Monday, November 9, 2009

Listening to the Silence

November 8, 2009--

If I were to write about my spiritual beliefs from my earliest days, I would say these are the memories I have:

As a teenager, one summer I recall I began the habit of sitting in my room at twilight and listening to the silence as I ate dinner. Little insights would come to me, and I would jot them down. Out my window was a small tree, which stood in front of a fence four feet away with a flowering vine growing on its latticework top. The fence divided our yard from the side of the house next door. Beyond the end of that house, off in the distance, I could see the tops of the pine trees that grew along the schoolyard fence. This fence ran behind all of our backyards. The school at some point in its infancy had planted these pine trees to create a buffer. Now they towered there in all their majesty, 30 or 40 feet high, waving in the wind. Beyond them, I could catch glimpses of the far off hillside, dotted by little houses here and there.

It was relaxing to me to sit there, in the silence, in the twilight room. I don’t know if my memory is correct about eating dinner in my room. I don’t know how I would have accomplished being given the grace of taking my dinner to my room. But the dinner is not the important thing, the listening to the silence is.

Years later, even now, if I sit quietly, insights will come to me. It is a peaceful time.

I recall once as a young woman in my early 20’s, I went with my boyfriend and other friends to Yosemite. There, we met up with aquaintances from Southern California, and newcomers as well. Some of the people went off to sit under the trees and smoke. I trailed along beside my boyfriend. But I felt uncomfortable there. What did I have in common with these people? Why was I there? I hardly knew them and did not particularly care about any of them. As I sat there, the feeling of isolation and discomfort grew.

Finally, I simply stood up and walked off. I walked some yards into the forest, until I was out of sight and hearing of the group. This was something new for me, I was not brave. But Soul was pulling me, pulling me to walk into the quiet. I came to a glade in the forest, and sat there on a tree stump in the leaf-filtered sunlight, breathing in the smell of piney boughs and earth. Birds flitted about on the branches, singing trillips of song. A deer ambled by, munching on green shoots. A couple of squirrels chattered as they scampered up a tree and along a branch.

I felt safe here, welcomed here, rooted here. It was as if the forest were encircling me, protecting me. As I sat there I began to imagine that I, too, was a redwood tree. I felt my crown growing taller and taller as I reached for the sun, while my feet rooted in the earth, the roots stretching deep, spreading out down into the depths of the underground earth, anchoring me, balancing me. I was home.

Of course, it is clear this is not a belief system I learned from others or even one that is officially taught, that I know of. Taught belief systems so often deal with people, with doctrines, with politics – with the outer discourse of social interaction, rigid mindsets—people.

My innermost belief system is based on listening to the natural world which is everywhere around me, no matter where I am. Even in a downtown city, little trees spring from the earth, reaching for the sky, their guardian tree spirits comforting them in the smoggy dim light of diesel and concrete shadows.

But the earth, the earth is always there underneath, and the sky above.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Of Mice & Men

One day recently while I was at work, one of our staff called to say that Gerald the dayporter had cornered a mouse. What did we want to do about it? At that moment, what I wanted to do was eat my lunch which I'd just bought across the street and placed on my desk. At 2 p.m., my stomach was quite happy to consider lunch. I pretended all was fine. Surely someone else would deal with the mouse.

Instead, I heard myself asking, "Did Gerald ask Mike (our engineer) what to do?"

"Mike said to get rid of it," came the answer.

Now things often get horrible in fairytales. That's what keeps them interesting. At this point, my imagination took over and gave me several dreadful scenarios. Most of them involved the mouse meeting a slow and messy demise.

Time seemed to stand still as I considered my lunch, waiting to be eaten... and the fate of the mouse. Soon I found myself walking out the door, down the hall, and into the elevator to ride several floors down and find the cornered mouse. When I arrived, Blake the security guard stood on one side and Gerald the dayporter on the other side of a door propped open against the wall.

"He's behind the door!" Gerald said. He looked at me nervously, holding a broom at the ready with one hand, and propping open the door of a nearby closet with the other. If the mouse made a dash for it, Gerald was ready to push him into the closet. But I got the feeling that's as far as Gerald wanted to go. He didn't look enthused at the idea of being elected to cause the mouse's untimely death.

"What do you want to do?" Gerald asked.

Blake took this opportunity to make a quick departure. He didn't want to be that involved with this situation. Mike stayed on another floor, despite his sentiments. Or maybe because of them?

"We should trap the mouse and release it!" I declared.

Gerald visibly relaxed.

"Yes," he agreed, "That's what they say is the best way!"

"We need a container," I said, remembering how I would sometimes trap flies or spiders I found indoors under a glass, to release them outside. But a glass would be too small for a mouse. What would work?

It occurred to me that rather than "what", the right answer might be "who". Our other engineer, William, liked animals; he had two companion dogs. William seemed like a kind, caring and compassionate soul. So I phoned him.

"We have a mouse cornered. We need a container to capture it in and take it outside. Would you be able to help us? Would you have a container?"

Sure enough, a few minutes later, William appeared with a large box. He carefully pulled the door away from the wall, swiftly lowering the box over the mouse. Then he went in search of a piece of cardboard to slide under the mouse. Meanwhile, Gerald held the box tightly against the carpet. We could hear desperate scratching from inside.

At that moment, two women returning from lunch approached the other side of the half-shut door where we stood with the trapped mouse.

"Oh, just a minute, please," I asked. I could just imagine letting the ladies walk through, the box bouncing up and the mouse streaking across their feet to parts unknown.

"Is everything all right?" one asked.

"Oh, yes," I said, "We'll just be a minute."

Just then William returned with the flat piece of cardboard, slid it underneath, and lifted the box with mouse inside out of the way. I pulled the door fully open so the women could pass. They glanced at us quizzically. But.... they didn't ask, and we didn't tell.

William and I then formed a little procession. I led the way, opening doors as we went so he could use both hands to continue to hold the piece of cardboard firmly against the box with the little mouse inside.

"I don't know if this mouse is going to make it," William said as we walked. "He might have been poisoned. He looked dazed."

We reached the final door and went into the vacant lot next door.

"I'll release him next to that lumber over there, so he has something to crawl under,"
William said.

William walked over to the wood and bent down to gently release the captive.

Little brown mouse hopped out into the bright sunshine, looking all sleek and preened. He took one look at the lumber, and hopped like a joyful soul, hop, hop, hippity hop he went, taking great, determined bouncing leaps in his ecstatic release to freedom. This mouse knew exactly where he wanted to go, but it was not the neighborhood wood pile! I took a step back as the mouse ran in my direction. I hoped he wasn't heading back towards the stairs where I stood... I got prepared to slam the door shut, just in case. But no... little brown mouse stopped when he was safely hidden in the shadows of an old air conditioning unit sitting by the bottom of the steps.

I breathed a sigh of relief. One mouse, gently escorted out. A different form of "getting rid".

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Of Spider Webs & Oceans

July 18, 2009 -- 5 p.m.

I am sitting here in the sun rocking slowly back and forth in the swinging lawn chair.  Yesterday around this time I sat here, too.  Only yesterday, the spider web near my left elbow was much bigger.  I had to be careful not to lean into the web without thinking, and become cocooned in its strands.

Last night I dreamed one of those dreams that kept repeating itself each time I woke and slept again.  In the dream, I was lying in bed in the Rose Room, the same room where we are staying at this bed and breakfast in Pescadero.  But in the dream, a long gossamer spider web hung down from the ceiling past the side of the bed where I lay.    The strands were delicate, complex, and sticky.  I was trying not lean  into it. In the dream, it never occurred to me to wonder why the owners had not cleaned the web from the room.  The web was simply a natural part of the house, and I was trying to avoid leaning into it.

When I finally got up this  morning,  it was because I was tired of dreaming of avoiding the spider web, over and over again.   Once I was fully awake, I realized the web was not beside the bed, but outside on the swing. Now I sit on the swing again in the bright sunlight, sliding back and forth over the tiny patch of lawn, listening to the squeals of a child across the creek.  I am no longer concerned about the web.  It seems smaller.  It no longer reaches out to pull at me.

To my right I see the fog sifting in past the small stand of forest, misting across the field of red and green grasses. The little garden windmill turns slowly in the breeze.  The branches of the pine trees alongside the creek bob up and down as if shaking hands, or telling a silent sign language story.   Three Easter lily plants, bold in their pink frills, reach up from the mossy hillock towards the sun, like glamour girls.  The white daisies with their bright yellow hearts smile into the light like Walt Disney flowers getting ready to dance. 

The swing I sit on is well weathered wood, grey and gnarled. I noticed one slat has broken.   I wonder what this garden is like when the tourists are gone -- what is it like to be in a small seaside town when all the tourists are gone? The sense of community and camaraderie, is it good? 

The children shriek from across the way, where they play in the church parking lot. They yell, they laugh, these unseen little phantoms, like noisy ghosts screened from my sight by the pine trees and creekside bushes.  Imagine if this were actually a ghost town and all the houses were deserted.... and in the quiet of the late afternoon sun, one could hear the town as it once was... 

Gophers seem to love the coast.  The B & B owner complained of them.  So did the woman at the small ranch we toured this afternoon. Someone asked her if they trapped the gophers live.  She answered,  "No, there are so many of them. If we did that we would always be having to drive them off somewhere. We don't have enough manpower to do that."

Imagine... One day a whole new race of beings might arrive on this planet.  They may put out traps for the humans who were here first and say, "There are so many of them. We can't afford the time to relocate them."

Think back to the Native Americans who were here first, and how many were killed from small  pox blankets or Army guns. Did people say the same thing then, "There are too many of them to relocate." 

Think of the fish in the sea. Think of the garbage in the sea, which in certain areas is reported to be the size of large continents, floating, poisoning the sealife and the water. 

"Oh, we relocated the garbage to the ocean.  We couldn't kill it because it was never alive. But now, alas, it has taken on a life of its own..."

Think of what the whales and dolphins would say of our habits if they could put their impressions into thought streams we might understand... Think of it...  Whole worlds of beingness beyond our ken of understanding...

I sit here in the garden swing rocking gently in the breeze.  The late day sun fades.  Shimmers of grey fog begin to gauze over the forest.  I hear but do not see birds chirping in the distant field. I hear one of the children playing in the church lot say, "You have to be careful."

Another says, "Put your feet --"


"Put your feet on top of me! Put your feet --"


I wince.  I cannot say, "Oh, to be a child again." 

Haven't we been children long enough?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Their Bodies Healed and Souls Complete


A few months ago, I saw two squirrels playing tag round a palm tree in a Calistoga yard where I was taking a weekend writing workshop.  Round and round, up-and-down, they went. I remembered the squirrels who lived in my Minneapolis yard some years ago. The four squirrels played tag around the base of the giant oak tree every day. I would watch them from the kitchen window, marveling at their playfulness.

I didn’t realize what a blessing their play was until one early morning when I saw only three of them.  I went outside and looked around. The squirrels scampered up the tree. I glanced at the fence to the left and the fence to the rear. I glanced at the alley to the right. No fourth squirrel.  I went back into the house and out the front door.   Slowly I walked over the front lawn.  As I did so, I began to glimpse a small bundle in the street.

Dreading what I might find, I kept walking… until I reached the fourth squirrel, its body limp at the edge of the street. Was this a boy or a girl squirrel? I didn’t know.   West 35th Street was often a busy street, two lanes in each direction with cars coming and going to the freeway entrance two blocks away.  How could some careless driver have failed to see the scampering squirrel? Did it happen in the dark?

I got a piece of newspaper and carefully carried the squirrel’s body to the backyard.  I thought perhaps the three other squirrels didn’t know their friend was gone.  How foolish I was!  I placed the squirrel’s body near the base of the tree. There it lay for a few hours.  The squirrels didn’t play anywhere near their friend’s body. They did not come up to sniff. They stayed out of sight.  Of course they knew.

Later I picked up the squirrel’s stiffening form and put it in a bag and placed it gingerly in the trashcan. The next morning, I went to the trashcan and lifted the lid and looked inside, hoping the squirrel might somehow be alive again.

Where did this sudden impulse come from? I do not know.

But I remember the little lizards which played in my Redwood City backyard after I moved from Minneapolis. One evening as the sun began to set, I kept gardening, digging with my trowel into the earth by the fence, loosening it for new plants to come. Little did I suspect what was to come.

Something flashed by. My trowel went down on automatic dig. I recoiled in shock – there lay the body of a lizard on one side of the trowel and the head on the other side. I had been told that lizards in the yard were a special blessing. Now there lay a lizard beheaded by me. I took some loose leaves and sprinkled them over the lizard.

In the morning I went out to peek. Would the head be reunited with the body again?  Would the spirit have returned to the wanderer? No.   All was still – except for the ants busy disposing of the remains.

What place did I once live where those who have left could quickly return and be reborn, their bodies healed and Souls complete?

I do not know. But I know it was not this place where I now live. I had done the same thing to the lizard as the driver had done to the squirrel. I never gardened at twilight again.