Sacred Lands

After traveling much of September and October, I have returned home and settled back into the routine. It’s hard to know where to begin to update readers on all that has happened.

I will start with a piece of the National Park’s trip. At the end of September, my friend Viviane and I went on a ten-day journey to visit sacred lands from California to New Mexico. The impetus for the trip was that I am working on a new novel called Here After which takes place in the months following 9-11. Some of the characters in the novel end up driving to New York from San Francisco in what becomes a pilgrimage to bring the wisdom of the sacred lands of this country to NYC and the devastation there. I found in writing it that I needed to visit these places in order to write about them. Thus, the trip.

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Berkeley camp entrance–burned trees

The first day, after driving through areas devastated by the fire, we landed in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. We had to find our camping legs rather quickly that night as Tuolumne Meadows turned out to be the coldest spot in the United States that night. We couldn’t hang around there long in the morning as we had far to go that day, but also it was too cold to dally.

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Tioga Pass

We continued through Tioga Pass down to Mono Lake where we stopped for viewing and to get our bearings and pay homage to those who worked so hard to save that precious lake from being drained by voracious water-users. Yes, we had attacks on this country in New York City, but how much devastation do we do to ourselves that goes almost unreported?  nat'l parks trip 9-13 (25)

Our main destination that day was the Bristle Cone Pine Forest, about an hour’s drive up a mountain from Route 395. It was well worth the extra driving as this forest is home to the world’s oldest living beings, the Bristle Cone Pines. They are 4000 to 6000 years old. I had not heard of these trees before a couple of weeks before we left on the trip when someone I met began telling me about a trip she was taking to the forest.  nat'l parks trip 9-13 (23)When I looked it up on the map and saw that we would be going right by there, we made a point of taking that detour to visit the trees.

As we walked around the forest and I played didgeridoo to some of the trees, I could feel an uncanny presence among them. Several times I looked over my shoulders, sure that some humans were coming up on us, only to see that there were just the trees. These trees have learned how to survive in very harsh conditions, high altitude, strong winds, extremes of hot and cold and poor soil.

nat'l parks trip 9-13 (31)nat'l parks trip 9-13 (32)Their presence felt watchful and full of gratitude for the interaction as they absorbed more than just nutrients from their roots. I could sense an openness to our presence, a way in which they may have been taking in even the small amount of energy we were offering them. Perhaps this is the evolutionary step that makes them able to survive on so little.

Maybe they have learned how to appreciate even the smallest gesture of connection, take it in, let it nurture them. I wanted to sit at their roots for long periods of time and to see if I could learn it too. This place could surely be a destination for the future.

Fear Less

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Steep Ravine

My intention is to create a series of blogs that have to do with creating space in our lives through the awareness of the breath.

The longer I teach didgeridoo (Australian Aboriginal instrument that creates a drone) , the more I learn that this instrument is truly an instrument of peace and spaciousness (see Sound Rivers.net). On one level it is merely a physical act of blowing through a tube to make a sound; on another, it is an act that brings one fully and consciously into the moment.

Last night I went to a dharma talk at the Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley http://www.insightberkeley.org (Bancroft near Martin Luther King Jr. Way) where Donald Rothberg was the guest dharma teacher. His topic was fear. Overactive fear has long been a damaging feature on the landscape of this country. Since 9-11 that feature has become even more pronounced in our government and in the individuals living here. Take the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and our acquiescence to surveillance by our own government as recent evidence of the fear we walk around holding.

Rothberg spoke of the way fear can enter our bodies and lodge there so that when it arises, there may be no story attached at all, just intensely uncomfortable body sensation. Our minds might then create a story to account for the sensation, perhaps we find an enemy to go after to alleviate that horrible sensation. One way that he has found to deal with irrational fear is to send out metta or lovingkindness, thus transforming the energies of fear. Fear cannot exist in the midst of lovingkindness.

Yes and let’s find more ways as well to work with the body, not just the mind. I have found that on at least two levels the didgeridoo works with these very energies and transforms them into deep peace and a feeling of at easeness with the universe. The low drone itself surrounds and holds the body, allowing it to relax. And circular breathing requires diaphragmatic breathing that cannot co-exist with anxiety.

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Elise playing agave didgeridoo

When we breathe shallowly, using just the upper lungs, we are straining to try to control the universe and how much of it we will let in. Most people in western culture routinely breathe in a shallow way that keeps the breath out of our deepest selves. It is a kind of breath that says to the universe, “mind your own business; I’ve got things under control here.” When we have the wherewithal to let that breath in deeply, the anxious need for control vanishes. Then a way to connect with whatever situation is at hand arises in the now, not in a fear-based story about the future.

The in-breath is a gift from the universe, the out-breath what we offer back to the universe. By taking the breath fully into our deepest places through a process of letting go, we give the breath a chance to transform us so that what we offer is not just our own agenda, but a conduit for harmony.

Deep breathing goes to the place where we connect with other humans, with our place in the ecosystem, with other creatures, and with our ancestors. It is a cornucopia of resources. And yet how often do we get there? Some of us, only in our dreams (making dreams even more crucial to our lives).

Why is sleep apnea so prevalent in this culture? Could it be because we are so unused to allowing breath to ful/fill us that even in sleep we find ways to shut it down? Perhaps this is why the only cure for sleep apnea that is known is circular breathing and why it is so difficult for many to learn it. Circular breathing is not just a technique, it is a deep letting go of fear.