Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Seeker

I heard legends about this hidden valley long before I found it, and now it takes my breath away—a place where the animals have no fear and communicate with humans through mental images; where birds gather to fly before you and guide you if you have lost your way; where the trees shimmer with life force in the sunlight and the plants and grasses heal your ills; where the water is clean and cool and sings mantras as it rushes over smooth grey stones; where the natural world is a living, breathing, magical thing; and where the spirits and local guardians welcome visitors who have loving and compassionate hearts.

It sounds idyllic, and I’m sure it is, but my real destination is the mountain in the distance. It’s said that travelers who make the ascent come down the mountain changed somehow—either crazy, or gifted with the power of poetry.

I’ve always loved poetry. I have decided to take my chances.

I have found this valley, and the way to the mountain, by what feels like serendipity. I saved this red fox, or one of her kin, from a hunter once; now, she has trotted ahead of me up this almost-hidden trail, and we have come upon this magic valley. She has turned to see if I will follow. Yes.

Yes, although I am barely equipped for such a long journey. I set out today only to swim in my favorite spring and then sit a while in meditation beneath my favorite oak. Luckily, I brought my walking stick and my pouch of precious objects—a labradorite wand, two flint stones, a tarot talisman, a small bag of cornmeal, and my sacred feathers, these last a gift from my grandmother, long ago. I’m not carrying water, but with that clear river down below, I don’t think I’ll be thirsty. I’ll feast on the plants and grasses that I find.

My life, up until now, has not been entirely satisfactory. I know that there is much I need to learn about how to live in harmony with Mother Earth and all Her creatures, and with my fellow humans. Some people would say that my journey is a fool’s errand; I prefer to think of it as a gift, a blessed opportunity. And I get the distinct impression that when I come back, I will be a different person.

I hesitate for a minute, taking in the vista and feeling the soft grass and firm earth beneath my feet. I feel grounded; I feel ready.

I wonder who I’ll meet.

In the Gaian Tarot Circle, one of the exercises we're encouraged to do is to write about the cards. This was my first effort—for The Seeker card (pictured above), created by Joanna Powell Colbert as part of this lovely new deck, the Gaian Tarot.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Gary Snyder!

Gary Snyder, one of my all-time favorite poets, has a birthday today. Here's a poem I heard him read when I was living in California, about another of my all-time favorites, Lew Welch. And yes, I got chills when I heard him read it, too.

For/From Lew

Lew Welch just turned up one day,
live as you and me. "Damn, Lew" I said,
"you didn't shoot yourself after all."
"Yes I did," he said,
and even then I felt the tingling down my back.
"Yes you did, too," I said—"I can feel it now."
"Yeah" he said,
"There's a basic fear between your world and
mine. I don't know why.
What I came to say was,
teach the children about the cycles.
The life cycles. All the other cycles.
That's what it's all about, and it's all forgot."

-from Axe Handles, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1983 (p. 7)

Mother's Day Musings/Bumcham, Machik's Mother

On this Mother's Day weekend, I have been pondering what it must have been like to have been Machik Labdron's mother.

So much emphasis is placed in the Buddhist teachings on the energies of our mothers—how they protect and care for us when we are helpless, without asking for anything in return. We are encouraged to extend this lovingkindness—the wish for a tiny baby to be happy—and compassion—the wish for a tiny baby not to suffer—to all sentient beings, beginning first with ourselves and then extending outward in spirals to include those people for whom we feel affection, those people toward whom we feel neutral, and finally to those people we dislike and toward whom we feel hatred and revulsion.

But what must it have been like to have been a mother who had prophetic dreams in which her heart was cut out of her and feasted on by dakinis, to be replaced by a glistening white right-turning conch shell? It's said that Bumcham, Machik's mother, was not disturbed by this dream imagery—in fact, it brought her bliss, and she felt better than before!

While she was pregnant with Machik, at age 48, Bumcham's wrinkles faded and everyone commented on how young she looked. It was said she could see in the dark, that at night her room was lit as from the glow of butter lamps, and that she knew the thoughts of other people.

And then there was her daughter, Machik, "One Mother," who would one day become a mother herself, born with three eyes and able to speak. What a shock that must have been! It seems Bumcham dealt with the shock gracefully. By the time Machik was born, Bumcham probably had a good idea that she was birthing someone special.

Bumcham—who, with her husband, was a dharma practitioner—was likely little Machik's first dharma teacher. It's said that the two of them recited sutras together in the family chapel.

Bumcham died when Machik was 10 or 13 (I've read both ages), so the two of them had only a short time together, but I'm sure her influence on Machik was important for both of them.

I wonder if Bumcham took rebirth or went to a pure land? I've never read anything more about her, other than in Machik's biography.

Of course, to each mother her baby is special, a gift, and all time together is special. On Mother's Day, let us honor the best about our mothers, who are often our first spiritual teachers, and honor ways to pass the lessons of lovingkindness and compassion on to the young people in our lives.

Happy Mother's Day!