The Earth, The Self, The Sky
I have to start this post with sad news. Since my last post, I had to put down my long-time hiking companion, my Irish Setter, Trevor Molloy. “T-Dog” was with us for 14 years, so he had become an integral part of our family.
It is amazing to think about all that transpired in those 14 years; from the death of my parents to career changes to our daughter starting a very successful career as a professional figure skater. Next stop for Mary – Europe!
I didn’t realize how much Trevor drew me out of myself during our hikes until after he was gone. Initially it was harder to get out of my own head and the events and preoccupations of the day on the first walks after he “ran west.” It’s funny how even a pet can draw us out in a beneficial way.
I came across a wonderful article on dogster.com about meditating while walking ones dog.1 Paige Polisner, dog-lover and meditation teacher states, “I teach Buddhist meditation, and it’s all about trying to open our hearts and become less egocentric and more other-centric.” The more “other-centric” aspect helps to clear one’s mind, to become observant of “the other,” whether small “O” or capital “O,” as Thomas Keating, creator of the Snowmass Inter-Religious Conference suggests2.
I eventually became more deliberate about meditation when walking alone, particularly this past winter after the stream restoration project at Ault Park was completed. With the running water and the many cascades stepping down the stream, there is a new, steady, peaceful burble that is a perfect place to wash away the thoughts and distractions of the day; a sound upon which to focus–an external sensory mantra.
I wrote the following meditation after a moonlit walk in January:
It was another delightful evening strolling by the Valley Trail stream under a brilliant, star-struck sky, with a bright moon providing the stage lights for the show that would unfold. The quiet spiritual breezes of last week were now shouting through the limbs; the trees bowing and swaying to the breath of Zeus blowing past, leaving the sound of deep surf crashing across the hills. And I doffed my many hats of the day on those swaying limbs, letting the wind blow them away. Thoughts of the moment, thoughts of the past, thoughts ahead — each chapeau let loose on the wind back to the diffuse breath from whence they came. Centering there, standing along the stream, letting its gentle, constant ripple cleanse my heart of the last chimeras of the day. Ready now for a quiet, warm sleep and a fresh eye on the new day ahead.
Thankfully, the loss of Trevor is followed by the wonderful news that I got an Irish Setter puppy for my birthday. “Rory Fergus” (Christmas was his litter name) is so full of life and fun. It’s delightful to have this new hiking companion. He has restored my sense of unconditional love in a sometimes unforgiving world, and is the picture of unabashed joy in being as he romps, sprints and explores on our walks. He takes particular delight in running up and down the stream, snapping randomly at the water that splashes up ahead of him.
Inspirations of Spring
This spring took its time arriving with late snows and hard freezes to the end of March. Many new buds, including our backyard daffodils, held fast waiting for the warm kiss of Sun to open up and receive its nourishment from across the void of space – that spirited energy from afar. Once Old Man Winter gave way, the buds and blooms opened in all their glory.
The entire community surrounding our beautiful Ault Park anticipates spring and the opening of the weeping cherry tree blooms lining the hills along the park entrance. The late arrival of the season finally rewarded us with a long-lasting, fragrant display of blooms.
But it was a sight after the blooms that prompted the title of this blog post. This leafed-out weeping cherry reminded me of the idea of constant birthing, originally offered by 14th Century theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart. Eckhart’s idea, through the lens of today’s scientific observation, yields this thread of contemplation: from seed and egg to womb to birth to life–to second birth into the afterlife.
Our second birth is the destiny and the true birthright of humanity. Our temporal lives are the briefest of sparks when dabbed on the canvas of deep time. We live a caterpillar phase, a metamorphosis before flying on butterfly wings back to Eternal Being, constantly emerging into greater and greater degrees of freedom within our core act of being. It is the density of temporal being birthing us, releasing us into the aether on the wings of grace.
The Allurement: The beauty of the initial blooms is like the wonder of conception; a beautiful, anticipated moment that begets new life. Yet, it is a very brief seasonal flourish that leads to the fruit and greenery of the long, lush summer. As in human conception, the spring blooms are a very intense, alluring moment that brings extraordinary focus to the present.
From a human perspective, and for me personally, when conception was the result, there was an undeniable spiritual echo that distinguished that moment from every other loving encounter. It was a spiritual echo that heralded the eternal presence of a new life, of a new soul–a lightning sprite that flashed into the heavens, sensed by an aware third eye.
For the weeping cherries, the bees of spring that swarm the beautiful blooms are like an angelic, seminal dance that heralds new life and unique new being that can spring from these very blooms.
Yet that joyous moment of fertilization, of conception, of creation, serves as a necessary allurement to the hard work, the duration of life and the painful bookends of human and spiritual birth.
The Emergent Spirit: From Dust to Dust, From Energy to Energy
As it stands there, this mature weeping cherry offers an ideal subject for the metaphor of life and the profound connectedness in being that is found in its emergence, from the dust of Earth to itself to the sky. And it offers analogous testament to the more meaningful, aware human emergence, from our sustaining earth to self to the sky–from earth to self to spirit.
As discussed in Woods Walking #15: The Boundaries of Being, pure energy seems to be the Aeternum Patrem, the well of life, the source of being that enables the transition to temporal being. I use “enables” in the present tense, since this birthing is continually happening, just as seedlings continually spring from the forest floor. And in the current thinking of astrophysics, the possibility of multiple universes—a megaverse—means that even on a grand, fantastic scale birthing of new universes is continually happening.
Dr. Eben Alexander III, in his book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, relates his visit to “The Core” during his near-death experience. In presence with “OM,” Alexander was told that there are uncountable universes. Imagine counting the leaves on a mature weeping cherry, but then think of each as a universe on the scale of deep time and an eternal megaverse–Spacetime without bounds. The unimaginable Glory of Being!
In contemplation on the order of being, one can follow the river of being to its source. On that journey, in that quiet mindful walking back in time, we find many quantum cascades in this river; turbulent waters that retrace the coalescing of our Sun and planets, the stellar nucleosynthesis that birthed our literal chemistry for life. All of this from the homogeneous effluent from the wellspring of the Big Bang, the loins of Being, the seed of the Absolute First Mover into the cosmos.
As described in my comments following Woods Walking #2: The Metaphysics of a Fork, we are flowing—participating—in the current of our literal “substantial lineage,” in the waters of being that tie us directly to the Source of Being, the non-contingent Source of all that is, the Unmoved Mover. We are personally distinct individuals, yet we participate in this totality of Being—this Oneness. We are apparent in this moment, but connected eternally in the now by our timeless mindfulness.
As I’ve said in other Woods Walking posts, we are the human flower of the breath of God into the cosmos. When considered and contemplated on the orders of contingency, causality and continuum, starting from our own “I am,” there can be no other conclusion. And in contemplation of these koans of contingency, causality and continuum, we are present to this Source, this Absolute Being—this Love!
In the literal oneness of creation, of temporal being (I prefer to say ‘Being,’ since the act of ‘creation’ really is more of a transition from one pre-existent order of being to another), we find a dynamic evolution of our very elements from the initial explosion of Spacetime, the homogeneous primordial soup that enabled all that we see and all that we are. It is a sudden explosion from the soil of Being. The parable of the mustard seed bursts forth.3
And as mentioned in earlier posts, this moment of transition is the ultimate ecumenism, both physical and spiritual, the moment when the seed of an entire universe passes through the quantum, cleansing eye of the needle.
From this Primal Energy, and based on an increasing scientific understanding of the quantum sub-atomic maelstrom, stars create the elements that eventually combine in our breath of life. Yet later stars–our very own Sun being one–also provide the literal gravity to coalesce our planets as well as the very energy that sustains us in our emergent form. It is a quantum symbiosis in which every next step follows the other, all emergent from one titanic burst of energy. It is the stage play of the river of being, with every part and plot twist intimately connected and woven into a marvelous balance and synchronicity.4
Energy Emergent from the Soil and the Sky: It is long-accepted science that the energy from the Sun literally provides the energy of life. It powers the chemistry of “Mother Earth”–like fire to make steam, or fuel to an engine. Botanical photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates using energy directly from the Sun. It is a process centered in each individual leaf, each one receiving the kiss of the Sun. These carbohydrates are the stored energy that forms the first literal link of our own food chain.
The human-tree analog that blossoms from the image of the fully greened weeping cherry is the level of energy, the level of attainment of the human spirit, the human heart.
Down among the roots is the base ingestion of water and minerals from Mother Earth. In “Proof of Heaven,” Dr. Alexander calls this spiritual level the “earthworm eye view.”
When the stored energy of life ascends from these nether regions, these lower chakras5, we find an emergent, singular, primitive ‘amygdalic’ trunk that stands and fights against the fierce winds of the seasons and bears the upper branches as they reach for the sky and sustaining sunlight.
From these robust, primitive trunks, finer and finer branching emerges until at the edges, the very fingers of the tree, the leaves bud and interact with the Sun. As with the human brain, the higher one goes, the more complex is the structure and the level of awareness. The leaves of the tree are like the cerebral cortex, the fine covering of the cerebrum and cerebellum. And like the leaves accepting the spirited energy of the Sun, the cerebral cortex is the wiring of the brain that is the home of memory, emotions and our unique, self-reflective awareness. It is the sensitive interface, the human “radio” to a broader consciousness and our own foliage and the scent of sweet spiritual energy and the sky beyond the Sun.
Focus of Light, Focus of Energy: What truly distinguishes men and women—humanity—from all other sentient animal life is this self-reflective awareness, a manifestation of energy that is unique to our being.
John’s Gospel quotes Jesus as saying that there are many rooms in His Father’s house. (John 14:2) Similarly, in our human awareness, there are many rooms to our consciousness, from moods and dispositions to disciplines and gifts. One can think of our consciousness as the ultimate open-source platform that responds to our deliberate application of this creative capacity. From a skilled laborer to an esteemed academic to an accomplished artist, the specific focus of an individual is like a spotlight in that area of the brain–that twist of branches; a willful focus of energy in this physically confined, but consciously limitless tabula rasa.
Looking at the synapse-like structure of the greening cherry, we find an image that mimics our own cranial structure, reaching to higher levels through branches of increasing complexity, like ganglia leading to distinct, more refined areas of focus and to the very limits of the leaves that interact with the energy of the Sun. Our energy, our awareness ascends the trunk supporting the trifurcated major limbs branching into an expanse reaching up. Our focus of awareness occupies specific branches, specific spaces–those branches: those rooms.
We are gift to one another when we move from reactive, instinctual action of the lower levels to thoughtful, willful and deliberate action, which action follows a reasoned, discriminating idea and motivation. When we move upward and outward from self-preserving, even self-serving action to generous, loving action, our focus of energy gains a brightness that touches many and extends into the full canopy borne by the feathery twigs of this tree of life.
Energy to Energy: In Woods Walking #10: The First Encounter, I mentioned Dr. Mario Beauregard’s work studying the brain patterns of people having spiritual experiences.Specifically, he studied Carmelite nuns during meditation.6 In Beauregard’s work, and in other similar research, brain scans of meditating minds, of mystical minds, show images that are fully “lit up.” The picture from Beauregard’s study images is distinct from those more focused REM sleep brain activity and the associated memory centers of the brain, or even other areas associated with hallucination.
Meditating minds are minds that are fully engaged, where the focus of awareness—the spotlight of specific thought—is released in favor of full, broad presence; the flood of full capacity, true potential and the gifts and grace of the human mind and consciousness. It is consciousness, energy, flowing out in abundance through every branch and fully illuminating the entire cranial canopy, consenting to and dancing with the energy of the sky.
In the metaphor of the tree, we find a canopy of awareness that is fully open to the sky, that enjoys direct light on every leaf, and in full consent to the light; assenting to the alluring warmth and nourishment.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
~ Hermann Hesse ~
It is a presence and awareness where our emerging human energy meets the energy of the Spirit in the echo of Being. When consciousness meets Spirit, it is a moment where the bloom greats the Gardener and every petal of the bloom rejoices in the glow of joy shared between them. This presence and mindfulness is the photosynthesis of prayer and contemplation, the direct nourishment of self from the sky, the Spirit.
The Oneness of Encounter
Unlike the earth-bound human gardener and the bloom, which are distinct species that emerge from this one Earth, the human spirit meets an Absolute Energy that we sense as the Alluring Destination of our personal journey. As described in Woods Walking #9: Three Nights of Affirmation, this encounter of energy to Energy is complete and enveloping, like a drop of water returning to the sea, as though the drop had a choice to consent to its return.
It is a radical peace and presence, that, as Fr. Thomas Keating describes in his 2008 presentation Oneness and the Heart of the World, “does not deny the distinction, but does deny the separation” between the human person and God.
The kiss of warm Sun on a beautiful day, an awe-inspiring gaze at a star-struck sky, or a breath-taking view of a verdant, misty glade—or even that first breath, that first sense of spirit in a quiet contemplative moment—these are the first alluring invitations to that which completes us.
Our response is to pursue this call, to open the focus of light within our awareness, to move our energy from the base, reactive roots of survival to the full light of day, to the Spirit that calls and nourishes our fine cortical canopy of awareness. It is an allurement that unites each thought, each leaf and its own energy to the complete energy of our full consciousness; that third eye that gazes into the heavens, beyond the Sun into the brilliant, eternal depth of Being.
There, the human flower of the breath of God into the cosmos returns to its Source and Gardener and greets the other members of the Body of Humanity that reside in that timeless, peaceful celebration.
Copyright © 2013 Rudolph Siegel
2 Fr. Thomas Keating, “Summary of Beliefs”: http://youtu.be/p-Q9ql0Pqo0
3 The Parable of the Mustard Seed, Matthew 13:31-32
4 Neil deGrasse Tyson, “The Most Astounding Fact”: http://youtu.be/9D05ej8u-gU
5 Hindu origins of chakra: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra
6 Mario Beauregard: http://drmariobeauregard.com/