The more the disciple meditates upon what the self has in common with other selves, the more he will discover . . . (that) there would be nothing like my self; there would only be the Self.
from The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Art, poetry, etc., seem to be produced from a state of trance. But in getting outside “normal” time, you do not really physically lose your other, daily self, you just get onto another plane of existence and live in that terrain, for the rest of your life if possible. It comes about then that you more fully understand passages like the one quoted above, and many other things as well, such as that there is no action without meditation or meditation without action, and that finally they are (sometimes) the same.
I remember very well my own awakening. “A man awakening from the torpor of a drugged sleep,” says The Book of the Dead. Or, at times more like a Teton Sioux “Song of a Man Who Received a Vision”:
Friends, behold! Sacred I have been made. Friends, behold! In a sacred manner I have been influenced At the gathering of the clouds. Sacred I have been made, Friends, behold! Sacred I have been made.
One day the universe came up to me and said Hello! and I’ve been a lover ever since. Sometimes it happens that you can go on for many years living in the glow of that beauty, that magical energy, that light cast by the original awakening. Then one day you discover you have to work at enlightenment, otherwise it might not stay around. You have to get up every day and create a universe all over again — if you don’t, it isn’t there. Some days it takes all the energy you can gather up, and by the time you’ve done it it’s too late to do anything but fall exhausted to sleep again.
More and more I am learning the trick of how to let the universe teach me how to live by sitting quietly and “catching on” to the rhythm or omen of the day. If you listen and are very attentive, every day has a rhythm all its own and the day itself will teach you what it is there for. But you can’t do this very easily if you live by the clock, if you find yourself every time you turn around at the laundromat or the store or a hamburger joint, not that one would never be found at such places. You can’t do everything, however, so it seems best to find your true calling and then the matter of where to put your energy takes care of itself because your energy and the universe’s have merged. It is very mysterious.
What to do when not struck by a vision? Be as calm as possible and wait around. Sooner or later, one will show up. It’s all in how quiet you are. If you don’t have a moment of ecstasy before you, meditate, wait, walk out on the land, be as open as you can and as perceptive as you can. Remember, you can’t please everybody in this world, so may as well please yourself first by locating your true nature, getting your real soulwork done. Then everything will probably take care of itself. And if it doesn’t, well then, meditate on that.
One final word. On being asked what is my place of worship, I can only say that although I am a daily practicing Mahayana Buddhist of the Zen garden, I seldom go to the temple even though I find many of them very beautiful places. You can worship anyplace. My usual place of worship, then, is the world — not “myself,” friend, but wherever I happen to be. Life, in other words. Life-breath in whatever/however way you interpret that. And if I can’t celebrate it, I might just leave it or laugh at it or even assault it in an effort to change it. Whatever I confront, that is. Essential, then, to confront, whenever possible, significant profound joyful things!
Santorini, the southernmost of the Cyclades, thrusts its volcanically-banded self majestically from the sea like a huge, stone whale surfacing from the depths. On one side of the island, atop a rugged hilltop, lie the remains of ancient Thera. In the late spring of 1978, I spent a day exploring those ruins.
Echoes of laughter and market-squabbling hang in the air. Stiff weeds inhabit the kitchens; wildflowers sprout among the grey stones, strewn about in ways that still suggest the shape of a people. The hawk, the lion, and the dolphin that adorn the altar are blurred from centuries of wind and rain.
But this place is not dead — it crackles with presence. It offers itself to me in silence and lucidity. Every line is clear; the depths of the blues equal the depths of my longing. Rock, sky, water, and my heart meet in mysterious and simple communion. Here is the holy place.
Far below, Kamaria and Perissa — miniature cream-colored beach towns — hug the black stretch of sand. But when I stand, dazzled, on the edge of the massive finger of stone that supports Thera, those towns are not my concern. They do not shatter me.
It is the infinite expanse of sea and sky that strikes me dumb. The smooth Aegean, birthplace of mysteries, shimmers beneath the sun, sparks flying from every ripple.
Last May, I stood among the elements. I stood singing.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
The mountain top is obviously from where the highest Eyes look out upon the World. It is pure, well-defined, clear thought coming, like canyons and ocean floors and the bottoms of clouds, up from the Negative Capability of the Wonder of the World and being made whole, descends from there, by physical, by earthly gratitude and other unseen laws, to other places of worship, although perhaps lower, but no less worthy a place to share one’s innermost sanctuary, to Become One with the World, to Live Outside Skin.
Beneath a peak, trees, evergreen or broad-leaved, of the chapel wherein silence couples the immediate with the everlasting, and the stillness moves about with the tiny birds and the shifting wind: it is to Them one can speak openly and be heard, for they are eternal and have come and gone like all the world’s families of forest and wings.
Somewhere under their form is the sound of wind that is water and that place is also enshrined, is the flowing blood of the Earth, is almost human as it returns to its Source, as it falls, stumbles, flows, reflects, bumps, wanders, soothes, and then jumps, its moods meander, such that one can listen to it or let it be background to what else it is one hears flowing through the body, be it: words, emotions, ideas, nothing.
Down towards the feet of the earth boulders, rocks, stones protrude, as if icebergs looming out of the ground. They are testaments to Time. They’ve worn all seasons. They do not speak but they listen well. Speak to them with your hands, your feet, with your whole body and if they are acceptable and if of one you see something that is beyond its shape or form, when you see inside stone, well, then they see inside you too, and are likewise amazed and awed with the landscape.
Remembering Long’s Peak 14,256’
“Before us stretched a rocky plain, made up of huge masses of granite and lava. Its ascent was gradual almost to the foot of the main peak, where it becomes quite steep. We pushed onwards and as the sun gilded the hundreds of snowy peaks in the distant west, we stood in a notch in a crest of the range directly at the foot of the main summit. But it still towered above us more than a thousand feet.”
— The Daily News, Denver, Co.
Sept. 22, 1864
When, after an all morning journey, up broken, uneven, faintly marked trails, and then climbing, hands over head, up some indistinguishable face of granite, complete with long, ungodly, open views, with marmots, and with moments of reflected bliss and even with words of songs returning unobstructed from memory to your ears, a song you haven’t thought of for years, you find after sweat and despair, and pain and fatigue, and a feeling of grandeur and a few photographs, that there is no more direction to go but down and here is the apex, the pinnacle of all surrounding land of moraines and canyons and ridges and chasms and stumbled boulder fields beneath and nothing overhead but sky and blueness, sun, the far reaches of inaccessible heaven, and far outward to the east the Great Plains lie below where it was in the evening the snow light of Moon fell, making the vast flat land go on forever until it curved back under itself and left this world of big sky perched up here alone and boundless, unequalled except perhaps by mystery of pure floating or by the plain fact that you are almost three miles up to where it is Indians came to worship the Great Winged Bird and to see closer up and further out what it was that made the Great Spirit live forever in their hearts.
Remember, you can’t please everybody in this world, so you may as well please yourself first by locating your true nature, getting your real soulwork done.
I am among an unfortunate group of people that, over the years, has held a mysteriously romantic conception of Stonehenge. I imagined a fragmented structure that was at the same time whole and overbearing to our human size. I imagined it set in a large clearing of trees, with mist lending the necessary magic to the air in the early morning light of the summer solstice. I was a fool.
No, I wasn’t. In respect of both truth and myself, I imagined this only in subconscious flights of fancy. I knew it wouldn’t be like that. Come to think of it, the entire purpose of Stonehenge would be defeated among a setting of trees. And more recently the guidebook said to expect disappointment. So I expected disappointment.
Even so, I did not expect what I found.
I found that a bus would take you there and bring you back. One pound, five pence for the lot, including admittance. (Admittance to Stonehenge? That’s like admittance to the moon.) The bus left at 3 and came back at 4:30, the brochure said. An hour at Stonehenge? Somehow I was expecting a half day excursion to scrutinize and comprehend this work of my past brothers.
At the bus station, I looked at the lady behind the counter with a puzzled face. “A full forty-five minutes to an hour there,” she said. Then she continued, either in a tone of mild contempt or of apology, or possibly both, “That’s ample time.” Oh well, I thought, I can go again tomorrow.
The pillars and lintels stand near an intersection of two rather busy roads, the nearest road being about two hundred feet away. There is an RAF base about half a mile away in clear view. Helicopters come and go frequently. Behind the site, fifty feet or so away, is a hayfield. It was being mowed at the time.
The bus pulled into the parking lot (the Druids had cars?). The paved lot had become too small to handle the parking volume, and so a piece of farmland had been casually marked off into an auxiliary lot.
In total contrast to my foolish vision, I remember no trees. There may have been a few. Stonehenge looked so unthinkingly placed amid the goings on of modern civilization — cars whizzing past it as though passing up so many burgers and ice creams and fish and chips, aircraft routinely ignoring it in their flight paths. But instead, of course, the opposite was true.
The bus driver announced that he had a train to catch back in town at such-and-such a time, so would we please return to the bus in forty-five minutes. Being as the parking area was across the road from the actual site, we followed the driver through a turnstile and then into a tunnel under the road.
And so, there was Stonehenge.
A rope formed a circle, maybe 300 feet in diameter, around the stones, with a path going roughly through the middle. Alas, Stonehenge was now to be viewed from a distance. Vandals and graffiti artists had been victorious. So you stood by the rope and viewed away.
It looked like the site for the “National Waste Your Time contest.” Or the “International Taking Pictures of Each Other Contest.” I felt that I should go over to the people across the rope circle from me and exchange addresses. After all, we would have each other’s pictures.
AHA! YES!! NOW I’ve got it. England commissioned Walt Disney to build this setup, the real Stonehenge off somewhere else in a Celtic wonderland, admission to be gained only by membership in some secret society.
But no, this is it. So you stand and you look and try to bang into your head that men, more or less like you, built this thing. How did they do it, why did they do it?
And you’re not disappointed with Stonehenge itself. Nobody with any sense of natural and human history could be disappointed. But imagining the somber Druids on the morn of a neolithic solstice is impossible to do. I doubt that anyone could.
And so the lady behind the counter was right — forty-five minutes was ample. People sit now and look at other things. The air base, the farmland, each other. They amble on back to the bus. The driver will have no trouble catching his train. There are no enthralled.
You go out the same way you came in, more or less. Under the road, past the other side of the turnstile. If you like, you can tap on the window and indicate postcards you would like to purchase. Or you can buy an ice cream or a warm Coke. After all, this is what Stonehenge is all about. This is the real disappointment.
POSTSCRIPT: If you’re in the area of Stonehenge, by all means go. Don’t let me keep you away. If your interest is sparked at all, then consider going to Avebury, about thirty miles away, near Bath.
Avebury is an upright placement of stones, not a structure as such. It is approached by a mile long, double row of huge stones. This leads to a circular arrangement of stones and an earthen mound. Avebury is not nearly as well known as Stonehenge. It is tangible, uncrowded and, for the most part, free.
In the same area are burial sites and a man made hill that is over 5000 years old. I was given a ride by a man who told me that the hill is solid earth. It contains no burials or artifacts of any kind, and so its purpose is as yet undetermined.
Before time and space became a part of me, I worshipped at the throne of Love. As time and space grew like a tree, Love became more of a hidden reality, suppressed behind the veil of the physical reality. As my intellect grew in size, my senses desired satisfaction, demanding my full attention, causing a separation between the Love I am and the physical reality I was experiencing.
The physical awareness grew in power, and began to control my every desire. This was the dawning of ignorance upon the surface of innocence in which I once lived. I was worshipping my senses in search of satisfaction. The true Love I had worshipped before time and space entered my mind became covered over with shame and guilt, creating the stage for fear, the fear of judgement, which was something everyone knew about, but without explanation. This unexplainable fear, in time, caused me to realize that my physical dilemma was temporal, and I must look to a more eternal realization for my true satisfaction. This was the end of my worship of ignorance and the beginning or birth of my worship of truth. Worship to me is that which one is devoted to in thought and in action. The key to true worship is in the understanding that evolves out from the inner experience, which is awareness of one’s thought and action.