In the earliest hours of morning our thoughts connect two worlds. Dreams open doors into a fluid world. In daylight the thick shell of the world hides from us from the truth we seek.
We forget the stars are still there.
This is my story of remembering. It is one of many, for when we are not forgetting, we are remembering. And each story tries to remember, but in the telling it falls short. So the Storyteller is born again.
In the middle of November I was not sleeping well. One particularly windy night I lay in bed, staring into the darkness and listening to the forest howl outside my window. As I drifted between waking and sleeping a vision began to form, one I did not welcome. I saw a darkness surround all beings, enveloping the earth. It was thick, a cloud of deep thick charcoal fog. I entered into it and saw with my heart its fullness. Suffering. So much suffering. It was not just suffering to come, it was suffering that had been and it was suffering that is. It was all existing in one place and one time. I saw it with my entire being and I lay in bed weeping.
It was 3 in the morning and I was sobbing, trying not to wake Dale. I lay there for an hour. All beings, humans, animals, trees and the earth itself all wept with me.
This was a pretty dark place, even for me.
After an hour I knew I had to get out of bed and go into the woods. I woke Dale. He was concerned when he saw that I was crying. I told him. He said, “Take a flashlight.”
At first I didn’t turn on the flashlight. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I thought I could just step slowly and carefully, letting my vision adjust to this very dark night. It was a Wisconsin November. So there were dry brittle leaves everywhere, and, on a windy night like this, they tend to pile up. So, my first fright came when I stepped into a pile of leaves that wasn’t there the night before. My foot lifted the leaves, taken up by the wind, farther than I would have imagined. I was surrounded by the sound of rustling leaves and my pounding heart. In the blackness I stood frozen, hearing movement all around, and I decided I wasn’t so opposed to the flashlight after all.
At that point it occurred to me that I would rather see a creature of the night before stepping into its space, so the light stayed on as I carefully made my way to a special spot in the forest of pines. It is a place where a large tree has lain fallen for years, so much so that younger trees grow through it. Animals take shelter in it. Moss grows on it. I have always loved this spot. When I got there it took me awhile to find a comfortable seat. The woods feel ominous at night. I chose to have my back against a young tree, something to lean on, and it gave me a small sense of protection.
The wind was still blowing fitfully, shaking the trees and loosening their dead. Before turing off my flashlight I scanned my perimeter for potential Widow Makers, or in this case Widower Makers. Then, with a touch of my thumb, total darkness.
Oh how hard it was to keep that light off. A breaking branch a few feet from me was enough to make me freeze. For what seemed like hours, but was more likely 30 minutes, I sat frozen. My eyes were wide open, but, at first, I saw nothing. Slowly I began to see. There seemed to be a substance to the air, as if every single molecule was coming out of hiding. The air, the trees, the leaves and I were all tiny dots vibrating in and out of my sight. Looking up I saw a falling star. In this light the trees are the negative space, and the distant stars are the positive space. For a moment I was neither light nor dark, I was only perception, as everything around me changed from one to the other.
For an hour at least my thoughts bounced back and forth between wonder and terror. Of course I could calmly remind myself the biggest danger that night was a coyote. But a noisy rustle in the black space around me made me imagine more. At this moment I recognized a connection between my choice to sit in the woods and the story of Siddhartha. As the account of his becoming the Buddha is told, Siddhartha despaired at the suffering in the world. His search for an answer led him to sit under a Bodhi tree, meditating outdoors for seven days and seven nights. My 2 hours in the cold on a fallen tree paled in comparison to his 168 hours. I laughed at all the times I sat on a comfortable cushion in my heated home to meditate. Nature is essential to awakening us to this life, and we humans so often hide from it. In a terrible separation from the earth I had forgotten the lessons it has to teach me. In my darkest moment, I remembered, and I stepped outside. To be inside of our deepest consciousness we have to be outside in the Natural World, not inside of the Manmade World. To the degree to which we the Modern Humans have violently torn ourselves from our connection to nature, we have suffered.
I remember there being a moment in the story of enlightenment where a giant cat approaches Siddhartha. So, I thought, maybe I needn’t be quite so fearful. A lion or tiger would be bad. Back to fear. Forgetting.
Of course the point wasn’t Lions and Tigers and Bears. We do have occasional bears and wolves and even the rare cougar sighting in this part of the State. I knew there was a reason I was out there in the cold and it wasn’t to try to guess which wild beast would eat me for dinner. I could fear the wind, the animals, even the possibility of a human in the woods, probably most dangerous of all. I had to let it all go. The most frightening part of being alone in the darkness in the woods was also the most awakening. Remembering.
I began to look each fear squarely in its face and release it. I soon found myself remembering them all, from paralyzing terrors to the less obvious ones. The ones that linger for days, muted and pale but persistent in their nagging. People who had frightened me, I saw their fear. People that had hurt me, I saw their pain. People I had frightened and people I had hurt, I saw my blindness. I saw fear and pain passed on from parent to child, from master to slave, from teacher to student. Acts of violence replacing the wisdom of old with inherited pain and terror. Victim becomes perpetrator and the lamb becomes the hungry beast at the door. There was no bad, no good, no dark, no light. Only attaching and letting go. With each passing fear I felt an infinite lightness that cannot be expressed with words, although LOVE is a good one to try. This was a special kind of night vision. Seeing through the dark.
It was at this point I realized the woods were becoming more and more visible in the earliest light of the day. As I had passed through the darkest hour of the morning I had seen through at least some of my blindness. As the trees became solid, once again I could connect each sound with its source. I looked up at the sky. Not a single star in my sight. I would have to go on memory. Remembering. I got up, a little stiff, and walked toward the house. I would put on some coffee and try to talk about this. The things the darkness commands us to know. Fears are only passing moments, but we give them strength when we try to suppress them. In their suppression they are squeezed and wiggled into our souls and the passing darkness takes a solid heavy form. This heavy load is so light in its release. Walking back to my warm house I knew I would struggle to find the words to tell this story. And in the telling they would fall short. And the storyteller is born again.