I am always with all beings, I abandon no one. And however great your inner darkness, you are never separate from Me. Let your thoughts flow past you calmly. Keep Me near, at every moment. Trust Me with your life, because I Am you, more than you yourself are…
Hello all! Blogger Slacker returns like a thief in the night, surprise! A lot has been happening, and the truth is I’ve been living this life instead of blogging about it. But I wanted to come by so the Spirituality blog and our dear readers don’t get too lonely 🙂
We signed my mom into hospice last week and I’ve been coming and going a lot. I was thinking about all of this stuff the last time I was down there, and this post was the favorite of many, so I’m going to re-run it. I wrote this post last summer and the funny thing is that not much has changed, but everything has changed. Not much is different, but it’s all so different. And such is the nature of life. And so the mountain still remains…Enjoy 🙂
I spent the last few days with my parental units, in a little town in Southeast Missouri. This is an area I blogged about last week when I was thinking of my grandmother and my memories of smells, heaven and so on. Lest I sound too romantic, the other reality is that this area located in the buckle of the bible belt boasts some pretty startling stats: Highest illiteracy rates in the state. Nearly 30% of children and seniors live below the poverty line. A neighboring county claims the state prize for the most arrests for operating meth labs and is rampant with child abuse and domestic violence, drug abuse and alcoholism. It is literally in the middle of nowhere, a dot on a state road map in the foothills of the Ozark mountains. My cell phone doesn’t work because it is so far from civilization and if there is ever an emergency, there is no ambulance service. You buy into a 911 package that allows a helicopter to transport you to a hospital about 50 miles away.
This is an area about an hour from a hospital, an hour from a major grocery store or movie theater, an area settled centuries ago by native mound builders and which later experienced some fierce fighting and plundering during the Civil War. The Trail of Tears was prominent all through this area and various Indian tribes lived there for centuries before the Europeans arrived. Much of my ancestry can be traced to the Irish who settled there then married Cherokees who managed to escape from the Trail and find a new life in those rugged hills. An old Civil War road runs along a ridge toward the back of their property, a heavily wooded area full of deer and other game, birds and bugs and snakes of all stripes. In the cemetery where my father’s mother is buried, about two miles back on a dirt road, there is a large hand carved stone, noting only that it is at the head of a mass grave of slaves and Indian mound builders. No one seems to have other information, but it has always fascinated me. So it’s not exactly Heaven on paper, but I actually believe Heaven is within, regardless of where I may or may not be. And besides– God I love it there. It’s nature at its best; the people, landscape and its inhabitants wild and untamed, with rolling hills and valleys, which in this part of the world are referred to as “hollers.”
During this trip, we made pickles and tomato juice with ingredients straight from the garden, ran a few errands and I worked in the yard some. This is my favorite part, the garden and cutting acres of grass. My father has some big lawn mower things that are nicer than one of the cars I owned in college, a ratty old 4-speed copper colored Datsun my friend Tom affectionately referred to as “The Turd.” I learned pretty quickly as a child that if you are cutting grass or doing dishes, people just leave you alone to do your own thing. This remains true even now. So I like to cut the grass.
Going to their place is always an adventure. The drive down takes close to 3 hours and rolls through some gorgeous country, through little towns and hamlets named after characters and areas from the Bible, after people long forgotten other than a passing through their creeks or farms. Yet these mountains and valleys remain, solid witnesses to the passage of time. I thought of my grandmother a lot on the way down and her uncanny ability to predict the weather, among other things. She swore that if the cows were laying down (which they were on Thursday) it was a sign of “falling weather,” and to expect rain or snow or whatever seasonal precipitation falls that time of year. For the record, the cattle were all sprawled out like college kids after a drinking binge, but the skies were sunny and earth-bound blue, with no rain in sight.
So these are things you can’t help but notice on the way down. Part of what I like about going is that I’m never sure what I might end up doing while I’m there. My mother is not in good health but is in this Energizer Bunny Holding Pattern, just sort of plugging along. My clinical brain knows that one of these days, probably sooner rather than later, the batteries in the Bunny will stop working and she’ll sign into hospice. When that time comes, I’ll go down there for the duration, but for now I just come and go and do what I can. And when I can, I cut the grass and admire the rolling hills, these foothills of the Ozark mountains.
So I tooled around on the Cadillac of lawn mowers, very Zen-like. Well, Zen-like other than being lost in thought. But at least Buddhist in the sense of mostly being really present to the moment. I love watching the birds dive into areas I just cut, scooping up the bugs that bounce around like kids in bumper cars, scattering wildly to escape the whirring blades. I love watching the clouds come and go, love hearing the cicadas sing their bluesy summer songs, love the heat and sun, love the ways the earth seems to stand still and move so steadily at the same time. The snakes really will leave you alone if you return the same courtesy and they provide the valuable service of keeping the mice and bugs away, so there is a general sense of “live and let live,” which is fine with me.
So I cut grass and soak up sun and sometimes I’m so present to the moment that it aches. So many people I know are feeling apart from the Divine right now, so apart from who they believe themselves to be, so soul-weary. I watch my own mother and remember the hundreds of people I worked with in hospice, knowing that you can hold onto life for a long time, but eventually you just become a weary traveler wanting to get home. I was thinking of the verse from the Gita I listed above and many others, just letting the blades whir around and letting the sun melt some of my own thoughts away. The Gita is part of the Hindu Scriptures and translates as “The Song of God.” I love the passage that says God is more me than I am. I love thinking that I am One with the Divine and those mountains, with all that is happening, all that is so big and small, so real and so surreal.
Later, as one storm after another brought the most ominous looking clouds and dark skies, pounding rain, thunder and lightening vibrating the house and illuminating the mouth of the George Ward Holler (I have no idea who George Ward was, but the storms always come through the valley of his old farm) near their home, I thought of my grandmother and of how the storms in our own lives just roll through like that. Some sun, some rain, and usually some warnings for dark skies if we are paying attention, even if that is cows laying down on a hot afternoon. But then that passes through too, dripping with much needed nourishment for the soils of our souls, lit up, maybe even shaken or stirred a bit. This weekend reminded me of all of these things, and I thought about it a lot. Mostly the skies in this life are clear, but clouds pass through, that’s just part of it too. But doing this inner process in deep communion with the Earth makes it more do-able for me and reminds me of a passage from the Prophet Isaiah,
You shall go out in joy, and be led forward in peace; the mountains and hills will break forth before you in singing, and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands…
So I thought about all of that while I mowed and cleaned and made sweet pickles and tomato juice, trying to soak up time like a sponge, feeling it slipping through the hourglass, knowing you can’t hold onto anything or it just cuts as you try to grasp it, feeling time pass with a sense of Amazing Grace. I find the only way to do this time (or any time, for that matter) is to be present as much as possible– so present that it aches a little…but there is also so much joy there, and that grabs you too. The Buddhist word for that place is Bodhicitta, which the Dharma teacher Pema Chodron describes as “the soft spot.” Volumes have been written about this, but it’s basically that soft place inside all of us that holds some pain, some joy, some tenderness, like an old scar that never fully heals. And all you can do is touch it lightly, like painting a prayer on a cobweb, holding it all in the tenderness of a mother with a sick child, knowing that you are the mother and child all at once.
There is something powerful about that soft spot, knowing it is as eternal as the mountains and valleys, knowing that mountain remains in spite of its own soft spots and pounding rains. There is something really comforting about the eternal yet so very temporal nature of time and the passage of it, something so very comforting about the deeply personal nature of this time and the universal nature of it as well. At some point we all experience death–hopefully we all experience a life. That’s really my primary aspiration with all of this, to be so present to all of my life that it aches, but to take this life, as shaken and stirred as it may feel at times, and really live it.
The poet Li Po pondered these same things, as we all have throughout lifetimes and the ages. Yet the mountains remain, a witness to our grief and joys, to knowing no matter how dark it feels, we are One. Nearly 1300 years ago in China Li Po wrote, possibly on a weekend like this one,
The birds have vanished into the sky
And now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
Until only the mountain remains…
So tonight I sit, honoring mountains and time, watching the clouds drain away. And like clouds in the sky, we all pass through, changing forms and moods like the weather, always changing, always eternal, always One with All That Is. And the mountain remains.