Schooled to the rigors of religion, if I took nothing else away
from those origins it was faith; faith that a child’s prayers
would be answered by forces unseen, and I took root
in that faith like fieldstone, anchoring my small body in cracks
and crevasses formed by flooding time, a snake secreting low
and tight, protection sought in the shade of midday,
giving nothing away, not a breath, shutting out the discord
of voices, dissonant sounds that soothed the ears of others
with that tinge of the familiar;
Sitting in newly-mown grass, breathing in the herbaceous bouquet,
eyes attuned to breaks in the pattern, movement underneath,
always underneath, what moved in shadow most fascinated,
pill-bugs rolling tight when threatened, millipedes threading
through miniature thickets, grasshoppers navigating the tangle,
smell of damp pungent earth drawing eyes and nose closer,
seeking level with a world unto itself, and I never ceased cringing
while watching careless feet stomping thoughtlessly upon
unseen realms, Jack and the Giant, gentry and the dispossessed,
disparity a background hum in the grace of my limited freedom;
Trudging up arid mountain trails or down into gushing streambeds
suited best, the mentholated air of eucalyptus mixing with the dank odor
of leaf mulch swirling in eddies and under boulders, fishing wet mats
out with my hands to bury my nose in that humid bouquet while the rest
of the world disappeared into a collage of confusion to which many
accustom themselves while a rupture grows like an aneurysm in the center
of the soul until that longing bursts forth like a swimmer breaking surface,
a yearning to gulp oxygen like life itself, that corporeal kinship
with the earth, a silent whisper, Return.
Return to me, and be whole.
Before I began gardening in earnest; before I allowed myself the luxury of flowers rather than the scratching of necessities, firewood and food; before my vision exploded into islands of umber and emerald with spikes of magenta and indigo flanked by tiny waxen buds, I asked my gardening sister how she did it. How to begin, so as not to spend time in futile effort, to somehow create the perfect plot on the first attempt. How she responded and what I have never forgotten since, all these years later, was to begin in a corner and go from there. Just take that first shovelful and the rest will follow.
Moons and rains too numerous to count have passed and I have learned what survives in xeriscape and what thrives so well in moisture that it must be cut back more or less, depending on what is selected. I have mostly learned more about life. There is no greater teacher for me than the garden. There is no Buddha more evolved than this earth. All the lessons of mindfulness, detachment, the need to let go and drop any preconceived notions of perfection exist in the eternal now of the garden. There’s an alchemy that happens when sweat and creativity mingle and merge into landscape; a transformation that happens quite by chance if not intention.
It can be frightening to observe the body breaking down while nothing Western medicine offers seems to help. If this is happening, perhaps what you are experiencing is much deeper than what can be detected on the surface. If possible, consider emergence rather than emergency, for in some way your core self may be asking you to attune to a more profound life path than you are currently upon. Yet even if you sense this, even if you know somewhere deep inside that this seems true, where do you begin to access the assistance you need in order to facilitate this emergence, this opening to the depths of your being?
Dedicating oneself to deep inner work requires a time commitment that many find hard to assimilate into busy lives. Most simply want the “quick fix,” a pill or procedure to offer instant relief. And Western Medicine more or less promises the same, so it’s tempting to capitulate to a system supported, in large part, by a massive pharmaceutical industry. The integral, multidimensional Being That You Are, however, may not respond to such remedies. Instead it urges us to get in touch with our deepest desires and express this passion work in a meaningful way. This takes time and focus we might believe we lack. Yet if we are to discover balance, if we are to experience quality of life in the years we have left on the planet, a lifestyle change might be in order. This can begin with an honest review of how we expend resources, both time as well as money.
Once the basic bills are responsibly dealt with, for this alone can alleviate a tremendous load of health-eroding stress, what are you worth? How much time do you spend in self reflection, time in nature, enjoying creative ventures, physical movement, prayer, meditation? What resources and time do you allocate to self care on a regular basis, whether or not your expensive health insurance covers it? Do you see a counselor, go to an art class, support or prayer group, get a massage, get a new hairstyle, read, listen to music, attend a self improvement workshop or take yourself out for a healthy and relaxing meal? Perhaps you don’t think you can afford these little luxuries of time and money and depend on that medical insurance to take care of you when you fall apart. Notice I say when, because unless you are extremely lucky or have amazing genes, without a focus on maintaining your physical, mental and spiritual needs, sooner than later things tend to break down.
In the end, no matter how we try, we can’t give to others when we, ourselves are tapped out. Recognizing our own resistance to change is an important step. When we realize change is difficult but ultimately rewarding, we can embrace the excitement of beginning a new, more self respectful way of living. Anyone at any level of income can find ways to improve their lives. Each of us possesses challenges. Accepting and moving through these rough patches results in modicums of wisdom, depth and maturity. Dedication to a path of self awareness and self improvement helps us handle what life doles out. We can choose to accept our challenges as growth opportunities rather than cursing our lot in life. We can possess an attitude of gratitude, regardless of circumstances. It is from this humble stance that blessings emerge in often unexpected ways.
When I moved to the Hawaiian islands over twenty-five years ago, I shouldered a bit of cynicism and not a little buried anger. Living in a land of volcanoes was illuminating. Time and again, my feet were held to madame Pele’s fire. Time and again, I tried to minimize her impact upon me. Goddess be damned! I rebelled. Still and yet, the earth kept metaphorically shifting and rumbling beneath my feet. Transformation was inevitable and profound.
Deceptions of a human mind unaware never fail to amaze me – what we think we know versus the facts materializing before our eyes. And although we have senses to guide us, too often we hear, see and feel only what we choose in any given circumstance. Some consider themselves brave, others boldly court hubris. Depending on the circumstance, I suppose it could be either. Or both.
Picture a brilliantly blue sunny day in Paradise. Variable tradewinds whip sand playfully on a two mile stretch of deserted beach. Sparkling turquoise waters and medium swells invite the initiated; this is a popular surf haunt, but only for the skilled. I have sat on the pali overlooking this location during winter with enormous banks of water rolling in, sounding for the world like a freight train chugging along miles of open track. This is not winter. Still, rip currents can arrive out of nowhere and the locals have warned me, time and again, to always wear fins. At least one. Never, they repeat, go out in the ocean without fins. Hell, I think, I grew up bodysurfing The Wedge in Newport Beach! I appreciate that you are looking out for me, but I know what I’m doing …
Out we go into these unknown waters, my husband and I. This is not our usual swimming site. And he’s not such a keen swimmer in the depths, has never really been. Loves boogie boarding, goes out into secondary breakers by a small reef to catch bigger waves at our regular spot. As long as he’s on that board with those fins, he’s a happy camper. I, on the other hand, prefer merging swells and body into one, as much as possible. I head out. He backs off. Out I go, where the waves are breaking. I mean, I really. Go. Out. At this point, it seems I have no choice. The undertow is severe. There is no longer sand beneath my feet. I flow with the ocean’s decision to carry me further into uncertainty.
Big waves, at least those large enough to surf, usually come in what are called sets. That’s why, in those surfer movies, you see lots of waiting. Sets arrive, boarders paddle out, wait for a ridable wave, joyfully cruise on in. Six is an average set; really, a person is fortunate to get more. I grew up near the ocean, have studied wave patterns since my youth. Today all my knowledge and perceptions go out the window. There is no rhythm, only unrelenting, pounding oceanic swells. One by one, surfers return to shore. I remain out in the water because I have no other choice. I cannot return, no matter how I try.
Rip currents have swept me down and out, far from loved ones on the beach, further from any recognition of topography. Wave after non-negotiable wave assaults me; I dive under and under and under again until I begin aspirating saltwater. I become afraid, something I rarely feel in the embrace of Mother Nature. In marked contrast to what’s familiar, Big Blue is thrashing me now, as I offer a silent prayer. To be faithful to the truth, I offer many. I ask, Am I going to die out here? In answer comes a firm No. (Gasp, gasp, dive, gulp, choke, surface into sunlight and blessed oxygen.) What, then, I query, Is happening? I hear – and believe me, I could not invent a more lucid, nor more vexing response – Rebirth.
Moments feel like hours and later, I notice a lone Hawaiian man on the beach, waving his arms in my direction. Someone has spotted me! Gesturing wildly, he points to a visible section of a large, mostly underwater a’a lava outcropping blocking my way. If I get pulled closer to it, my skin will be torn to shreds. He’s now flagging me down, down and further down the beach. Far from others but closer to him, my port in this frightening storm. He’s the only one who seems to sense the depth of my peril. Still more precious moments later as my strength is waning, he signals. I glance backward and notice the waves are at a lull. I swim. And swim. Waves break, but carry me now. Landward. My feet touch sand for the first time in what feels like hours. The man rushes out and into the water. Staring at me hard, as if to assess my sanity, he asks, Are you okay? Weakly I reach out my arm, croaking Help. As he clasps my hand, I look into steel blue eyes. Once I am safely on the beach, he disappears.
I rejoin my family. They have no idea whatsoever of the degree to which I have just faced down mortality. I am perhaps a quarter mile from where I started. How independent am I, that no one questions my whereabouts? How many times have I refused help, just to prove my strength against all odds?
Weeks later, I am still querying residents of this very small island about a blue-eyed Hawaiian. The locals just shake their heads. There is no such person. Not here on this rock. If there were, we would know. My good friend, a kindhearted street fighting big braddah offers, It must have been an angel.
How easy it is to reveal our best
in writing; reflective, unlike life
which requires reflexive, interactive,
unpredictable; like it or not the mirror
is held up and there we are refracted,
simply human, the same myriad collection
of jukebox tunes flipped out and panned
in turn on impulse perhaps, able to
be present to the situation or not, with
or without guile depending, personalities
the stanchions we prop ourselves up on,
unfurled in part or fully fledged;
Merely to be is to remain surprised,
for instinct requires nothing less nor more,
existing unpretentiously as the dance we cut
in on just as the rhythm changes, slow and blue
to whiplash fast, sparks arcing off heels,
forget dusting off the old, the new sweeps us
up and up into unchartered territory,
realms felt to be inhabited only by the gods
and yet here we clearly stand, two feet planted
on this earth, gobsmacked into wonder