Woods Walking #10

The First Encounter

This past weekend featured several crystal-clear nights leading up to the full moon on Saturday evening.  The best walk was Friday evening on the western end of the Forest Loop Trail.  The leaves weren’t all down yet, so there were large splashes of light streaming through the breaks in the canopy.  Even in the dark shadowy areas, there was enough diffuse light to allow an easy passage.

I am looking forward to November when the leaves will all be down.  Then, the full moon is truly magical as it illumines the dark, bare rolling woods.  For another contemplation of a moonlit walk, see Woods Walking #8, “Farewell to Winter.”

So after reading Woods Walking #9, “Three Nights of Affirmation,” the skeptic would ask, how do I know that my Beatific experience was a “spiritual” encounter?  How do I know it’s not just some psychological phenomenon, an overactive imagination – or even just a very pleasant dream?

These are all fair questions.  And to the hardened skeptic, there’s no adequate response.  How does one take a deeply personal, experiential event and “prove” its authenticity?  How does one describe their love for another person?  How does one communicate the deeply moving feeling of beauty communicated by art, music or nature itself?

Empirically, any of these would pose a seemingly impossible task.  I can’t “replay” the spiritual experience on screen or provide an intimate empathic connection to the lived experience.  Perhaps in one disposed to his or her own spiritual capacity, a laying on of hands, or what Hinduism refers to as Shaktipat—the conferring of “spiritual energy,” may be enough to bring the skeptic along.

Perhaps one could be attached to electroencephalograph (EEG) equipment and compare the readings during the recounting of the spiritual moments to control recordings.

The book “The Mystical Mind” by Andrew Newberg addresses neural structure and brain activity associated with religious experience.  And in “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul,” Mario Beauregard studied the brain activity of Carmelite nuns.  He found that specific areas of the brain associated with contemplative prayer were different from those associated with hallucinations or intense emotions.

But still…for those who have experienced deep, spiritual encounters, how do we know?  For me, I know that I have followed a long path of consistent experiences that have become a cherished part of who I am.

To provide a glimpse of my own further affirmation of the spiritual, I will refer to another personal experience, in this case my first spiritual encounter.  It is one of a very different nature and one that took place at a time of, for me, early true innocence.

An Out-of-Body Experience

My mother suffered from Epilepsy, with the onset of symptoms beginning not long after I was born.  She regularly took medication and I don’t recall if it was Phenobarbital or some other medication developed later.  Nonetheless, one day when I was three years old, I had observed my mother taking her medication, and being curious and wishing to emulate her activities, I climbed up to the high cabinet where the medicine was kept and consumed some of it.

I don’t know how much I took, but I do remember, very shortly after swallowing the pills, staggering toward the couch in the family room before losing consciousness.  After blacking out, I had an out-of-body experience, initially seeing myself from a vantage point off to the left seeing myself on a gurney with people surrounding me, working very intensely.

My next brief memory was coming to just long enough to see someone putting the tube into my mouth that was used to pump my stomach.

The next memory was the classic “bright light” experience, similar to others documented in near-death experiences.  Seeing the bright light, I was drawn toward it.  It seemed to be a long way off and as I began to move toward it, someone, a spiritual presence, came to me from the direction of the light, and without words, turned me back, communicating that I return.

The image I saw after I was turned around was the classic big blue Earth floating before me.  It looked just like a picture taken from about half the distance to the moon, based on pictures I’ve since looked at taken during lunar missions.  Keep in mind that this took place about 1959, which is well before any such picture had been taken by the nascent American and Soviet space programs of the time.  Yet that beautiful image, that memory is very clear.

Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose. ~ Fred Hoyle

As I began to move back toward Earth I lost consciousness again.

My very next awakened recollection was after coming to in the hospital.  My dad was in the room with me and I clearly remember asking him if we owned any of the airplanes we’d see during our regular weekend drives by Lunken Airport.  I asked that question because I had a brief dream before waking of the old blue and white DC-3s we’d see parked at, what was then, the Procter & Gamble hangar on Wilmer Ave.

What is affirming for me is the consistent experience of the mode of communication in my various spiritual encounters.  In Woods Walking #3, I first used the term “innate intentional communication.”  That’s as concise a description as I can give: innate given the deeply intimate nature; intentional given that there are no words spoken; and communication because there is a clear intent or meaning that is conveyed.

I tell this story, for the first time publically here, because the experience has helped to take me from a sense of religious faith to a sense of spiritual actuality; of participation in a spiritual reality that extends beyond what we know through our normal five senses.  It also confirms the viability and reality of a personal spiritual being–our soul–that continues on after passing from our host, physical bodies.

My personal, organic spiritual self is affirmed in this experience.  And to have ongoing experiences that know Sublime Love and spiritual intimacy testifies to the reality of the traditions of revelation that inform the many religious faiths celebrated by humanity for millennia.

In the Welcome to Woods Walking, I mentioned that this spiritual capacity is indeed in our nature as human beings, and I take the risk of sharing these experiences to communicate and confirm a rich capacity, a spiritual potential that lies dormant in so many of us.

Such awareness and actualization on a personal level is at once awe-inspiring and humbling, but also very exciting for the truth–the reality–that lies behind the human experience of the Divine.  And on the scale of the Body of Humanity, both living here and now, and for those “Risen” before us–the miraculous spiritual reality that calls us together, has literally unlimited capacity for Good.

So, to the skeptic, I ask that they consider the cultivation of their own truest and fullest self.  Our corporal lives are but a flash in the continuum of time and space.  To deny one’s own eternal, spiritual capacity is analogous to striking a match and letting it burn out to a wisp of smoke without setting the larger fire ablaze.

The strident humanist, the strict empiricist are but Doubting Thomases who would limit their own horizons, standing on the comforting shores of a relative certitude that they might never leave.

A far greater comfort and a boundless Love awaits.

Copyright © 2010 Rudolph Siegel

The Beautiful Path & Cathedral to the Sky

Shaktipat:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaktipat

The Mystical Mind:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_B._Newberg

Mario Beauregard: http://drmariobeauregard.com/

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Woods Walking #9

Three Nights of Affirmation

I normally start these installments with a recounting of the evening’s walk on the Ault Park trails, but this post has seen a longer-than-usual gestation.  Suffice it to say that the spring of 2010, when I started this entry, was wonderful: the fresh, tender greens, the resurgence of life, the glorious smell of the many blooms wafting through the woods, and the return of my favorite bird for its beautiful, varied song; the Wood Thrush.   (http://www.birdjam.com/birdsong.php?id=32  Scroll down a bit & click the play button.)

It was also a time to reflect on the Easter Season and the miraculous opportunity that we have, as members of the natural body of humanity, to participate in the Risen Body of Christ.  It is in our nature and it is our true potential as persons.  And it is in our nature, from the beginning of time, to be gift for and to God, who created this temporal universe, from which life arises, allowing us to share in the Wonder, Beauty and Glory of Being. I use the term Risen Body of Christ from within my Catholic point of view.

But I have to wonder, in order to be more inclusive, not only of other global religions, but also of even other possible life elsewhere in the universe, if the Risen Body of Humanity might not be more appropriate? When you look into the heavens at night, or read about the expansive vision of astrophysics today, reaching out to the very edges of the observable universe, it is hard to conceive that there isn’t other life “out there.”

All of this is certainly a question of Holy Mystery whose answer awaits us in the infinite purview that awaits us all.

While considering this new installment of Woods Walking, something had been nagging at me, specifically the abrupt end of Woods Walking #7, “The Contemplative Path.”  I devoted quite a bit to the section on Active Contemplation, but relatively little to that on Passive Contemplation. There’s good reason for it.  First, it requires that I personally share what I can only call my own deeply personal experience of a true Beatific Encounter, which I will share in this installment.  And second, I’ve been unsure of how to adequately convey something so–how do I say it, so totally consuming and wondrous; an experience that seemed to reach an absolute state and is exceedingly difficult to put into words.

This is not the first time that I’ve shared my experience.  To place it chronologically, my wondrous spiritual encounter took place during the fall of 1977.  It was the fall semester of my senior year at Xavier University.  But the first time I publicly discussed my experience was later that year during my Senior Comprehensive Review oral exam in Philosophy.

There were three professors on the questioning panel, one of whom was the chairman of the department, Dr. Bernard Gendreau.  He was to be the first questioner and in the week leading up to the exams I requested that I use his allotted ten minutes to “make a statement.”  Dr. Gendreau agreed and obtained the consent of the other panelists, Dr. Richard Dumont, whom I had for the courses Philosophy of God and Ethics, and Fr. Robert Schmidt, whom I had for Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge) and our year-long Senior Comprehensive Review.

In my “statement” I didn’t attempt to delve into the details of my experience, rather I equated it to the well-documented experience of the 17th Century Philosopher/Scientist René Descartes, and, more importantly, that my encounter served as testament to the truth of the philosophical systematic then presented by the Xavier Philosophy Department.  The “official” department systematic was contained within a series of Propositions, from Philosophy of Man through Philosophy of God and metaphysics, based primarily on the evolved philosophical and metaphysical work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The ongoing influence of Thomistic Metaphysics on me is clear in this series of blogs, “Woods Walking.”  The synthesis of Aquinas, bringing together the ancient empirical philosophical foundations through Aristotle with the then-current 13th Century theocentric systematic of the Catholic Church set on the 4th and 5th Century cornerstones laid by St. Augustine, provides a foundation of critical thought that has evolved over the millennia.

The logic presented was that, since my earliest days of reflective, analytical awareness, I had dedicated myself, sometimes rigorously, and other times to a lesser degree, to the Catholic faith in which I was raised.  And being contemplative in disposition, and to some degree having surrendered myself to the spirit, I felt that the theocentric, objective realism at the foundation of the Jesuit philosophical systematic perfectly matched the spiritual current–and experiences–that had guided me to this place. In that way, the then-current Xavier systematic matched my own inclination to synthesize the empirical thinking of the day with traditions of faith and religion, reconciling cutting edge science to the disciplines of philosophy and theology, seeking out the common threads to both. It was, and is, a continuation of the famous synthesis of St. Thomas, reconciling empirical thought with a rigorous theocentric philosophy.

In short, I proclaimed the Xavier departmental systematic as a path to that which is “true,” based on the continuity of that which is personally, directly experienced to that which is taught in the relevant academic texts. All of this is consistent with my extrapolated theorem stated in Woods Walking #2, that the cosmologist and the mystic are likely encountering the same unified “reality,” yet from different disciplines. At the core, these scholastic foundations mirrored and complemented my intuitive, contemplative experience of faith and spiritual encounter as a natural extension of my personal, sentient intentionality and accumulated body of knowledge.

What a grand–if not bold–moment!  Fortunately, the subsequent questioning of the panel only rose to my modest bacheloreate level of study.

But, what of the “Three Nights of Affirmation”?

Leading up to the Fall of 1976, I had been fully immersed in the study of Philosophy for a little over a year.  I switched from my initial pre-med/pre-dent major, following in the footsteps to dentistry and the practice of endodontia of my grandfather, father and older brother, to instead follow the footsteps of my personal muse and passion, with whom I became fully smitten while taking the introductory philosophy classes Philosophy of Man and Theory of Knowledge. Philosophy allowed me to pursue the currents of raw perception and sample the historic thinking regarding questions about what it is to be human, what “is” and how we know and participate in something that we each experience intimately every day.  Yet every one of us, at some point, puzzles over what it all “means.”

I recall a raw, early sense of wonder in my pre-teen years; a seed planted by my parents during walks on pleasant spring evenings through the garden, or sampling the sweet nectar from the honey suckle blooms picked by my dad as we took walks along our street.  One day, while putting my hand on the trunk of a tree, I recall wondering about the nature of that immediate experience: is the tree a separate, unique entity, or some sensory “trick” of phenomenalism, or purely some representation of an “idea.”  Did the tree exist in and of itself, or was it some projection from my own being?

In the year leading up to my encounter, I experienced the enjoyment of philosophical pursuit and the wondrous, revealing process of new metaphysical analysis, breaking my own trail through natural law and its logical lattice.  All of this led to many sleepless nights with mind racing, pulling back the many curtains of deeper levels of understanding.  Later reading of mystic and writer Emile Mersch I came to appreciate the meaning of his term, “mind aflame.”

Meanwhile, I was living and interacting daily in the accepting, nurturing “Catholic” environment of the Xavier campus.  At the core was my own disposition toward unconditional love, both spiritually and in my personal interactions.  This even extended to simple daily activities, such as offering a courteous, understanding demeanor while driving.  That seems like a trivial example, but that’s how pervasive the demeanor of love and acceptance became.

“If you are driving and you arrive at a red light you have an opportunity to practice meditation. Sit there. Smile to that light. Breathe in and smile. Breathe out and allow your body to relax. The red light is no longer an enemy preventing you to go but a friend helping you to stop and go back to your breath and allow your body to relax.”  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

This peaceful, loving disposition led to a surprising, but very pleasant emergence of an empathic capacity as I felt a more tangible spiritual presence, even in awakened, daily interactions.  There was a palpable aura of joy that surrounded my interactions with friends, teachers and acquaintances.  There was a true sense of spiritual alignment that manifested itself physically as a pleasant warmth from “my mind’s eye,” a sensation emanating from my forehead with a feeling of looking upward. Within the influence of the Spirit, everything seemed natural and accessible.

As this spiritual awareness increased, my dreams reflected the peace that I was experiencing during the day.  There was distinct sense of change in the nature of my dreams; a coming to me rather than from me.  There was a sense of spiritual infusion and in some cases personal encounter with individuals whom I did not know, but equally shared my disposition toward “the good.”

Then, there was yet another distinct change in the nature of my dreams to a sense of what I can only call affirmation.  There were three distinct levels of affirmation over three nights. The first two levels regarded the affirmation of love, first the mutual love of my siblings, as though Someone Else breathed this truth upon me and I completely assented to its reality.  The second affirmation was concerning the love of my own parents for me.  This was exactly the same external sensation, but directed toward the truth of their unconditional love for me and our family, but distinguished by their unique roles as both caregivers and my own literal source of being.  In both cases, there was an external infusion or communication met by my own complete “yes.”  The discernment was clear and my assent to this presented “truth” was complete, touching me to the core of my being.

The third level was this same previous external Spiritual Presence inviting me to accept Its own Absolute love for me.  My previous evenings’ assents disposed me to this new, Total Yes.  There were no words, but there was a Beatific Encounter that is True and Timeless.  The physical sensation was similar to an adrenal rush of exhilaration, but it was uniquely all-consuming—a totality which words do not adequately convey.

The Light Within

Upon retelling, I now understand the natural progression through the three levels of my encounter as a necessary preparation of my own “temple” for the acceptance of this total and complete surrender to trust, peace and the total infusion of the Holy Spirit—a path from the immediate, accessible, personal truths to a more Eternal Expression.  It was a Beatific Infusion of Perfect Love whose manifestation in me was a feeling of sublime and total Peace; an affirmation without reservation.

Various mystical traditions refer to the outcome of such an encounter as “The Wound of Love.”

To date, this is the only time that I’ve experienced such a complete, enveloping encounter.  However, its all-encompassing nature left a permanent mark on my awareness and disposition, such that it likely would not require repetition.

I have known since what mystical traditions refer to as infused contemplation, some of which I’ve described in other installments of Woods Walking. I am left with a sense of participation in a greater whole, as described in Woods Walking #2.    Just as importantly, there obtains in me a hunger, a disposition toward an integrated world view in which a sense of continuum is vital.  That sense of continuum extends to both logical integrity—in a vertical sense–as well as an observation of the literal continuum of time and space.  My sense of legacy and eternal “substantial lineage” comes from that continuum of time.

From within or from behind, a light
shines through us upon things,
and makes us aware that we
are nothing, but the light is all.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

In summary, it is an integration of my temporal, sentient self and my transcendent, spiritual capacity.

In discussing faith and religion with a good friend, and who proclaims himself an agnostic, I arrived at a mantra* of sorts intended to instill a sense of wonder, a hunger even, in such a genuine heart.

It starts at the subatomic level and moves to the transcendent.  He was amused — at least. One boson; One quark; One proton; One atom; One molecule; One cell; One organ; One Person; One family; One community; One city; One country; One world; One solar system; One galaxy; One universe; One Multiverse; One!

“I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” ~ C.G. Jung

Lastly, here’s a short contemplative video with pictures set to Imogen Heap’s song, “The Fire.”  http://www.vimeo.com/16497333

Via Quotes from Mystics

Via Quotes from Mystics

Copyright © 2010 Rudolph Siegel * An affirming discussion of this science-based mantra is taken up by Fr. Thomas Keating at 7:30 into this video.  Wonderful!  http://youtu.be/eh8yW7GG66w A brief biography of St. Augustine: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02084a.htm A brief biography of St. Thomas Aquinas: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm

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The Conversion of Saul

What an incredible representation of a famous moment of spiritual awakening!  Karen Wilkin’s description of Caravaggio’s painting is breathtaking.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704625004575089501494443916.html?mod=wsj_share_facebook

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Woods Walking #8

Farewell to Winter         Original Post  March 18, 2010

Ah, the Spring Equinox is at hand, we remembered to “spring forward” last weekend and our evening walks along the Ault Park trails are now in the waning light of day.

I will miss the winter asterisms; Orion awakening, reclined on the eastern horizon before once again taking up the relentless pursuit of Taurus across the night sky. Soon I will not be able to nest Pollux in the nook of trunk and branch – that proximal and deep juxtaposition obscured by the fresh emergence of tender spring foliage.  I am hopeful for one more moonlit walk in the bare woods with the reflected, silvery lunar light allowing me to easily make my way.

I notice, on those moonlit nights, that the illumination from the Sea of Tranquility pales to that of the direct, revealing sun of the day.  Though, that soft light brings wonder: does humanity reflect the Eternal Wisdom of the heavens as well as the moon reflects “Old Sól,” as the moon pours diffuse light on these dark trails?

Moonlit Trail

Image: Peter Wimberg

It is a symbol of the Holy Triune Communication, from the blinding brightness of God our Creator communicated through the nourishing Light of the Holy Spirit for those who aspire to the Risen Body of Christ. Does the Living Spirit shine from our faces nearly as well?

Tonight’s evening illumination and warm temperatures affirm the approach of spring and the imminent Easter Season. The renewal of life and spirit stir from within the dormant slumber of winter and our personal Lenten rites.

First Light of Spring

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100316.html

Copyright © 2010 Rudolph Siegel

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Woods Walking #7

The Contemplative Path    Original Post  January 20, 2010
(Installment Started December 11, 2009)

Radical Amazement seeks to foster the contemplative way, for that is what will save us, that is what will transform us.” ~ Judy Cannato, “Radical Amazement”

Trevor and I went out to walk tonight about an hour after sunset. It was a beautiful clear night and I decided to get out before the forecast low temperatures could hang icicles on my nose. Thankfully the bone-chilling winds of the last few nights had died down, saving me from the biting nip of the cold.

Both of us preferred a brisk pace to ward off the brisk temperatures. The moon had yet to peek over the eastern horizon in the early evening sky, so we didn’t venture onto the dark narrow paths in the woods. There is no better way to find stumps, roots and rocks than to walk a dark trail. Instead, we walked about half way down the wide Valley Trail, crunching along its crushed rock with each noisy step.

When we stopped to turn around, I was struck by the sudden quiet. There was no breeze winnowing through the trees, no creaking of branches. All we could hear in the anechoic woods was an occasional, muffled bark sifting down the valley. The silence penetrated to my core.

We stood still for a long moment taking in the scene. It was dark so the woods were only vague, muted shapes with black veins of trunks, branches and twigs curving their way up into the deep indigo sky. The stars of the early evening shone brightly, decorating the dark limbs with the twinkling lights of the early Christmas season. Trevor’s head snapped from point to point with his ears cocked upward, as though he was hearing something. But all was calm.

In quiet moments like these, the woods seem to have a hypnotic effect. An intuitive, timeless sense of beauty wells up from the many different faces of this living wood. The quiet is calming and assuring, with its sense of peace coursing through my body. After contemplating the creative breath of God blown into the cosmos, coalescing over eons into this specific, life-giving place, the active, working, conscious mind of the day turns to the serene reception of the quiet beauty of the woods and the expanded sense of my own belonging. Here and now.

It is a psychic massage awaiting the wade into the deeper waters of intuition and a fuller immersion in the enduring peace of this natural place. The Sacred Quiet touches me and settles in harmony with my intuitive self, much as a quiet snowfall blankets and smoothes a mottled field.

It was too cold to linger very long on this calming path but, as we headed back to the warmth of home and hearth, it inspired my reflection on these contemplative moments that I’ve described in Woods Walking.

In spite of being from a large, active family, I always seemed able to find quiet moments of solitude, whether at rest, or even, at times, in the midst of repetitive activities when mind becomes observant and reflective within a process. There has always been an inviting inner sense, a siren that stirred my curiosity–to be aware and to probe.

At times there seems to be a gnawing void of unknown, a perceived potential, an open space of unanswered questions that is sensed and yearns for attention and exploration. It is the logical lattice of natural law that unfolds before me. It is analogous to peering across an open body of water and wondering what the far shore might hold.

“The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.”
~Kahlil Gibran

There are both active and passive moments of depth of sense. Some are centered in thought or spirit — lifted mind, while some can extend to a physical sensation, like adrenaline coursing through the body.

Active Contemplation

Active contemplation or prayer over something awe-inspiring can lead to moments of deeper and deeper awareness. From letting my mind wander out amongst the stars on a clear night to seeking out grand vistas from hills, dunes, or even from the lofty perch of flight. And, instead of a quiet mind passively awaiting a fuller encounter, a very active pursuit of a logical, philosophical, theological or metaphysical trail can lead to a sudden, quiet realization. Almost like summiting a peak–the strenuous climb ends with that first, awe-inspiring look over a limitless vista.

Sometimes such active, contemplative paths yield a Sweet Affirmation, a sense that can only be described as external to self. One such event was concurrent with contemplation of my personal genealogy, where the specific memories of parents and relations were considered and enjoyed. But I pursued them back past those relations, beyond those I’d known, hidden behind the veil of time, yet necessarily present in a lineal history in my own literal line of contingency–the continuous line of life, living, loving and struggle. It is the ancestral continuum and passage from life to life. My own seeking that knows people were there and are there in the legacy of the Risen Body.

As I moved from specific memories to contemplation of those souls, I was met with a sudden Sweet Affirmation–a wispy chorus of “Yes” perceived at the core of my being. And there were many present in that brief touch across time; faces unseen yet presence felt.

Linda Hogan, Native American Writer

Linda Hogan, Native American Writer

I have used a phrase in Woods Walking #3, “innate, intentional communication” to describe such an encounter. Innate because the sense is so intimate, so personal, so real, so deep; intentional because there is a non-verbal sense of what is intended, through emotion or direction, yet its meaning is intuitive and clear.

Another method of active contemplation that I “happened into” during my years as a student of philosophy at Xavier is what W. Norris Clarke, S.J. refers to as an active “drilling down in detail” on any given thing. An example is the causal consideration given to the metaphysics of a fork, as described in Woods Walking #2.1  This endeavor ultimately leads to that most fundamental, personal encounter with the fact of “being,” the most fundamental observation about our forks that is shared with all other aspects of reality, physical or spiritual–that “it is.” With adequate consideration, this leads to an encounter, a quiet moment of intuitive possession of this core reality, a possession that is beyond words and transcendent.

At some point, one encounters the raw fact of existence versus non-existence, whether personal (had “I” not been conceived) or, more radically, the stark, absolute concept of being versus non-being. Thankfully, moments of “I am” confirm our unified fact of existence!

Of course, our very personal intention, our perception, of our personal existence leads to that moment of Descartian realization, “I think, therefore I am.” “Cogito ergo sum.” As Fr. Clarke’s interview, “A Taste of Existence” suggests, encountering our intimate fact of existence leads to an innate feeling of joy, of belonging and of participation in a greater whole. It defines us personally: that I am, and we are, the human flower of the Breath of God into the cosmos, intended for the Communion of the One Body.
Ref.: http://www.innerexplorations.com/catchmeta/a.htm

For me, that encountered sense of “belonging” leads to the sublime sense of Peace that I’ve described on quiet evenings. Fr. Clarke described it in “A Taste of Existence” as “blown mind,” that is, an expansion of one’s awareness to embrace our unique personal place within Creation, and that all of this “is Gift for us,” as is the intent of our Creator.

There is an utter humility, a boundless joy and a profound gratefulness found in acknowledgment of the Grace of this Gift.

We know it, we experience it at specific times and specific places, yet that moment, that realization of “I am” is timeless in its sense of encounter of the enduring, unconditional Love and Belonging from and with our Creator.

“To deliver oneself up,
to hand oneself over,
entrust oneself completely to the silence
of a wide landscape of woods and hills,
or sea and desert; to sit still while
… the sun comes up over the land
and fills its silences with light.

…few are willing to belong completely
to such silence, to let it soak into their bones,
to breathe nothing but silence, to feed
on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life
into a living and vigilant silence.”

~ Thomas Merton
from Thoughts in Solitude

Passive Contemplation

Passive moments of contemplation and deep intuition can be described as a sweet surprise, moments when we sense something that is at once larger than and outside of ourselves and may be beyond words, yet there is a sense of truth and familiarity that is all consuming, even overwhelming. From the realization—the raw perception—that we are truly loved, to the sudden glimpse of a grand vista, such “rush” moments touch us to the core with an undeniable intuitive sense that points to our own intimate personal roots in our human family, the nature that surrounds and enables us, and even our roots within Being and its “Prime Mover.”

Quiet Lifted Mind

Passive moments of deep intuition can occur even within repetitive activities. What athletes refer to as “the zone,” can be experienced as a deep, consuming awareness of what one’s body is doing reflexively, from bicycle riding to distance running and even, for me, as the pilot of an airplane–when the connectedness of awareness to mind to body to machine melt into the instantaneous appreciation of the seamless process of control and direction and the consuming, immediate unity of the moment. Such moments are intimately self-aware, reflective, yet distinctly “out of time.” For me, it is as though my awareness suddenly reaches down to the tips of my fingers and toes, embracing the totality of the moment. It is “being in the moment” without external distraction. And this is a passive encounter that happens almost without warning, yet with quite a pleasant glow.

I will close this installment with an appropriate link to APOD, titled “The Known Universe.” http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100120.html It is a wonderful short video that draws on the original, insightful, empirical, illumination of Carl Sagan and can serve as an inspiring source of active spiritual contemplation.

I Corinthians 12: 4-11: http://bible.cc/1_corinthians/12-4.htm

Copyright © 2010 Rudolph Siegel

1 WW#2: https://excelsisdeoomnibus.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/woods-walking-2/

Read more at Woods Walking #9:

https://excelsisdeoomnibus.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/woods-walking-9/

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Woods Walking #6

The Star in the East      Original Post  December 27, 2009

At about 7:30 PM on Christmas night, Trevor needed his walk and I needed to walk off a little Christmas cheer.

It was in the mid-thirties and gusty outside, so I pulled on my ski cap, a fleece and a jacket and ventured out to take in the evening. After a somewhat gloomy day, the evening sky swirled with a constant train of broken stratus clouds in a headlong rush from the southwest to the northeast. On the satellite view before heading out, the stratus appeared like the long wispy arm of a spiral galaxy as they rotated around the strong low pressure system that was centered over the upper mid-west.

Once outside, the cloud tops and edges glowed with the light of a half-moon set in a crystalline sky speckled with stars. We followed the eastern track of the clouds in search of the “The Star in the East.” Gemini’s Pollux became my muse as I looked up when we turned right onto Observatory.

The Feathery Nightime Trees

We followed the eastern star down the Valley Trail and ventured about halfway to the trestle, stopping just past the bowed sapling on the creek side of the trail. The quiet of the woods was a welcome respite from the days-long holiday rush and the happy bustle and chatter of family gatherings: all the traditions that mark the celebration of this Blessed Day.

At first, the woods were bathed in a quiet, muted breeze drawing through the trees. But then legions of molecules began their charge in strong gusts; first from the right, then the left, then from behind. It was surprisingly easy to track each gust as they marched along the tree lines. The dark, veiny, feathery trees bowed to the gusts and swayed back into place as the wind passed in a graceful choreography of a corps de ballet. The south hills, the north and the western hills all danced on cue to their charges.

The moonlight threw clear shadows on the ground until it ducked behind passing clouds. Then, diffuse light illumined our path and the swaying woods.

As I took in the scene it was easy on this blessed night to yield to a deeper sense. From the initial aural and visuals to the chill on my nose and cheeks, to the lifted mind that listened — slowing time and drawing in the peace of the moment. The enduring, eternal beatitudes took their places among the stars as I gazed up through the swaying trees and let my prayerful mind reach out and drink in the true sense of Peace that was palpable in the moment.

It was easy to imagine a manger up on the hillside and a scattering of shepherds’ camps, goats and oxen, all attuned to the Gift that now resided there.

The glittering Beauty, the enduring Hope, the Grace of that evening’s “Good News” sank in as it has done for the saints who preceded us for two millennia, and will do so for the saints that follow us, living — and breathing the Word of the Lord.

The intuition of this Christmas evening yielded a kiss of Peace that poured down on me, filling me with an energy that ran from my head to my toes and lightened my spirit, connecting me intimately with all that was around me – the immediate, the timeless and The Good.

“Hark! the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the New Born King.”

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

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Woods Walking #5

The Now Naked Earth     Original Post  November 12, 2009

We got out to walk this evening just after sunset, the earliest walk in more than a week. Under the early dusk light the changes were striking. With the windy conditions of the last few days, virtually all of the leaves were down. The trees have gone from lush and colorful to naked and spare, revealing the jagged, flowing detail of their structure, from stout trunks to an almost feathery spray of twigs reaching up, beseeching the skies as the season gradually yields to winter.

Once into the woods the new nakedness unveiled the topography of the hills as we walked down the Ridge Trail and then left onto the Bur Oak Trail. It would have been a fine evening for a cartographer to confirm plots, mapped elevations and geographic features. Looking across the Valley Trail to the south ridge, the white to light grays of sycamore trees stood out among the blandness of the other trees in the valley. The sycamores seem to thrive in the moist ground by the creek bed where they line the valley floor.

The sycamores reminded me of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again In Indiana.”  “The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright,
Through the sycamores for me.”

The Naked Earth

The leaves were thick under foot on the trail and had already lost their colors, now just a lifeless, crackling gray to brown. And even dry, they were slippery to walk on. On the hills I found myself walking from the knee on flat feet so that I wouldn’t slip trying to thrust forward while rolling off of my toes.

Our feet shuffled through the dry leaves on the trail with that familiar rustling sound that echoed of the playing in piles of leaves as a kid; that carefree time to frolic between school and dinner, long, long ago.

Suddenly, I caught a flash of white moving quickly through the gray-brown brush toward the creek. It was a white tailed deer that heard our approaching rustle then broke to the east toward the train trestle at the far end of the trail.

Trevor and I stopped abruptly to watch and listen. Trevor strained against his leash as we heard the heavy, bounding, earthy, muffled steps of the deer. Then it stopped out of sight and we moved to the end of the trail where we turned right, under the shadow of the trestle toward the creek. As we began our descent, the deer broke to the top of the hill, cleverly using brush and swales to conceal itself as much as possible. We caught a brief, full glimpse of a large, mature, eight-point buck before his hind quarters disappeared with a last flash of white down toward the creek on the north side of the Bur Oak Trail.

To this point of the walk, we were strolling easily downhill in the cool of the evening. For the first time this fall I felt the chill creeping under the buttoned sleeves of my maize chamois shirt. My arms bristled trying to hold warmth and the back of my thumbs actually felt cold as they swung to the pace of my gait.

But then we crossed the low creek under the trestle and began our long climb up to the far southeastern corner of the Forest Loop Trail. In the trudging climb my breath deepened and quickened. Half way up I unzipped my vest, then rolled back my sleeves two folds. I could feel the first sweat under the brim of my hat and around the back of my collar under the plies of t-shirt, shirt and vest. Trevor still eagerly pulled at the leash as I finished the folds of my sleeves.

My thumbs were now warmed with the rushing pulse of exertion.

We stopped a few times on the leveling grade to enjoy the waning light and the dimming, blurring roll of the hills and valleys, noting the random patterns of the old, fallen wood.

As we walked across some old fallen bricks at the southeastern-most point of the Forest Loop, where the trail starts its turn west, I regained the sense of history in these woods. From these bricks of the Ault family vineyard nearly a hundred years before, to the whisper of quiet footsteps from the Miami and Shawnee tribes of centuries past, I listened for the quiet echo that might issue from the legacy of the soil. From the old leaves that knew the step and rustle of these former people; our ancestors in the body of humanity.

I looked up through the now dark, current stand of trees toward the waning pale blue of the horizon and upward to a darkening indigo sky. The bright sphere of Jupiter winked in and out from behind the trees as we made our way off of the trails. We finished the walk under inky skies, that vast stage just beginning to bring up the lights of the brightest stars, Vega, Deneb and Altair.

At the close of this evening, I take a deep breath and exhale slowly, giving thanks for the wonder and glory of life.

Copyright © 2009 Rudolph Siegel

The Dusk Wood

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