Stillness Below Thought

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I am not innately optimistic. I’m deeply terrified about the future of the planet. I’ve taken a media fast since last Thursday.

But this morning I am calm. Seven sandhill cranes flew overhead while I sat under the golden-leafed apricot tree, watching a pair of leaves dangle from a filament. They’ve been hanging there for two days despite breezes that lift one or two leaves from the tree every few minutes. The sandhills flew low, and circled seven times just beyond my fence, before continuing on south.

More sandhills fly over now, their ancient grekking call lonesome in the blue primeval sky. May they live on long after our species declines. The beauty in every moment in this place pierces me. The fragility of life on earth shudders through me with every breath. Some mornings are like this.

I start and end my days these days with meditation. It’s been a long time coming, this regular practice. Years of I don’t know how, or This can’t be right, or worse than interior criticisms, the expectations of the few groups I’ve tried through the years. I met a wonderful teacher five years ago, or remet her, and now meditate with her every weekday morning for half an hour through a phone group called Telesangha. Before bed, and sometimes before morning meditation, I meditate with the Insight Timer, a free app on my phone that has not only a timer, but a community, and nearly 3,000 available guided meditations.

From chanting and music to Metta and Zen, from Germany, Australia, and Japan, there are meditations to suit every mood of every person. I’ve tried dozens in the past month, some effectively putting me to sleep at night, and some appropriately energizing me for the day. This morning I struck gold.

Sometimes I bail out early, if the music is jarring, or the method incompatible. I tried one a few weeks ago that turned out to be a visualization (not a meditation) leading me to a white sand beach; that much was fine. Then a boat appeared on the shore, and the sweet lady’s voice led me into the boat, which left the shore (Where’s my paddle?!) and carried me to a deserted island (How will I get back?!) then led me into a path through the jungle (What venomous snakes lurk beneath the leaves? What predators in the trees?) to a clear blue pool. Ahhh. There is a ladder down into the pool. (Really? A ladder?). By this time I am clearly not relaxing, but I am amused at my reaction to this well-intentioned fantasy, and so I meditate on that. Finally she leaves me alone to soak in the pool for a few moments of silence. I do begin to fall into a calm awareness. But suddenly she is there, taking me up one rung of the ladder after another at an excruciatingly slow pace. I am back in the boat and rowing fast for home before she even has me out of the pool. I’ve made up my own oars. I won’t do that one again!

But this morning. I listened to it first last night, and fell almost instantly asleep with the utterly soothing voice of former Buddhist monk Stephan Pende Wormland. Even more did I need “Rest in Natural Peace” this morning, one day before the election that will determine the course of our country one way or the other, and ultimately could determine (or maybe just accelerate) the fate of our beautiful, vulnerable planet. So I listened to it again.

“Beyond your thoughts is a space containing nothing…” Past the point where I drifted off last night, I was jolted by an epiphany when he said, “The next thought you are going to have, where will it come from? Look.” In that moment, he allowed me to access the stillness below thought, beneath everything. I will listen to this one again and again.

And while other friends joke about moving to Iceland or New Zealand if we end up living in a Trumpscape, I will pack my bags and my animals into the Mothership and drive to the Bay of Fundy, from whence I will take a ferry straight to Copenhagen.

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Apricot leaves fade through chartreuse to bright yellow, gild the tree and fall from the top down, gilding ground. Everywhere I look I see an Andy Goldsworthy project with these leaves. Dare I take the time to play? Dare I? Yes, I do.

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Cottonwood leaves in the backyard canyon have all gone to ground now, and autumn fades through November toward winter. My gratitude knows no bounds.

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In Black Canyon of the Gunnison National park a few weeks ago, I walked with friends to Exclamation Point on one of National Geographic’s “10 Best Easy Hikes with Big Rewards.” Others are in Italy, Nepal, Ireland, New Zealand… this one is twelve miles from home.

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This cactus, happening now in my sunroom…

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…and this, an orchid which explodes with fragrance at certain times of day, catching me off guard as I pass.

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In deep white winter, I can’t live without all these geraniums with blooms of various hues, named after the friends who gave them to me: Cynthia, Mary, David, Deborah, Diane… and Virginia, the one I brought back from there twelve years ago. And that sweet black cat, who is FINE, after all that.

 

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