The Clearing at the Water’s Edge

There have now been a great many times when I have crossed over from the temporal awareness of everyday life and ventured deliberately and purposefully into the world within. Inevitably, as I travel inward, I have found myself visualizing imagery of what I would characterize as a clearing, where I always seem to go when I go within. Before breaking through the layers of this deeper awareness, I seem to initially have to force my way through the deep underbrush and navigate through an ocean of trees before I eventually see the light on the outskirts of the trees. As I approach this clearing, the light brightens, and I notice that my pace quickens.

 

I break through into the clearing, and far in the distance, I see the mountains; I see the other side of the forest; I see the beginning of the trees ascending the mountain, and I see the water’s edge. When I raise my eyes, and embrace that moment, I know that I have arrived in that place, in that clearing, where all things are possible. It took me a very long time to understand that what I was encountering in these moments of introspection was simply being inside of myself. I have been the whole time wondering what it all meant. I would often ask myself, why do I arrive at this clearing? Why is it so beautiful and so warm and so inviting and so natural, when I know that I am actually sitting peacefully in my room, or languishing on a summer’s day on the back deck, or sitting in a camp chair as the sun descends, and how can it be that I feel such unity with all life? This is the feeling I get when I go within and I find this clearing and walk toward the center, but I don’t ever seem to arrive at the water’s edge.

 

It seems, even as I traverse this clearing and approach what feels like the edge, I never seem to get there. I used to suppose that perhaps this was a kind of signal to me that I’m not quite there yet, even after all this time, and I have had experiences, certain moments within, where I could smell the water, and almost taste the vapor from the water as it blew in the wind toward my face. I would often think to myself afterwards, this is just a torment. I would get so close, but I just wasn’t there yet.

 

Strange as it may seem, there were also instances, when I would close my eyes as I came out from the forest into the clearing, where I would encounter what felt like an energetic force or some kind of vaguely personal spiritual guidance. Somehow, I had the sense that the same dilemma was taking place on the other side, and that this energetic source was also perplexed in the same way.

 

These experiences have led me to suppose, the reason for this might be that achieving a degree of closeness to the edge without actually arriving, and recognizing a degree of urgency in seeking to reach the water’s edge, presents me with a kind of threshold between the two worlds. In attending to the beautiful stillness, calm, and warmth which surrounds me in this clearing, I recognize that these moments are treasures. Even as I wander quietly through this space, I can sense the gentle rhythm of my heart beating in my chest; I can appreciate the sensation of warmth, and inhale the scent of the water, and it always seems to calm me. It also reminds me that there is much to be gained from the work detecting and exploring our inner evolution.

 

What has become apparent to me in my own explorations is an affirmation of the previous counsel of a valued mentor, which expressed how we often find ourselves seeking the path, when we are actually already on the path; whatever we are experiencing or enduring at this moment is the path. In all my searching, it never really occurred to me that the searching itself was the path. Now as I approach the “autumn of my years,” brilliant, colorful, extraordinary, and spiritually challenging, I sense not just the beauty, the vibrant colors, and the release from the sweltering heat of summer, but rather I feel the embrace of the release from those challenges, and hope that the transition within me endures a while longer than the traditional autumn season.

 

As is often the case, upon returning to the temporal world after such explorations, I am once again reminded, that true bliss can be found within, but it is not confined to that world. As time progresses, it becomes clearer that the lines are blurred a bit more than we sometimes suppose between our experience of the physical world and that which is possible to know when we travel within. All the efforts we make to expand our knowledge and understanding, all the research and writing, all the searching, hoping, and daydreaming—all of it—has been in the interest of sharpening the focus of awareness of the true nature of both our temporal and spiritual existence.

Auguries of Autumn

As is often the case with the approach of the autumn season, I can strongly sense that change is coming, and it’s not just in the dazzling panoply of autumn leaves. My spirit—my soul—the very essence of my existence—is rising. I feel its approach; I sense its immanent arrival; and I welcome it. I understand well now, from considering and investigating a variety of experiences over a number of decades, that there will likely be aspects of what is to come, which may not be easily explained in simple terms. Not all of it will be comforting, or logical, or immediately seem sensible, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that those who read my thoughts and feelings and descriptions of sensations and experiences—any who do—begin to look within themselves, to consider whether or not the events of their own lives might contain even the smallest intimations of a similar character, and to explore those connections, in spite of how inconsequential they may seem on the surface.

As I approach the proverbial edges of my life—along the increasingly precarious ledge of my existence—I look out across the landscape of years, and I can see an expansive collection of naturally occurring, but personally significant vistas stretching out toward the horizon, while also acknowledging an unflinching awareness of the miniscule components of this very moment now. I cannot say what will come of all this. I cannot predict how life will unfold, but I do know that my senses, my cognitive capacities, my perceptions of reality—the reality that I know every day—is infused with the spirit.

While I cannot necessarily dispel all the doubts of those who prefer materialistic or empirical proofs, subjectively, within my inner world, there is a certainty that does not cease. There is a progression of consciousness—a fulfillment of the promise represented in the experiences that have occurred throughout my life. The potentialities I have uncovered in the course of my investigations are starting to ring true, as they coalesce into possibilities, and as the implications for a greater understanding of the nature of our humanity become clearer.

In my heart and mind, and in my very soul, I sense the coming of change. As we look around at the world in which we currently exist, many of us might wish to characterize the events transpiring all around us as “the beginning of the end.” I see it differently. To me, it seems much more like the beginning of a transition—a gradual abandonment of the old ways, trending toward the embrace of new ways to come.

In doing so, we should not abandon our senses. We should not abandon our advances in science and technology; we should simply recognize that certain thresholds continue to present themselves, which are currently perplexing because we cannot seem to traverse them or to reach beyond them. Eventually, we may, at some point in the future, be able to unravel some of these mysteries through the application of empirical processes, and the continued pursuit of science is an essential and noble undertaking. But even with tens of thousands of years of existence as functionally cognitive and sentient human beings, one thing remains true. There are still significant barriers to our understanding, and in all of my explorations, I haven’t seen anything to dissuade me from subjectively affirming a positive and enriching growth in understanding that can only be attributable to forces and energies that could very well be, beyond empirical confirmation.

Throughout my life, I have had numerous interactions with the natural world, during which I would be, in certain clear ways, isolated and insulated from my “civilized” and predictable experience of modern life, which would then be supplanted by an experience of unbridled natural involvement that brought about an altered state of consciousness. Within the seemingly limitless boundaries of what Emerson described as “the plantations of God,” ambling through primeval forests, resting upon the precarious edges of mountain cliffs, experiencing the often astonishingly captivating symphonies of nature, at times, I am gripped by the influence of…

…an ocean of trees,

…raging rivers,

…and tranquil lakes.

During such episodes, one cannot help but sense the energetic vibrations coursing through the varieties of living organisms that surround the visitor upon reflection, suggesting both a visceral and an insubstantial connection to every living entity. Carl Jung once expressed the experience of nature and being a physical creature in a physical universe that somehow includes an experience of unity of all life and all existence:

In his later life, Jung wrote reflectively about how he arrived at many of his insights while exploring the human psyche, and concluded that:

“…no experimental methodology ever has or ever will succeed in capturing the essence of the human soul, or even so much as tracing out an approximately faithful picture of its complex manifestations.”

The role of subjective experience in defining human consciousness cannot be minimized, but while the mysterious link between the two may be vital to our awareness of its existence, it seems to me that such experience can more accurately be described as the foundation of or as a catalyst for connecting to the universe of consciousness.

I am starting to see more sympathetic responses to my reports of these investigations, striking chords of familiarity with those who encounter them—individuals from all across the world—many of whom have stopped to visit and share their own ideas. It is difficult to predict what the outcome of all these efforts might be, but the importance of following this path remains clear. I must continue to pursue my research, to write about and share my heartfelt and considered feelings regarding my own subjective experiences, and to attempt to interpret and reveal whatever layers of meaning might be inferred as a result.

Countryside Contemplation

View from Blue Ridge Parkway in southwestern Virginia

There are few experiences for frequent highway travelers that can compare with the exceptional countryside road views available along the highways within the Blue Ridge Mountain range, which stretches from northern Georgia all the way up to Pennsylvania.

Recent camping trips have resulted in several wonderful opportunities for both sustained hours of contemplation, and for producing some remarkable images along the variety of roads and some lovely trails leading through the scenic areas surrounding the campgrounds in Virginia. As a consequence of being able to enjoy these opportunities, a number of avenues of exploration have opened for me, and in the coming weeks I hope to share postings which will include the fruits of those opportunities, both in the visual sense through photo essays, as well as in a spiritual and philosophical sense through the expression of my contemplative efforts and recorded thoughts from the numerous visits to the various natural landscapes in these areas.

Traversing the countryside in a motor vehicle is one of the best ways to get a broad appreciation of the scope of natural beauty and wide expanses available to visit, and frequently you can encounter alternative and unfamiliar points of interest which you can either stop and explore immediately, or perhaps make a note to schedule a visit at a later time. Sometimes, while on the way to a planned stop, pausing to take in a scenic overlook can provide a wonderful opportunity to be inspired and to appreciate the advantage of serendipity for sharing in nature’s bounty.

By far, some of the most beneficial and inspiring scenes are more often attainable by stepping out of the vehicle, and hiking along the trails and visiting the many visitor centers which can provide helpful information about the most interesting sites contained within the state and national park system. Trails can vary from leisurely and easy walks through tried and true paths for the casual visitor, all the way to some of the more challenging hikes through rugged terrain.

One of my more recent trips into nature’s gardens provided an especially fruitful time in contemplation, and included the chance to review a volume of philosophical writings by Descartes received as a gift from my brother at Christmas. Safely nestled in the bosom of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I encountered a passage that seemed to be describing the very path of my life:

“As soon as I was old enough to emerge from the control of my teachers, I entirely abandoned the study of letters. Resolving to seek no knowledge other than that which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world, I spent the rest of my youth travelling, visiting courts and armies, mixing with people of diverse temperaments and ranks, gathering various experiences, testing myself in the situations which fortune offered me, and at all times reflecting upon whatever came my way so as to derive some profit from it…”

“…For it seemed to me that much more truth could be found in the reasonings which a man makes concerning matters that concern him than in those which some scholar makes in his study about speculative matters. For the consequences of the former will soon punish the man if he judges wrongly, whereas the latter have no practical consequences and no importance for the scholar except that perhaps the further they are from common sense the more pride he will take in them, since he will have had to use so much more skill and ingenuity in trying to render them plausible. And it is always my most earnest desire to learn to distinguish the true from the false in order to see clearly into my own actions and proceed with confidence in this life.”

–from “Discourse On The Method,” by Rene Descartes, published in 1644

In the weeks to come, I will be enlarging and expanding on the clear association between communing with nature apart from most all familiar modern amenities, (with the exception of the devices for photography and recording my thoughts for posterity) with the emergence of important life lessons, philosophical writings, and a greater well-being as an individual struggling with the meaning and purpose of his remaining years on this earth.

In a recent communication with a dear friend, I reported a brief defense of this association in this way:

“You can almost hear your heart beating in the stillness of early morning in the forest. There is a reflection of life across the still lake waters at dawn. It is humbling and life-affirming to look out at beautiful mountain vistas. All of nature reflects all of life…”

“And don’t forget to unplug your earbuds or headphones and to walk without any sound except what nature provides, and look within. There is more wisdom available in one hour of stillness in Nature’s gardens, than you could ever hope to find…(elsewhere)”

…more to come…

September Journey

Lake and forest

“There is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires.” — Henry David Thoreau from his essay, “Walking,” 1862

Once again, after a long hiatus due to the complications of modern life, I had the privilege of traveling into nature’s cathedral, unwinding from the relentless demands of daily life, and drifting into the comfort of the forest womb; the embrace with the natural world, far from every routine concern, reminded me of my mother’s embrace–comforting, consoling, warm and loving–and after a time, I began to sense the rise of my battered spirit. As the serenity and stillness of the wilderness area overtook the relentless sense of chaos, and gradually lessened the normal need for the sustained efforts to keep it at bay, the flow of thoughts and waves of expression rose and fell within me, much to my delight. Although it is not without effort, I generally allow the flow to guide me, and willingly follow my natural inclinations to indulge in expressing whatever arises within me without prejudice or conscious inhibition as the surges appear and recede.

20150906_155733

“We would fain take that walk, never yet taken by us through this actual world, which is perfectly symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal world; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in our idea.” — Henry David Thoreau from his essay, “Walking,” 1862

This recent journey through the woods and mountains has allowed me time to dwell in silence and solitude in what Emerson described as “the plantations of God,” and afforded me both the time and the opportunity to break through to my inner world once again. Of particular note are a number of photographs like those on this page, deliberately composed and refined as illustrations of both my writing efforts and as testimony to the scope and depth of beauty available to the discerning eye. In ways I have not previously attempted, this year I gave some advanced thought to the composition and creation of the images, conjuring in my mind beforehand what might best suggest the thoughts I was recording throughout my stay in the wilderness area, providing me with a more focused attention to specific ideas which I envisioned, based on what I was recording directly from the flow within.

landscape2a

“There is, in fact, a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life.” — Henry David Thoreau from his essay, “Walking,” 1862

There’s something about “what it’s like” to wake up in the deep woods in the Alleghany Mountains that is very much “unlike” waking up in my bedroom at home. Although I generally find myself reasonably content to be waking up at all, there is a unique pleasure that accompanies the early morning hours under the forest canopy in the mountains that has always seemed to lift my spirits and ease the burdens I generally carry in a way that few other experiences seem to accomplish. The subtle sounds of nature and the stillness that permeates the very air you breathe are uncommonly soothing to the human spirit, and, for me, these signals tell me I am far removed from the daily routines of ordinary or everyday life, and that I have crossed over into “wilderness mode.”

coffee2

It is, of course, not totally wild nor completely isolated from civilization per Se, since I am conducting the morning coffee ritual in a state park in western Maryland near the border of West Virginia, but I am surrounded by a natural forest landscape, complete with a host of forest creatures, abundant trees and plants, and only a few concessions to human comfort in order to allow myself to enjoy both the familiar and the extraordinary aspects of being alive and away from home.

blogger woods

With only a minimal nod to 21st century technology in typing these words on my laptop computer, which lends itself more readily to the constant editing I need to do, and capturing a variety of the moments of the abundant pleasures available to forest visitors with a digital camera, most every other aspect of my day requires a more human type of intervention. Everything I eat is prepared on either a camp stove or propane grill, coffee is brewed in a small percolator pot, and all perishable items are kept in coolers with ice to prevent spoiling.

forest4

It’s not Robinson Caruso or Henry Thoreau’s cabin in the woods, but it is sufficiently removed from the everyday world to allow me to focus my attention more easily on my inner experience and to engage in contemplation without the usual barrage of interruptions and distractions. Sitting here sipping my coffee, while I look out into the ocean of trees and greenery that surrounds me, is an ideal way to start any day by my reckoning, and the pervasive near-silence of the natural surroundings feels much more like total silence than any typical everyday experience.

It is particularly noticeable when I set myself to reading or writing by hand, which I still continue to do as the spirit moves me, that I am able to fully lose myself in the task in a way that normally happens only sporadically in my office at home. Removing every normal distraction and simply engaging myself in attending to these activities sometimes makes it seem like I am the only living creature on the planet in those moments. It’s not something I would wish for at length, and I also enjoy commiserating with my fellow camping enthusiasts as the opportunity presents itself, but I must admit that it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the camping experience to disconnect entirely from the rest of humanity for a short time, and to simply commune with my own thoughts and to be with myself, even for just a while

light hall2

“I took a walk…the other afternoon. I saw the setting sun lighting up the opposite of a stately pine wood. Its golden rays struggled in to the aisles of wood as into some noble hall.” — Henry David Thoreau from his essay, “Walking,” 1862

Occasionally, when I tell others about my experiences while camping, they seem to want to enumerate all the disadvantages of vacationing in the silence and solitude, not to mention sharing the experience with all the creatures of the natural environment. There are a number of concessions, precautions, and extra steps to maintain a reasonable degree of comfort while participating in life in the woods, but none of them seem especially daunting to me, especially considering the benefits which accompany the experience. Observing a modest regimen of caution and attention to safety and avoiding encounters with unwelcome forest visitors does require some effort and preparation, but having been a camping enthusiast for more than twenty years has given me a fair idea of what to do in this regard. There’s no better way to learn about these issues than to encounter them in the wild, and here are some of the main points to consider in order to mitigate the disadvantages:

1. Write up a checklist and double check all items before you depart – It’s always a good idea to write down the most essential items for camping in the woods, and there’s nothing quite so deflating as arriving at your site missing an important item. Tent campers need a way of putting stakes in the ground without resorting to looking for a rock or other heavy object. You have to bring extra socks and underwear, basic non-perishable food items, complete array of tent components, and a minimal number of kitchen items for preparing food. Keeping the remainder of what you bring along to a minimum will be appreciated when you are preparing to pull up your stakes and head home.

2. Build your campsite as though it will rain every single day – There have been a number of occasions when the camping trip became an endurance run when it rained repeatedly during the trip. Once you have experienced a week of constant rain in the woods without preparation, you will probably never do it again. It is possible to still enjoy such a visit if you prepare in advance. Suspending either a large tarp or several smaller tarps in just the right way over your campsite can divert nearly all the rain away from your tent and provide a moisture free environment for sleeping regardless of how much it rains.

3. Prepare for contingency – There are a number of situations that can develop without much notice when you are sleeping outside in a tent or even in a small camper, and anticipating such events in advance can really save you from a disastrous result when they do occur. Sudden changes in the weather are chief among those which may pose both risks and discomforts while away from home and it has to be a priority to expect these events and prepare for them. Bringing along extra dry clothing in plastic bags or sealed in vacuum packs can save you from even the biggest deluge when it rains. No matter how diligent you might be otherwise in shielding yourself from the weather, having a definite resource of dry clothing available, if needed, can restore your well-being in an instant.

tent site

4. Practice putting up and tearing down your equipment before your trip – There’s nothing worse than having to learn how to set up or take down your equipment with a storm approaching or with the sunlight waning at the end of a day of traveling. Setting up a tent is a great deal easier these days with modern tents with shock cords and flexible structure components, but if you should find yourself in a pinch for time or approaching weather, knowing what to do in advance will help a great deal.

If you happen to arrive at your campsite when it’s raining, the best approach is either to wait for the rain to stop before you begin if possible, and if you can’t wait that long for some reason, putting up your tarps over the place where the tent will go first will make it much easier to keep it dry while you build it. Most modern camping equipment is possible to set up with one person, but if you have at least one extra set of hands it can be much faster. Having years of practice has made site construction a breeze in most cases in my experience, and there have been times when I observed other campers struggling to set up alone and offered to assist. To date, I have never been turned down even once.

5. Respect the rules and be considerate of your fellow campers – Each park or campground will have a general set of rules for campers to observe and as long as you don’t ignore them completely, you shouldn’t have much trouble with getting along with the staff or other visitors. Most of the time, the rules for behavior and observing quiet hours are reasonable and fair, and in my experience, only the most blatant offenders have been asked to leave. A brief chat with the park rangers or office staff can give you a good sense of how strictly they enforce such rules, and being polite costs you nothing. Most of the time, people who enjoy camping in the woods are considerate and friendly in the main and thankfully, there have only been a few exceptions of people being inconsiderate over the years. Respecting the privacy and personal space of other campers is a must, and generally, you are more likely to have privacy and to receive invitations to visit with others if you observe this basic rule.

campfire

Almost the whole point of camping in the woods, for me at least, is concluding the day sitting by a warm campfire. There’s no other time throughout the day when contemplation and reflection are more easily accomplished, and when I am attending to the fire, I feel a strong sense of connection to something much greater than myself. Caution and common sense are the keys to handling fire in the forest, and most campgrounds have strict limits on how to behave when you have a campfire.

6. Be prepared to extinguish the fire first! — Most of the time you won’t need to put out your fire quickly, but you should be ready to do so if it becomes necessary. Have a bucket or gallon jug of water at the ready nearby, and try to limit the size of the fire to one which won’t pose a challenge to extinguish.

7. Watch for flying embers landing near your tent! — Even a small ember ash landing on the fabric of your tent can be dangerous, not to mention potentially poking a hole in the fabric. Keep all other flammable objects, including your supply of wood, under a tarp or far enough away to avoid this issue.

8. Always use the fire ring or fire pit normally available, and as a last resort, if you are not in a designated camping area, digging a hole a few inches deep surrounded by rocks can provide a basic and safe platform.

landscape4

“We dream all night of those mountain ridges in the horizon, though they may be vapor only, which were last gilded by (the sun’s) rays…A township where one primitive forest waves above while another primitive forest rots below–such a town is fitted to raise not only corn and potatoes, but poets and philosophers for the coming ages.” — Henry David Thoreau from his essay, “Walking,” 1862

—more to come—

August Musings

west virginia green2

August has nearly flown by this year, due in large part to the rapid pace of life these days for me, but also by virtue of the daunting blank page that has been staring back at me these past several months. There have been lots of ideas and thoughts and musings percolating in my heart and mind all the while, but for reasons that are difficult to explain, they haven’t been able to find their way to the blog lately, and it has been a bit gut-wrenching for someone more accustomed to having the words pour out like a flood over a broken levee.

The good news is that several of these ideas and musings are beginning to come forward, and I have begun to feel hopeful that the levee will soon overflow yet again. Chief among the reasons for this outlook is the scheduled actual vacation coming up next week. For reasons too numerous to mention, this will be the first real vacation that has been possible to schedule in years. It almost doesn’t seem real to me yet, and I doubt it will seem completely real to me before I actually find myself sitting by the campfire in woods near the border of West Virginia at a local Maryland state park. Those of you who have been following along here know well the restorative power the forest and lakes and natural settings have always had for me, and I fully intend to recruit people to pinch me periodically so I will be sure I am not dreaming.

west virginia camping

I recently traveled to nearby West Virginia to visit my daughter and her family, who are still celebrating the recent arrival of their daughter, Autumn, who is my seventh grandchild, and there is a fair amount of inspiration contained in attending to the privilege of being a grandfather that has sparked some of the creative juices lately, and how could it be any other way?

pop-pop autumn2

My previous post to acknowledge my admiration for Dr. Oliver Sacks marked a moment of contemplation about all of the contributions he made to the understanding of the brain and consciousness and many other subjects, and I hope to contribute something a bit longer in the coming months to enlarge upon the one I posted today. There are a number of important contributions to be acknowledged in the scientific and philosophic realm these days, and I’m hoping to provide some insights that I’ve gleaned from these authors and scientists as they come up in the flow of my own research and reading.

Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan 1935-1984

Chief among them will be a tribute to one of my favorite authors from my younger days, Richard Brautigan, who wrote some very popular books back in the early to mid seventies, and whose influence is still being felt by those of us whose formative years included his unique viewpoint and provocative style. His life was extraordinary for a time, and there was a funny coincidence related to my writing inspirations as a young man that only recently came to light for me, and I’m looking forward to spending some time on my vacation rereading some of his work to spark the memories which surround this amazing time in my young life. Parts of the story of his rise to popularity, his astonishing good fortune in riding the wave of those times, and his eventual decline into near obscurity, are both inspiring and sad in some ways. It will be interesting to see how the piece turns out. So stay tuned!

west virginia sunset

I’m very much looking forward to seeing nine days worth of sunsets at the campground and reconnecting to the forest muse who nearly always joins me on these journeys. I will be reading and writing and relaxing and reconnecting in a beautiful natural setting in what Emerson described as “the plantations of God,” and I hope to bring back lots of material and insights to share with you all when I return.

Thanks for your continued patience and understanding as I work to get back to the flow!

Presence of Spirit

magritte the big family2

Magritte – The Big Family

“I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and by blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human race, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my very own self, I am part of my family.” – D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse, 1931

A year ago this week, our family was participating in an around-the-clock vigil at home with our dear brother, who was slowly losing his grip on life due to cancer. It was naturally a difficult time in many ways, and we endured the difficult parts as best we could, while working very hard to make those days as comfortable as possible for him, and as comforting for each of us as we could. We looked for ways to brighten the room, to lift our brother’s spirits, and to keep love and joy at the forefront of every moment. We succeeded often, and even found hope in what we felt for certain were indications that our brother was still very much with us, even when he could no longer speak or even open his eyes.

Throughout our vigil, twice daily, hundreds of birds would perch on the trees outside his window, and chirp madly for a time. While he was still conscious, he loved to experience the clamor and chaos of those moments, and we found it comforting to anticipate their arrival each day, even after he seemed not to be able to notice. Shortly after enduring his last moments beside us, we all sat silently beside him as the birds arrived on queue to squire him away. It was a remarkable experience that felt like an indication of the presence of spirit.

man in the universe

“The quick of the universe is in our own bodies–deep in us. And as we see the universe, so it is. But also, it is much more than we ever see or can see. And as the soul changes in us–turns over with a new creative move–the whole aspect of things changes. And again we see the universe as it is. But it is not as we saw it before. It is an utterly new reality. We are clothed with a new awareness in a new world. The universe is all the things that man knows or has known or ever will know. It is all there. We only need become aware.”
– D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

As the first anniversary of our vigil approaches, we have seen a repeat of the appearances of flocks of birds, and in these experiences we sense the presence of spirit in much the same way as we did a year ago. For my sister, it appeared as she awoke in the morning, to the sounds of innumerable birds chirping outside her window, which was opened to receive the benefit of the fresh, cool autumn air flowing in from outside. As she looked out on the scene, the birds took the opportunity to take flight as one group, and my sister was able to feel the whoosh of the air being pushed ahead of the massive momentary exodus, as it pressed against her face. For me, as I walked along the highway across from the local park, en-route to pick up what was once my brother’s vehicle from the repair shop down the street from me, my brother came immediately to mind as hundreds of birds took flight from the trees across the highway, diving and swooping in a rhythmic dance directly over my head for several minutes. I was absolutely stopped in my tracks, nearly hypnotized by the sight for several minutes. Then, all at once, they stopped and flew back into the trees across the way.

Coffee On The Back Porch

“The face is the mirror of the mind. In the human person, creation finds the intimacy it mutely craves. Within the mirror of the mind, it becomes possible for diffuse and endless nature to behold itself.” – John O’Donahue from “Anam Cara”

In my personal journal last year, I recorded this quote from my reading as I contemplated the circumstances of life at that time, and I remember well the feeling it gave me as I stepped out into the cool air, underneath blue skies, sipping on my morning coffee. I looked out at the trees, momentarily alone, pondering the sweetness of the day’s beginning, noticing the hints of color as autumn had only begun its rise to fullness. I was reminded at that time of many other moments of bliss experienced in the many natural settings of beauty in the wilderness while camping, where I “beheld creation,” and contemplated how the creation of human beings, and the subsequent development of conscious self-awareness in humans, may have been a way for a “creator” to experience his creation. What better way for a transcendent existence to cross over and “behold itself,” than to become manifest in a phenomenal existence–to create a tangible, observable, experiential place to “become,” and then to create a means of touching, observing, and experiencing that place. Once again at my brother’s side, I wrote:

“As I write, my brother sleeps peacefully beside me, and I monitor his shallow breathing with the football game on television playing unnoticed in the background. Our periodic conversations are warm and playful, and in particular moments, our happy sharing bursts into shared smiles. His medications sometimes seem to have a profound effect on his state of mind, but most of the time, he seems lucid and alert, only occasionally enduring bouts of minor confusion, as the tides of his wellness ebb and flow. My sense of the presence of his spirit never leaves me, even as his mind seems to drift away.”

Most remarkable of all is the development of a world only discernible within us–one that makes the ultimate use of the senses, impaired and imperfect though they may be, giving us important information to use in reflection. Our ability to interpret the phenomenal world through our senses is a platform from which we can build our path through life, and form a vision of that world. Our senses tell us a great deal, but everything that exists may not be apprehended through them alone. Beyond the physical world, there is much as yet unknown, and all our attempts to articulate a transcendent portion to reality still escapes our grasp, but our awareness of the transcendent, particularly when it seems to present itself so unambiguously, may only be possible to experience subjectively, and our subjective awareness only one component in the equation of eternity.

magritte Presence of Spirit

This week at the memorial for my brother, I will read these words:”

The fish in the water is silent,
the animal on the earth is noisy,
the bird in the air is singing,
But Man has in him the silence of the sea,
the noise of the earth
and the music of the air.

– excerpt from “Stray Birds,” by Rabindranath Tagore

Why I Felt I Must Do It Again

ReflectionMist

It was early morning on the last day of summer vacation in the mountains, and I rose early to take in the sunrise on the river. Having spent the last few days constructing a raft, as I had learned to do from one older and wiser, I felt confident that I could navigate the lazy waters of the nearby river. A soft breeze floated gently through the trees, still lush and green with no sign of autumn’s turning tide. The tiny black silhouettes of hundreds of birds against the orange and pink hue of early morning dotted the sky like stars at night.

sunrise with birds

As the morning progressed, the sun rose higher over the water, emitting warmth to the cold dark river. There was a profound silence at most every moment, with the exception of the usual background murmur of nature, which I had come to accept as silence. As I drifted along in that almost utter silence of nature, my mind drifted into reverie, feeling like an invisible man, in a hidden cove, out of sight and mind, totally alone. Far in the distance, I could hear the barely audible sounds of tumbling thunder, rolling along the sky like the vibrations from a desert tumbleweed against the parched earth.

rapids

As I made my way further along the shapeless snake of the river’s edge, my reverie became a sudden slap in the face as the water began to swirl and crash all around me. While enraptured by my conjured, boastful bliss, the forces within the water had built up around me, and my tiny raft began to creak and pop under the pressure of the angry river.

raft on rapids

I had all I could do to prevent myself from being tossed over into the roaring mass, which had now grabbed my craft and was throwing it about violently without discretion. I could feel my heart pounding rapidly against my chest, and the grasp I had on my normal calm began to resemble my tenuous grasp on my float. Putting my life in the hands of the river’s raging waters now felt like a consequence of an insult to the power of nature itself, for which I now would answer. My fate was suddenly at the mercy of an uncaring, unfeeling, inhuman mass of water. As the pace quickened, my mind was working furiously for a way out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the midst of my panic, descending like a gift from heaven, a long overhanging branch appeared directly on my path ahead–a path which now clearly was leading toward an abrupt change in altitude at the edge of an unexpected waterfall. I would only have one very brief opportunity to grab on to it, because once I let go of the raft, there would be no where else to go. My breathing was rapid and frantic. My mind was racing in its calculating of the trajectory and timing, until finally, with a true leap of faith, I flung myself upward as I grasped for the life-saver.

hand-reaching

I felt my hands clasp desperately on the wood of the tree’s extension, as I watched the last few moments of horizontal travel by my raft before it plummeted over the falls.

waterfall22

Reluctant at first to move, I could feel my stomach slowly begin to relax, and I let out a long, low whistle. I gradually found the strength to navigate to the bottom of the tree, and when I set foot once again on solid ground, I laid down on the grassy mound near the water’s edge with my eyes closed and my heart open. The phenomenal world seemed to evaporate into a wisp of remembered steam floating aimlessly away from my awareness.

mountain-top

Standing at last, trudging along the path back to the campsite, I cast myself with reckless abandon into the uncertainty of what might yet be, and wondered… Why I felt I must do it again……