I don’t know who was doing the witnessing –
the lavender plant, or me.
I only know that its divine presence shone forth,
that in its presence I moved closer
to an experience of the sacred.
So, rather than passing it by, I stopped.
I stopped and spoke to it.
Not an audible speech, but a soundless one.
The cathedral whisper one uses
when one recognizes divinity.
I danced with the lavender too,
but not the dance of the body, no,
the motionless dance of the witness,
of awareness at rest in itself,
Dear Grandma Betty,
I hope I can maintain an honest assessment of who you were, and not get too wrapped up in memories seen through the milky windowpanes of linear time’s narrow corridor.
You wore your heart on your sleeve. You told it the way you saw it and made no apologies. You were born on July 31st. You repeated yourself an awful lot, and passed that particular trait on to your son (my dad) and your grandson (me). You liked taking people out to lunch. And you liked to talk…….a lot.
I remember meeting you for the first time. The pine boughs were swaying in the wind and it was summer when you came to the little house with the wood stove in the Oregon countryside, where my mom and I lived for 4 years and I rode my bicycle to school. Your voice with its syrupy southern accent – and your spirited personality – seemed so huge to me that I thought I felt the house shake through the soles of my worn-out sneakers.
But the biggest parts of you were your heart and your stubbornness. I didn’t know anything about you yet back then, but I could see right away that you were ruled by your heart, because of the way you were so kind to my mom. I was protective of her, and so I watched, and I listened.
It must be nice to have set down your suitcase of earthly burdens, grandma, but I miss your stories. I miss your grouchiness, your laugh, the way you pronounced hurricane ‘herrican’. The way you always used southern colloquialisms like ‘he was mean as a snake’ or ‘that girl would argue with a fence post’.
Sometimes a weariness comes over me when I think of loved ones lost. There are so, so many. And yet in a way, they’re all still here, they’re all….close. So I’ll say to you what I’ve said to them all, in one way or another, over the years:
to all those I love, and have loved, on either side of the transcendental veil – may my love be a lantern to help light your way. And may yours help me light mine.
Life is more the approximation of cooking than the exactitude of baking. There are an infinite number of ways to proceed.
Be curious, consider the methods used by every person you meet, and, in doing so, find your own way. Develop your own recipes and never hesitate to share them. To hoard them is to become your own dragon.
Become seasoned by the road of experience, but be wary of hardening. The residue of clarity yields a suggestion of radiance, unmistakably luminous.
May your love be a light in dark places.
This summer I hope to visit the place I scattered my mom’s ashes 26 years ago, near the foot of Neahkhanie Mountain on the Oregon coast. Standing in the wind above the sea, I will be sure to remember this Hopi Prayer.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush, I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circle flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die.
My Spirit is still alive.” – Hopi Prayer
Meanwhile, the wind blows, incredibly. The sun rises – seen or unseen – and moves across the sky, incredibly. Water covers most of the planet. Effervescent laughter is remembered. The vast silence of the world helps quiet the noise of your mind. The great emptiness fills you up and calms your heart. Do not be too eaten up by your own life.
For many long years, sleep did not come. Now it is here, a sanctuary, an unremembered temple of well-fed lions.
Summer comes, undeniable as the needs of body and soul. We peel away her nightdress, and when she goes we go with her.
There will still be times we do not feel supported by the earth, and contact with it will need to be reestablished. There will still be times when pain holds us in its mouth like a whale, and we struggle to light our way so we might see better in the darkness of its belly.
The sun is rising, now, again. The earth tilts on its axis, and that star is still there, incomprehensible fire of all fires at its center, and the fire moves ever outward, cooling equally, creating a roundness.
We owe our lives to the circumstances of the earth and the sun, to the distance between them.
It is morning and you are held in sleep. I am held in my usual early wakefulness. Calm water has eased my burning. There is soreness in my body, and insect bites on my skin.
I eat up the world, and am eaten by the world. A humble warrior does not forget to bow to all of it.
A dream of bamboo groves and flickering candles. A dream of sitting in meditation, of the alchemy of bees bringing about the reality of honey.
A dream of desire, awake and alive, of a sanctuary of sleep like a temple of wed-fed lions, of a heart containing both fire and calm understanding.
A dream of crouching down at the edge of water, of the sound of a bullroarer, of the coyote crossing my path and looking back, and he this night twitching as he dreams of the human crossing his path.
Dreams of the language of rivers, the lessons of mountains, the lumbering grace of knowledgeable bears, the songs of birds, the pulse of stillness, the rise and fall of tides, of breath, of energy.
And then the inevitable return. For after the dream, I enter myself again.