As many of you know, St. Hildegard wrote many letters. This month I would like to start out by sharing a section from one of my favorite of her letters. This is a section from a letter she wrote to a young Benedictine nun, Elizabeth. When St. Hildegard wrote her this letter, Elizabeth was severely ill, partly through her own excessive asceticism.
“O daughter of God, out of your love for God you call a poor creature like myself, ‘Mother’. Listen then to your mother and learn moderation! For moderation is the mother of all the virtues for everything heavenly and earthly. For it is through moderation that the body is nourished with the proper discipline… When there are unseasonable downpours, the fruits and vegetables growing on Earth are damaged; when a field has not been plowed, you do not find good grain springing up; instead, there are only useless weeds. It’s the same with a person who lays on herself more strain than her body can endure. This is a sign that the effects of holy discretion are weak in such a person. And all of this immoderate straining and abstinence bring nothing useful to such a soul.”
What does St. Hildegard mean by “the proper discipline“? This month, I have been thinking about the breath… we breathe in and then we breathe out… I know that I can often focus for long periods of time on the in-breath and just forget that I must breathe out! I, too, find that “the effects of holy discretion are weak” in me. One of my recent prayers has been, “God, please show me today how to breathe out.” Or… in the words of St. Hildegard’s letter: “God, please show me today how to not lay on myself more strain than my body can endure.” And the guidance comes: “Go for a leisurely walk for thirty minutes. Watch the Olympics. Take some time to enjoy the flowers in your garden. Order take-out. Ask for help from family members. Go to bed early. Take the scenic route. Don’t set an alarm tonight. Say no!”
Breathe Out was the theme at our August Tap Into Transformation. David and I chose to create a dance to one of our favorite pieces of music. It is called “Sigh” by Praful. I invite you to find a peaceful spot, close your eyes and focus on your in- AND out-breath while listening to this song.
And then I invite you to do what the participants did at Tap Into Transformation and that is to draw what out-breath means to you. I had this vision of me resting surrounded by Nature, held by the Earth, Warmth and the Ocean. Such peace! I drew this vision that night, and I encourage you to draw what ever comes to you when you ask yourself what breathing out looks like. I also encourage you to share your drawings with me.
Breathing out is also really important to do with those people we are close to in our lives. In August my husband, David, and I took a trip to Oregon. We celebrated our fourth anniversary with a scrumptious seafood dinner on the banks of the Columbia River in Portland and then took a leisurely drive along the Oregon coast from Cannon Beach to Newport. Here are some photographs from our time by the water.
Beach in Newport, Oregon
Haystack Rock at Cannonbeach, Oregon
And then we drove to the Zimbabwe Festival at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. For four days we lost sense of time. We breathed out as we immersed ourselves in the music and people of Zimbabwe. One of the highlights of this festival for me was meeting and taking an mbira class with Moyo Mutamba. Moyo grew up in the Ndau/Karanga-speaking areas of Zimbabwe, immersed in muchongoyo, maduda and ngororombe drumming and dance. He fell in love with mbira from hearing his great-uncle play at family gatherings and from recordings of gwenyambiras on ZBC Radio 2. Since 2007, Moyo has been teaching and playing mbira in Canada, combining mbira with storytelling. Moyo is the co-founder of Nhapitapi Mbira Group. In addition, Moyo is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. His work focuses on indigenous cultures, ceremony and ritual and their relevance to education in general.
One of the most sacred moments at the festival was playing the song “Pfumvu” with Moyo in one of the courtyards of the university. David filmed our playing. I invite you to watch this film and breathe out! (CLICK HEREto view the video.)
As you move forward into these fall days, I encourage you to find ways to breathe out deeply at least once every day!