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Each of us belongs to places and landscapes that nurture our bodies, minds, and spirits. We also dwell in a home place in our hearts, a private inner landscape. As cycles of day, moon, and seasons pass, our inner and outer landscapes mirror and respond. When we are in tune with our own sense of time and place, we truly come home. Each month, I'll share words, images, and practices to inspire you to connect with ease to your life purpose; your family, friends, and community; and the wonders of the natural world. Over time, the Homecomings series will expand your capacity to integrate scientific and spiritual ways of knowing. Whatever aspects of joy, wellness, or learning you seek, all you need for getting there is found in your own heart and in your home, yard, and neighborhood.

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Gathas: A Practice to Connect with the Elements

Imagine . . . warm garden soil pressing between your toes, a gentle breeze caressing your face, luscious fruits ripening on the vine, sparkling dew drops decorating a spider’s web

Connect . . . with all the ways that earth, air, fire, water show up to sustain your daily life and life on Earth

Reconnect . . . to a playful and resourceful relationship with the elements of the natural world

Does a commitment to a routine mindfulness or spiritual practice often find a place on your actual or mental to-do list and then languish without action? Do you long to be more connected to the natural world yet find that the constructs of daily life tend to disconnect you? Here’s a simple practice that you can bring into the present moments of your life, starting right now wherever you live. All you need is paper and a way to print or scribe gathas to post around your home.

“Gathas are short verses that help us practice mindfulness in our daily activities. A gatha can open and deepen our experience of simple acts which we often take for granted. When we focus our mind on a gatha, we return to ourselves and become more aware of each action. When the gatha ends, we continue our activity with heightened awareness. Thich Nhat Hanh

For this practice, I selected some gathas from the Zen Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh that support the flow of gratitude and right relationship with each of the elements – earth, air, fire, water, sacred center. These are marked with an asterisk* below. I then adapted others or wrote my own to create a complete set for the elements.


Feeling the earth beneath my feet, I vow to be sturdy and kind in my thoughts, words, and actions.

Taking kitchen scraps to the compost, I welcome the new soil they will become.


Before starting the car, I know where I am going. The car and I are one. If the car goes fast, I go fast.*

Sensing the light of a new day, I welcome the sun's energy to fuel my actions.


Dialing a telephone, I know that words can travel thousands of miles. May my words create mutual understanding and love.*

Brushing my teeth, rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly.*


I wash my hands in flowing water. May I use them skillfully to preserve our precious planet.

I vow to use the water that flows from high in the sky and from deep in the earth to sustain all life.


Looking in the mirror, I see beauty as a heart that loves and a mind that is open.*

Dwelling in the present moment, I breathe in. Enjoying the present moment, I breathe out.*

This food is the gift of the whole universe – earth, sun, water, air, and much hard work. May I eat in mindfulness so as to be worthy to receive it.*


I like to print gathas on small individual cards, laminate them, and post them around my home. For example, a card about water might be by my kitchen sink, or a card about starting the car might be on my dashboard. You might also place a card in a wallet, notebook, or book that you carry with you away from home. Whenever you come across one of your posted gathas, breathe in and invite awareness of the precious nature of the element(s); breathe out with deepened awareness of the action you are taking. Return to your activity with a heightened awareness of your connection to the element(s) and all life on Earth.

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  I grew up with hands in the dirt, bugs in a jar, and tadpoles in a tub. Over the years, in support of environmental and community collaborations as a biologist, ecologist, consultant, facilitator, teacher, and spiritual seeker, I’ve designed innovative participatory workshops and forums. Nowadays as an elder, my passion is to create open, collective spaces for people to witness the natural world and creatively communicate what they learn and experience. I am the author of Wheels of Time and Place, a unique toolkit for tracking all sorts of cycles and seasons. One of my favorite creative pastimes is collage, and I am a certified SoulCollage® facilitator. My spiritual study and practice includes Quaker, Buddhist, and indigenous traditions, including lineages from Tibet, North America, and Peru. I will soon graduate from the Three Doors Academy and begin to offer selected meditation practices from the ancient Bön-Buddhist tradition of Tibet. These transformative practices for body, speech, and mind are now available to the modern world in a secular form through the generosity of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche  


  • Ashling Kelly
    Ashling Kelly Thursday, 18 July 2013

    I kind of like the idea of reminders, mini-focusers through the day. I think this is something to try.

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Tuesday, 23 July 2013

    Lovely! Thank you for your wonderful reminder to be mindful!

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