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.