Suddenly I realize I am lost in the woods. I have followed one of those disappearing paths The ones that seem, perhaps, to be the way And, yet, lead only into a bramble. I stand there, looking one way and another. The fear begins to prickle at my neck And I know that I am lost Unable to find my way home My panic casts around for guidance I wonder if I can orient myself by finding the sun, By marking a shadow, By listening for the stream. I imagine that I can think the lostness away That I can retrace my steps Or just expand the field of my vision Far enough to find my place. But none of this works. Indeed, it threatens to deepen my panic And lead me further astray. I am helpless … I cannot save myself. I sit down upon a nearby boulder And my soul collapses within me I put my head in my hands and weep. This, this, is the lonely, helpless truth. I must wait And hope For rescue. The stone beneath me is cold. The sky is threatening dark. My heart is screaming so loudly within me That I almost mistake your voice for my own. And yet, my panic is a scream And your assurance is a whisper. It rises from somewhere deep within. Not from within me, but from within reality itself. I try to quiet myself To move myself aside, if that is possible, When it is me that must do the moving. How can I use my power to relinquish that very power? It is an ongoing mystery, This process of un-doing. This gritting of my teeth In order to let go. It is as if the deepest part of me Is not me at all, but part of something larger. As if, in the center of my very essence, There is a subterranean tunnel to the ALL. Can that be? Are you deep within the ALL? Within us all? Me, too? [image by jane cornwell per cc 2.0 from Flickr. The quotation is from Dante's Inferno ]
“So then, lets go.” The traveler is beside me. He taps his staff upon the ground. I have my staff in my hand as well, and my pack upon my back. So we strike out together, toward the wild. He is humming to himself and I am holding my heart tightly in my hand, hoping and hoping not to fear.
We walk for quite a while. We are down the hill into the bramble. The call is before me and the traveler is striding quickly and I am doing all I can just to keep up.
At last we stop beside a small stream for a moment’s rest. The path is bathed in shade just here and we sit upon a fallen tree and rest our packs against a second log that has fallen just behind the first, forming a natural bench and a great place for rest.
After I catch my breath I turn to the traveler. I don’t quite know how to begin with all the questions that bubble in my heart. So, that is what I say, “I don’t know how to start – I have so many questions.”
“Begin with the first that rises to mind,” the traveler replies.
And I quiet myself to listen. Several questions vie within my mind, not fully formed. But I just wait until the confusion clears. At last I ask him what seems a simple start. “Where are we going?”
He smiles and nods and seems to fall into contemplation rather than to speak directly to me. “We are going to the heart of who we are; we are traveling to the unfolding of ourselves.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. This is too much a mystic’s answer and I was looking for something rather more concrete. I tell him so. “I am not asking about some mystical thing, but just the destination of this simple path within the wood.”
He smiles. “It goes just where I told you . . . and it goes to Silverton.” You are always walking a double path, you know – in your heart, into your self; and in this world to some concrete destination. It’s nice to be able to go two places at once, he muses and chuckles to himself as if he had just made a joke.
I sit befuddled. I can understand the symbolism in his talk, but it seems rather frivolous today, when I really need more substance than a koan.
“The seed and the kernel, that’s what they are,” he says.
“Aren’t those pretty much the same thing?”
“Yeah. They are.” He laughs again. He is having altogether too much fun this morning and I’m not catching any of his jokes.
I kick at a small rock on the path with my foot, and when it turns over, I am surprised to see light coming from beneath it. It startles me.
I turn to the traveler and he kneels down in the path and picks up the stone, which seems really quite ordinary. But in the space where it sat, there is a tiny beam of light. He places the stone in his pocket as if it were somehow a treasure. He pats his pocket and says, “Now you don’t see that everyday, do you?”
“No,” I say “What is that light?”
“It is fire-moss,” he answers, “and it carries its own luminescence, even when apart from the sun.”
“Is that a good thing?” I ask.
“What do you think?”
“I thought we should not seek any light apart from the sun.”
“Well then, lets just cover it up,” he says and begins to push dirt into the dimple in the ground left by the stone. The light is soon extinguished.
Now I am really confused. “Why did you do that?”
“I thought you said we’re to find no light but the sun. So, I covered that which you did not want to see.”
“But is it a matter of my wants or of truth?”
“Ah!” he says and shakes his head and seems once more to hold a private conversation between himself and his own thoughts. That is the extent of his reply.
“Enough of these one way jokes and musings,” I say out loud and start to go back down the road from where we came. But as I rise I know that I will not retrace my steps. I turn and shrug and kneel in the path and remove the dirt from the fire-moss. It takes a bit of effort but soon it is shining once more.
“It seems a shame to bury a wonder.” I say, almost as if it was an excuse, but he seems to need no explanation. He just smiles again to himself, and it makes me want to strike at him.
“Why so smug?” I mutter.
“Not smug,” he says, “assured. I knew you would not let the light stay covered. You wouldn’t deny what is because of a rule someone once gave. Rules are often made especially for the time of their creation, but they stay around too long, sometimes. That is when we wilt.”
“But letting go of rules, is scary.” I object. “What gives me the right to accept and reject the rules of the wider world, of life? How would I know what to keep and what to ignore? I am far too ignorant to be a rule changer.”
“Oh, that is true,” he says with deep seriousness. “You do not rule the world.”
This slight twist on my words reveals their true meaning. It is not mine to decide on what is. Or what is not. Mine is to offer an honest response.
“So, if you can’t rule the world, at least will you rule yourself?”
“Seems I should … If I could.”
“Ah,” he says and nods. “Ah. There’s the rub.”
“Yes, there’s the rub . . . So, I must trust the rule maker to make the path and trust myself to walk it? But how do I know when my mind is playing tricks or when I am following truth? How can I discern the right path from fiction or convenience or my own wrongheadedness?”
“Right path, wrong path . . . you must trust.”
“Such changeability makes trust hard.”
I am befuddled again. How do I trust, when it may be the wrong path, when I am so easily fooled? It is certainly not the path nor myself where I must place my trust. And with that realization, I find a kernel of comfort, of truth. In my mind’s eye I pick it up and turn it over and underneath the fire-moss glows brightly.
“It is ok to trust one who loves you deeply.” The traveler whispers in my ear and then is gone.
I am left on the trail, alone, holding in my heart a small stone of helpful trust; a small light both new and ancient. It glows within me. And suddenly my vision clears a bit and I can see myself, the trail, the stone, the light, all in Gods hands. And she is smiling. And so I am content.
Let me be an April fool if I am in your hands.
I am content with foolishness and mystery.
They are close cousins and my friends.
(republished as a way back in … and as a recognition that I’m still grateful to be an April fool)
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