Life is All Around

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” Henry David Thoreau

This week, go for a SpiritWalk in nature. Be aware of all the creatures that live around you. Go quietly and slowly, looking around you. Stand still for a few minutes. Birds and animals that shy away at people’s normal pace may come out when you go slow or even stand still. Few of us will be as privileged as Thoreau, but you might be surprised by some of your bird or animal neighbours. Blue jays, cardinals, voles, mice, squirrels, robins, chickadees, rabbits, raccoons, merlin hawks, bats, seagulls, ducks, snails, ants, and one fall, wild turkeys, lived in my old uptown neighbourhood in Waterloo.  When I sat quietly in the backyard, there would be so much life going on around me. Birds flitting and chirping, rabbits tentatively hopping out in the early evening, unafraid if I sat still.  I felt refreshed by the reminder that life goes on all around me.

If you feel like you aren’t noticing any creatures, take a good look down at the ground. You might see spiders, ants, beetles, and snails busy going about their lives.

As always with this spiritual practice, centre yourself before going on the walk.

Be still and take some deep breaths, let out any tension from the day, shake out your arms and legs, stretch your neck, and straighten your spine.  When you feel quieter and calmer, take one last breath before you go.

When looking for the wildlife that lives in urban spaces, I suggest not taking a camera, at least the first time you try this SpiritWalk. If you want to remember the creature, take the time to tell yourself some of its details like colour, shape, sound. Careful observation will help you remember the details, and make it easier for you to identify the animal next time.

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Walking into Day

“It is not talking but walking that will bring us to heaven.” Matthew Henry

This week’s SpiritWalk is about seeing your home place in a new light. Go for a slow mindful walk at a time of day that you aren’t usually outside. That may be early in the morning, as dawn breaks, or late at night under the stars. It may even be at noon; instead of running errands at lunch time, take fifteen minutes to explore the area around your workplace. Bring fresh eyes to this everyday area. How is it different at this new time of day?

SpiritWalk Practice

Before leaving, sit quietly with your eyes closed and your feet firmly on the floor. Breathe deeply and slowly.

Feel your feet on the floor.

Get up, in silence, and go outside.

Walk slowly, glance around you, up above, down below.  If something catches your eye, stop and examine it.

Look at the sky. Notice the clouds, or the stars, or the colour of the sky.

Look at the ground. Notice the sidewalk, the cracks in the concrete. Notice any green life that is growing.

Take your time to see all that is around you. Pay attention.

When you return inside, sit quietly for a few minutes in reflection.

 

Creatures of Air

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”   Henry David Thoreau

This week we consider the element of air through the beautiful songs of birds. Air is the home place for many creatures – birds and insects and bats.  I have heard that the Haudenosaunee people say that songbirds sing about the place they live in, if we pay attention, we can learn their knowledge. Learning the language of birds is a life long process, it requires time and patience to be outside and to hear, identify and understand bird calls. Birds have several different types of call, and songs vary by time of day, weather and change of season.

Bird Observation

If you live in an area with birds, plan to spend 10 minutes outside listening to birdsong. Find a sheltered place where you will be undisturbed. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and listen for the birds. Do you recognize any species by their song? How would you describe their songs – are they alarm calls or mating calls or something else? Can you locate them and identify them by sight? Watch how they fly and follow the air currents. Let your mind wander over any questions without trying too hard to find the answers. If you don’t know the name of the bird, simply make one up. Don’t worry about figuring anything out, just listen to the birdsong, breathe and wonder.

You may wish to check a bird identification book after the observation time, but don’t bring it outside with you. Simply sit with your wonderings.

For those of you with limited access to the outdoors, this video offers a variety of North American birdsong.

 

Every breath is a sacrament…

“Air is a matrix which joins all life together”, says scientist David Suzuki. “It is constantly changing as life and geophysical forces add and subtract constituents to the composition of air, and yet over vast stretches of time the basic composition of air has remained in dynamic equilibrium. The longer each of us lives, the greater the likelihood that we will absorb atoms that were once part of Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ, of Neanderthal people and woolly mammoths. As we have breathed in our forebears, so our grandchildren and their grandchildren will take us in with their breath. We are bound up inseparably with the past and the future by the spirit we share.

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things…”   from The Sacred Balance, p.38

Breathing Gratitude

This simple breathing meditation is an exercise in thankfulness. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably, either on the floor or on a chair, with your hands lying loosely on your knees. Close your eyes.

Breathe in with gratitude for your parents, grand-parents, great-grand parents all the way back to your early ancestors.  The air rushing into your lungs was their air too.

Breathe out with love, a gift to all the children of the planet, those with us now and those still to arrive. The air leaving your lungs will be their air too.

Breathe in with gratitude, breathe out with love.

Remember that each breath connects you to all has lived, is living, and will ever live.

Breathe in with gratitude, breathe out with love.

Sit with this meditation for five to fifteen minutes.

As the Wind Blows

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” Charles Dickens

This month our spiritual practices focus on the element of air, as we pay attention to the vital force that exists unseen all around us. This week we consider the wind. This observation practice comes from neo-pagan author and activist Starhawk’s book The Earth Path. Try this practice two or three times, at different times of the day, with different levels of wind. As you learn the various ways wind moves, you will become more aware of the earth around you.

Wind Observation

Go outside to a place where you can sit and observe undisturbed, in your backyard or in the park. Sit with your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on your legs with your palms face up. Close your eyes and sit for a minute breathing deeply. Open your eyes.

Focus on the air and wind around you. Where is it coming from? What direction? What can you smell in the air?

Feel the air on your skin. Is it moving or still, gentle or strong? Is it cold or warm?

Listen to the sound of the wind. What is it moving through? Is it moving through trees, houses, concrete walls? It will sound differently depending on the landscape.

Stand up and move around.  Find a place where the wind moves strongly. Contrast that with a place sheltered from the wind.

Learn what the wind is telling you about the place where you are.

The Air Aware

We live immersed in air. We can’t live without this most essential element of life. Air is an invisible power, we can only see it through its effect on the planet: trees bending in the wind, ripples in a pond, a plastic bag tumbling in a parking lot. This month we turn our attention to the atmosphere.

As Unitarian Universalists we honour air as a vital life force that infuses the interdependent web. Breath is part of our weekly practice of meditation within a service, it represents the greater whole to which we all belong. Even an empty chalice is filled with air. Air is both within and without, oxygenating our blood, filling our lungs, surrounding us. We are not separate from the air which we breathe, through it we are connected to all other beings.

This March, as spring begins to emerge on earth, we will explore the element of air through various meditations and physical activities.

Video Meditation

This week’s practice is visual meditation. You may watch one or both of these short two minute videos. Consider watching the videos twice through. Find a quiet place and turn the sound up on your computer. Put the video to full screen. Let your eyes go soft as you watch the images. It`s okay if your mind wanders; the point is not to empty your mind, but to not get caught up in your thoughts, to let them flow in and out of you like breath.

Take a minute to steady your breath before you begin a video.

Breathe in, breathe out.

This first video explores the power and beauty of the atmosphere and uses instrumental music.

If you are interested in a neo-pagan understanding of the element of air, the video below provides details of its associations.  The sound track is a recording of the wind and is especially evocative if you listen without looking.

 

A World of Wonder

“Wonder is the basis of worship.” Thomas Carlyle, philosopher (1795 -1881).

For this week’s spiritual practice of writing, we explore the theme of wonder. Author Brian Doyle says “Nothing could be as useful, as generative of joy and mercy, as energizing and refreshing, as nakedly holy, as a faucet of wonder that never shuts off.”

Moments of wonder for me include: making snow angels under the northern lights in Saskatchewan, watching a baby blue jay learn to fly in my back garden, even watching the epic paintball battle of season one of Community. All these experiences were intersections where my spirit met the greater whole and said “wow”. The vastness of the universe, the beautiful life surrounding us, the comedic brilliance of humanity, all remind me that this planet is an amazing place to live.

Please see last week’s post for the protocol of this spiritual practice.  Find a quiet place and plan to take at least 10 minutes for writing.

Theme:  Wonder
Where and when and how have you experienced wonder? What moments have made in awe at the wonders of the world?
Describe each experience in detail: where you were, who you were with, what it looked like, what it sounded like, and what it felt like.
Where have you experienced wonder?