Nature is our first awakening...

By: Stephen Levine
Posted: July 1, 2012

Nature is our first awakening to an elemental presence all about us. Even in a dying tree or the skeleton of the king snake in a knot hole crevice, absent nowhere. The energy moving one thought into the next precisely the same what moves the clouds across the sky. Leaving momentary grace in its wake. Indeed our song is often most easily heard and quickly recognized in nature. Overwhelming appreciation even for the scattered feathers of that tiny sweet owl we were talking with a few days before.

Ramakrishna speaking of his first ecstasy as a child said it was when “ I became lost seeing one morning a vast sunset and a flock of passing birds”. Indeed there are initiations in the forest that teach us how to sit quietly and simply be; and songs learned from the wind shaken sage on the mesa, or the dry grass rattle by the dry stream bed, or from the slow, the first, ripplings of summer’s first monsoon we take the teaching in the watery essence of things alive and less. On the trail half a cotton tail draped over a low branch of a young pinion left for tomorrow’s supper by the grey fox dennings between the boulders reminds me to next walk take along lunch. Nature can teach us what we are afraid of and how to work with it. It teaches us how to be true to ourselves.

Lost in the southern Arizona desert some years ago, becoming rather anxious as night descended, my friend, seeing my concern particularly that I took him on a walk from which neither of us might return, said to me, “ don’t worry, survival is highly over rated”.

And nature holds teachings in birth and death. Letting go is a teaching in trust and patience she said as she was dying, repeating what Jesus standing there in the shadows had just said to her.

After the first snow I go out searching for music written in the fresh crystals. Snow allows the invisible to be seen. What has unfolded under a moonless sky is exposed by dawn.

After the last storm, sitting on a high outcropping, I look down to see the winding, intersecting trails of mice hemming the fresh snow. A fugue. The long foot of a jack rabbit indifferently crisis-crossing the evidence of the hyperactive mouse’s morning dash. The kettle drum punctuates the drifts.

And near the bottom of the hill a bloodspot at the foot of the earthen dam. Coyote tracks besides the opening of the rabbit’s warren. Wagner in the wings.

In the afternoon new tracks up on the mesa. The wild burro we heard last week has passed through once again. Following her unshod hoof prints the wild runes of her midnight passing disappear on a sudden rock face where the snow has melted away in the Zia sun.

Finding near the top of the mountain the continuation of her tracks. Mouse print across the snowfield, cotton tail and jack rabbits and coyote leaving their mark. A burro lost from the herd, navigating by the stars. And well down the ten-thousand-year-old deer trail beneath the snow stone points and potsherds from pottery painted before the Conquistadors mark all our passing, the broad spoor of a mountain lion following its nose. In the forest following the tracks and scats of a solitary elk, quieting with each step, one might hear or imagine ( all same when the body drops away and nothing but mind remains) that kind symphony that arises before birth and just after death that leads us forward, that makes safe the way. It is our song with notes in the margin.

Following one by one the lion’s tracks our procession through the snow graphs evolution and the food chain. The slow unfolding having an almost hypnotic effect. The pace slowing, breath after breath step after step through the deep snow. The wind, a distant flute, raises a shimmering veil of snow, tablas the inner ear.

Half blind from looking so long into the glistening snow, the mind stops using words to think. And for a few moments I thought only in images as might an animal. Animals think in imagistic music. When we listen to them closely, as Rodin reminded Rilke, it refines our seeing. He said, “ Go to the zoo and learn how to see!” So was born the panther as a poem and the poem-swan, defining silence, cutting across a motionless lake.

The lion’s tracks my breath. The mind floating on the lion’s breath as remnants of last night’s dreams begin to surface. One after another submerged dreams arise then fade away melting at their edges like the prints followed into the sun. There is a song to be found in the hard breath of climbing, a rhythm in the blood that remembers. No one is born in a house, that comes later.

Standing in the midst of the glistening snowfield weeks of long forgotten dreams came flooding through. Some which had sprung from a vagrant thought, or a milliwatt of fancy. Some which had barely broken the surface and sank back down waiting to get born and others that were born against their will. And lovely dreams as well stacked like prayer cloths waiting to comfort devotees ascending and descending from the storehouse of dreams revealing the astounding contents of the heart.

Present to the terrible/wonderful unfolding of creation and destruction, pulled by gravity and Boreas, the north wind.

Blue sky/white snow

A week after the storm the daytime sun and freezing night winds have frozen an icy crust on the snow. The fragile surface collapsing under foot.

Remembering the dream when I tried to walk on water I wondered how light I would have to make myself to stay atop the snow. I once heard an Indian meditation master say that Jesus was able to walk on water not by mastering the water element but the air element, he was lighter than sinking. 

And projecting as much of what I imagined was my life energy upward and outward I took a very light step forward. And surprisingly one more. But by the third I was so heavy with pride and thinking I sank in well over the top of my boots.

Blue sky White snow/Cold feet Warm heart.

The samurai learns humility in the perfect arc of the long sword. He sits with the impeccable patience of a tic perched 15 years at the tip of a twig, or the large spotted yellow salamanders hidden years in the dry pond bottom, no longer waiting for spring run-off or summer monsoons. They are not waiting, they are instead absorbed in timelessness of patience. A patience that is at one with humility. It is here that humility and patience converge to form steadfastness without which we can go no further. Like the lotus seeds germinated after laying three thousand years on the pyramid floor having heard, even from so unlikely a source as their cells, that “being is enough”. They know from eons before language attempted to stop time that the timeless was the only hope we have, that the simple boundlessness behind it all was enough. And the light by which it is seen, or better yet, that which experiences light, is more than enough. Exists long before “enough” and “not enough”.


But this light does not burn our eyes because there is intuitive trust in its nature, nothing need be clung to or condemned. The gatekeeper becomes a dance instructor. And the music once so slow to arise, so fragmented, becomes trust in the process of awakening as the themes of gratitude and patience wind through our song soft as the air within the nostrils when the breath settles and the heart becomes our new home. And at the gate when asked the aspirant can hardly hold himself or herself back when asked the pass word. In a breath shared with all there is we whisper, “Mercy and awareness.” There is nothing realer than the clear light.

Sometimes lost in an energetic stream of thought (emotion, fear-anger-doubt), walking a familiar path through the pinions and lupine I once again remember. And standstill, following consciousness to its component awareness. Letting the thoughts roll on while I focus on the awareness by which the thoughts were perceived. Awareness of awareness itself. And the edgeless ease, not of only mindfulness of the objects of awareness, but of the direct experience of awareness itself becomes the foreground of consciousness. As the karma of thoughts fall away. The momentum of our identification with those thoughts cultivated in previous moments of attachment dissolving into thin air. As the thoughts themselves vanish from the luminous screen of consciousness, and a little shudder moves like a wave through the body as the energy propelling the line of thinking is released. What energy is in thought!

Things are quiet here, spring begins to overflow into the valley and creeps up the side of the mountain. The buzzards and the hummingbirds noticed returning about an hour apart, the seasonal stream trickling, coyotes run the ridge with new cubs, and something greater than us all calls to us to make peace in the torn world, to learn to love even when we are in pain, even when we are frightened, to consider the well being of others as we might our own children, and the prayer becomes May All Beings Be Free From Suffering, May All Beings Be At Peace

moons trembling on the ocean of consciousness