It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, …the glory of everything….
Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren, dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.
She was in a class by herself.
It is not that often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White
During the past year, perhaps my greatest regret regarding the demise of my twenty year relationship is that I also lost my paddling partner.
No more of our paddling alone-together into remote wilderness.
There are not many people with whom you can share deep silence,
who can paddle on their left,
and adjust the camp stove’s Whisper Lite fuel system when you come home hungry.
Becky was master of all three.
And every time I realize this, these lines of Wilbur’s mourning of Charlotte come to mind.
I have to smile even as I feel the sadness.
No more paddling alone-together.
It’s a wonder the dreams haven’t started up again.
For years, I had this recurring dream about paddling up a river.
I believe the roots lie in an afternoon I spent, some forty years ago, with my best high school buddies.
Somehow, that day we managed to get our boat way up the river that formed Lake Decatur.
We were well past all our usual skiing routes.
We’d reached into the Sangamon itself. It was not a place anyone ever motored.
And we ourselves hadn’t really planned to go there. But something just kind of pulled us on.
Vivid in my memory is that the river possessed the most curious luminescent yellow light and the softest, deep silence, even as a bunch of teenagers picnicked and joked.
I dropped a line into the murky waters and pulled out the stubbiest brown catfish. We wondered if perhaps it weren’t an evolutionary fossil.
I resolved to return one day to those waters so full of mystery. But, I never did.
Instead, we graduated and scattered to the winds.
Some years later, the dreams began.
They came in a couple different versions: a gravelly put-in below the dam, an icy winter rendezvous at an 1840’s village – but always, there is the longing to return;
return to the far upstream, beyond all the usual routes.
To return to the Mystery.
And always in these dreams, I am thwarted by logistics.
The ice is too thick. The food runs out. Time’s too short. People don’t show up.
Then four years ago, in a nameless creek, off a lake formed by the Allagash River in Maine my paddling partner and I proceeded till the rocks would let us go no further.
There we sat, in the sun and silence and simply felt what that all was like.
Silence. No one else.
Well, maybe a moose.
Quiet, now. You’d hear the breath or soggy footstep first.
Silence. An insect buzz.
Suddenly, I realized, “This is the river of my dreams.”
I’d made it.
What a wonder it was to sit there wide awake in what had been a dream.
I made plans to go back the next summer, but logistics got too complicated.
And then, by the year after that, we had fallen all apart.
No more paddling partner.
No more access to the silent wilderness.
No more paddling on the river of my dreams.
I have sat many evenings in my backyard watching the trees, grieving this loss...
Now, the Garrison Institute, located on cliffs high above the Hudson River, is “conveniently located just one hour north of New York City”
and certainly not wilderness.
But most curiously – revolutionarily – I discovered there, in the midst of 170 people on retreat, that I hadn’t really been seeking wilderness at all.
Nor, had I been seeking isolation or even the river itself.
I had been seeking Silence.
I discovered there at Garrison that the Silence in the trees, on the wind, in the sky and lilac blossom, is the same Silence deep within the wilderness.
It is the same Silence (though I never called it that)
which has transfixed my attention these past few months right in my own backyard.
It’s the same Silence I have been sitting in and staring into with unseeing eyes.
The same Silence I have been sitting in and bemoaning my perceived regrets.
…if you want to wake up, you need to hang around awakened beings.
It can be awakened human beings, awakened trees, awakened mountains, awakened rivers…
When we expose ourselves to that awakeness, to that environment where spirit and matter are harmonized, it helps us to awaken.
Ultimately, that’s what satsang is.
That’s also what meditation really is…
When I sat and listened to Kwong [Roshi] talk at retreats, sometimes I was very interested so I would really be listening…It happened on one of those days I wasn’t listening quite as much…All of a sudden it was like smoke, that subtle stream of presence was sensed.
I knew, “That’s what he’s doing. It’s not about all this talk, talk, talk.” …that’s not what was going on…
for some reason, through no choice of his own or of any of us present, there was a magnification of something very subtle, very pervasive…
we think nothing is happening…
So I had missed it until that day and that one talk, when I experienced that subtle source, and it was just shining.
I saw it and sensed it, and then it was shining inside me, too…
I wouldn’t call this true awakening, but it was a foretaste of awakening: realizing the sacred presence. …
The old Taoists would call this “rectifying the chi.”…
That’s why scriptures have advised us to hang out with awakened beings.
The awakened one could be a human being, a tree being, a street-corner being. Expose yourself to them… and this rectification happens.
Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing
Or, as Wilbur might say, expose yourself to “the glory of everything”
including your own backyard.
You might just find that all those distractions and pollutions of the city are remarkably similar to thoughts in meditation.
In meditation we learn that thoughts do not have to be banished into the mental hinterland.
When thoughts are given permission to “just be” then you are freed to settle into the Silence that is there all along.
Life can be just like that too,
once your chi’s been rectified a bit.