A Flower

From time to time, I wrest myself from the here and now and cast my mind back to times now long past. There, somewhere in my history, I catch a glimpse of that moment, that time when I first felt the kernel of a world beyond.

I recall the growing anticipation as the old and the new filed in to take their seats. I can still sense the shifting pulse of words exchanged; a swelling dance of buoyant hope and tranquil experience.  And then, the hush. On cue, the voices ceased, yet still something remained, at least it did in me. As each rose to speak, stilted utterances sifted through the fermenting energy that sat within me, the intended message stripped of any real meaning.  And then came that voice, effortlessly piercing all that lay in its path.  A seed.

Nothing can exist by itself alone. It has to depend on every other thing. That is called inter-being…there is no being; there is only inter-being…

Looking deeply into a flower, we see that the flower is made of non-flower elements. We can describe the flower as being full of everything. There is nothing that is not present in the flower. We see sunshine, we see the rain, we see clouds, we see the earth, and we also see time and space in the flower. A flower, like everything else, is made entirely of non-flower elements. The whole cosmos has come together in order to help the flower manifest herself, The flower is full of everything except one thing: a separate self, a separate identity.

Thich Nhat Hanh, 2003, No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life

Periwinkle. The clouds were making footprints in the periwinkle sky that day.  I watched, mesmerised, as she moved along the lush flower studded field, her eyes weaving golden threads with all she touched.  She floated, she tumbled, she twirled, a child spellbound by the wonder of inter-being. A child who lay herself with gay abandon on the earth below her feet to gaze into the hidden depths of a flower that called her.  I still remember her laughter. I still live her laughter.

That night, I dreamt of stardust and magic, of space beyond space.  I dreamt of a fairy and of the flower she kissed.

There was no thought, there was no purpose as I made my way across that verdant field the next day.  There was just – is.  There was no other way.  I approached the flower, her flower, and as did she, I lay down on the ground and joined it.  And I asked of it.

Who are you flower?  How have you become the way you are?  What is the story of the seed that gave you life, what is the story of the seed before that and those before that.  Who are your ancestors and what made them who they were?  How has all that exists and has existed come to manifest itself in who you are?  Who can you be?

The flower spoke, and I listened.

Look deep within me and find the beauty that can be. Search beyond and learn the way I have become who I am. I have come from what exists, and what has existed before.  You cannot change what exists outside yourself, but you can nurture me to be what I can be.  Feel the earth, the sun, the air, the rain.  Taste it with me, live it with me. You are the one who dares to look and ask, you are the one who has seen the fairy, you are the one who knows that the fairy and I are one and the same. Be a part of me as I will be a part of you. Exist with me.

A world beyond awaited, and I found it.

A coyote howled

Somewhere in the depths of the valley below, a coyote howled.

Come, it cried.

Come into the bitter cold

Live the wind shred through you

Join me in this place where all you are is you

Shed yourself of the skin that you wear, that which guards you from yourself

Strip yourself of the marks you hold dear, those that you think define you

Rid yourself of all those words that you speak

Come to this place where you cannot hide

Come, naked, bare and howl

Somewhere in the depths of the valley below, a coyote howled. And I heard it.

A question that has no right to go away

Nepal – 1989

Had the world not changed as it has I would have been exploring The Alps with my family right now. After years of wanting to take them to experience the fairy tales I’ve read to them, this was going to be the time. Perhaps the last time before the children became too old to wonder. The last chance to hear their childish cries of glee as, huddled in their winter clothes, they encountered the colour of steeples, Christmas markets, and steaming mugs of tea in bustling town squares. That is gone now, and maybe will never be, and I lament.

This was also the year when I had planned to visit the Himalaya, a return after my first journey there twenty-one years ago. A place to feel the insignificance of myself against the majesty of nature, yet also a place to feel my significance as part of this world. Something akin to those moments where laughter and tears are one and the same thing.

As it was, on this day, a snowy December 25, 2020, these were merely images in my mind. What did exist here today, right here, was a trail to walk, a place to be in the world that exists.

I donned my winter attire, and loaded my pack, the one that would have been my companion into the mountains, onto my shoulders. Laden with just 20 pounds of climbing rope and gear, it was not weighty enough to make it’s carriage arduous, but enough to feel its strain.

I meditate. I am not accomplished in this way; I would call myself a novice. And I think of myself in this way because I am dabbling in the different ways we can experience the world around us. It is a misconception that meditation can only occur when one is still, with eyes closed, when one clears the mind of thoughts in this manner. As I am learning, being mindful of the world around us, of the uniqueness of every experience is something that we can do all the time, if we will ourselves to do this. And with this thought I set out to walk.

Eyes wide open, vision focused on what lay beyond the living torrent of white surrounding me, I set out. Listening. Listening to the sounds that arose out of nowhere and then disappeared. Sound that might come again, but never, ever in the same way. Sound that lived just in that moment, sounds that without my mind didn’t exist. I cannot say what these sounds were, for I let them go as soon as they went, but I can say that I heard the world around me, as it existed there and then.

I had set myself a target before I ventured out. When I reached a particular point in the walk, when I swept the bend that would lead me back to where I sit now, I vouched that I would leave the sounds to others and turn myself inwards.

This is one aspect of meditation that escapes many. That rather than focus on breath or sound we can turn our mind wholly to what we feel in our body. And so I felt. The light crackle on my soles as my feet landed on the fresh snow underneath, the shifting weight of the pack as my body swayed as I walked. Every stride subtly different. The point in my cheeks where the biting chill of the wind vanished, where my body of its own accord, without conscious thought, protected itself from demise. I felt the visceral sensations as thoughts, of their own accord, came into my mind.

I am told that it is the thoughts that bring on the physical sensations, and once these thoughts leave, that we do not feel what we have been anymore. I’m not so sure about this. I’m not so sure that the body isn’t always feeling, somewhere in its depths, and it is when this feeling rises that thoughts do as well. I can’t argue with neuroscience, which says that our unconscious is always in play. And I can clearly accept that this part of ourselvss has been encoded through genetics and through our experiences. However, I know that justified science only goes as far as what we can perceive, and so I ask myself whether there is something beyond this that we may live within, if we dare. I strongly believe there is, and this is not some whimsy, but rather, the only way I can explain some of what I know to exist.

Just over two years ago, I raised this possibility, the idea of immanence, with a friend. Not within the context of the divine, but in a more general sense, where something that we are unable to sense is manifested in the physical world. Call it magic, if you like.

And as I ended my walk and cast my mind back to how I remembered my body to feel, I asked myself the same question that has arisen over and over again.

Was it magic that was in play?

Stripped bare of all else, was this where I might find the connection that my mind cannot explain?

And this question has no right to go away.