27 Sep

Three Lessons I Learned from Editing MALA OF THE HEART: 108 SACRED POEMS


Guest blog by Kate Vogt, coeditor of Mala of the Heart

Great spiritual and religious traditions teach us to open and heal our hearts. Silent practices of prayer, meditation, and contemplation give rise to an ever-deepening awareness and opening of our hearts. Similarly, poetry written by saints and mystics consoles the heart, helping to open it in a way that is quite unique compared to that of other art forms. Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems is a collection of poetry spanning a wide range of cultures and civilizations that celebrates the eternal spiritual truth within each heart. We hope you’ll enjoy this article in which coeditor Kate Vogt shares lessons she learned while working on the book.


The journey of coediting Mala of the Heart was filled with many insights. I learned a lot about myself, and, more important, the book offered me a chance to experience some of the great wisdom that is held within its pages. Here are three of the lessons I learned:

  1. Let Go! I maintained an underlying sentiment in editing this collection: to honor the source of these poems by helping them live on in the world. In more practical terms, this meant viewing the collection of 108 poetic expressions of supreme transcendence as a precious garden that I was tending. Since these expressions were sung or written by wise women and men without expectation of earthly gain, it only seemed appropriate that as an editor of their words I would take heed of their teachings. Because these poems are pure offerings, I (along with my coeditor, Ravi Nathwani) viewed my role as one of caretaker or temporary nurturer of the collection so that it could attract and inspire others far beyond me. This view allowed me to experience a spiritual practice known as letting go, or acting free of any anticipation of praise, remuneration, or any other tangible benefits. Letting go of expectation wasn’t a specific action; instead, it took the form of heeding the compelling call of the wisdom within the collection to honor and support it. As a result, the collection has been graced with generous contributions from people like Jack Kornfield, who wrote the foreword, and Elizabeth Gilbert, who offered her endorsement. Let go, and grace will flow!
  2. Pause! As a child, I always loved looking for the Big Dipper in the nighttime sky. Then I’d move on to the Little Dipper and other constellations. I was always amazed that particular configurations of stars formed different shapes. While editing the poetry, I revisited this childhood habit for the first time. But something had changed: instead of seeing the stars as forming different shapes, I noticed that it was the space between the stars that determined the shapes. The stars are similar in brightness and size. The gaps are like invisible connectors that give meaning and form to a group of them. When the gap is large enough, the space invites the mind to rest in the silence. The poetry in Mala of the Heart changed my experience of habits such as this one of childhood stargazing. The poet-saint is a master of conveying wisdom in the space of a pause. The spacing of gaps between the words and phrases can change or strengthen the meaning of the words and can even invite us to linger in the silence.
  3. Laugh! I am lucky enough to have a father who makes it a practice to laugh regularly. Most of his jokes are about average incidents in life and on the surface are not particularly funny. But because of the way my father begins to laugh almost as soon as he starts the story, I can’t help but be infected by his laughter and even see the story as just as humorous as he does. He is ninety-three and attributes much of his longevity to being able to laugh at the foibles of life, his included. When editing the poetry, I began to more fully appreciate that my father had modeled a very practical tool for walking on the path toward self-transcendence or following one’s belief system. The poems feel as though they arose out of immeasurable joy, contentment, and wise happiness. They are not necessarily jokes or humorous, but many of them playfully tug at my mind. For example, “Die while you’re alive and be absolutely dead. Then do whatever you want: It’s all good.” These words by the seventeenth-century Zen master Bunan inspire me not to take myself too seriously. A more overt example is a poem by another seventeenth-century poet, Tukaram of India, in which he begins to call his dog “God.” After a while his dog starts smiling and dancing. Then he stops biting. Tukuram poses the question, “I am wondering if this might work on people?” After spending some time with these poems, I’ve become my father’s daughter, finding myself laughing spontaneously at some of the most mundane occurrences in life. After all, it is “all good.”


Based on the book Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems. Copyright © 2010 by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt.


Kate Vogt teaches both classical Yoga and Yoga philosophy privately and for teacher trainings in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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