It’s mid-August. Friday we returned from vacation. We spent ten days on retreat on the Maine coast, with very limited internet or television. Rather, we had osprey and seals, rocky coasts and wild weather.
After a few days I found myself in a rhythm. I’d get up early and sit on the porch, drumming. As I drummed I meditated, merging with the landscape.
I saw that the ocean fills the cove, each molecule of water connected to a vast network that covers much of the surface of the planet. Within the ocean are a multitude of species of animals, as well as innumerable plants. Indeed, the oceans plants and photosynthetic animals produce the lion’s share of our oxygen.
Along the ocean’s rim, in northern Maine, great forests stretch for hundreds of miles. Trees, relative late comers to our world’s ecosystem, breathe in CO2 and exhale oxygen, making life on our planet possible. Through their leaves and branches the winds blow, their force permanently bending the most exposed trees. The winds are ancient, arising with the Earth’s nascent atmosphere, driven by the sun and the planet’s rotation.
We mammals, the fishes, and the insects and other invertebrates, live mostly in a narrow band of air and water near the Earth’s surface, making our living directly or indirectly from the sun, soil, and water. We are aided by the great molten fire at the Earth’s core, a forge that melts and recycles the rocky body of the planet.
The dominant rock of norther Maine is granite, born of fire. Walk along the rocky shore and one is surrounded by great outcroppings of the mineral. The weathers work the rock, chipping off fragments, some enormous, others tiny. I am reminded that life as we know it owes its existence to the weathering of rock.
All around me was evidence of consciousness diversifying. The piece of granite or quartz I found on the beach was once a part of a massive rock face. Now it experiences the world from its unique position, turned by waves, eventually to be churned to sand. Perhaps the stone thinks slowly, in keeping with its vast age. Is it aware of us? If so, are we shadowy specters passing quickly by? Maybe. Yet, tradition and experience tell us we can have relationships with the rock people, creating healing collaborations.
All around us new life, differentiated awareness, arises from what already is. But this is only one part of the cycle, for individuality also breaks down, awareness merging with other awarenesses to form a new perspective. No single form lasts.
Perhaps, as the Elders have long maintained, the task is to balance individuality with merging, selfhood with the needs of the collective. After all, individuality is an illusion; or rather, the idea that our unique point of view is solitary or permanent is illusory. One one hand we are, person or stone, each a unique being. On the other, our separation is at best transitory, for we are always journeying toward another merging. We may also be more complex than we can ever imagine, many faceted gems of consciousness living innumerable lifetimes, perhaps simultaneously.
When we are able to hold our insistence on individuality and permanence in check, we sometimes realize we are each an aware, engaged part of a vast, interconnected, whole, a pattern of consciousness subsumed within the enormity of the universe, or perhaps, many, overlapping universes.
To forget this is to court disaster, although disasters are themselves transitory. Even on vacation we were aware of the turmoil and suffering in the world. We were saddened by the passing of Robin Williams, the violence in the Middle East, and the racism in Ferguson. We were also aware that the World supports us; that we owe all to others.
Forgetting our dependence on, and interconnection with, others seems a very human malady, the source of much suffering and cruelty. We forget, even as we strive to remember. (Who has not feared death?) Perhaps, in the face of this, we can only follow the Elders’ injunction to breathe, care, and do our best. Let’s remind each other of the way, try to stay on the Good Red Road, and keep the conversation civil. As Chaucer knew well, it is good to have companions on the road.