I’ve recently returned from a workshop entitled Knowing the Mystery, hosted in a lushly forested retreat space in Rhinebeck, New York; complete with vibrant vegetable gardens, hiking trails, beachside hammocks, and roaming woodchucks. This class marks my third year of attendance. The workshop and its teacher, Neil Kramer, were, as always, nourishing, enlivening, inspiring, and provocative.
But this year was different, because my focus shifted a bit. This year, I really tried to make friends. You know, in the flesh; face to face, geometry to geometry. Other earthly wanderers similar to me, brought together by an attraction to this teacher’s interpretation of the Grand Mystery of life. We are, as the saying goes, few and far between, and I noticed, just before leaving my home for this workshop, how heavily I relied upon the stale platform of Facebook or meandering website links to ultra-fluffy but meatless new age advice columns, searching in vain for fellowship. You know, the powerful quote of the day, or the rebellious blogger refuting the mainstream with dreamy imagery, or the lists of the ten things spiritual people do, or the five things strong women do, or step-by-step guides of how to reignite your inner goddess. Now, it wasn’t all bad, but it certainly wasn’t alive. These articles were epitaphs of concepts buried deep in the earth of my being, and I wasn’t going to reach them through a keyboard and screen. If I wanted these things; strength and inner growth and a more substantial resurrection of that beautiful goddess within, I was going to have to get my hands dirty and dig for them. Those stone epitaphs, perhaps I can concede they were markers for my interests, but they were heavy and stone and in my way. No, one cannot grow by memorizing an epitaph, no matter how lovely the prose or holy the author; one must dig, dig dig, to resurrect what is deep and hidden and fertile and alive for herself.
So, I budgeted and planned, even conspired and coereced a bit here and there, and landed myself in Rhinebeck, among other great humans, and pushed my comfort zones; opened up, reached out, tripped a few times, and kept on going.
There was an exquisitely beautiful woman, very careful with her words, a powerhouse of rhythmic energy, soft and thoughtful. I have seen her before, and have always been intrigued by her gentle yet profound presence. During one of our class breaks, I noticed her stretching outside. Basic stretches, not fancy inverted yoga postures or anything. I could tell, through observing her, that she was deeply tuned into her body, that she was doing what it needed, and that she was rather unfocused on all the people bustling and chatting around her. She was very…individual in that moment. Very strong. Honoring herself and what she needed. I felt the shyness rise up within me, but I approached and asked, simply, if I could copy her. Of course I could. She continued. I began. It felt really, really good. Later on I got the opportunity to speak with her more, and felt, by her presence and words, a little piece of myself wake up. Yawn and stretch and smile in my heart. She woke something up in me, a strong, quiet, intuitive, playful, powerful part of me.
Another woman, my roommate for the weekend, and with whom I already enjoyed a deep friendship, held me with her strength, kindness, patience, and humor. We talked a lot, about many things, emotional things. We exchanged crystals, gifts with which we had both planned to surprise the other. We laughed, and laughed, and laughed. She taught me about Milkweed and butterflies, kept me from getting lost on the wandering trails, and was an ace at spotting woodchucks. I can think of few things better than the richness of our growing friendship.
I was introduced to a woman whom I immediately wanted to bear hug. She was just that ….yes. Just that. Wisdom flowed from her like a clean mountain stream, refreshing and rejuvenating. After speaking with her under the showers of that wisdom, I think I could have climbed the highest peaks. No terrain was too tough for her sharp navigation, not even Table Mountain.
And finally, there was a man, the type of person with whom one can always exhale, relax. He had a funny accent with the most cheerful and light intonations, that I adored. He told me it was a working class accent, and then I loved it even more. I think I could have shadowed him the entire weekend, just to hear him talk and make jokes. He has a nice life. Doesn’t work too hard, doesn’t need too much. He likes to sit on his front steps with his dog, and smoke a bit, and visit with neighbors a bit, and contemplate a bit, and watch a bit. Sometimes he sits for hours. How brilliant.
I want to do that.
I want to sit for hours. I want to stretch. I want flowers and butterflies. I want wisdom and deep inner confidence and I even want cultivated, playful, harmless, mischief. I want to relax. Somehow, these things have stengthened within me, fortified by being in the presence of people who embody them. I am not happy with reading the epitaphs, though my inner taskmaster might have it be so (she’s a real piece of work, my taskmaster, skilled in the arts of guilt, shame and work ethic). As my beautiful Table Mountain friend would say, I fully reject you taskmaster. I am going to do what I love, and my life will be just fine, and everything that needs to get done will get done, because I am a strong person. Thank you for your service, but you are released now. (I then hand Ms. Taskmaster a pile of discarded epitaphs, just for good measure, and suggest she put them in alphabetical order. That should keep her busy for a while…)
Since my return home, I have decorated my front step with several tough little flowering plants; Penta, Lantana and of course, Milkweed. Every morning, before I leave my bedroom, I stretch on the floor. It feels very very amazing. I then sit on my front step with my coffee, another new ritual, and watch the sun brighten, the birds awaken, and eventually the children gathering at the bus stop across the street from my house.
The first to arrive this morning is a thin little girl with shiny brown hair, thick glasses and a massive bulging backpack drooping almost to the back of her legs. She keeps her head buried in her mobile device, earbuds strung into her ears. She never looks up, but simply plops down on the sidewalk. Still, there is something about her that delights me…something is in there, I can sense it, from behind my brigade of butterfly plants. I can sense it. Next to arrive is a boy, about the same age as the girl, maybe 12, and he seems to care for her. He sits next to her, cross-legged, and closes his eyes. His hands reach in front of him, and he massages a few blades of grass between his fingers, without plucking them. He seems to be holding space for her. She is still engrossed in her device. Slowly more children come; three girls sit together, they gossip and squeal, a couple of boys are dropped off by a minivan. One boy has bright blue shoes and a backpack trimmed in neon green, adding a bit of pizazz to the rather drab school uniform they all wear; black collared shirts and khaki shorts at the prescribed school-approved length. This brightly adorned boy is the only one who chooses not to sit down. Good.
The bus comes, the stop sign flips open and the lights flash, and the kids all clamber inside. A gush of autumnal affection overwhelms me, and I am momentarily captivated by mental images of falling leaves and football games and pencil shavings.
These students here in front of me, I was once one of them. The students with me in Rhinebeck, we were all once of these students on the bus; awkward, unsure, growing, caring, squealing, gossiping, bright. There we all were, and here we all are. The tenderness of it all enchants me, and my insides warm with a palpable gratitude for the new friends I made, my fellow students of the mystery, both mentioned and not, who have added color and awakened beauty in my life. A school bus of selves, perhaps one could call it…
I glance at one of my milkweed plants. I saw a monarch butterfly on it a few days ago. Today there is a yellow jacket. The flower doesn’t seem to mind, butterfly or yellow jacket, it simply blooms. Even the stingers pollinate.
I get up, collect my son Nicholas, and pile his flailing and happy limbs into his wagon for our morning walk. He is eight years old, but with a mental development age of about 8 months old. Some might see this as a tragedy, but it doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.
As I pull him, he giggles almost constantly. He is content with, or actually utterly delighted with, watching the sidewalk pass under his eyes.
What a rush! I see written upon his round little face.
What a brilliant earthly phenomenon, this flying of the sidewalk concrete! He reaches his arm over the side of his wagon to let a little blue stuffed elephant in his hand dangle onto the roughness below, letting the vibrations sent up his arms from the bumps and cracks enhance his sensory experience.
Oh yes, sweet child, little student of the Earth.
What an experience!
What an adventure!