At Summer + Sanctuary at Ratna Ling in the mountains of California’s Sonoma County, we gather at 7:30 a.m. to sit in meditation together. Even as thoughts splash their oily paints on the dark canvas of our morning minds we are in fact meditating. Only moments–nanoseconds, I believe–of awareness are experienced. Maybe those fragments of time are the negative space of the mind’s composition, wherever paint doesn’t land.
In those fractions of time I feel fastened to the broadness of animal presence.
“Come into animal presence,” Denise Levertov writes. “No man is so guileless as/the serpent. The lonely white/rabbit on the roof is a star/twitching its ears at the rain.”
Sometimes as I “sit,” images of pets loved and lost pass through my mind, the easy breath of their ingenuous resting. My ears open to sounds of doves’ calls and finches’ songs. My skin shivers under the kiss of breeze.
In The Soul of All Living Creatures, Vint Varga combines stories of his work in animal behavior with insights into what other creatures can teach us by their responses to their environments. Animals offer us means to connect our intellectualized, machine-dependent human selves with all that surrounds us and upon which we commonly depend–water, air, earth.
“Instead of running on automatic, relying on words to convey to others everything we think and feel, the animals right by our side can remind us of the other ways to express ourselves….As we accept how we convey our thoughts and feelings beyond words we use–through the tone, pitch, and pace of our voice as we speak; our postures, gestures, and facial expressions; the ways we look into another’s eyes (or don’t)–we more fully relate to those in our lives. And as we communicate with clear intention, while being mindful and sensitive, we more fully embrace our human nature.”
Why meditate? To fasten ourselves to the beautiful world of which our lives are a part. And carry that sense of connection into daily dealings.
Start now. Stop where you are. If you’re in a chair, sit to the forward edge of the seat and settle your feet solidly. If you’re standing, feel your feet steady and supportive beneath you. If you’re sitting on the ground, prop yourself with pillows until you’re comfortable. Feel the length of your spine from tailbone through neck. Let yourself ease into the animal presence of your body, eyes closed or almost. Keep company with your breath for a minute, or five to ten full rounds of inhalation and exhalation. Breathing with the rest of earth.