You can spend so long away from the divine that you get hungry. It’s not like hunger in your stomach or thirst in your mouth, but an unnamable itch that gnaws at you until you have to go home. That’s why I went to the cabin each summer. Last summer I arrived there for a week of nothing. Nothing to do except meditate, breathe, walk, breathe deeper, then lie on the grass and watch birds float across the sky in slow colored streams. Nothing but sense the quiet rhythm of my cells. Nothing but cook whatever I want and eat it slowly, gazing at the creek, listening to the trees.
Each day I meditated longer, until I sensed a presence and calm that never surface in the city. Too many phones ringing, too much email to answer, too many people needing so much from me that I can’t keep my balance. At home I can hardly recognize my own voice or see my guides, let alone hear the hum of the sacred.
In the middle of the week I decided to hike to a place on the land where two creeks meet, at the confluence. I’d been there ten years years ago on an impromptu walkabout after one of the caretakers told me it was a “power spot” that I must visit. Since I’m directionally challenged (or was guided deliberately into a state of exhaustion, depending on how you look at it), I’d rambled for hours, stumbling through brush, scrambling over boulders, until I arrived at the spot where the creeks converge. I climbed onto a rock in the stream and inhaled the deep mineral-fish-water smell, let the soft heat of the rock travel up my body, until it felt as though the roaring water was surging through my veins. I leaned forward and found myself weeping, then stretched back and laughed, until I was tipping back and forth, laughing and crying, magnetized between two poles, swaying.
This year, in my week of divine nothing, I heard about a new trail to the confluence that allows you to walk straight there in fifteen minutes. No wandering. This made me a little wary. Wandering mixed with a good dose of suffering seems like a prerequisite for an experience with the Divine. Since my last trip to the spot had been so earthshaking, I decided to prepare before I tried the new trail. I meditated, easing into a couple of hours of quiet breathing, letting the soft calm radiate through my heart until I knew I was ready to begin the hike.
I set out on the trail with focused attention. In other words, I would not let my mind wander like it usually does. With each step, I inhaled the summer air and exhaled my thoughts. And the thoughts did come. Actually more than thoughts. If you’re like me and tend to be, let’s say, creative, then your thoughts can have whole personalities with complicated scenarios. Like the very important Queen Debra who was planning on reaching enlightenment at the confluence, and then becoming rich by writing a book and having appearances on Oprah that would necessitate new clothes and probably jewelry. I parked her, with a jeweled crown on her head, by a little waterfall. My own head had to stay clear.
Then came little Debbie who had a bad childhood and is therefore leery of new experiences, especially if they involve contact with true self, which could cause her to be abandoned. Yet again. She needs to be soothed regularly, but I gently seated her with her doll and blankie under a tree to play. Soothe you later. I would be fully present. No guests or alter egos invited. Breathe in, breathe out. One foot on the path after another.
A wooden entryway appeared in front of me—two tall poles planted in the ground with wire stretched across the top between them. I whispered a prayer as I walked through: Please God, allow me to be present. It was a short way down to the water from the gate, but now I didn’t have to walk. My body was propelled down the path, unaware of steps, only a dreamy awareness of entering the sacred.
I paused on the bank and stared. Two streams cascaded together into a waterfall, splashing over rocks, bursting into praise. The air felt so alive that every breath was like God’s breath. In and out, God breathed me. I waded into the stream and sat on the large flat rock that beckoned. The warmth of the stone and the sun were the same, pulsing through me. The sunlight poured through the veins of the brilliant green leaves into my veins and back again. I knew this was the same water as the rivers of Eden where God’s voice is in the wind, in the birds’ chatter, in all the insects humming God’s melodies.
It was something like my memory of an LSD trip in the 70’s where I viewed the microcosm of the universe in a tiny corner of my kitchen floor where ants crawled as I listened to the faint hum of their chatter. And I understood their chatter. I never took LSD again, since I had enough survival instinct to sense it was too risky. But I remember thinking that I’d like to experience that feeling again, just once before I die. And it wasn’t the feeling of understanding the language of ants. It was the vivid sense of everything being interconnected. It’s all God.
And here I was. Listening to the rush of water dissolving time, as leaves reeled like dizzy ships floating on air, the same as water falling, the same as light rising, like the breath in God’s throat, my throat, and every narrow passage that struggles to break into new form, every drop of water as large as the ocean, dancing water that holds the world, shapes boulders into pebbles, pushing everything effortlessly into its next way of being over centuries without a moment passing.
I stretched out on the rock and shouted into the air, “I… LOVE….GOD! I don’t know if I actually screamed it aloud or if I murmured it silently. It was all the same. I can tell you I am not the kind of person who normally shouts out, “I love God!” or even says it matter-of-factly. I’m prone to doubt and debate and God-wrestling at every turn. But there I was. And I was there.
I have no idea how long I stayed. Eventually I walked back to the cabin, took a hot bath, and then fell into a dreamy nap. Later in the day I ran into one of the owners of the land. “I walked on the trail to the confluence today,” I told her, my body glowing just thinking about it.
“Oh yes,” she said, “Isn’t that a nice spot?”
I was stunned. Nice Spot? Is that all? I couldn’t think of what to say, so I just nodded and said,“ It was amazing.”
In my last few days at the cabin, those words kept ringing through my mind. “Nice Spot.” Could it be it was just a nice spot? Both times I’d been there it was so full of the divine presence that it felt like heaven on earth. I decided not to go back because I didn’t want to see it any other way.
A few days later I meandered through a meadow, thinking about going home the next day and mentally answering my future e-mail, when I heard the roaring. Even though I was walking on the other side, I knew it was the confluence. No other water on the land roars that loud. I realized I was walking along the opposite side of the trail I’d been on a few days before. All I’d have to do is walk down a few feet and take a peek. It was too tempting to resist.
I inched down carefully, taking it in from the other side of the trail, and the other side of my mind. I walked over a few boulders and stared. For a moment I thought it was a different place. I checked for the little rock piles, the cairns that had been placed to mark the spot. They were there. It was definitely the confluence. Two creeks coming together into a sweet little waterfall, surrounded by trees. Birds chirping, water gurgling.
It was . . . a nice spot.
I climbed out onto the flat rock in the stream, thinking maybe if I sat in the midst of everything I could feel it again, but it was just a warm rock. The sun was pleasant, flickering through the leaves, and the water was, well, kind of chilly. It was so ordinary I wondered if I was in a sci-fi movie where the pulse of the world had been stolen by aliens. What happened to the delirious song of the stream? Why wasn’t God whispering through the wind into my heart? Just where was God, anyway?
It didn’t take me long to realize that it was not God that was missing. God was still there. The difference was that I wasn’t there.
In the Bible, when Jacob woke from his dream, he said the famous words, God is in this place, and I knew it not. I understood that to mean that God is present in every place whether we are aware of it or not. Now, I had actually experienced it in the most vivid sense. Now you see it, now you don’t. What was the difference? My presence.
So how does one stay tuned to the presence of the divine? Must I trek through miles of wilderness or meditate for hours to wake up? These were the things that pulled me far enough from the chatter of my mind to propel me into a state of heightened awareness. Tuning in requires tuning out. But however you do it, all that’s really required is to pay attention to what’s calling you.
Unfortunately, I normally walk around so tightened into the shape of a productive human, that even though God might be whispering through the sunlight on the hills right into my veins, I’m too preoccupied to hear it. That’s not likely to change overnight. The best I can do is pause and recall the flow of the confluence, remember it’s always there, and try to stir it into the mix of my life.
On the ride home from the cabin, I stopped my car, pulled over and began to furiously scribble notes to myself– the crash how-to course on living with awareness of the sacred at home, lest I forget. The page is tattered now after a year of sitting next to my to-do list, but it seems to surface whenever I really need it.
Meditate and walk outside everyday. Even if it’s brief.
It doesn’t have to be a big epiphany every day.
Stop and notice the sensations of life in you and around you
Expect ups and downs.
Enjoy the ride
The soft breeze
The bird’s song
The body you have.
Remember to breathe, and keep your feet on the ground.
God is everywhere, but you have to show up.