This is a piece I wrote for some chaplains on the topic of integration. It was inspired by the reality of our fast-paced life these days, and how it is so very difficult to fully integrate all that life deals us when we don’t build in the time to slow down and let the ground of our being rest in nature for awhile. I hope it offers a reflective moment to you and that you are inspired to STOP and reflect now and then.
Circling the Mountain; Musings on Integration
My horse Tiger has been slightly lame for several weeks now; I suspect it is a strained trapezius muscle. I’ve been doing acupressure and massage on him regularly. Though he was slowly getting better, I vowed not to get on his back until he is 100%. As whatever it was slowly resolved, we made the best of it by going for leisurely walks.
Today we went for a longer walk around the mountain out at the Murphy Ranch. The Swainsons Thrush filled the air with spiraling songs. Red-tail Hawks circled above, screeching and fluttering their tail feathers in the buoyant coastal breeze. Tiger and I stopped at a plateau to view the pond below. Something large had left a trail through the duckweed-probably an elk or deer. As we walked, sometimes side by side, sometimes me in front, my thoughts alternated between mantra and the recognition of the immense spaciousness around us. I turned to Tiger’s sweet face and he met my gaze. It felt like we both expressed gratitude at the same time for the shared blessing of the embrace of such natural beauty and wildness.
Soon we rounded the bend and began to parallel the creek. Though our pace had increased, I began to get distracted. Berries! The Olallieberries on this side of the creek were not quite ripe yet, but the Thimbleberries were. While still walking, I reached for a bright red one here or there, glancing over the ones that were faded, slightly eaten or deformed. A little voice went off in my head “Ha! Even with berries, the ones that look perfect get all the attention.” I pondered this thought. It does seem that in the human realm, whatever appears perfect, real or imagined, gets the attention. Berries are just berries and of course the perfect ones get eaten first.
We kept walking, but my berry grazing had given Tiger permission to grab a bite now and then too. He lowered his head to scan the medley of wild grasses we walked over. His nostrils quivered and his ears flicked, processing whatever led to a decision to stop in his tracks and carefully eat the patch of preferred grass, then continue on. We came to a familiar stopping place, a low point in the meadow that pools up in the winter. Tiger loves to wade in the water and nip off the water grass during those cold months when it is too slick to ride, but not to hike. Our brisk walk slowed to a lazy, grazy lumber. I offer Tiger a big ripe Olallieberry, which he declined, but turned to pull the tops off of a clump of bulrush. We walked on.
The salmon berry bushes, normally full of strawberry -sized fruit, were getting choked out by poison oak this spring. For years the salmon berries had been uncontaminated by any other growth. The conditions of last winter must have been perfect for poison oak to thrive now. It grew insidiously in and around the salmon berry bushes, enmeshed. As a gardener and a Buddhist, I have often likened such invasive plants to our afflicted emotions such as hatred, greed, and anger. They tend to entwine around any healthy growth we have, even leveraging their own growth by winding around the branches of our original being. There becomes a point when that original being, or structure becomes so overtaken that it disappears.
I thought of the men I work with at the prison. For some of them, their original selves were buried by the excess poison oak and ivy their very own parents birthed them into. They never knew that underneath those choking vines was their birthright. Not until someone or something reached through and loosened the vines that bind just long enough for something so deeply hidden to quiver, and for them to see, feel and believe.
I thought about the middle school kids I work with. In some ways the world they are inheriting is aimed more at developing those vines than an open, loving heart. My belly rose with breath and emptied with a sigh. What to do?
By now Tiger and I were in the homestretch, the long, flat grassy path through the valley leading back to the ranch. A few bulls the size of black Volkswagens grazed in the fields next to us, seemingly unfazed by the cloud cover of flies feeding on them. Not so Tiger, nuzzling up behind me, my sign to whisk the hungry insects off his nose with a branch of Queen Anne’s lace. I tossed the lead rope over his neck and let him walk freely while I stopped to pick from a stand of wild blackberries. Tiger pauses as if to say, “hey, I like those kind!” I shared a few with him and we headed on.
The prevalence of poison oak gives more mileage to the metaphor. I thought of my backyard and the diligence it takes to keep the ivy, bamboo and blackberries from taking over. These three “poisons” provide me with hours of what I call tantric gardening. Just so, the fertile inner landscape of my mind, rich with the compost of all the stories of this lifetime. Stuck in truth or distorted in memory, these stories of self grow like the ivy, bamboo and blackberries. Learning to see them in the midst of the busy landscape is the main tool of deconstruction uprooting and/or transformation of such threats to inner peace. Like the ivy, bamboo and blackberries, they disappear here and reappear there, camouflaged simply by the unexpected places they can reappear in. This encroaching jungle; how are we different from the plants?
As Tiger and I approached the back pasture, all the three resident horses there snapped their heads high. These three take any excuse to gallop and sure enough, the grey, chestnut, and black hurl towards us at a flat out run, cavorting, jumping and twisting like a group of capoeristas. They gallop right up to the fence’s edge and spin, tight as a flock of starlings. Dirt clods fell amongst my laughter. I thanked them for their show and admired their beauty. Tiger ho-hummed their display, and walked away in pursuit of new grass. I ponder a haiku:
big, big animals.
know how to touch and not touch
at a full gallop
We wander by the hay barn, stuffed full with next winter’s fodder, past the old truck, rusted into the earth.
What allows for the integration of disparate moments crammed in time? A mala of other moments, perhaps, strung carefully on a string made stretchy by uncluttered time and focus. This gentle wandering of wondering mind and metronome of hooves; nothing profound, no outstanding metaphors. Maybe this. No space claimed or act named. No other human eyes.
The Big Us.
Tiger and I had circumambulated the mountain and returned to where we began, but everything is other than it was. Late afternoon light hung low over Drake’s Estero. The Hollyhock changed its color from scarlet to merlot, and swallows of all kinds dove for bugs in the thick buttery haze. I swung open the double gate into the ranch. Tiger followed me through, gently stopping to wait as I re-latched it and joined him, sauntering down the path back to home.