From rainfall on an African Plain, to oceans, lakes, lochs, underground rivers, Sussex dew ponds and the next cup of tea, water is always on a journey. On a warming planet, water’s journey is accelerating: Arctic ice melting, sea levels rising, rain falling more heavily and flash flooding. A speeding up water cycle is the main way the impacts of climate change are being experienced.Waterland (The Dark Mountain Project)
Shortly after the summer solstice, I dreamed again about a great tsunami coming to obliterate the Earth. I was trying to find the right place to take shelter and with whom, but I couldn’t find haven. I had not brought a toothbrush so I kept asking if anyone had an extra one or a travel-size toothpaste, but nobody did. I realized that I would not have the necessities in my knapsack when the Great Water came. Everyone was conflicted about whether to take shelter by the metal buildings, or on the open mountaintop, but we never came to a satisfactory answer. So I just kept searching. But everyone slowly walked away from me when I asked them if they would be my shelter partner.
I was born on the “first” Earth Day. This sounds, in retrospect, like a very silly thing to say, since every day has been Earth Day since the beginning of earthly time, whenever that might have been. But on 22 April 1970, forward-looking hippies, eco-activists—supported by a key US senator—climate scientists, and students in great numbers, decided to officially recognize the Earth as a sentient system, in need of recognition to support its preservation. This could be considered a group terma of sorts. It sprung people into action, with many preceding causes and conditions. Twenty million people participated, 10 per cent of Americans at that time.
I have always had two main sources of refuge: Mother Nature herself, in all her myriad forms, and the vast Wisdom Teachings of many traditions. Even as a child, I was somehow tapped into these—perhaps from previous lives? I roamed outside a lot, in all kinds of weather and seasons, with rivers, trees, hills, clouds, animals, and insects as my companions. It is only in recent time that I have had these recurring dreams about catastrophe, usually by water, although sometimes by great mud waves as well. The animal-child-primal inner being is tuned in to larger forces. Animals always know when a storm or calamity or predator is imminent. I wonder how many others have had similar dreams or portents?
I spent 11 years living on the wild, rough mountain, many of them in retreat. I went out on a limb, metaphorically and literally, by leaving behind “civilization” and a sense of progression through schooling, career, social life, and “advancement.” I gave up prized artwork, jewelry, clothes, and dishware to collect prayers, practices, new bodily habits of forest wandering, and communing with nonhuman creatures. I built platforms to sea- and sky-gaze, some on tree-limbs and trunks, hence the literal out on a limb. It has been 10 years since I “finished” this long retreat, yet it feels more like it finished me, my ability to fake it, to succeed in this paradigm so carefully built upon industrialization and patriarchy. I am no longer a “good climber”—socially or vocationally—of anything but trees and rocky peaks. I miss mountain life like my own skin, stretched taut over moss valleys and ridges. I miss the intimacy of landscapes and creatures, the reliance on instinct and intuition, cognition in the background.
Embracing inner realization and outer reverence for nature, Longchenpa’s Song of the Enchanting Wildwoods remains a central text for my mind’s nourishment:
Cascades of water descend with the gentle rumble of bass drums. The hills above are bathed in the coolness of the moon, and covered with a thick robe of clouds, above which shine the stars and constellations in their perfect beauty.
The cool, pure ponds are covered with lotus flowers, whose faces are bright as if smiling upon us. Surrounding are groves of flowers and trees and grassy meadows holding the robes of the sky. All of this shining like the stars on a clear night, or gods playing in pleasure groves.
Once you’ve gone there, you’ll live near caves and cliffs in areas rich with medicinal herbs, amidst flowers and trees, or in a simple thatched hut made of grass and leaves. You’ll sustain yourself with the bare necessities such as water, kindling, and fruit and have the space to apply yourself day and night to what is wholesome.Song of the Enchanting Wildwoods (Lotsawa House)
These excerpts on the sublime qualities of water speak to me, especially considering my violent dreams about water bodies.
I didn’t realize while building those platforms in retreat, hidden high up on the mountainside, that on clear days, I’d be able to see the sea. The Pacific Ocean, far off in the distance, lending her steady presence to my oft-troubled mind. I have always needed the ocean, kin to my own body’s salty brines. The great paradox of retreat—and meditation and spiritual practice—is that it does not improve or accomplish anything, really. All the texts talk about Great Accomplishment (drup-chen). But to do that, everything must be dropped, let go, lost, or uncovered. Both intuitive and counterintuitive all at once. Difficult to explain or describe. Hence, millennia of great masters and teachings trying to describe it!
As my teacher would say: It’s so simple, but you won’t believe me . . . with tears welling in his eyes. Or as Longchenpa put it: “Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter!”
Perhaps the central lesson of them all, the greatest Dharma teaching, is to inhabit the wildwood within, while tending and nurturing the outer woods and cities: all the shared environments of our home planet. And remembering that every day has always been, and will always be, Earth Day.
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Uncertainty, Insecurity, and Instability
Excerpts from The Zen Priestess and the Snake: A Woman’s Path of Transformation and Healing Through Rediscovery of the Great Mother Tradition
Building a Container of Contentment
Formlessness and Fundamental Nature: The Prajnaparamita Sutras
Meditating with Mother Earth
My Grandmother’s Greenhouse and Other Portals to Wonder