go inside but She keeps calling to me. “You haven’t really seen me,” she tugs. Chastened, I step outside and take ten gentle breaths as I allow myself to be receptive to the what is, itself, receptive. Something tangible but hard to put into words—let’s call it love—flows between us. I feel taken in and seen.

According to ancient legend, the January full moon is called Wolf moon because the wolves are cold and howling. This evening is warm and there are no wolves howling. The cat comes from the shadows and stands beside me, her black coat glistening in the moonlight. Her round yellow eyes, like moons, pierce the darkness. Mindfully, we gaze at the moon in perfect silence and the moon gazes back to us. Understanding is complete.

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Being in Nature

December 8, 2021

One morning, recently, I walked to the little pond near my house. While standing there, the Mystery opened its arms and took me in. A big breeze suddenly swooped down and ran its fingers across the still water, gathering the light and spreading it across the surface of the water—as though heaven had spilled all its jewels in this little pond with its frogs and its turtles—its little fish darting about. My eyes took in the light. Time had stopped momentarily. My soul quivered with aliveness. I had miraculously fallen into the space between worlds, between the words and lines and stories we tell ourselves.

Later my eye found a tiny bird lying on Earth. Its little body was rigid. The little head limp and broken. No more life here. I once held a little bird in my hand as it died. I felt the life force leave so palpably. One moment a trembling little thing with its heart thumping against my hand. The next moment, the soul had flown away. Years ago, I witnessed my father’s last breath. Moments before, he unburdened his soul asking in his way for forgiveness. My mother took her last breath when I left the room to go to the bathroom. Their souls departed the body temple for another world.

All these experiences took me to the same place—a place of perfect emptiness.  All day I rejoiced in the beauty of my life with all its joys and sufferings. The beauty of nature I love so dearly. Tonight, I held nature’s beauty alongside the beauty of death. I found myself wondering about what beauty looks like in the next world. Will there be forests and mountains and oceans? Will there be ponds full of turtles, fish and sparkling stars? Will there be hands to hold as loved ones pass away? Will there be the light of the heavens sparkling across the surface of the waters? Will I once more see my beloved parents who gave me life?  I step into the Mystery…

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Being in Nature

October 25, 2021

The perch hangs motionless in the murky water, its dark frozen eyes open wide to the sky. Its pectoral fins motionless. It died here on the South Fork of the Guadalupe River on a crisp fall day with a yellow nylon cord threaded through its gills. A man-made rope not intended for this purpose but just as deadly. Almost everything humans create spells unintended death to other species. Whether pesticides that are killing the bees and soil microorganisms; tall skyscrapers that become magnets of light for migrating birds; or highways, cars and trucks that can lay a deer flat against its fate. Even the tiny ant is at the mercy of our careless feet. Today it’s the little perch strangled and dangling in the dark murky waters of the Guadalupe. Looking up at us with no hope in its wide-open eyes.

As a child I attended summer camp on the Guadalupe not far from here. On one of our field trips, we were taken to see the footprints of a dinosaur. Our excitement was effervescent as we bent down to press our small hands against solid creek bed, touching ancient history—so old we pre-teens couldn’t grasp it intellectually. Yet we knew it, smelled it, experienced it all the same. The footprints—I think there were two—were embedded in the limestone creek bottom. Maybe it was a drought year. The creek bed was dry and chalky. We talked about those tracks for years.

Who knows if it was a made-up story or real dinosaur tracks? I do know we wanted desperately to believe the tracks were real. We wanted to believe that we were somehow connected to this ancient past—to the mystery of the universe, to these enormous prints of a terrifying creature that lived eons ago. We wanted to touch the faraway with hands and hearts in the present. We wanted to believe in the Mystery.

We wanted to believe in deep time and the connections of one thing to every other thing. Science has proven at the most basic level that we are connected to everything that ever existed. We are connected to the dinosaurs. We are connected to the birds. We are connected to the fish. Even more profoundly, everything is connected all the way back to the beginning times through the DNA of stardust. Indeed, we are made of stardust. Luminous, sparkling effervescence. We are made of each other. We are midlines wrapped in never-ending spirals connecting the Great Emergence event with endless tangles of lives lived and died, each one bequeathing its starry radiance to the evolving body of the whole.

We launch the old silver canoe, named Mon Ark, and glide along the river of light, content with life despite clear evidence that death awaits every one of us—and all too soon. We humans have laid a trap with unintended consequences with our materialistic lifestyle. The gills of civilization are choking on our man-made and unbiodegradable waste—the yellow nylon cords are everywhere. Will we wake up before we meet the perch’s fate? Fins evolved into limbs. Lungs evolved to replace gills. Will we protect our lungs and the lungs of the planet—promising the continuation of life on Earth far into the future?

I am a being of hope. The river connects us to the past and can lead us into the future if we will only get in the canoe and paddle forward together. We are journeying toward the ocean—toward a grand reunion with our source. There are rapids ahead and we may have to get out and carry the canoe in places, helping each other, but unless the river dries up, we will arrive at the sea. A river is an alive being, a companion, a way forward. A river runs through all our lives, leading us to a better future.

Humans seem inclined to live only in the present, detached from the past and anything we might have learned about how to live in reciprocity with each other and with nature, including the more than human world. Living only in the present is not the same as living in the present moment which means living with awareness of the interconnectedness of all life.  Living only in the present keeps us landlocked and isolated. And therefore, we seem unable to move toward the future we all long for—a true and beautiful life. The life we were meant to have. The life that was entrusted to us.

At dusk, I sit on the green, grassy lawn which rolls down to the water’s edge. I am experiencing a deep peace. In the distance I hear a gunshot just as a monarch butterfly flits silently past. My body shivers at the piercing sound yet, somehow, I hold these two realities tenderly, allowing them to co-exist. The shadows lengthen. A day well-spent reveling in the natural world nourishing our dry hearts which now can feed the world with our fine-tuned attention. J. Krishnamurti said attention is love. Yes. It is love—our gift to give.

I walk down to the river to say goodbye to the perch. I’ve been thinking about this fish all day and wondering about its curious fate. I look down into the dark water. The fish is no longer hanging near the surface. No empty, wide-open eyes staring upward. Confused, I pull the yellow nylon cord out of the water. There is no fish attached and no sign of fish. Gone!  I was so sure she was dead. She must have been. How is it possible? I can feel my heart beating as I search for understanding.

It is dark now.  As I walk up to the cottage, bedding-down birds lurch from the trees in a sudden rush. A flurry of flapping feathers caused by our passing presence. We are surrounded by trees filled with birds, preparing to sleep. There’s something comforting about knowing we are surrounded by tiny heartbeats. All night we sleep together–dreaming river dreams. The Guadalupe flows on…

Post Script

Last night I dreamed a new-born baby was tossed in the water. Instantly, she turned into a fish—a little perch—and began to swim. I was worried and dived down to ‘rescue’ her. She jumped from my hands back into the water and continued her joyful explorations of a much bigger world beyond the womb. Perhaps future humans will develop gills so we can return to the waters—to learn lessons we have forgotten. To experience the freedom and joy that is our birthright.

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The Field

The Field

There’s a field, said Rumi, outside all ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing. I’ll meet you there. I wonder about that field so different from the one we live in most of the time—a field we are constantly creating with our thoughts, words and actions. Yet beneath that seemingly solid field lies another one—a pre-existing field not made by human hands. Spun of the very breath of God—spun so finely it is invisible to the outer senses. Only the heart can sense it. Over this gossamer field, the divine breath created the world of nature as a gateway and gave us inner senses to mirror the outer—to apprehend it.

Just now, I’m sitting on a rock in the middle of a dry creek bed. I think I’m present, but my mind is playing with ideas about being present. Suddenly, through grace, the invisible world breaks through to me. I’m still sitting on the rock but now the breeze has come and gathered the leaves and branches of the great sycamores in its arms, and scooped me up and delivered me into the treetops. My being has been stretched and expanded.

Clouds float by, observing my body still sitting on the rock—the rest of me already merged with this invisible field that is inseparable from everything.  I have risen out of the core of my being and flowed into this field where there’s no judging, no comparing, no criticizing. Here there is only beauty flowing into beauty. I feel that I am a body participating in a greater body—the body of the universe that is not some distant place, but exactly here. The universe is a body flowing into my body and out into the field of beingness that holds me, that holds everything. For a few moments, I am completely naked. I experience the harmony of the universe, here on this rock, in this creek bed, listening to the wind in the sycamores. And for a moment, the people and animals who pass through this field in front of me are part of the field, and because we are naked, kindness flows between us. This is the field Rumi wrote about—the field outside all ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing. I’ll meet you there.

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Meditation and the Wondrous Cell—Healing Self and World

Cell Level Meditation by Patricia Kay and Barry Grundland is an important book to hold in our hands during these times of crisis. The wisdom about Health contained within this small book is vast. The fundamental message that the health of the body depends upon the health of the individual cell is no surprise to those who pay attention to such things. What is surprising is the delightfully simple way Kay tells the story of the cell and its magnitudes of potentiality. Healing, she tells us, may be as simple as learning how to feel, relate to, and communicate with this tiniest unit of life—the wondrous cell!

Cell Level Meditation was pioneered by Dr. Barry Grundland, MD, Kay’s mentor and collaborator. In a down-to-earth conversational tone, Kay augments scientific knowledge with her own knowledge based on years of experience working with critically ill patients, adding sweet servings of wisdom through stories and poetry.

The poetry—much of it by Kay—and the mystical poets Rumi and Hafiz, reaches into the cells of our being with a message of hope and Health. One of the most beautiful poems by Kay speaks of the Great Mystery alive in every cell. “Within the silence / of the silence / Just when you think you can’t bear it / another minute / And the ache of longing in your chest / is beyond belief / And the lump in your throat / is stinging your ears / And the howling of your yearning / ends in silence / Within the silence / of that silence / A new heaven opens.”

Cell Level Meditation is a book about meditation—using meditation to access the intelligence in every cell of the body in order to heal the body. Equally, it is a spiritual text guiding us on our life’s journey, which is always a journey of healing. Kay understands that healing is wholeness and this includes body, heart and soul. She manages to share these ancient wisdoms in such a clear, simple, and accessible way. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone on the planet.

Cell Level Meditation is available on-line: where you can get a 25% discount. It’s also available on Amazon.

Stay tuned. Next I’ll be reviewing a new poetry book by my dear friend Barbara Schmitz, Sundown at Faith Regional.

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