Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

May 31

I know a tree—a magnificent live-oak. A world unto itself. It lives and breathes here in this place as it has for hundreds of years.  A towering presence—a grandmother tree, well over 40 feet tall. Its trunk and branches rise the heavenly way—so high I can’t see the tops of the branches.  Its long undulating arms stretch horizontally in all directions, offering resting places for birds, squirrels, lizards, geckos, cicadas, tree frogs, and other crawling critters. This splendorous tree grows alone in a restaurant patio, providing ample shade and a lively natural atmosphere, making the restaurant a very inviting place to be. We dine here from time to time, just to sit in her company.

What interests me today is the monumental girth of the trunk and how it meets earth. This solid mass just seems to disappear into the soil. Actually, of course, the tree has grown out of the soil, adding girth year by year with no evidence of disturbance to the surrounding soil.  Beneath lies a mass of hungry roots nourishing the tree—roots that reach out and intermingle with other trees in a web of interdependence. A silent world, invisible to us.

Tracing the meeting point of trunk and land around the circumference, I imagine the irregularities of bark creating a shoreline with many little coves. The brown mass becomes a sheer cliff whose base disappears like roots beneath the soil. I think of Italy—the cliffs along the Mediterranean creating another shoreline in another time. Places to explore, to discover. I want to get down on my knees and crawl around this magnificent tree pulsing with life with its inviting shoreline but—you know—I’m an adult. Instead, I imagine with my microscopic eye the tiny details where tree trunk meets earth as it has for centuries, where cliff and ocean meet as they have forever.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

May 12, 2021

The whole universe is but an immanence of beauty. –Hazrat Inayat Khan

Beauty expresses itself brilliantly in the way life returns its constituent elements to earth. I’m sitting on a felled tree, quietly giving itself to Earth. Here, in the magic place where the waters gather after a big rain, turning the stones and tree roots mossy green. Today I notice a pile of sawdust on the ground near my feet. My eyes follow the trail back to the trunk. I see a large round hole. Some sawdust hangs like Spanish moss from the edge of the hole. Little beings are carving out a home for themselves or some other creature. Every being makes a home for itself where it can, whether ants or human, whether inside a log or in a tent alongside the freeway. Whether in a refugee camp on the edge of a war zone or in a gated community, among the privileged.

This tree trunk is slowly rotting away on the forest floor, giving itself back to earth, while offering a home to some tiny creatures who will assist the tree in returning the elements to their source. What a harmonious arrangement. What beauty! And one day these same elements will arise in a new form, made possible by the natural process of destruction. What beauty!

Perfect beauty necessarily includes the sublime sense of grandeur and awe at the incomprehensibility of the creation and the tides of destruction that feed creation. A tree has given up its life and has become the source of life. I sit here in amazement, gazing at the perfection of creation. I hope when my time comes to give this body back to Earth, I will yield as gracefully as this great tree, surrendering the elements that held my form together back into the great cycle of creation—the cycle of birth, death, and regeneration.

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Being in Nature During Time of Pandemic

April 22, 2021—Earth Day [Posted out of sequence].

Humans are made of the four elements of earth, water, fire and air. We are a living embodiment of these elements. We cannot separate ourselves from them and still live. And yet we do separate ourselves. We seal ourselves away in an artificial world. Water comes from the tap. Fire from the cooking stove, air comes from the HVAC system, and earth? It is somewhere else entirely for much of our life. We don’t see that our body is a body of water. We don’t see that our bones and minerals are the earth element. Or that the fire element is our very digestive system and the warmth of our heart, and the air element is our very breath—one breath that is co-mingled with all that breathes. We don’t see that we are the sea turtle choking on plastic. We don’t see that we are the coral reef bleaching and dying because the body of our ocean is warming. We don’t even see that we are the vegetables and the soil growing in the backyard. We are all made of these same elements.

We urgently need to see ourselves in our elemental nature and yet we can’t be urgent. We exist as part of nature—we are nature—and nature has its own time—its own slow rhythm. Our most immediate task is to reconnect with the elements: to reclaim the very substance of our aliveness, our being; to remember ourselves as earth, sky, soil, mountain, river, ocean, sun, moon and stars; to enter into the world of nature, not as a tourist, but as an intimate part of nature. Because the fate of the elements is our fate. We are one body with one future. Let us go forward together, as one body.

Below is a guided meditation on the elements. This meditation uses the Elements Purification Breaths of Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan. Each breath is gentle and subtle. Notice each element has its own breath pattern. Practice with five breaths for each element. It is best done outside. I offer these healing meditations based on the elements every Wednesday from 11:00 to 11:30 am. These meditations are FREE. Please email me if you would like to receive the zoom links—

Earth—Archetype of Manifestation

The more one searches after truth, the more one becomes convinced…that man is a miniature of the universe externally, but perhaps the universe is a miniature compared with the true being of man. Within the four walls of the physical body there is land and sky and there is air…the more one can see the vision of what is within, the more one realizes that there is the whole cosmos. The sun is there, the moon is there, and planets are there, and even God Whom he worships, His seat is there. –-Hazrat Inayat Khan

The Earth breath is in and out through the nose.

Earth contains water and sky. It contains fire and air. Earth is the embodiment of life which is the coalescing of all the elements. Everything is interconnected. No element can exist separate from the other elements. Earth represents the gift of life. Think for a moment of the miracle of your life—here in this time, of all possible times. Unlike the heavenly realms, here humans can create and we have the possibility to become enlightened angels within these four walls of our physical being.

Water—Archetype of Generosity

All praise by Yours, my God, through Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious and pure. –St. Francis of Assisi.                                       

The water breath is in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Water is generosity. It is a constantly flowing beneficence whose only purpose is to nourish life. The continuous action of doing good for someone else. Water nurtures, purifies and clears. Water does not keep to itself but spreads out giving itself to all it meets.  Generous giving. Giving itself away. The human body is a body of water with the capacity to nurture life, to give itself away in service to the whole. Feel the waters in your body—the rivers, streams and oceans—and the deep desire to offer yourself to life.

Fire –Archetype of Blazing Heart

When I open my heart, I become a burning flame. My invitation is to carry this light into the world and to see fire everywhere I look.  –Christine Valters Paintner

(S)he will cover you with (H)er feathers and under (H)er wings, you will find refuge. –Psalm 91.4. Think of a mother hen protecting her chicks.

The fire breath is in through the mouth and out through the nose. Fire represents the brightness and fiery nature that opens the heart. In the hearth of the heart, let our lives be the kindling that sets the heart ablaze. The soul is forged in the heart and the heart is awakened by the longing of soul. The heart responds to suffering and it breaks open. We allow the suffering to touch us—the suffering that feels personal but isn’t, and the suffering in far-away places. We allow it to transform our hearts. Think of a person you know who is suffering now and open your heart to encompass her/him. Think of a place in the world where there is great suffering and open your heart to receive the suffering and the gifts of mercy and compassion. See how the heart is a place of refuge for self and world. When we allow the suffering to enter the heart, we give refuge to the one who suffers and this includes the One who suffers with us.

Air—Archetype of Space

In the air there is an unbroken emptiness which extends everywhere and admits any and every shape. Nothingness is the antidote to all possessiveness. In a sense we are the pilgrims of Nothingness. –John O’Donohue

The air breath is in and out through the mouth.

Air is the sanctity of space—the space in which all life arises, subsists and fades away. Without space, there could be no existence: no galaxies, no universe, no Earth body, no human life, no trees or mountains or animals—no life at all.  Air is the sanctity of breath: the Breath Life, the Breath of God, the collective breathing of all beings co-mingling and sustaining life. of

Ether—Archetype of Possibility

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, Bodhi Swaha. Gone, gone beyond existence and non-existence, gone to the land of pure happiness. –The Heart Sutra

The ether breath is in and out of nose and mouth together. Here is timelessness and utter stillness. No manifestation, no suffering, no generosity, no space. No beginning and no ending. The elements of life–Earth, Water, Fire, and Air are here in a state of harmony and perfection. They are completely undifferentiated.  We are not talking here about the actual earth, water, etc. but the vibrational element. Ether represents the infinitude of possibilities lying dormant in stillness until the impulse to become has been activated by the Creator. 

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The Healing Breath of LIfe

May 8, 2021—Mother’s Day

Today I celebrate my mother, Hazel Rainey Overeynder—peace be upon her—who taught me how to love by being such a loving and caring being. She was the goddess of mothering, willingly sacrificing her needs for those of her chicklings, her friends, and anyone in the community who needed anything. She’s been gone over ten years and I still miss her physical presence. I’m also celebrating myself as a nurturing presence—mothering anyone who will allow me to offer love and support. I can do this because HRO modelled it for me so beautifully. And, of course, I am still learning how to love—a monumental task.

Significantly, today I’m honoring Mother Earth who received the seed that was my soul as I entered into physical existence. We are earthlings, hatched from the cosmic egg—part of the diaspora of souls. We come helpless and completely dependent on our parents, on the Earth, and on our divine connection. As children we feel this divine connection naturally. We are, after all, mystics. We are drawn to nature from the very beginning. As infants we lie on the grass looking up at trees and sky and we are nourished. As children we prefer being outside where we commune with the soul of the Earth and with nature spirits. This is natural. This connection is a gift from the creator so we don’t get lost in the material world.

Each of us is part of this vast diaspora—a scattering of seeds across Mother Earth. Over 108 billion people have lived on Earth since the beginning of time. And our Mother has nourished and sustained us all.  We are spiritual beings exiled to planet Earth—not as punishment but as a sacred trust. We are the seeds of enlightenment—a diaspora of light come to Earth to witness ourselves as holy beings. We are exiles who have come here to bring news of the universe—news of goodness and kindness. We come with full support of the elements of earth, air, water, fire and ether to nurture us as we grow from seed to a fully human being. Though exiled, we are connected to our spiritual bodies via the soul. We can re-encounter this indestructible connection by concentrating on and feeling the silver chord connecting us to each of the elements and especially to Mother Earth.

Sadly, another diaspora of vast proportions caused by war and climate emergency is occurring now. People are rapidly being displaced from their traditional homelands with no place to go. This is a familiar experience for traditional people all over the world, caused by greed and conquest. The same greed and conquest, combined with ignorance, that has caused wide-spread destruction of Earth and her resources is driving today’s mass migrations. UNHCR estimated 80 million refugees worldwide in 2019. Mother Earth no longer has the resources needed to take care of all of us. She has been weakened and depleted and we are all responsible for her present state. I grieve for my part in the destruction. I know my individual actions alone won’t make much difference but collectively, our actions can make a big difference.

This day as we celebrate mothers, let us not forget Mother Earth and her need for care and nurture from all of us. It has always been a relationship of reciprocity with Earth—Earth cares for us and we take care of Earth. This sacred chord has been severed and humanity has forgotten its responsibility. We desperately need to remember how to take care of our Mother. As my dear friend Marsha Gomez, peace be upon her, member of the Choctow Nation, always said, caring for earth is our sweet responsibility.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

May 7, 2021

I have been quiet for the last few weeks—in a beautiful process of healing. This morning I looked out the window and saw the head of the Buddha peeking through the wild emerald grasses and this haiku came:

Buddha's head 
rises above the tall grasses
a beacon of green light

I offer this little verse as a healing for all who need healing everywhere on this planet. It comes from the greening power—veriditas—that St. Hildegard of Bingen wrote about. It comes from the emerald earth, every blade of grass imbued with divinity.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

April 10

I’m trying to be outside. I want to be outside. I’m longing to be outside but the season of the caterpillars is here. They are everywhere, dangling down from the tops of the live oak trees—summersaulting down on self-spun silks. They swing and lurch to the ground. No sooner do they reach the ground than they are looking for a leg to climb–table, chair or human, though they seem to prefer the human. As soon as they climb onto the foot, they start their trek upward, heading for the apex. Up seems to be the direction of food. They feed on the tender young leaves of the oak trees.  I can only imagine the disappointment upon arriving at the top of my head.

Most abundant are the oak leafrollers or inch worms with their light green bodies and black heads.These caterpillars are in constant nervous motion. I find it impossible to relax for long in their presence. They are drawn to me like a mighty magnet. I sigh, realizing we have entered a season of several weeks to be endured. One species of tannish brown caterpillar is especially determined. I was sitting outside a few days ago and one kept climbing onto my foot. I tossed it several feet away. Undeterred, it immediately re-oriented and headed straight for my foot again. This happened over and over. Are they sensing our body heat or our electric field? Do they think we are trees? Why are they attracted to us?

I come inside. They hitchhike in. I find them on the sofa, in the bed, on the bathroom floor. They are everywhere. My body itches as I imagine them crawling up some hidden pathway. Just part of nature I tell myself. Yet, I am annoyed at their presence. I search for a higher synthesis. I find it as I recall the importance of moths and butterflies to biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. These caterpillars I am annoyed with today serve as an importance food source for insects, birds and bats. Soon they will become moths—important pollinators—and a source of food for spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, birds and other critters. Every link in the chain of life is essential. Life feeds on life. Green life—veriditas. This is the way.

I open the door of night
sound of crickets enters
as caterpillar leaves
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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

March 25, 2021

In the spring, I turn to haiku*—that traditional Japanese poetic form of three simple lines and seventeen syllables whose silent thunder can quiet the mind. Without haiku, I can get too wordy trying to express the ineffable. Spring is so much more. Haiku comes from hokka which refers to the opening verse of a longer poem. Just as spring is a fresh opening verse in the seasonal cycles, so hokka is transformed into haiku—a little poem of the moment—forever opening into the next moment. Here are some of my recent poems.

Black tree trunks
in driving rain

Spring rain storm
such a racket!
i lie sleepless

Night chill
bright moon obscures
heart of the lion

I kneel down
pulling weeds
they grow back

Stiff neck
turns left, right, left
seeking the Truth

Vastness explodes
from the center
of this yellow flower

Spring unfolds
the dormant heart
crickets thrill the night

God storms through
yelling wake-up!
I am your breathing


*The haiku form derived from the opening verse [called Hokka] of a longer, collaboratively linked poem called Renga. Basho, a 17th century poet elevated the haiku form to a high art. These days, the form is more fluid.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

March 21, 2021

Wind is primal, oceanic. It nourishes body and soul as it comes roaring through the trees. Whooping and whooshing as it tunnels down ear canals into the mysterious center of my being.  We are walking in an Ashe juniper forest among bird-bare trees here in the Balcones Canyonlands Wildlife Preserve. We are hoping to encounter the golden-cheeked warbler, an endangered species that nests solely here in Central Texas. All afternoon we hear no calls and see not a single bird.

Today’s quest is somewhat personal. Many years ago, I organized a post-card campaign [pre-computer era] in Austin—one of many efforts calling for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the warbler as an endangered species. My little 3×5 postcards featured a picture of the warbler taken from a magazine. I had never seen one but I knew instinctively that its protection was vital for biodiversity, for a healthy ecosystem. The final protected listing came in December of 1990.

Near the end of the long hike, I lie down under a mature juniper in a small clearing, content to be washed by oceanic March winds. I feel completely at home and am starting to nap when I hear my first bird call of the afternoon.  I sit up and search the trees for the quick movements that help locate the bird but there’s no sign of warblers. No more calls. A little frustrated, I decide to lure a warbler closer with a recorded warbler sound, feeling vaguely uncomfortable and dishonest*—but it works. I hear the call and soon spot the bird flying from tree to tree and branch to branch. S[he]comes closer, temporarily perching on a branch in front of me. I clearly see her bright golden cheeks and the unique black markings on her head and throat. She is looking at me, curious about me. Her eyes penetrate.

In all the years since that postcard campaign, I have never seen or heard a golden-cheeked warbler. Today’s viewing is possible only after surrendering all effort and sinking into the forest floor without expectations. I make myself passively available for any and all revelations. Revelation is a reciprocal process. Here I am. There you are. The revealer is seeking a presence in which to unveil itself. The one who would receive the revelation must be that presence.

The golden-cheeked warbler is the Presence of God. I am longing for Her. She is longing for me. My heart calls out and She comes. She encircles me, flying from tree to tree, branch to branch. She commands my complete attention. Seized, I forget everything and let myself be the object of Her attention as She is the object of mine. When She flies away, I feel alone and bereft. When She returns my heart fills with joy. We complete each other.

As we walk away, I feel that I am leaving paradise. My heart feels endangered by all that is absent—the wild beauty that is quickly disappearing all over the planet. I wonder if the absence of my presence is felt by the warbler or other creatures in this clearing. We return briefly to recover a pair of sunglasses. The clearing feels empty. The quiet is eerie. Have we been missed? The wind answers—primal and oceanic.


*I will not use recordings again. I have just read that artificial calls can cause stress because the male is charged with defending the nesting territory. Added stress is especially harmful for endangered species. One of the best ways I’ve found to see birds is to lie down under the trees with binoculars in hand and watch and listen patiently.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

March 15

When one flower blooms spring awakens everywhere. –John O’Donohue

Spring is the season I love most. The soft murmuring of the white wing doves accompanies the day from sunrise to sunset. The wild plums and redbud trees bloom first and best—the perfection of glory. Every spring I write about these emanations. I never finish praising their perfection. They have survived the days of freezing weather in February while many other trees and plants have died.

Much of the prickly pear cactus died in the great freeze. Piles of cactus stems lie in mountainous heaps on the side of the road, never to bloom again. The blue agave suffered the same fate, and the rosemary too, mostly gone. Our live oak trees show signs of deep stress. Some may resurrect but it’s too early to tell. So much is lost and yet, hope springs eternal and life will find a way.

Meanwhile, the wild plum trees bloom with abandon—lavishly. They are exquisitely beautiful from a distance. Step closer, and dare to lose yourself as you enter this singular temple of beauty. Step inside. You are now emersed in and embraced by branches loaded with delicate white flowers. Like the honey bee, you must harvest the sweet nectar of life, so quickly gone. Move closer still. The sweet fragrance of life envelops you and you become the altar the honey bee circles. Draw closer still and you are the bee, the flower and the fragrance—all self-reference gone. The fragrance drifts in the empty breeze.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

March 11–One Year Later

It has been one very long year since the reality of the pandemic entered our consciousness and changed everything. A long dry year as we have withdrawn physically from family, friends, and even the casual acquaintances that have been an essential part of daily life. We have breathed these changes into our bodies, hearts and souls as we have gotten used to wearing masks and keeping a ‘safe’ distance. Though we have found ways to stay connected with zooms and masks, the loss of physical closeness to those we love leaves us tragically isolated from each other. Thanks to the vaccine, we may only now be starting to emerge from the darkness of this year and its overtones of brown and gray, though we know the pandemic has not yet finished with us.

Despite the losses, we have found joy and comfort in the peace and beauty of nature. Every day beauty reveals more of herself to our hungry eyes and hearts. We see that we have not been alone this past year. We are accompanied by so many beings, seen and unseen. We are accompanied by the four elements—Earth, Water, Fire and Air and by all of creation. We began this journey in the spring of last year. Another spring is emerging filled with life and its revelations of the sorrows and joys of being human.

Today the redbud trees have suddenly and quietly emerged from the long winter. Their deep pink flowers offer such relief to the eye conditioned to the dry brownness of the pandemic and the winter with its extremes of weather that seemed to never end. The great gonging winds of change have arrived. Oceanic winds from the south—refreshing body and soul.  I see tiny green leaves emerging from their tight buds throughout the understory of the forest, bright green clumping grasses arising from the brown undergrowth, and even a wild violet dares to bloom. The wild plum blossoms are just beginning to open. Soon, their sweet fragrance will fill the woods, drifting on the breeze. In the “weeds” I spy the tiniest white flower—no bigger than a mung bean—with a green center no bigger than a mustard seed. So much is being revealed in this small humble flower that somehow contains the universe—the sun, moon and stars.

The tree branches are still leafless though they have been preparing for spring unnoticed by us. Despite the lingering browns and grays, I take heart. Soon everything will turn green. Our hungry eyes will drink the green. Our hearts will turn wild, green and restless and we will go out to the greening world and connect with our beloveds—never again taking these precious lives for granted. We have survived to see another spring when so many have not. Because we have lived, we have a responsibility to praise and protect life, to find joy in everything and to share that joy. It’s spring. The white-wing doves are calling. My happy heart answers.

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