Me & Bunny Foo-Foo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow long must we all wait to change,
This world bound in chains that we live in,
To know what it is to forgive,
And be forgiven?

– Kenny Loggins

Deep in my soul, beyond the reach of age or reason, they will always and forever be “aminals.”

Nothing reduces me to the quivering excitement of a three-year-old like encounters with woodland creatures (or any creatures, really). I want to run at them, capture them, be close to them. Not to hurt them, mind you; I just love them, with every fiber of my being. I am intrigued by them; I want to share in their space, in their existence. To touch, and to be touched by them. To be, in essence, one with them.

I am fascinated by the spark of life we share.

This little guy and I had our moment one early morning last month at Lake Powell Resort in Page, Arizona. I got up just after sunrise and took off down a trail that stretches east from the resort proper, and found myself in a scene out of Watership Down. There were jackrabbits everywhere. At one point I stopped and lay down on the pathway, in the hopes of getting a decent shot of this guy, and as I lay there, he decided to up the ante. Apparently, I intrigued him greatly. Slowly, he made his way toward me, one hop at a time, until I could have reached out and touched him. And there we were, inches from one another, man and bunny rabbit, staring and being stared at.

Time stood still.

For the briefest of instants, there was no line, no distinction between man and animal. We were simply together, sharing the nature we each inhabit, that belongs to us both. And then it was over: another morning stroll broke the sacred spell, and as the stranger rounded the bend in the trail, my sylvan friend headed for the brush. But fleeting as it was, it was a magical moment. It was a fearless moment, a moment free of the constant conflict that plagues humanity’s interactions with the natural world. It was quiet; it was present; it was real.

I’ve often noticed how rarely those three adjectives apply. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it seems we are determined to fill all the quiet moments with noise. Of course, this may just be a case of common rudeness: the longer I live, the more bullish people around me become, and the whole world’s a china shop. We seem incapable of silence, of awe. Maybe it’s just rudeness, inconsideration, but I have to wonder whether there’s a deeper meaning in all this.

Could it be that we’re afraid? Could it be that the magnitude of the natural world reminds us just how tiny and insignificant we really are, of just how brief a moment we occupy? If history is a book, then I am a footnote–and not even a good one. No juicy tidbits; no “see” references. Just a page number, with maybe an “ibid” leading the way. Same as before: different face, maybe, different name, but basically just more of the same.

Walking the beaches of Lindisfarne; staring into the vast depths of the Grand Canyon; even contemplating the pastures on the family farm in Missouri–I’m reminded of the fleeting nature of Me. So many have gone before; so many more will follow after. I matter, yes, but I matter in that I do not. You’ve heard my mantra before: it’s not about Me. If anything, I am about it.

Back to my encounter with Bunny Foo-Foo: the moment itself was predicated upon silence, stillness. Respect. I identified with him, and he with me. We shared the space–no need for domination cum “stewardship.” The Daniel Boones of the world are great, but so are the Tom Bombadils. I don’t want to shout at the world, or subdue it; I want to sing to it, to see it dance in response, and to dance along with it.

I could have reached out and touched him. And I wanted to, desperately. I wanted to pull an Elmyra, and squeeze him till he popped. Deep down inside, I always want to do that, whether it be a deer by the side of the road or a squirrel in my back yard. I want to jump up and down and holler “Bunnybunnybunnybunnybunny!”

At times like these, I have to grab my inner child and bop him on the head. Or at least stifle him a bit. Teach him to be quiet and live the moment at hand. To bow before the life that surrounds him on every side; not to fear it, not to subjugate and conquer, but to embrace it as a reflection of himself, as a part of himself.

If “God” is anything, it is this mutual recognition, life speaking to life, moment to moment, without interruption. From man and animal to man and man, person to person, in the wild or in the checkout aisle. Life speaking to life. Not in anger or in arrogance, but in love.

To be with nature as one is with a lover, a friend, a wife, a husband, oneself–to do unto that Other as I would have done unto me. This, to me, is the only religion that matters, and the only one that’s real.

Speak softly. Life will answer.

Listen

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You must perceive world sound. You must perceive the sound of your voice. 

– Seung Sahn

Meditation, I think, is different for everyone who does it. It’s one of those things that suffer under too many rules, over-definition, because at its heart, it involves just…being.

For me, meditation is about listening. To everything. Being still and listening, being quiet and listening, being and listening.

The world speaks with many, many voices:

Bird choruses, high above, rebounding from one end of awareness to the other, species after species calling out in natural harmony–from the throaty shrill of the grackle to the metallic chirp of the cardinal. It is fauna gone stereo; it is everywhere at once.

The crescendoed buzzing of a mosquito in my ear. It is after me, but it is after me because it is alive, and I share with it in that life. We are, literally, blood brothers.

The insistent rapping of a red-headed woodpecker at the top of a nearby telephone pole: knock, and the worm shall be offered up to you.

Whispers of wind chasing one another around my head, and the feathery rustle of leaves sashaying in its wake. Memories ride on the breeze, tossing me back through time and space to the family farm and another breeze, identical yet different. I am reminded that all space and all time is hopelessly and inextricably interrelated; miles away, a world away, someone else listens with me, before me, after me, to the same different wind as I.

Suddenly, I’m hearing sounds that aren’t even there, sounds that I’ve heard before but long ago left behind: Vance Woods, this is your life!

The special crunch of gravel beneath my feet, sounding as it did only on that road, in that place, lost in the past, alive in the present. Voices of loved ones, some stilled by distance, others in death. The ricochet of bike tires off ramshackle cobbled streets: sounds today, aches and pains tomorrow. The past is the present writ large, and it too speaks in a multitude of dialects. Me llamo Eduardo–repeated over and over in decreasingly hesitant tones, back at the beginning of my adventure, back when I had just started to become.

Then, I begin to listen beyond, behind, underneath, and through. I begin to hear the pulse of existence, breathing, beating, just beyond the threshold of sound: the perpetual motion of being. Inhalation, exhalation. Life.

The world speaks, and I speak with it. It speaks to me, in me, and through me, in tones I often do not recognize, but, oh, when I do…Imagine my surprise!

What’s the old saying? I love listening to the sound of my own voice?

Here, at the heart of the world, the two, my own individual voice and the voice of the whole, are one and the same.

Getting Good and Lost

This morning, I jumped in my car and just headed off. In a way, I was also headed to church–my church, the place I go to experience the awe and wonder I used to find sitting in a pew. Awe and wonder not in any supernatural sense; awe and wonder in a supremely natural sense. I rolled down my windows, cranked up the music (Evanescence, today), and hit the road.

The road, you see, is my chapel. It is where I worship (if worship’s the right word). And no, I don’t worship nature in some pantheistic, animistic way (although I do sometimes wonder whether primitive tribes were on to something we’ve lost, insofar as respect for the true identity and purpose of nature is concerned). I seek simply to immerse myself in this world of which I am an integral, inseparable part, and which is the extension and completion of my self.

But my purpose is not just communion with the world at large: it is to become one with that world, to atomize my being, if you will, and engage with existence at an essential, basic level. It is to do away with the line between myself and the other, to become other, to bond on a molecular level with the rest of reality.

You may be scratching your head or cocking an eyebrow at this point, wondering what in the world I think I’m playing at with all this mystical mumbo-jumbo. Obviously I cannot boil myself down to my elements and sprinkle myself across the landscape, or dissolve myself into a puddle of water and seep back into the earth. So what am I talking about? And is it safe to feed me?

I speak, of course, metaphorically, and in this sense I believe I can do all of the above. And what it comes down to, quite simply, is the willingness to get lost. Completely and hopelessly. My rule of thumb on these little outings: always carry a map, just in case, but never, ever use it unless you have absolutely no choice. Just…get lost. Or rather, lose yourself. Don’t even let it be an accident; do it with purpose, with gusto. Go out and…lose yourself.

(Oh, yes–and leave your cell phone at home.)

Our world is obsessed with locate-ability. How many “apps” are there for people who desire to broadcast their position at all times? “I’m at the mall”; “I just finished my meal at Cracker Barrel”; “I’m walking down the hall toward my kitchen and preparing to take a left at the den.” New cars come with GPS installed; we don’t even need maps anymore, or road signs for that matter, because some British guy or digital hooker (depending on which voice you choose) will tell us everything we need to know. We have cell phones with Internet access so we can be out of pocket without being out of range: I can go on vacation and still take my whole life with me. Talk about defeating the purpose!

We have, technologically, made it almost impossible to get lost, or to be lost. We are connected to everyone, everywhere, all the time. (Yes, I can more than likely hear you now.) And in this giant information superhighway we call life, our very connectivity becomes that which disconnects us from what matters: being.

When I am lost, I have, in a sense, no identity. I am no one. I just AM. I am in the world; I am of the world; I AM the world, and the world IS me. Time stops, in that it stops mattering; no one can reach me; nothing can touch me but the overwhelming presence of nature borne into my path on the breathing wind. I am an atom in a sea of fellow atoms, woven into the fabric of existence, part and parcel of life. In that moment, I have–I NEED–no other meaning than that.

After I’ve lost myself, I always find myself again, and the self I find is refreshed, redefined, re-formed. It is almost like I’ve chosen to put something back on that I once willingly took off–the sweater-vest of social identity, you might call it. And, counterintuitively, the act of intentional disconnection strengthens my connection, when it is resumed, to everything and everyone around me. I have ceased being myself, of my own free will I have thrown myself into the universe and been handed back, by the universe, a new person. And all is rediscovered, as if for the first time–the faces, the voices, the thoughts, emotions, relationships. All is new. All is adventure again.

Herein lies the secret of eternal youth. Forget the fountains and the chalices. Just. Get. Lost.

Rebirth

What’s in a sunrise?
Fireflies and
Second tries? Another chance
To dance? Romance illuminated; faces
Rejuvenated, intoxicated with
Daylight spirits decanted by dawn. No longer
A pawn of darkness and death, new breath invades
The breast. Done with rest; time to
Play, to welcome the day with
Cartwheels and backflips, to kiss away the night
With lips of golden fire, funeral pyre
Of all that is past. Newness awaits.

The Rising

A storm is coming–
I can feel the rumbling deep
Inside. Terrified but elated,
Breath baited, I await it. Eye to the sky,
Ear to the ground; the fear of drowning
Consumes me, overtakes me, shakes me
To the very core, but
I cannot flee. The half of me that
Wants to run is all outdone by the other half that
Wants to stand and watch the surge
Engulf the land and urge the tide
Upon the hills. Where it wills,
It makes a way. It will not stay. I feel
The spray; it’s coming now!
I bow, at bay.

Lost

Oh, to be lost in the rose-capped mountains,
Wandering a grove of fir, dark, thickly-set, and
Wet with the dewfall of Nature’s passion. To fashion
A cabin of lilac and fern, as fuel naught but
Petals and blossoms on fire, set by desire of warmth
And protection. Perfection comes in gusts and cool breezes
Through stands dogwood white; dappled sunlight plays
The days away against emerald backdrop; sapphire glimpsed briefly in
Soft-swaying treetop dancing a hornpipe of
Muted elation, a self-celebration of all that is
Real, that is vital. An impromptu revival is held,
The forest on its knees in mottled cathedral of trees. Quiet!
If you please.

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