Monday, May 14, 2012

Stop, look, listen.

At a certain point every springtime, almost overnight, a tribe of Quijote Yuccas come striding over the rocky slopes of Big Sur, all the way down to the sea.

A lifetime ago, on a birthday pilgrimage that turned into a back-roads adventure, I saw my first Yucca whipplei. Stepping out of my car on that summer day I stood dripping sweat in my pale blue cotton dress and shot a photo of the golden yucca growing out of the rock directly above me.

I had taken a detour on what turned into an anxiety-producing dirt road  (it had only been a faint broken line on my map.) Seeing no one after several switchbacks and hairpin turns, finding myself apparently headed east instead of west, I was overjoyed to encounter two motorcyclists, a man and a woman, who were coming up from the Ft. Hunter Liggett valley floor.

The Our Lord's Candle (another romantic name) sprouting out of the cliff provided a moment of clarity and wonder in the midst of angst. Truly one of the benefits of photography is that it places you firmly in the present, always a good practice. In the process of focusing and creating art, we are briefly liberated from the chatter inside our heads, what the Tibetan Buddhists call "Sem", the discursive mind.

Living in Big Sur, there are many opportunities for this kind of liberation. It's somewhat easier to find here because there are less man-made distractions. A few of my favorites: Watching the light change as the sun comes up, and watching it change again at the end of the day. Sitting in front of a wood-burning stove in the mornings, listening to the soft hissing and popping of the fire, feeling the warmth. Stopping to enjoy the wind as it blows around me on my daily walk uphill.

Oh, and the eternal, heart-stopping view of the ocean and mountains up and down the coast, the wholeness of Nature and God breathing deep all around you.

There are many time-honored ways to stop and feel that comforting stillness we all know that  don't require the gob-smacking beauty that Big Sur delivers just by looking outside your door. For me, it's observing a lotus flower open on the surface of a pond, lighting a candle, brushing my hair, drinking hot tea, burying my face in my cat's fur, and looking into the soulful eyes of my dog.

There's also listening to birds, any and all kinds. The red-wing blackbirds are back in town these days, and their shrill yet melodic calls, meant to carry across long expanses of marshland, make me feel at home inside.

These moments of happiness, of stillness, connect us with who we really are. My dream is to string these moments together like bright beads, making my life into a prayer for us all.