Sunday, December 27, 2015

Rain drop, tea cup

Today my walk in the woods was one of those days when you are never out of your rain gear, even for a minute.  Fully protected from the pouring rain, I become an island of warmth moving through the lonely woods, the sound of raindrops on my hood a constant companion.

Before I left today, I made some hot tea and put it in my little silver thermos.  About two miles in, it sounds really inviting.  I sit on a rotting tree stump and fish around in my old black messenger bag for the thermos.  Pour a cup, take a sip.  The liquid goes down hot, and the steam rises into my hood, fogging my glasses.  I hear the "plunk" sound of a rain drop landing in water.  It is so silent in the woods today, I can hear individual rain drops landing here and there.

That one landed in a puddle somewhere.  But I see no puddle anywhere.  Then it happens again, and I locate the sound.  The rain drops are falling into my tea cup.  As I look into the cup, it happens again. "Plunk" goes the rain drop, and there is a shiny ring of ripples in my little tea cup.  As I watch, the tea settles down, and just for a moment, I can see a reflection of the tall woods in the surface of my tea.  As I try to pick out details, another rain drop plunks into the tea, and the image is shattered.  But just for a moment, and then it is back.

I move the tea cup closer to my body so the bill of my hood shelters it from further rain drop impacts.  There, by my raincoat, I can read the image in my cup; a reverse of the tall, misty trees above my head.

Shortly after, it's time to turn around and head back.  The miles unravel on the muddy path and soon I'm back in the world.  But the image of the tall trees rippling in my tea cup remains with me.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


The horrifying symptoms of my latest health scare have abated.

Last night, in physical comfort, I watched a movie until I was sleepy, and then, I slept.  I woke at 3 am, got a drink of water, watched the full moon for a few moments, and then slept some more.  And this morning, I showered, made coffee and read the news.  Somewhere around 10am it occurred to me that normal was back in my life.

Lately, when the pain recedes and the fear dies down, I find myself doing normal things, like making coffee, or looking at the moon.  Or making the bed or doing laundry.  These things are so precious now.  My title today is "Normal" but maybe it should be "Precious."

These days the moments of doing something common, pain free, are cast in sharp relief, because of past pain.  With attention, each moment, every moment, is crisp and new and disclosive.

Today I went to a record store and bought some Sarah Vaughn and Dizzy Gillespie.  The store is in an old house.  The wood floor is made of dark, old planks and it creaks when I walk on it.  The vinyl LP's are in cardboard covers with paper sleeves inside.  When you remove them, they are shiny black.  In the middle, on the labels, it says "Columbia" or "Mercury" or "ASCAP."  They have their own smell, and indeed, the entire House of Records here in Eugene, Oregon smells of memory and music and vinyl and the joy of attention.

At home, I put some Dizzy Gillespie on the turntable and I begin to make Chili.  The wall heater hums, taking the chill out of my studio, onions and cumin fill the house with cheerful smells and Dizzy resonates.  They are all melded in a seamless experience.  A timeless experience.  It could be 1947 and I could be making chili in a studio apartment in Eugene, Oregon, listening to jazz.  Or it could be 2067 and I could be doing the same thing.

Each moment crisp and new and showy.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Today, at long last, the doctor had some encouraging news for me.  It's been a long haul, one difficult thing after another for the last six months, and living in pain and fear the whole time.  Finally, the doctor offers hope.

And I can feel the quality of my attention shift.  It's a subtle progression.  First, of course, there are tears of relief, sitting in the car in front of  the doctor's office.  They pass, and I start to drive into town to do some shopping.  I'm surprised to find I don't feel ecstatic.  My sense perceptions are hyper-clear, suddenly.  I've experienced that before, after times of high stress.  My theory about it is that when we are in stress, we tend to tune out information that isn't relevant to the on-going threat or problem.  Then when it's over, sense perception floods back into our awareness and it seems powerful because it is fresh

I've experienced the same sensation after a long sit, or other mindfulness practice session.

My emotions seem to be dominated by something I can only inadequately describe as peace and acceptance.  Curiously, it is the same feeling I've had during some of the worst moments, without, of course, the fear and pain.

It's a feeling I want to keep on having.  It reminds me of the Buddha's advice to "suffuse yourself in this feeling, this state" once you have found it.  Tonight, I'll spend a quiet evening at home, and tomorrow maybe go for a short walk in the woods.  Maybe when I'm walking tomorrow, the state will settle on me once again.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Today my walk up on the Ridgeline took a difficult turn.  It was a cold, rainy day here in Eugene, and I was looking forward to the quiet and solitude that comes to these wooded hills in winter.  Shortly after I got on the trail, the day turned, seamlessly, to a struggle.

First, the late breakfast I ate at the Jiffy Mart did not agree with me.  I found my self fighting down nausea while making the steep climb in the first mile.  It was cold out, and I forgot my warm hat.  In no time, I had a sharp ache in my ear from breathing cold air.  And something in my nose, oddly enough was hurting, I have no idea why.  Some very dark thoughts that have been haunting me came forward.  Lonlieness crept in, and I found myself thinking about aging, my health and all the people I've lost in the last few years.

Mortality seemed to ride on my shoulder and say "you're mine."  Even this was odd.  Usually, when I think of mortality, it is with a sense of wonder.  Today, everything was hard, and the woods were like a dark tunnel.  Whatever my feelings are, I know they will greet me when I go the woods.  I've learned that the thing to do is to take the next step, and the next, and to be in the woods anyway.

On the way down the hill, a magical thing happened.  As I rounded a switchback in the trail, the high wooded ridge I had just come down from came into view.  A heavy mist was falling lazily over the tops of the tall trees, and the rain was sheeting down, pattering on my rain gear.  And a very old, very familiar feeling came over me.

It was the feeling of Having Been Up There.  It's a feeling I first had as a teenager, descending from the first peaks I climbed in the Cascades.  I've felt it many times at the end of a rappel, when my feet touch the ground again after climbing hundreds of feet on a vertical rock wall.  It feels like coming back to the regular world after spending some time in a world apart, a world that is only for the few.  In my expernience, no amount of fear, pain or despair can stand up to this feeling.  And today was true to form.  My struggling faded, and I remembered that my condition is temporary, in all respects.  The woods seemed a little more welcoming, a little more like the life-time home they really are, and have always been for me.

Sitting in my little pub, sipping a beer, I'm at home again.  My breakfast has settled,.  My concerns are still there, but they don't feel like a struggle anymore.