Being in Nature

Wolf Full Moon

January 21, 2021

I glance at the moon so round and full of light, feeling Her pull on my heart—magnet to magnet. I enjoy a stunning moment of connection. Thinking I’ve had the experience, I go inside but She keeps calling to me. “You haven’t really seen me,” she tugs. Chastened, I step outside and take ten gentle breaths as I allow myself to be receptive to the what is, itself, receptive. Something tangible but hard to put into words—let’s call it love—flows between us. I feel taken in and seen.

According to ancient legend, the January full moon is called Wolf moon because the wolves are cold and howling. This evening is warm and there are no wolves howling. The cat comes from the shadows and stands beside me, her black coat glistening in the moonlight. Her round yellow eyes, like moons, pierce the darkness. Mindfully, we gaze at the moon in perfect silence and the moon gazes back to us. Understanding is complete.

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Being in Nature

December 8, 2021

One morning, recently, I walked to the little pond near my house. While standing there, the Mystery opened its arms and took me in. A big breeze suddenly swooped down and ran its fingers across the still water, gathering the light and spreading it across the surface of the water—as though heaven had spilled all its jewels in this little pond with its frogs and its turtles—its little fish darting about. My eyes took in the light. Time had stopped momentarily. My soul quivered with aliveness. I had miraculously fallen into the space between worlds, between the words and lines and stories we tell ourselves.

Later my eye found a tiny bird lying on Earth. Its little body was rigid. The little head limp and broken. No more life here. I once held a little bird in my hand as it died. I felt the life force leave so palpably. One moment a trembling little thing with its heart thumping against my hand. The next moment, the soul had flown away. Years ago, I witnessed my father’s last breath. Moments before, he unburdened his soul asking in his way for forgiveness. My mother took her last breath when I left the room to go to the bathroom. Their souls departed the body temple for another world.

All these experiences took me to the same place—a place of perfect emptiness.  All day I rejoiced in the beauty of my life with all its joys and sufferings. The beauty of nature I love so dearly. Tonight, I held nature’s beauty alongside the beauty of death. I found myself wondering about what beauty looks like in the next world. Will there be forests and mountains and oceans? Will there be ponds full of turtles, fish and sparkling stars? Will there be hands to hold as loved ones pass away? Will there be the light of the heavens sparkling across the surface of the waters? Will I once more see my beloved parents who gave me life?  I step into the Mystery…

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Being in Nature

October 25, 2021

The perch hangs motionless in the murky water, its dark frozen eyes open wide to the sky. Its pectoral fins motionless. It died here on the South Fork of the Guadalupe River on a crisp fall day with a yellow nylon cord threaded through its gills. A man-made rope not intended for this purpose but just as deadly. Almost everything humans create spells unintended death to other species. Whether pesticides that are killing the bees and soil microorganisms; tall skyscrapers that become magnets of light for migrating birds; or highways, cars and trucks that can lay a deer flat against its fate. Even the tiny ant is at the mercy of our careless feet. Today it’s the little perch strangled and dangling in the dark murky waters of the Guadalupe. Looking up at us with no hope in its wide-open eyes.

As a child I attended summer camp on the Guadalupe not far from here. On one of our field trips, we were taken to see the footprints of a dinosaur. Our excitement was effervescent as we bent down to press our small hands against solid creek bed, touching ancient history—so old we pre-teens couldn’t grasp it intellectually. Yet we knew it, smelled it, experienced it all the same. The footprints—I think there were two—were embedded in the limestone creek bottom. Maybe it was a drought year. The creek bed was dry and chalky. We talked about those tracks for years.

Who knows if it was a made-up story or real dinosaur tracks? I do know we wanted desperately to believe the tracks were real. We wanted to believe that we were somehow connected to this ancient past—to the mystery of the universe, to these enormous prints of a terrifying creature that lived eons ago. We wanted to touch the faraway with hands and hearts in the present. We wanted to believe in the Mystery.

We wanted to believe in deep time and the connections of one thing to every other thing. Science has proven at the most basic level that we are connected to everything that ever existed. We are connected to the dinosaurs. We are connected to the birds. We are connected to the fish. Even more profoundly, everything is connected all the way back to the beginning times through the DNA of stardust. Indeed, we are made of stardust. Luminous, sparkling effervescence. We are made of each other. We are midlines wrapped in never-ending spirals connecting the Great Emergence event with endless tangles of lives lived and died, each one bequeathing its starry radiance to the evolving body of the whole.

We launch the old silver canoe, named Mon Ark, and glide along the river of light, content with life despite clear evidence that death awaits every one of us—and all too soon. We humans have laid a trap with unintended consequences with our materialistic lifestyle. The gills of civilization are choking on our man-made and unbiodegradable waste—the yellow nylon cords are everywhere. Will we wake up before we meet the perch’s fate? Fins evolved into limbs. Lungs evolved to replace gills. Will we protect our lungs and the lungs of the planet—promising the continuation of life on Earth far into the future?

I am a being of hope. The river connects us to the past and can lead us into the future if we will only get in the canoe and paddle forward together. We are journeying toward the ocean—toward a grand reunion with our source. There are rapids ahead and we may have to get out and carry the canoe in places, helping each other, but unless the river dries up, we will arrive at the sea. A river is an alive being, a companion, a way forward. A river runs through all our lives, leading us to a better future.

Humans seem inclined to live only in the present, detached from the past and anything we might have learned about how to live in reciprocity with each other and with nature, including the more than human world. Living only in the present is not the same as living in the present moment which means living with awareness of the interconnectedness of all life.  Living only in the present keeps us landlocked and isolated. And therefore, we seem unable to move toward the future we all long for—a true and beautiful life. The life we were meant to have. The life that was entrusted to us.

At dusk, I sit on the green, grassy lawn which rolls down to the water’s edge. I am experiencing a deep peace. In the distance I hear a gunshot just as a monarch butterfly flits silently past. My body shivers at the piercing sound yet, somehow, I hold these two realities tenderly, allowing them to co-exist. The shadows lengthen. A day well-spent reveling in the natural world nourishing our dry hearts which now can feed the world with our fine-tuned attention. J. Krishnamurti said attention is love. Yes. It is love—our gift to give.

I walk down to the river to say goodbye to the perch. I’ve been thinking about this fish all day and wondering about its curious fate. I look down into the dark water. The fish is no longer hanging near the surface. No empty, wide-open eyes staring upward. Confused, I pull the yellow nylon cord out of the water. There is no fish attached and no sign of fish. Gone!  I was so sure she was dead. She must have been. How is it possible? I can feel my heart beating as I search for understanding.

It is dark now.  As I walk up to the cottage, bedding-down birds lurch from the trees in a sudden rush. A flurry of flapping feathers caused by our passing presence. We are surrounded by trees filled with birds, preparing to sleep. There’s something comforting about knowing we are surrounded by tiny heartbeats. All night we sleep together–dreaming river dreams. The Guadalupe flows on…

Post Script

Last night I dreamed a new-born baby was tossed in the water. Instantly, she turned into a fish—a little perch—and began to swim. I was worried and dived down to ‘rescue’ her. She jumped from my hands back into the water and continued her joyful explorations of a much bigger world beyond the womb. Perhaps future humans will develop gills so we can return to the waters—to learn lessons we have forgotten. To experience the freedom and joy that is our birthright.

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The Field

The Field

There’s a field, said Rumi, outside all ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing. I’ll meet you there. I wonder about that field so different from the one we live in most of the time—a field we are constantly creating with our thoughts, words and actions. Yet beneath that seemingly solid field lies another one—a pre-existing field not made by human hands. Spun of the very breath of God—spun so finely it is invisible to the outer senses. Only the heart can sense it. Over this gossamer field, the divine breath created the world of nature as a gateway and gave us inner senses to mirror the outer—to apprehend it.

Just now, I’m sitting on a rock in the middle of a dry creek bed. I think I’m present, but my mind is playing with ideas about being present. Suddenly, through grace, the invisible world breaks through to me. I’m still sitting on the rock but now the breeze has come and gathered the leaves and branches of the great sycamores in its arms, and scooped me up and delivered me into the treetops. My being has been stretched and expanded.

Clouds float by, observing my body still sitting on the rock—the rest of me already merged with this invisible field that is inseparable from everything.  I have risen out of the core of my being and flowed into this field where there’s no judging, no comparing, no criticizing. Here there is only beauty flowing into beauty. I feel that I am a body participating in a greater body—the body of the universe that is not some distant place, but exactly here. The universe is a body flowing into my body and out into the field of beingness that holds me, that holds everything. For a few moments, I am completely naked. I experience the harmony of the universe, here on this rock, in this creek bed, listening to the wind in the sycamores. And for a moment, the people and animals who pass through this field in front of me are part of the field, and because we are naked, kindness flows between us. This is the field Rumi wrote about—the field outside all ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing. I’ll meet you there.

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Meditation and the Wondrous Cell—Healing Self and World

Cell Level Meditation by Patricia Kay and Barry Grundland is an important book to hold in our hands during these times of crisis. The wisdom about Health contained within this small book is vast. The fundamental message that the health of the body depends upon the health of the individual cell is no surprise to those who pay attention to such things. What is surprising is the delightfully simple way Kay tells the story of the cell and its magnitudes of potentiality. Healing, she tells us, may be as simple as learning how to feel, relate to, and communicate with this tiniest unit of life—the wondrous cell!

Cell Level Meditation was pioneered by Dr. Barry Grundland, MD, Kay’s mentor and collaborator. In a down-to-earth conversational tone, Kay augments scientific knowledge with her own knowledge based on years of experience working with critically ill patients, adding sweet servings of wisdom through stories and poetry.

The poetry—much of it by Kay—and the mystical poets Rumi and Hafiz, reaches into the cells of our being with a message of hope and Health. One of the most beautiful poems by Kay speaks of the Great Mystery alive in every cell. “Within the silence / of the silence / Just when you think you can’t bear it / another minute / And the ache of longing in your chest / is beyond belief / And the lump in your throat / is stinging your ears / And the howling of your yearning / ends in silence / Within the silence / of that silence / A new heaven opens.”

Cell Level Meditation is a book about meditation—using meditation to access the intelligence in every cell of the body in order to heal the body. Equally, it is a spiritual text guiding us on our life’s journey, which is always a journey of healing. Kay understands that healing is wholeness and this includes body, heart and soul. She manages to share these ancient wisdoms in such a clear, simple, and accessible way. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone on the planet.

Cell Level Meditation is available on-line: http://www.innertraditions.com where you can get a 25% discount. It’s also available on Amazon.

Stay tuned. Next I’ll be reviewing a new poetry book by my dear friend Barbara Schmitz, Sundown at Faith Regional.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

I don’t usually write about books I’ve read on this blog but I am making an exception for a wonderul book I read this summer by Ari Honarvar called A Girl Called Rumi. One of the perks of being more self-contained during Covid has been more time for reading. I hope you enjoy.

War, Poetry and Magical Realism

A Girl Called Rumi, Ari Honarvar’s debut novel, is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Honarvar carefully weaves the tragic history of family and country into a mysterious story guided by the great mystical teachings of ancient Persia. Throughout the book, which blends the harsh reality of war with the literary mode of magical realism, we are transported back and forth between Shiraz, Iran in 1981, San Diego, U.S.A in 2009, and the realm beyond the physical world where magic is the coin of the day and all things are possible.

In the first chapter we are introduced to the essential themes of the novel. On one side, fundamentalist political repression, war, trauma, and its effects on families, communities and country. On the other side, friendship, poetry, the transformative power of storytelling, and the great abiding truth that humans are in their core governed by kindness and goodness with a capacity for healing and reconciliation.

As the story begins, we meet Kimia—a rebellious nine-year old budding feminist determined to push the envelope of personal freedom as far as she can. Not easy in the midst of a brutal war with Iraq with regular aerial bombings and a very repressive Islamic regime installed in 1979.  In Kimia’s world, it is small acts of defiance that give her the will to persist through the extreme conditions imposed by war and the Islamic regime. It is her love of poetry and storytelling that shelters her from the worst of her traumas. Honarvar generously offers us verses of the great mystical poets, Rumi, Hafiz, and Saadi sprinkled like delicate spices throughout the book in a call and response between Kimia and the storyteller, Baba Morshid, and Kimia and her mother, Roya [Maman or mother].

Roya, who is a poet, suffers from war-induced PTSD and has become violent and abusive with Kimia. One of the many strengths of the novel is the portrayal of the mother’s humanity despite being “besotted with the splendor of her own madness.” She is wildly passionate and violent one moment, and the next reciting Rumi and bestowing great tenderness on Kimia. For Persians poetry is life. It is a path of resilience under the most difficult circumstances. Poetry never fails. One senses an irrepressible joy that bleeds through even in the midst of grief and loss. In fact, Honarvar writes that she sees joy as a revolutionary act.

The mystical undertones that flow throughout the story are revealed in the first chapter as Kimia encounters the storyteller while out to buy some bread for dinner. There in the middle of Felekeh Ghasrodasht Square is a makeshift stage. Baba Morshed is telling the story of the mythical bird—the giant Simorgh with her emerald green eyes who appears as a giant shadow puppet behind the screen as he speaks.  

Kimia is transfixed by the storyteller’s voice and his penetrating gaze which he has focused on her. She is transfixed by the movements of the Simorgh and doesn’t realize that in that moment an Iraqi bomb has exploded nearby and people are screaming and running away. In the middle of the mayhem, she stands utterly still, gazing at the storyteller who is smiling at her. Her older brother, Arman, comes to rescue her, and we begin to learn about the difficult family dynamics between the war-traumatized and abusive mother and a rebellious young girl.

Honarvar uses 13th century Sufi poet Fariduddin Attar’s Seven Valleys of Love as a framework for Kimia’s spiritual journey which is a journey of healing. In Attar’s story which unfolds skillfully as a story within the story, thousands of birds gather, called by the Hoopoe bird, to learn about this journey through seven valleys to the final valley where they will encounter the great Simorgh and become free.  Each valley presents obstacles that must be overcome. Thousands begin the journey with the Valley of the Quest but only a few birds arrive in the end to the Valley of Death and beyond to life.

Kimia unknowingly begins her quest after she discovers a secret trap door beneath the stage the day after the bombing. She ventures within and sees the giant Simorgh with its emerald eye which falls out as though offered as a gift to her. She steps into an underground room filled with trees, shelves of books, and one great book, unopened on the desk. The table is set with tea for two as though she has been expected. The storyteller appears and the magic begins!

The surface story moves between Iran and San Diego—a twenty-eight-year leap from past to present and back to the past.  In San Diego, we see the damaged lives of Kimia, her mother, Roya, and her older brother Arman. Page by page we see how each one has made a kind of truce with the past but the ceasefire has not led to peace. On the contrary, there are personal wars still being fought on a daily basis. The mystical story flows beneath past and present time, like a silent river.

The present rejoins the past when Roya decides to return to Iran where she hopes to die. Both Kimia and Arman accompany her. Through a cascade of events, missing pieces of the past come together. Unacknowledged grief surfaces as the secrets that have haunted each one now emerge from the darkness of repression. In a final piece of magical realism, as the story reaches toward its conclusion, Kimia returns to the storyteller’s den beneath the stage. Here the child she once was meets the adult she has become as she encounters the final Valley of Death. It’s a delightful ending full of surprise twists and turns.

As readers we are potentially more than witnesses to the story. We have also passed through each of the seven valleys, along with our cast of characters, including Attar’s birds, often reflecting on our life’s journey and its obstacles.  As I put the finishing touches on this review, a bird flies past my window and lands in a nearby tree. It’s a young broad-winged hawk. I think she senses me looking at her as she tilts her head in my direction. Is her appearance just now random? I don’t think so. There is magic afoot. Did you think this was not also your story? Keep watch for the birds. They will come. They will bring transformation.

If you love magical realism and poetry, you will love this book. If you love stories of transformation, you will love this book.  If you love sad stories with a happy ending, you will love this book. A Girl Called Rumi is—from beginning to end—an enchanting and life-affirming read. I highly recommend it.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

July 9, 2021

I return to the creek, again and again, as long as the water is flowing. I immerse my body in the cool fluids and hang loose as the clouds in this watery medium. Being in water connects us with the pre-eternal—the forever part of us that is always at home. Today, I return again in the evening to enjoy the water before the July heat sucks it into its deep pockets and the creek is bare.

It’s raining gently. Each drop forms a perfect circle rippling across the water’s surface—creating an infinitesimal world unto itself for an instant before merging with all the other drops. Each radiating circle is a never-ending lily pad made of water and light.

I watch as the drops multiply—forming circles within circles, each one interlocking with all the others like a Celtic knot. So many interlocking circles and waves radiating out make me feel dizzy—a psychedelic experience.  I wonder where all this water energy goes. Certainly, some of it has come to me. As I write these words, I still feel the aliveness. The trees feel it, I’m sure, and the wild ones that live nearby or pass through these parts—deer, fox, coyote, armadillo, and muskrat. No doubt the frogs and toads rejoice as they jump through these invisible lily pads.

Last week, kayaking in the Pacific Northwest during the extreme heat wave, we came upon a vast field of real water lily pads sparkling in the early morning light. The pads grow in family clusters, their cords intertwined, all spiraling up together from the floor of the lake. The tiny pads can’t drift far from each other and so they live in small units, part of a larger collective. Imagine a vast field of these little clusters, together collecting and reflecting the light. Monet would have been thrilled. I’m sure he would have painted the absent water lilies. Water is all about light. Water is the medium and the message. Water is the present and future. Without it we will fry. Water is life.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

June 24, 2021

I place my feet in the cold, clear water. For a precious moment, I am the only human in paradise. The little pool with its rapids is so inviting. Small river stones come shining up through the light-soaked water. The trees are full of breathing birds. Their songs flow into the early morning air. The ear of my heart opens with delight. The eyes of my skin open with curiosity. Turtle head peaks in and out of water. The sun’s rays splinter and fall on the trees across the creek, arousing the life-force in me. I hadn’t planned to swim this morning but my natural self—the one who knows she isn’t separate from water—or any other element—suddenly decides to slip into this water world. For a few eternal moments, I am a whole being, known to myself and known to the world around me. Just blue sky. Just the clear water. Just the little rapids. Just the rocks. Just the roar of nothingness flowing over the rocks. Just this roaring silence erasing what was. Just this. Just now—in wholeness.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

May 31

I know a tree—a magnificent live-oak. A world unto itself. It lives and breathes here in this place as it has for hundreds of years.  A towering presence—a grandmother tree, well over 40 feet tall. Its trunk and branches rise the heavenly way—so high I can’t see the tops of the branches.  Its long undulating arms stretch horizontally in all directions, offering resting places for birds, squirrels, lizards, geckos, cicadas, tree frogs, and other crawling critters. This splendorous tree grows alone in a restaurant patio, providing ample shade and a lively natural atmosphere, making the restaurant a very inviting place to be. We dine here from time to time, just to sit in her company.

What interests me today is the monumental girth of the trunk and how it meets earth. This solid mass just seems to disappear into the soil. Actually, of course, the tree has grown out of the soil, adding girth year by year with no evidence of disturbance to the surrounding soil.  Beneath lies a mass of hungry roots nourishing the tree—roots that reach out and intermingle with other trees in a web of interdependence. A silent world, invisible to us.

Tracing the meeting point of trunk and land around the circumference, I imagine the irregularities of bark creating a shoreline with many little coves. The brown mass becomes a sheer cliff whose base disappears like roots beneath the soil. I think of Italy—the cliffs along the Mediterranean creating another shoreline in another time. Places to explore, to discover. I want to get down on my knees and crawl around this magnificent tree pulsing with life with its inviting shoreline but—you know—I’m an adult. Instead, I imagine with my microscopic eye the tiny details where tree trunk meets earth as it has for centuries, where cliff and ocean meet as they have forever.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

May 12, 2021

The whole universe is but an immanence of beauty. –Hazrat Inayat Khan

Beauty expresses itself brilliantly in the way life returns its constituent elements to earth. I’m sitting on a felled tree, quietly giving itself to Earth. Here, in the magic place where the waters gather after a big rain, turning the stones and tree roots mossy green. Today I notice a pile of sawdust on the ground near my feet. My eyes follow the trail back to the trunk. I see a large round hole. Some sawdust hangs like Spanish moss from the edge of the hole. Little beings are carving out a home for themselves or some other creature. Every being makes a home for itself where it can, whether ants or human, whether inside a log or in a tent alongside the freeway. Whether in a refugee camp on the edge of a war zone or in a gated community, among the privileged.

This tree trunk is slowly rotting away on the forest floor, giving itself back to earth, while offering a home to some tiny creatures who will assist the tree in returning the elements to their source. What a harmonious arrangement. What beauty! And one day these same elements will arise in a new form, made possible by the natural process of destruction. What beauty!

Perfect beauty necessarily includes the sublime sense of grandeur and awe at the incomprehensibility of the creation and the tides of destruction that feed creation. A tree has given up its life and has become the source of life. I sit here in amazement, gazing at the perfection of creation. I hope when my time comes to give this body back to Earth, I will yield as gracefully as this great tree, surrendering the elements that held my form together back into the great cycle of creation—the cycle of birth, death, and regeneration.

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