Drinking Water From the Heart of the Earth

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On a hot day, when you’ve just climbed the trail from Pan Toll Ranger Station to Rock Springs, a drink of the water, flowing cold and clear from the pipe, is to taste life itself. Even now, sitting at my desk with the sound of the rain outside my window, a wine glass of that water is all I need to taste the mountain and remember the water running down the rocky path, the cool air in my lungs on the day I drew water from that well.

A goblet of that water sits on the altar above me, next to the cauldron where a candle burns for Brighid. I’m thankful for so many things, for that Thanksgiving day when I filled my jars and had a family to share Thanksgiving dinner with. For the deer I saw on the mountain:

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And from the deck outside the dining room:

deckdeer

I believe the world lays gifts at our feet every day. The more I say “thank you” for them, the more of them I notice. I’m not aspiring for sainthood here, this is most definitely a daily practice with an aspect of selfishness to it. It makes me feel better to do it, and so it reinforces itself. Beginning my day by going to work would be a lot harder if I didn’t start out by naming a few blessings, having a job to go to being pretty high on the list. When I had to get on a bike at oh-dark-thirty and arrive at work while it was still dark an hour later, those thank yous were sometimes what got me there. There was a time when I never thought I’d be getting on that bike when it was light, but now I do, and there’s yet another thing to be thankful for.

I try to turn my face to the light whenever possible. It’s hard at times, but the alternative is so much worse. There are so many things in my life that I would like to change, and so many of them seem immovable. But little by little, like that water wearing away at the rock below, some of them are shifting. Some of it is all in point of view.

Getting hurt at work has become a blessing. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I make less money than I did, but I work fewer hours, and my schedule is more flexible than it’s been in years. I make enough to live on–just–and that extra time and energy goes into music. Between BART stations and open mics, I am most of the way to a new album. At last night’s open mic, I was offered a gig. Date TBD and unpaid, but I’m farther down the road than I was last week.

I can’t quite see us ever getting out of Oakland and into that forest I want to be living in, but I can at least see the cracks in that belief. Who knows? The forest may spring up around us. I look for the trees that are already here, and see the houses among them rather than the other way around. I have acorn bits in the freezer and whole acorns in the kitchen waiting to be cracked. All were gathered from the streets of Lafayette. The beginnings of the food forest are already here. Olives fall from the trees in the Cannery in San Francisco, and plums dot the streets of Berkeley and Oakland every summer. Blackberries are everywhere.

What are you grateful for?

That Perfect Crystalline Moment

We’re all chasing it–the perfect expression of our passion. In art it might be the perfect sentence that expresses that thought completely, the perfect piece of sculpture, the tune that recreates the moment when the song was born. These things can’t be created on command, but the fertile ground on which they grow can be prepared.

The ways this is done are completely different for each of us. That is why they can’t be taught, and that is why the one constant piece of advice we are given in all creative endeavours is to put in the time, to practice often and intensely. Only by doing that can we teach ourselves what our methods are, and only in that way can they evolve over time. Consistency comes from this. The muse is balanced on a knife edge, and we can only take fire from her hands if we develop the skill to stand on that edge with her.

What is your craft and how do you practice it? It doesn’t have to be music, or writing or art. It could be cooking, gardening, or anything that ignites that fire of creation within you. We all have something we love, whether we have discovered it or not. We all practice our passion in some way. This question can be asked anywhere–and it leads to one of my most useful tools. All of us spend a lot of time somewhere where our minds are not necessarily fully engaged. A friend of mine calls this his “sanctuary time.” For me, this time is spent walking, bicycling, or on the bus. You won’t see me with headphones jammed in my ears or a phone in my hand. In fact, you won’t be able to tell me from any of the people packed around me on transit, or walking down the street. Sometimes you might see me with a notebook or iPod in hand, but that just means that some of that time has paid off and I’m putting down the fruits of my labors. Where is your sanctuary time?

A bus is the perfect place to ask yourself questions. If you can block out the constant chatter of cell phones and mp3 players, it’s a place where we’re the most alone. Everyone wants to be somewhere else, and they’re concentrating on anything but the people around them. The interaction between strangers is at a minimum, though those few occasions can also be very fertile. It’s a good time to take a deep breath–or several–and see how it changes you. No one will notice, I do it all the time. For me, it slows me down, cools me to operating temperature. It is a perfect complement to my meditation practice. The focus and concentration I am working on in solitude means nothing if it can’t be created anywhere, anytime. If you can’t block out or otherwise smooth out what’s around you, that’s okay. Believe me, it’s an ongoing practice for me too! Put some background on that mp3 player. Space music, classical, or nature sounds might work for you. What allows you to access the silence within in the midst of chaos?

Transit used to be a little slice of hell for me. I ride at rush hour and it’s always crowded, noisy, and unpleasant. But the fact that I rarely if ever sit down means that I can’t fall into a book as I used to. The fact that there’s always someone who wants to have a loud phone conversation or turn their iPod up to maximum volume makes it the perfect laboratory for bringing practice out into the world. Since I don’t have a car, I am essentially trapped on transit, but many of us feel just as trapped in a car. I invite you to find the places you’re trapped in and see if you can reclaim that time in some way and put it to use. Reclaiming my time and putting it in service to my music is an ongoing process. Since I made the choice to pursue it I’ve been a lot happier. The things that used to drive me nuts still do, but it’s easier to shift my focus back to what really matters because I have something beyond the daily grind.  

I often ask a question that I’m going to ask you now: What would the world look like if everyone was doing what they were meant to do? What if our true work was the coin we used to measure success? That’s impossible, I hear you say. Who would clean the toilets? Who would take out the trash? What if we all did so, I say. What if we all took turns doing what needed to be done? What if we stopped trying to avoid those jobs and just got them out of the way? What if we all left a public restroom or a fast food restaurant table cleaner than we found it? What if we all generated little or no trash? San Francisco’s composting program and the new practice of charging for disposable shopping bags are steps towards this. There are people out there whose passion is to make us a trash-free society. There are people who make their living selling composting toilets. My point is, anything can be your fire. It is the way you add value to your existence, and to the world around you. What if more of us asked the questions that would change the shape of the world around us?

So what is your passion? What would you do with your life if you weren’t having to spend so much time making a living? How can you carve out a little time for it right now, and if you’re already doing so, what strategies are working for you? I really want to know. Because I want to live in that world, where we’re all doing what we love. It all starts with me–and you.

Growing myself into a better person. Growing the world into a better place.

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Every month, Meditation For evolutionaries hosts an online meditation gathering. Synchronicity being what it is, this dovetails nicely with a post Sage and Starshine made recently, on meditation and druidry.

I’ve been doing my best to meditate daily for a while now. It’s hard to make time, but the more I manage to do so, the easier it gets. I guess that’s the meaning of practice ;). I find that it’s easy to skip, but harder to climb back on the horse, so to speak, so finding those points where I can go either way has become a practice in itself.

When I was a deckhand, I used to go into work early. Public transit being what it is, it was easier and more pleasant to take the early BART/bus and get there before it was light. I could see the stars, and the slight lightening of the sky to the east. I’d go aboard the loneliest boat in the fleet and do my morning yoga, and then sit on a stool, my back against a bulkhead. There by the waterline I could hear the waves slapping against the hull and the occasional shouts of swimmers in the lagoon. Already quiet from the stretching I’d done, I’d look at the time and set a timer on my iPod. Time depended on how much I had left before the morning muster, but it was usually a solid fifteen minutes at least. I’d drift into the coolness of the steel around me and out across the water, and be a part of everything.

When I got hurt and had to give up the deckhand job, I lost that. By the time I get to work now the Park is open, and the ships are largely closed to me now. I tried getting up early at home, but it just didn’t work. A cup of coffee in bed and the cats lying around me were just too seductive. For a long time I drifted. Even going back to the Nyingma Institute where I’d taken my first meditation course, and taking another, didn’t help.

I could keep up my yoga by switching it to the end of my day rather than the beginning, but yoga is an immediate necessity. If I don’t do it daily, my physical issues get worse and worse, and I will end up unable to work.

Meditation is just as necessary, but the problems caused by skipping it are more subtle and don’t affect my actual ability to work. They just make life grayer and more chaotic. It’s more like losing a subtle superpower than normal functioning. Though really, what is “normal?”

I finally got back on track by doing a meditation challenge given by Deepak Chopra, of all people. For 21 days, I had to meditate every day. Very good mind candy, the meditations were online, free, and had great leaders and beautiful music. Why did this work when nothing else did? Hell, I don’t know. In college, I finally stopped biting my nails by wearing black nail polish. But by the end of the challenge, meditation had indeed become a habit again. I went back to my old practice, and am in the process of working out some Druid twists to it. Kind of like improvising a harmony to the melody below. When I stumble, there’s always the solid Tibetan underpinning to fall back on.

This once a month meditation is a different animal, however. 50 minutes of meditation is a long time for me. But the questions asked benefit from a good long period of reflection. Thinking, for example, on why I am sitting here at all, is very basic. But it cuts to the heart of practice and presence. They ask it every month, and I get to a deeper refinement of my own answer each time. There are many reasons, after all. But underlying them all, for me, is something that ties them all together. If you meditate, what is it for you? Is it self-development, service, a bit of peace in a chaotic world? If you don’t, and want to, why do you want to? What do you hope to get out of it?