Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reading poetry on Mother Nature's lap

There's something about living here: waking up on a Sunday morning and rolling out of bed, standing in the wet grass, peering through binoculars at hundreds of dolphins in the ocean below us. Yes! As they swirl around, feeding, perhaps dancing, one or two jump above the waves, way up high, their silver bellies sparkling in the morning light. Worth the price of admission, as they say.

Big Sur is the stuff of raw poetry. These Indian Summer nights, crickets, and star-light on the sea, simply fill my soul. A friend from New Jersey once told me, complete with his salt-of-the-earth regional accent, "Here, God is knocking at your door, saying Hello." (Emphasis on the first syllable.) The Divine is with always with us, every time we stop, look around, and let it all sink in.

As my friend viticulturist Lane Tanner says, Big Sur is a huge negative ion bath, which is why, if we let ourselves be, we're just naturally more happy here. A few deep breaths of good clean air, and presence comes flowing in. Yesterday I took one of these baths, watching little birds taking turns at my bird-feeder. One of them lands in the elm tree overhead, and as I watch it fluff its tiny feathers, getting a firmer grip on the branch, I remember seeing a mighty hawk balancing on a power line. This elegant creature transformed for a moment into an old man in his bathrobe, hunched forward, talons splayed out like skinny legs. Nature can be comical, too.

Years ago, I bought a copy of the Tao te Ching. A pretty book for my shelf, intriguing, and unintelligible. Then, my house burned down in the Oakland Hills Fire of 1991. The first book I replaced was this one, from a spiritual bookseller on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. I was open, empty, in shock, and suddenly, all those words from Lao Tzu made perfect sense. Less really is more, and more is less. I got it. Free from desire, understanding is possible.

Since I am blessed with friends who read, write and share poetry, I’ve been testing my theory about a wild landscape (filled with negative ions) inspiring greater openness to the art of words. Can Nature, and Poetry, consumed together, lead to a nurturing stillness, a fuller presence in our beings? As Lao Tzu says, "The Tao is the Great Mother: Empty yet inexhaustible, she gives birth to infinite worlds."

For this Sunday morning, here are a few snippets of poetry that currently fill my belly with a comforting warmth:

From the ineffable Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz:

Hands and lips of wind
heart of water
campground of the clouds
the life that is born every day
the death that is born every life—
I rub my eyes: the sky walks the land

Your hair lost in the forest,
your feet touching mine.
Asleep you are bigger than the night,
but your dream fits within this room.

Dear Dorothy Parker! Hardly upbeat, but wise:

The stars are soft as flowers, and as near;
The hills are webs of shadow, slowly spun;
No separate leaf or single blade is here—
All blend to one.
No moonbeam cuts the air; a sapphire light
Rolls lazily, and slips again to rest.
there is no edgéd thing in all this night,
Save in my breast.

And from 13th century Turkey, the much beloved Jelaluddin Rumi:

I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough
of what it's thirsty for!

Show me the way to the Ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers.

All this fantasy
and grief.

Let my house be drowned in the wave
that rose last night out of the courtyard
hidden in the center of my chest.

Photo by Linda Sonrisa

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What we practice

is what we have. Or, the devil is in the details. Who would have thought that spending a weekend sitting under the Big Top with 70 people (yes, the Esalen yurt felt like a circus tent) breathing, and then reflecting on this process, would be so difficult?

At times, it was excruciating. I kept wanting to fall asleep, my busy life (and the late summer heat) catching up with me. The sound of the surf below us blending with Zen teacher, speaker and writer Cheri Huber's soothing voice...everyone quiet, pondering their "practice" — the ways we keep ourselves from being present with Life. (My specialty is the perpetual re-write, as I edit all out my regrets, large and small.) Then there are obsessive "mantras" — endless loops of distraction and self-criticism. Add to this mix residual emotions from the past, and worry about the unknowable future, and spontaneous joy withers.

Cheri, like so many of the enlightened ones, has a quick wit, and (dare I say it?) a wicked sense of humor. She's not invested in evangelizing Buddhism, "it's hard enough for those of you who are powerfully motivated," she says. Yet her organization, Living Compassion, works to make a difference in the world, most notably in Zambia, with her Vulnerable Children Project.

The big "A-Ha" for me was that I finally grasped the concept of the Ego. That creature that keeps us separate from life, stuck in our own movies, unable to fully feel and enjoy the world as it unfolds around us, moment by moment. The ego-centric conditioned mind that makes us suffer can be interrupted through awareness practice: understanding and compassion felt in the body through healing breath. This is freedom. This is where creativity lives, where wonder lives, and I want it!

So, are we now all ready to meditate 10 minutes a day? Try by just enjoying a few breaths, relaxing all your exhausted grey matter as you exhale. (Terrifying, isn't it?) Or, as Eckhart Tolle says, we can consciously ask ourselves, what will I think of next? Then watch that thought appear like a tiny mouse emerging from her cartoon doorway. Because a significant part my brain is actually an archive of black and white films, I think of Deborah Kerr, in Night of the Iguana, chasing away her "blue devils" with deep, restorative breaths.

Let's heal the world, starting with ourselves. Be in the moment. It's a good trick and the only game in town. We can begin to climb this mountain, right now. Ready, set, go!

We are shaped by our thoughts. We become what we think. -Buddha

Photos by Linda Sonrisa