Having conveniently forgotten my tent poles last weekend at Buckeye camp ground, I needed to make a trip down to Bridgeport to collect them. Dozing off at home after returning from my initial camping trip, I suddenly sat upright in bed, visualizing the abandoned poles just to the right of the campsite. How does memory work like that? Given the age of the tent and the exact size of its poles, it is not a sure thing they could easily be replaced so the next morning I called the Forest Service and asked if someone could rescue them for me. I was most grateful when a ranger by the name of Scott made a special trip up to Buckeye to get them. He gave me a call a few days later and said he had retrieved the poles and they would be at the ranger station to be claimed whenever I made it back. Armed with a six-pack of Bass Ale as a thank you gift, I scooted out early Friday morning and was down to Bridgeport by 10:30 or so. Gift dropped off and tent poles reunited with this Pole, it seemed like an excellent idea to take a day hike up to Green Lake, a beautiful, glacially carved lake, whose trailhead is about ten miles from the Bridgeport Ranger Station via one seriously dusty, bumpy dirt road.
Not to get too historical on you, but one interesting tidbit about Green Creek and Green Lake is that they were the source for one of the first hydroelectric plants in the U.S. The voluminous waters that tumble down there from the Sierras generated the electricity that powered the electric motors of the 20 stamp Standard Mill, some 13 plus miles away in the gold mining town of Bodie. This being one of the first such plants, the engineers who designed the project tried their best to construct the electrical lines from Green Creek to Bodie in as straight a line as possible, because it was not yet known if an electrical current could take a sharp curve and not run off the wires.
Up at the trailhead, I got my pack out, boots on and went through the checklist of ”just in case” scenarios, making sure things were reasonably accounted for in the items I was carrying. Satisfied with all that, I noticed a park ranger’s truck over in a corner of the parking area, so I went over to say hello and let him know where I was going and when I was coming back. In the “It’s a small world” category the fellow was none other than Ranger Scott who had so graciously picked up my hobo tent poles earlier in the week. And in the “It’s an even smaller world” category, we swapped hiking tales, discovering we both knew one of the park rangers who worked for the Forest Service in Bodie while I was working there for Phelps Dodge 38 years ago.
The trailhead for Green Lake is situated at 8100 feet. The three miles up to the 9200 foot lake is a moderately strenuous hike with the air getting a bit thin but oh so pristine. There are old souls on this trail- some very large and weathered pines that have seen many a harsh winter. They have such presence. You find yourself wanting to sit down with one and ask for its life’s story. The aspen will be greening out in the next two weeks but for now the greenery is provided by the pine trees.
Winter’s snow is receding fast but on this weekend it was making a stand at Green Lake. The trail was fine up to the lake, but once crossing the swollen creek where the waters flow out of this Sierra gem, there was a foot of snow still hanging on, obscuring much of the trail that continues up to East Lake and Summit Lake. That was fine by me. I got over to the edge of Green Lake, had lunch and parked myself on some large flat rocks that were sloped at just the right angle to stretch out on and make like a sleeping lizard. It was pure back country solitude- no one else on the trail, no one else at the lake.
Returning down the trail after a suitable lakeside nap, I was absorbed in the immensity and detail and clarity of place – the definition of the granite cliffs, the many fractures in the outcropped rocks, the swaths of pine trees and contrasting snow fields. All this and more combined to spark a gifted moment. From time to time, a feeling born at depth comes forward to reassert itself in my consciousness. It is a koan, humorous at first. A seemingly ridiculous argument, it effectively stops me in my tracks, taking my current point of view and shifting it a sudden 180 degrees. It is as if a skilled debater powerfully convinces me to abandon the position I was so adamantly defending and moves me to align myself with the opposite side.
That koan is this: There are too many individual things for there to be individual things. The body-mind then feels that koan as the utter conviction that it is impossible for every “thing” seen before me to be singular, individual items. Simply impossible. Nothing can create that many separate things. There can’t be that many individual things. It is an illusion. It is the illusion of many.
The limiting perception of what is a boundary is upended. Although some “thing” may appear to have a definitive shape, the boundary that once defined that shape is now seen for what it is – simply a more solidly perceived edge. Nothing more. The edge loses its confining solidity and becomes permeable, like a sponge. It no longer can contain the essence of a an item and relegate that essence to individuality. Things don’t disappear, but suddenly there are no boundaries housing separateness. There is only this space of perfect arising. The sense of I that is felt as a personality becomes just another softened boundary. ”Me” is another aspect of this arising moment. No more, no less. No inferior, no superior. No one against many. The illusion of many gracefully released.
Indeed, a gifted moment. More than a moment actually, as that state continued for much of the remaining hike down the hill.
By the time I made it back to the Subaru things were more a less back to “normal”, although the doors of perception are now a little more wobbly on their hinges. Not a bad thing after all. We all need a little Aldous Huxley in our life from time to time.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me,
Coming down the homestretch on painting # 9. The working title is “Guru Moon”, as it is a scene from Guru Purnima night in July several years ago at 2:30 in the morning.
“Guru Purnima” is a Hindu holy day that comes every full moon in July. It celebrates the relationship with ones Guru or Spiritual Master. Even though our Ashram isn’t a Hindu organization, this relationship with the Spiritual Master is the foundation of our practice, and so we embrace the spirit of this celebration. A spiritual practitioner who has been graced with any sort of real understanding will tell you that although on the surface it seemed like he or she was “doing” a practice that resulted in some level of Realization, in the end it was simply a gift from their Guru, who actually did the transformational work while you stuck around. It is as if they had been handing you an apple and suddenly after so many years of dropping it you finally held on.
Lots of massaging and detailing to do on this painting, more definition here and there, subtleties of color to go into the sky, soften some transitions etc. Will wrap it up this week though.
Take care everyone.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me,
Cats and dogs were everywhere to be found yesterday as the Hawaiian skies opened up and it just poured. As the old saying goes, it rained cats and dogs. Just why cats and dogs instead of pearls and swine or Jacks and Jills I have not a clue. Please write soon if anyone out there knows.
Regardless of etymological ignorance, I took advantage of the deluge, and enjoyed a guilt free day in front of the easel, working on “Odalisque # 1- The Lizard”. It is rare to get in a full eight-hour day of painting and that certainly established momentum, so I have continued on tonight, in the good company of Keith Jarret and friends.
Notice if you will, the phrases above- “cats and dogs”, “pearls and swine”, etc. – opposites.
The other night I was lying awake around midnight, having been rudely awakened by dive bombing insects. In the aftermath, sleep was not readily returning. There, in the stillness of no distraction, I suddenly became very aware of my breath…..in-out…..in-out……in-out. It was pleasurable to feel it, to be it, to witness its happening. Suddenly it struck me that breath, which is the foundation of our very living, is completely an action of opposites. First inward, then the opposite- outward. It goes on and on until it stops upon our exit from here. We live as a result of the activity of opposites. There is nothing that exists without an opposite. It is impossible. And so it begs the question, are opposites really separate things? Yes, things happens that seem to be diametrically opposed, but does that make them a separate activity? I guess what I am trying to get at is that since they are part of the same inescapable equation, opposites are the way things work. They are the whole. Not a better or a worse. When seen as the way things mechanically work in this realm of light made dense, they are not good or bad, one side or the other- they are simply part of the ceaseless flow of happening. Then the reaction to avoid what is perceived as uncomfortable or undesirable or bad weakens, gets flabby, and the movement to grasp and hold onto to what is conceived as pleasurable or desireable similarly loosens. Thus allowing for equanimity and free attention to naturally manifest since nature inherently moves to be in balance. Where we get into a ton of trouble is in the knee jerk reactions to what initially feels like something to protect ourselves from or to get for ourselves and hold onto it..
Maybe its better to walk up to opposite and give it a big embrace. Not a popular modus operandi, but it feels more circular than angular so perhaps things will roll along better. At least it will be more interesting.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me,
“Get your exercise”. Good advise, yeah? There is a battle going on below your chin. Don’t think because you’re not aware of it all the time, the only thing occurring down there is blood being pumped and lungs moving, etc. If you don’t consciously exercise your heart it get’s flabby. I don’t mean walking everyday. The exercise I am referring to is more like–feeling.
The mundane is insidious. The daily life is a sly, steady bombardment of visuals, color, sounds, countless thoughts, impulses, habits, patterns and reactions. Everything thrown into the Waring blender of bodily existence and served up in a large frothy glass that you drink from all day, and all night, for that matter. After a while it all begins to taste the same and functionality seamlessly, unnoticeably becomes a form of self protection.
There’s so much stuff coming at you that a lot of it has to get filtered out to maintain a level of sanity.
That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because, hey it IS a chaotic event of nervous system stimulation that goes on continuously and you do need a filtering system. It’s bad because it is easy to forget to consciously exercise the event of simply being. Coming to rest, allowing the vulnerability of being to occur. Allowing whatever arises to do just that without grasping for it or running from it or abstracting it.
Those are things that are not taught in Mr Wilsons junior high P.E. class. But they are oh so necessary.
The heart is a muscle and must be exercised. It has unfathomable depth of feeling. Paradoxically, the body mind has a built in defense systems to not get overwhelmed and go into freefall. So the deep feeling part of the heart gets flabby. You don’t get out of breath, you just get kinda numb. Coming to rest gives those defenses time to safely unwind, become felt for what they are- just part of an intricate system. And with that bodily realization comes the graceful opportunity for the heart to come to balance and the defensive door opens to the room of vulnerability.
I am not going to presume to tell you or to generalize where you are or are not vulnerable. It is safe to say though, we do have those places where it is easier to keep busy and distracted than to allow things that go bump in the stillness and the quiet to start going bump in the stillness and the quiet.
Others I am sure, have their own venue for going someplace deep that allows for such stillness to occur. Personally I would be lost without time for meditation. That was made obvious to me as I sat this afternoon for the first time in several days, having let functional circumstance and tired body mind gain momentum down the steep hill of numbing automaticity. It doesn’t take long to forget to exercise the heart.
And the heart is such a feeling place to be. As the Spanish novelist, Miquel de Unamuno wrote in one of his short stories, “Ya es tarde”. It’s late now. Or one might say, “You never know how much time you have.” So just in case you haven’t been keeping up on your “exercise” routine, there’s no time like the present.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me,
As mentioned earlier in this series, I was visiting in Kashmir with friends who imported fabrics made in Srinigar to the states. This enabled them to live there and spend time with their Spiritual Master, Swami Lakshman Joo.
For those of you who would be interested you can find out much more about Lakshman Joo via the internet. It will be more concise and accurate than what I can offer I am sure. I will say he was highly respected and loved in Kashmir by ordinary people, scholars and other spiritual teachers.
Traveling to Kashmir was was not a spiritual oddessy for me. In fact I was rather iconoclastic and ironic in mood. My friends were involved in their path and that was fine. I went over there to experience a change of culture, to break patterns that needed shaking up. However, as it turns out, I did spend a good deal of time around Lakshman Joo, and his ashram., which really didn’t amount to much more than his home and some acreage around it with a gathering hall. It was peaceful and serene. (Qualities that I still treasure in places to this day) and I was happy to occasionally do some simple chores around there, helping take care of the grounds mostly. It helped to balance out my energy and allowed me to come to rest in this area and feel it, versus just touristing around in a consumer costume.
So, I, along with five thousand or so other people who showed up, were invited to Swami Lakshman Joo’s 65th birthday celebration in 1975. The day started early, with Lakshman Joo sitting in meditation for three hours, from five in the morning till eight or so. A smaller group of people had been invited to be there for this, the larger crowds coming over the next three days to pay respects and share in food and good company.
During the occasion, his followers came up to where Lakshman Joo was in meditation and placed flowers before him or on him. There was a number of his male devotees who seemed to be immediately nearby to offer protection ( mostly symbolic) for one who is in a state of deep meditation. In the meantime those who had offered their flowers then sat down and participated in chanting that went on for the hours of meditation.
Later on and throughout the next three days, the temporary mud walled kitchen that was built for the Brahmins to cook in provided rice and dahl and other foods to those who came to visit. There were several occasions where Lakshman Joo would hand out rock candy for hours as a gifts to those who travelled to see him.. Traditionally it is considered auspicious to receive “prasad” from a spiritual master as it represents the blessings he or she offers to all.
Later during my visit I went with everyone to the opening of an either an ashram or a library ( my memory is unclear) in a small village in the Himalayas. Quite the bus ride. Sorry to not have a lot of photos as it was quite beautiful but…..
And so my visit came to an end. The funds I had brought were just about gone, six weeks had passed and it was time to go. I told my friends my departure date and they were suprised I didn’t want to stay and remain with them, possibly becoming a student of their teacher. But I was clear in my feelings, and told them, “No, my heart is in the states”. Don’t know why I said that particular line but it is what came out. They said their goodbyes and told me to go tell Lakshman Joo goodbye as he liked me and that would only be appropriate. So I went down the street, paid my respects and told him that although I had appreciated my time there and felt affection for him, my heart was in the states and I was leaving in a few days. He was quiet for awhile, then said “Fine, I’ll pray for you.” And so I took my leave.
Several days later I arrived in Los Angeles weary from a very long flight. Upon arriving at my friends stateside home in Santa Barbara, everyone took off for whatever reasons and I had the house to myself.
I was stretching out on the couch, about to take a nap, when my eyes caught the only thing laying on a very clean coffee table next to the couch. It was a copy of the “Knee of Listening” , the autobiography of Adi Da Samraj ( then Franklin Jones) who had begun teaching his spiritual path to westerners several years earlier. I had never heard of him.
The photograph was attractive. I remember saying to myself, “This is a bright looking fellow.” So I picked up the book to glance at it. The only words I have for what took place next comes under the heading of being hit by a lightning bolt. Within six pages it was utterly clear to me that this was someone I simply had to study with. His description of the human condition, it’s limitations, patterns and unconscious processes, all spoke to the very emotions that represented many years of turmoil and questioning by me. And those patterns were the very ones I wanted to shake up by traveling to Kashmir. But there was much more to the book than just a description of the human condition. He spoke of what was Transcendent, not limited by the ephemerality of conditional existence and I confess I didn’t intellectually understand a word of it, yet still found it incredibly moving and exciting. There was something penetrating that I could tangibly feel that said this was right for me. Six months later I had moved to San Francisco to begin a relationship with my Spiritual Master that continues to this day.
Needless to say I am grateful to Swami Lakshman Joo. The prayers of a realizer are powerful. I think I got a lot more out of my visit to Kashmir thirty five years ago than just some rock candy.
Thanks for taking some LIP from me,