Today, a detour from the road trip: neighborhood organizing meeting of the local chapter of the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).
What happens when the next disaster — wildfires, floods, earthquakes, or ??? — strikes our peaceful community here on the coast? And the services we depend on — phone, internet, power, government, police, fire, food stores, ambulances, etc. — are all down, roads are cut off, safety agencies are overwhelmed, the fires are coming, and all we have are each other?
So, following some established CERT procedures, a group of us came together for the first time, introduced ourselves, and started talking. It was a chaotic cacophony, with some people loudly insisting that we do things their way, others seeking to edify and entertain us with their long stories, and others seeking attention and reassurance with endless questions. Everybody talking at once; not much listening.
And there I was, the frustrated facilitator, trying to see that each person had a chance to speak and be heard — with limited success.
But somehow, amazingly, we actually started getting things organized, initiating a planning map for our neighborhood.
I’ve got lots to do now to follow up. But first, I’ve got three more days on this Road Trip of the Imagination — a little more time to wander and wonder and dream. There’ll be time later for everything else.
Summer Solstice Because of our peculiar circumstances this year, it’s the first time that Wendy and I have been together for Summer Solstice in many years.
At first we wanted to go somewhere special on the coast to have a special meal and watch the sunset over the Pacific. But as we thought about it, we realized that there would be hundreds of people driving here from all over, lining up at the restaurants to do the same.
So we decided to do something really special: celebrate being together. We drank our ceremonial Kiddush wine out on the deck as we quietly witnessed the last rays of the sun on this longest of days.
Using outer light,
Return to the inner.
In this way you are safe.
Trees in the forest generally, and redwoods in particular, provide aid to each other when threats occur, such as storms, insects, fires, animals. They can provide nutrients and even water to each other. They communicate through underground neural networks, as well as through smells and even sounds. The health of each tree depends on the health of the forest, so taking care of each other is important for everyone’s long-term survival. For those of us working to cultivate connections among communities, they have a lot to teach us.
I rinsed the lunch dishes, put them in the dishwasher, made sure Wendy was okay, checked the time, jumped into the car, drove to a nearby wild area, Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, pulled into the last spot in the parking lot, checked the time to calculate how long I could stay, and got out of the car.
Not the same as living in a tent.
As I walked on the trail along the creek, I kept shooting pictures of redwoods, looking for that elusive, iconic image that would capture the essence of the day’s message. I couldn’t find it.
The forest was laughing at me. “You’re acting like a tourist!”
“So what am I supposed to do?” I said.
“How about just sitting?”
“Where you are!”
So I sat. And nothing happened. Until I started noticing things. Wind rustling the tips of branches, the bubbly sound of the stream, the conversations of birds. Carpets of clover, ferns, fallen branches spread out across the forest. And in the late afternoon sunbeams slanting through the tops of the redwoods, energetic circling swarms of tiny insects.
And before I knew what had happened, the whole forest was alive with magic. Wow! When did they sneak this one past me?
Essence of the day’s message: a physical road trip requires one set of practices. A road trip of the imagination requires quite another.
Okay, so now it’s a done deal for me: this year it’s a Road Trip of the Imagination. Home base each day: home. Why? Sometimes your family just needs you.
Daily agenda: Silence. Prayer and meditation. Tea. Writing. Wandering through wild places. A little inner travel; a little outer travel. Care giving as needed. Whatever else emerges. Time to laugh at it all. Gratitude.
I’m recalling a trail I walked last year, that guided me through the redwood forest. I’m still there, still here, still walking.
Your roots are deep and your trunk is strong.
But when the storms howled in,
the ones that blow fiercer each year,
to tear out your branches,
the ones you once spread to shelter your friends,
there was no one to shelter you.
I put my arms around what is left of your trunk,
and feel the life still pulsing in you,
in rhythm with the heartbeats pulsing in me, like prayers.
At the tips of your branches
little green shoots are reaching out toward the sun.
I’m restarting this blog after having been on hiatus for a while. Why now?
It’s the timing of three apparently unrelated events that’s leading me to do this:
1) I’ve just completed a piece I was asked to write for ServiceSpace (ServiceSpace.org) that would be nice to publish here; 2) this website, which mysteriously disappeared for a while, just now has mysteriously turned back on; 3) it’s time to start my annual road trip.
Synchronicity? Go figure! So here goes!
Six Lessons (Plus One) from My First Awakin Circle
Have you ever found yourself standing in front of a door with the strange feeling that, if you choose to open it and walk inside, life will never be the same? For me, on a balmy summer evening in 2013 in Santa Clara, California, standing at the front door of the home of Dinesh and Harshida Mehta, I felt that this was one of those moments. I took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked inside.
I was greeted in silence by a man about my age with a calm demeanor and a sweet smile, who put his hands together and bowed to me. This must be Dinesh, I thought. I wasn’t used to being greeted in this way. But I immediately understood his message, so I smiled back, placed my hands together, and bowed to him.
My first Awakin Circle lesson: we share silence here; we acknowledge and honor the divine in each other.
Dinesh silently showed me into the living room. There was a large circle of cushions on the floor, and a few seats on couches and benches against the walls. I felt embarrassed. It had been years since I had sat for any length of time on a cushion on the floor, and imagined it would be quite uncomfortable. On the other hand, who was I to assume the privilege of sitting in one of the comfortable chairs? Dinesh, seeing my dilemma, silently guided me to one of the chairs and invited me to sit.
My second lesson: here we care for each other with kindness and generosity.
What an extraordinary experience that hour of silence was! The mind was wandering to all kinds of places. In the weeks that followed, as I continued to come back week after week, I would gradually come to understand that that was really the point: to learn to observe the wandering mind and emotions without being attached. And to open to something larger. But what was most extraordinary to me, sitting for an hour with a room full of strangers, sharing the space, sharing the silence, sharing the collective energy of which we were all part, was the intimacy. In a way that I hadn’t expected, how connected we all seemed!
My third lesson: the power of simply sitting together in silence.
Then it came time for the circle of sharing. Each week there’s a passage that gets read – eclectically sourced from teachers and people of wisdom around the world – followed by the opportunity for all of us to share our reflections.
There were roughly 50 of us in the room. “How much time do we each have?” the circle anchor asked. “53 seconds!” said Hafiz, smiling.
There would be no signal to each of us when our time was up; we each got to self-monitor. As a life-long facilitator of circles and group conversations, I was interested in how this would work. It turns out that some people spoke way longer than their allotted time, and that made me uncomfortable. I thought, is this fair? How will everyone get their turn?
But what happened was remarkable. When someone would speak for a long time, typically the next several people would speak very briefly, or pass. Most people seemed unattached to how much time they had to speak.
“How does this work?” I asked Nipun later. “My experience is that when one person is long winded, others get nervous and want to claim their space to speak as well.”
Nipun smiled. “When we sit for an hour in silence together, we get connected,” he said. “It may not always be conscious, but our behavior changes. There’s a shift from me to we.” Later I’ll learn that there’s more to it. It’s not only about the hour of silence each week. It’s also about the giving spirit of kindness and generosity with which people here consistently treat each other. It starts with the conscious intention and practice of the Mehta family, and ripples through all of us.
Lesson number four: in a community infused with kindness and generosity, where people sit in silence together, there is less ego and more caring.
Finally there was the third hour, the wonderful meal served to us by Harshida and the team of volunteers working with her in the kitchen. As I got to the front of the line Harshida, whom I had never met before, looked me in the eye, smiled most warmly, handed me my plate of food with both hands, and silently gestured to make sure I had as much of each kind of food as I wanted. Wow! Later, as we were all sitting in silence at the various tables, eating, she and others came around with more trays of food to offer us seconds, and thirds.
Later when I walked up to thank her for her generosity, she simply shrugged and said, “Thank you for coming to our home and spending the evening with us!” Harshida has a full-time job at a bank. Yet somehow, every week for the past 21 years, she’s found the time to clean and prepare her house, and prepare a meal for 50 people. I’ve heard Nipun tell the story many times about how his mother, with complete sincerity, will say to anyone who thanks her, “Thank you for coming to be with us!” Why? Because it is we, her guests, who give Harshida the opportunity to serve. Wow!
Lesson number five: for someone totally committed to service to others, giving is it’s own reward.
After the meal there was time for people to interact and speak with each other. I found that, having shared the past three hours with 50 strangers, random conversations happened quite easily that were warm, friendly and comfortable. I was surprised at how quickly these conversations could get deep and intimate, and how those of us from very different backgrounds could discover important things we had in common.
Lesson number six: the Awakin Circle tills the soil for beautiful friendships to grow.
“This is all too much for me to get my mind around,” I said to Nipun. “I don’t understand how it’s all happening!”
Nipun laughed. “If you told me you understood ServiceSpace, I’d know you didn’t!”
So I’m learning to live with the wisdom of not always needing to understand. And to pay attention instead to stilling the mind and finding small ways to serve others. And that makes all the difference.