Everywhere I look I see beauty. As I hike through this desert landscape of my heart and soul, I see beautiful works of art everywhere. The landscape itself is a work of art. I love the cryptobiotic soil gardens, growing in water carved bowls of rock, everything perfectly placed; and the red stain on the underside of a ponderosa pine branch, fingered in with yellowish white bark. I have to look up to see this work of art on the underside of the branch, and I have to look down and around to see the crypto gardens abounding everywhere. I have to see, pay attention. It comes to me that there is nowhere else that this exists except right here—no other crypto garden or underside of a ponderosa branch looks the same, is the same. As it is with you and me. Once in eternity do this and you and I exist as it is now. This may seem commonplace knowledge until a contemplative attention is placed on it and then…talk about magic and mystery!
Last night the plump crescent moon had a large halo around it—an illuminated ring of cloud cover. It was stunning. I’m not sure I have ever seen the moon look like this before. I was reading about the Priestess card in the Tarot—ruled by the Moon—and I looked up to re-visit the illuminatress herself and there she was, all aglow. I had to turn off my headlamp, stop reading and take in the palpable aura of mystery that surrounded me. I mean…really stop and take in the magic. It brings up a memory of being in Hawaii, camped on the beach on a back pack trip. We were watching the full moon rising out of the ocean, lit blood red from the simultaneously setting sun and vog (volcano smog). The ocean waves were crashing into a wall of lava that rose between the moon and us. And right there before our eyes, the spray from the waves hitting the lava wall was illuminated as dark shadows on the voluminous red moon. We were stunned into the presence of an experience that we had never witnessed before. And perhaps will never see again.
Why does this move me so much at this moment? Perhaps it is because such magic happens all the time, in perhaps more familiar ways, and I miss it. It brings to mind a bit of wisdom; “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” –D. Whyte
For me, this is a reminder that every moment that happens has never happened before and will never happen again in exactly the same way. Too often, unaware, I am discarding this moment while waiting for the next more interesting moment to happen. Meanwhile, what is here is gone forever. I find myself wondering about the possibility of living more fully present in that space of awareness where both the coming and going and simultaneous eternity of it all simply Is. Suddenly, another David Whyte line arises; “I want to write about faith.”
* * *
(At home now, I am curious; “I want to write about faith”. I know there is a connection, some mystery abounding. So, I seek out his poem…ahh.)
I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night,
faithful even as it fades from fullness,
slowly becoming the last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself,
I refuse it the smallest entry.
Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.
* * *
I notice my speeded up system as I settle down into this quiet still place. When I neglect taking my daily doses of pausing and dropping into stillness, I find I have to go through the resultant anxious fidgetiness, a precursor to dropping down and in. And so, slowly, I am more here—as if I have never left in the first place—spreading myself out like the creeping sun over the sandstone drainage or the soft white sand draping itself over the water carved rock. Looking back, I recognize my slow descent into faith itself.
* * *
The spiderwort patch is now in the sun. They are all over the land—their blooming time. I really don’t know why I love them so. Perhaps just because they please me—fill me with pleasure, delight my senses, and speak to me of the natural opening and closing of everything. They close their flowers up during the hot day, opening again at first light. What would I be if I fully allowed myself the natural rhythms of coming and going, opening and closing, living and dying, being the fluid continuum of these rhythms? Who would I be if I gathered the moon’s faith into my heart?
As I am sitting here in the shade of the most beautiful sacred space holder Grandmother/Grandfather Ponderosa Pine, on a bed of the cleanest whitest sand (the very best ever sandbox says my little one!), I feel the quickening of desire calling me to wander before the heat of the day drives me to seek shade and water, where I draw back into myself, for a time, my wanderlust nature.
This is the rhythm of my life here, weaving together the inner and outer landscapes of my day, so familiar and yet never exactly the same. Every moment passes so quickly. I have to be simultaneously alert and relaxed to touch it. Wandering calls…off I go into the heat and wind and spaciousness of the landscape of my exterior heart.
* * *
I find myself contemplating death. I look at my hand, old scarred skin. It’s as if I can see it dying right before my eyes…a husk of a self. Dying is a messy business left unattended. I envision myself dying here and I feel this strange embarrassment at the state this flesh and bone would be in when someone finally found me. Yuck!! Oh, such ego—such vanity. I want to die and quickly be burned up—no mess. I think about my brother’s suicide—no mess. No piss or shit. How did he do that? Exactly what preparation did he take to void everything? And the rope stretched with such precision that he couldn’t reach the floor—his toes barely off the ground. A meticulous job—his attempt at leaving no mess! Ha!! Dying as cleanly as possible.
But I digress—sort of. I feel I am an element. Like the rock, the tree, the wind; an old familiar feeling of being no different, as if when the rocks and trees formed with sun and wind and sky, I formed too—planted here in this landscape that has become my body. It would be a good place to die, leaving my bones to dissolve into this sacred place that I can feel loving me back.
My thoughts turn toward The Bone Heart: the heart shaped cryptobiotic soil garden where my brother’s bones trace the shape of a heart. How many more years will I come here and be able to see his bones (and some of my Dad’s as well). Perhaps I will place some of mom’s here too, when her time comes.
It’s not moroseness or despair I am feeling. It is just such a natural state of affairs to die and somehow here it feels just the way it is—no big deal (except for the mess—such vanity still.) Paring it all down to the bone—the bare necessities: home, my body, my landscape—a place of belonging; love, relationship and wisdom; service and gratitude; a gentle caring kindness; Presence, conscious embodied presencing (thank you Russell Delman for that word). Here it makes so much sense, where in the city I can get so lost—industrious output; neurotic worries of being of enough value to others and the world; loneliness fed by absence. Here, none of that makes sense. Perhaps my consciousness would do better as a tree—or this beautiful sandstone upon which I sit and lie and walk and die, a fluid progression of life. Then again, perhaps my consciousness is doing just fine!
* * *
The tanks are still full of water. Those late May rains (my skin can barely remember) filled everything up to the brim—the tadpoles love it and I sing to them to hurry up and grow those legs!! I have my own private swimming hole just above camp. Lying naked on desert slickrock after swimming across the pool (long enough to do about 4-5 butterfly strokes!), soaking up the sun. I feel so elemental, as if I belong here because I AM this place. I am the consciousness of this place in all its primal beauty and life force. What a simple and boundless experience. I want to lie here forever, until I remember my skin is tender and it burns under the heat of the sun. I must seek shade when all I want to do is to dissolve myself in water and become the rock I lie on, experiencing the boundless nature of my essence.
Paring it down to the bone! This is as elemental as I can get—feeling consciousness not only in my stretched out body but in the pool, the sun, the rock, the sky, the wind. Oh Blessed is this Wind. Presencing—I’m Home!
* * *
There is an asparagus plant at camp!! When I was here three weeks ago facilitating a group retreat, there was one fat strong shoot. Now, along side this very tall flowering asparagus with small yellow cupped flowers is one new 4-5 inch shoot. I’ve never seen a second shoot before…another moment of waking up to magic. And I notice the spiderwort plants are all closed up for the day. We all seek light and then seek shadow. I am all closed up for the afternoon as well, following the shade of Grandmother/Grandfather Tree. Without this beatific being, I wouldn’t be in this place. It is the shade it provides throughout the day that allows me to come and stay. What gratitude I feel for its presence—25 years of leading retreats here as well as many solo retreats—all under its unspoken wisdom and guidance. Such intimacy! This being keeps me alive and well here, safely tucked in when things get a little too hot to the touch.
* * *
I’m lying in my sleeping bag, just a hint of light in the pre-dawn sky. I have awakened with a hint of anxiety, a bit of tension following me out of my night dreams. I slowly begin to sound into my body, allowing the fluids to awaken and release their semi-contracted state. Continuum movement on the earth at first morning light! My continuum teachers’ talk of how a student of Continuums’ founder remarked, while watching her move, that it looked like she was making love to the earth. Aahhh! I am experiencing this more deeply now. Moving with fluid sensual ease, seeking out the places that are held and letting love flow into them, I am making love to the earth and it’s lighting up the dawn sky.
* * *
I head out as the sun is about to set—up to the circular dance space that has a natural opening to the East. I bow as I enter and begin to move. Last night as I danced, I felt elemental, as if this is what I truly am—the most pared down version of myself, the most natural expression of my essence. Tonight, I begin moving with simple ease and then my mind begins to travel along its various trips. I find myself in memories that keep demanding to be in the present. I get caught up, catch myself, and return to moving, feeling, seeing until off I go again. In and out, muddled and clear, it simply is the dance tonight.
On the way back to camp, I stop at the Bone Heart. Crouched down as the stillness of dusk wraps its arms around me, I am still somewhat amazed that the pieces of bone belong to my brother and father—and then I look out at the vast landscape and whisper to them that this is a beautiful place for a piece of them to be.
As I move further down into the drainage, the cooling air and sand get my attention and I suddenly find a piece of my shadow self walking barefoot beside me. It circled me in the dance—dropping down into the earth and reaching up into the sky, round after round. And finally now, it stares me straight in the eye and I can see IT—what ties me up into an egoic knot, this constant companion of self-protecting that separates and kills in one fell swoop the inklings of intimacy. Walking into the descending darkness, the landscape of my being becomes clearer, lighter, and a part of my face falls away.
* * *
I awake in a hint of light—early dawn light before any color touches down. For a moment I forget, roll over and just about begin to doze off when I remember—dawn dance time. Before I can even begin to think about the various options—sleep a little longer, take the dawn off—I am walking up the drainage along a path I have taken for what seems to be since the beginning of time. This place is so familiar to me, and again I recognize the intimacy of our shared presencing.
Before any light has hit the land, I am in the center of the dance space, facing East, ready to begin. Or perhaps it is truer to say, the beginning happened much earlier and I am simply continuing what began as I awoke this morning. And my morning continued from my night dreams which were a continuation from… One continuous flow, marked only in the mind as separate events. In this moment I sense that I am a timeless creature.
Slow, easeful, movement in an effortless flow as light begins to hit the high bluffs—that early morning light that draws out the rose and red of the sandstone cliffs, spreading that blood hue across the still golden sandstone. This moment is so utterly simple and I feel the bare essence of its Grace.
I muse about a person who has been on many retreats here with me who speaks of her vast resistance to this dance at dawn; “I can’t connect with it. It doesn’t have meaning to me.” It comes to me how resistance can become so heavy it wraps anything it catches into a deep sleep. What I realize in this moment—as my feet connect with earth and my body and arms extend outward to all the directions, taking in the landscape as it awakens to the softness of first light—is that meaning has nothing to do with it. Trying to connect to the dance doesn’t even make sense. It is only the simple act of being alive, right here, watching light creep across the land and into my heart—awake and present to time and eternity in the stillpoint of now…now…now. Is there an intention behind and within the dance? Yes…and then we have to let go.
And yet, this eternal quest for meaning chases me as well—it seems a part of our shared humanity. It brings up the image of a silent stalking owl, swooping after the escaping rabbit running from bush to bush, hiding. It is as if death stalks us as a reminder to find the meaning of our existence. And so while we chase it, we can miss its essence right here. Is there an intention behind and within our lives? I believe so…and then we have to let go. Such a subtle and elusive dance, yes?
As I finish my dance ritual, bow to life and bow out of the circle, I move across that wordless quality of light and simply feel deeply that “meaning” is everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. It isn’t about it, it is It. And a great love arises in me. As I continue my walk homeward here in this desert landscape, it is in my witnessing of the simple elegance of the spiderwort, opening to the first light of dawn and warmth of the sun, that I know I am loved.
* * *
I stop at the Bone Heart and touch the chips of bone that are now being held so slightly in place by the growing cryptobiotic soil. The ash of my brother and father’s bodies has long blown away, and only the bone stays, enduring over time as do my memories of them as well. I have always loved bones; they speak to me of the enduring spirit of life. I ponder how long these bone chips will be in this place before time and wind and snow and rain and sun slowly work their magic of dissolution. I look out again at the landscape, today in first light, and realize that for me this is my brother and father’s grave site—being that there is not one formally. It is here their memories lie with mine, where we dance the stories we wove together, and where we will, across time and space, weave newly storied threads that entwine and travel beyond my knowing.
* * *
I have come to deeply love this sacred place, this welcoming home that has held me through innumerable joyous times as well as periods of great turbulence and pain. This land and all of its sentient beings teach me what it is to be alive and who I am as a human being. It is in wild and natural places where I find a great easefulness in untethering my consciousness from the small self of my body. It is not something I try to do or set out to do; it is not something I ritualize or meditate on; it is just the simple loosening of myself outward, sensing into and filling everything around me. This precious little body of mine simply grows very big!
What cherished learning and gifts I take home with me, again. For I see that as the great task, this carrying into the fullness of our lives the truths and questions we find in moments of retreating into the wilderness of silence, stillness, and aloneness that is oh so not alone. What abundance cradles us in its vast embrace.
There is a wonderful moment in Louise Erdrich’s book, The Last Report on the Miracles of Little No Horse, where Father Damien (Agnes) poses the question to her congregation of snakes that live under the rock upon which she has built her church “What is the question we spend our entire lives asking?” And then answers, “Our question is this: are we loved? I don’t mean by one another.” She goes on to say, “I am like you, curious and small. Like you, I pause alertly and open my senses to try to read the air, the clouds, the sun’s slant, the little movements of the animals, all in the hope I will learn the secret of whether I am loved.”
As I bow out of this sacred place and gather into myself all the truths, questions and pointers that have been graciously given to me, I begin my trek homeward with no doubt whatsoever that I am loved.