I am in Lascaux II in the Dordogne region of southwest France. This isn’t the original cave, which has been sealed up to spare the images from bacteria and mold. And yet, Lascaux II was a work of many years, using the same materials and replicating the shape and texture of the cave within a centimeter of the original. As our guide traverses one of the cave’s corridors, lit torch in hand, the animals flicker and pulse before my eyes. My breath catches as I feel myself tumbling back in time.
Dreaming happens in the dark hours, and this is a dark hour in human history. The illusion of separation, the distorted dream of the modern mind, is the core organizing principle of our new president who seeks to divide and therefore conquer us. Movements based on separation are moving across Europe and the world. Fracking fractures the Earth, and notions of separation keep us from each other.
It’s heartbreaking, howl-making stuff. But if darkness is our dreaming place, then this is our womb-dark hour into which we can birth something new.
Perhaps, like me, you’re still reeling from the election, scared for our world, and struggling to feel grateful in this season of giving thanks. So I want to share some insights gathered from the Psychology of Climate Change Conference I attended in London. What follows are some “notes from a small island,” that offer a smattering of fresh perspectives. They don’t solve the problems we face, but they might just give you new ways to think about them.
Mary Oliver, one of our most beloved poets, writes constantly of the need to pay attention to the world about us. To do so, she asserts, is a kind of prayer. We build a reverence for the world thorough attentiveness to it.
Any time you stop for a moment to notice the air, the light, the season, you are training yourself to see the world. The more you open up to a full bodied embrace to the world, the more she will reveal to you.
In 2008, I began to submit articles related to the landscape archetypes I write about in Reclaiming the Wild Soul. My first submission was “The Desert’s Gift of Emptiness.” One day, an envelope bearing the stamp of a University Press arrived in my mailbox. Acceptance or rejection? I opened the letter, barely breathing. Within minutes I was running up the stairs to my husband in tears.
I have a ritual upon returning home from my travels. The first morning back, I take the trail out my house, up the hillside, up another steep single track, until I reach a rocky outcrop that is for me an altar. I pray there, to the trees, sky, bay, mountain. I have planted acorns as wishes and buried loved pets close by. It’s my special place, and now I am trying to open my heart to it. And struggling, a little.
A silence ensues. It has such a quality and presence it seems to shimmer like the light from the windows of the Old Chapel where the session is being held.
This is what Rumi’s poem is talking about, I say, breaking the silence. Earlier I’d read aloud his much-quoted poem:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
A gopher snake will also shake its tail, confusing predators into thinking it is a rattlesnake. In dry grass this makes them sound eerily like a rattler. When Bruce and I came across a four foot gopher that Easter morning, the sound it made on the gravel trail stopped us in our tracks.
I feel myself differently when I’m surrounded by noise and crowds. I am more defended, less open, less aware, and somehow less part of everything around me. So I try and make time for silence. I walk alone or get up early and sip coffee and let my imagination lope around in the emptiness and hush.
Together, we’ve confronted grizzlies and mountain lions, stood in awe of bristlecone pines and bobcat, gazed into the amber eyes of coyote, and devoured thick sandwiches to the hum of bees in meadows of sun-warmed grass. We have skinny-dipped in the skin-biting cold of glacial lakes, snowshoed moonlit mountains and skied through forests of giant sequoias. We have felt the ecstasy of lying on our backs watching the northern lights swirl green and purple above our heads, the heat from the day still warming the earth, our hands touching.