Within Stone (or The Altitude of Wu Wei)

My good friend, Nancy Hendrickson of TarotExplorer.com, strongly recommended that I go on an inner journey. Specifically, she suggested that I go to the heart of a stone and there talk to the Hierophant of the tarot and ask him about what the stones are trying to teach me just now — because clearly they are trying to teach me something.

The stone whose heart I’m going into was given to me by a good friend, Jerry George. It came all the way from the high land of Tibet to live with me. He had found several of these small, smooth, pieces of jade and had been surprised to find those particular stones in that place — he knows his geology and they would not have been expected to be there. Where had they come from? How did they get there? No one knew. He brought them all the way back, and for thirty years now he has carried one in his pocket. I carried mine in my pocket or in my purse. (Why do so many women’s clothes not have useful pockets?) Then a terrible thing happened — I lost it. It must be somewhere in my house, but I cannot find it. I feel bereft and ashamed, guilty of being careless of its well-being and special value — unless it ran away, which is also possible.

But tonight I realized that of course I still carry this precious stone in my heart along with many other stones — the standing stones of Calanais, the stones of the blessing cairn here at home, my outdoor altar at home, the cairn on Dun I on the Isle of Iona, Castlerigg stone circle, the huge lump of white quartz that I brought home in Scotland and eventually had to leave behind because the movers refused to try to lift it, and so many others, large and small. I can only begin to acknowledge them all. They live in my heart and sometimes I feel them murmuring in tones too deep, too slow to hear. Trees and other beings live there too, but tonight it is the stones who wish to speak, especially the small Tibetan stone that I have mislaid but that is still with me.

So I begin this journey within at the gate to my own heart. At this moment, it is a small wooden gate with hinges that squeek their own song, swinging loose in the wind. It opens itself for me, and I freely pass through.

The path to the stone is grassy — greenly aromatic, gentle underfoot. The stars in the dark sky above are shining brightly. A soft breeze lazily plays with my hair. Ahead in the darkness the stone rests on the ground. Although the stone I was given is quite small, here it is its true size, as big as a house. In front of me there is a door, the door to the heart of the stone. The door is small, just big enough for me to enter. All around its frame rune-like symbols are carved. The door swings itself open for me, and as I enter in, I see that it is a someone’s home. A bright fire burns on the hearth. On either side of the fire, turned so they both face each other and the fire, are two comfortable armchairs. I sit in the one on the left, and as I do, I remember that the dark column is on the left side of the High Priestess tarot card, so I am sitting in the yin, receiving place.

Faint shadows move in the other chair in the flickering light of the fire, and gradually the hierophant becomes visible. He is dressed like the pope, but in a shimmering cloth that seems to be all colors at once, even white, even black. I am distracted, fascinated by that cloth for a while and when I come back to the present moment, I see that the shadows have solidified, become someone visibly real. It is the hierophant. He grins at me, almost mischievously, as if inviting me to enjoy his neat arrival trick. Without moving, he is here, as if he had always been solidly and really here.

I rub my nose and apologize for having entered uninvited. He both acknowledges and dismisses my apology with a casual wave of his hand. “The first pope,” he elucidates didactically, “was Peter — and as you may recall “peter” comes from petra and means rock. He was the foundation rock of the church. I am not that pope, but I am the foundation, the true rock of the earth. Now, why are you here?”

I’m not sure of the answer — is “I was told to come” a true answer? My mind is a blank. Is this going to be one of those journeys? The ones that go nowhere? I think of leaving and coming back later, but know that only rarely do I come back to the same place again after leaving it. Catch the moment or let it go… which? I feel more like a butterfly than a rock — and how do butterflies communicate with rocks?

I rise from my chair and sit on the floor at this honored teacher’s feet.

“On these journeys of yours,” he prompts me, “you usually ask, what do I, the guide, need from you — remember?”.

I nod. I’ve only been making these intentional spirit journeys for a little under 50 years in this life — you’d think that by now I’d remember how to get back on track when I get lost. Why do I feel so confused?

Ummm. Because I’m not grounded. Here I am, sitting inside a rock, talking to Rock, sitting on the stone floor, and I am not grounded. I try to “sit like a mountain” as I do when I meditate. Not working — I’m still fluttering. How about sitting like a tree, roots running deep, leaves moving in the breeze?

My spirit self stubbornly persists in randomly floating like a butterfly. Why?

The hierophant’s intense dark eyes pin me in place, my invisible, intangible wings still fluttering. To him, to All Stone, I am like a butterfly — light, floaty, ephemeral. As permanent as a mayfly. It dawns on me that I can be nothing else! To the deep stone, I am impermanent, even evanescent. Fizzy me. I stop trying to be grounded like a stone and instead rise gently in the air. The stone I feel most like is a reverse meteor rising slowly up through the air, slipping free of gravity, burning in my moment of bright insight.

I have spent all of these years trying to be grounded. What am I, what will I be if I let myself go free — ephemeral, short-lived, momentary… floating? This is so relaxing. There is no effort in floating. Being a grounded, practical doer is so effortful… and exhausting. I remember with a feeling of d’oh! that I learned once before, long ago, how relaxing and healing it was to just float, just be free, be diffuse and unfocused. I even made a “meditation technique” of it and taught it to others. (At the right time in the right circumstances, this is a valuable skill  — but it is not a substitute for meditation or being well earthed in the right circumstances for that.)

At this realization, the rigid Stone around me melts and becomes Tree, branches waving in the breeze, roots reaching into Earthmama. Yet, though I may sit like a tree to meditate — usually — I am not a tree, not rooted. Mobile. Bouncy sometimes. Sometimes I flop down on Earthmama, my heart energy connected with her, sometimes I float on her waters or sit in the branches of trees, drifting.

Looking for my right place between the states of stone and vapor, I find my own specific gravity, the place where I am at home — the place of perfect balance, effortless, free, not holding, not releasing, just being. Sensing, noticing that this point changes moment by moment, like the balance of a surfer on a wave. The surfer, too, is in a medium where he neither sinks nor rises above — his natural place is on the boundary between. He bobs with the waves and with his own breath, a complex single movement flowing from many natural forces.

I have earth within me, solid bone, flesh, and bonded blood, and I have air and spirit within me, boundless. There is bright fire and flowing water too. All of the elements are part of me. My natural place is to be just as earthed as I need to be to do what I need to do at this moment. That’s it. That’s all.

Yet at other times I may need to soar freely to listen — to catch the messages that waft between the stars. Or at other present moments it may be time to be between the ebb and the flow to rest in my own specific gravity place — to rest, to restore, to recover, to recuperate, to regenerate, to re-create. Note that word STILL. Being connected to the universe, to stone beneath and stars above, is important. But it is equally important to allow Self to just BE, to rest, silent, not rigidly straight, not effortfully rising, but a living stillness that is in constant motion floating on the waves of the breath of the universe, letting my own breath be what it is and find its own harmony.

Tension is about holding an unnatural, inappropriate, or unskillful way of being. We know it is unnatural and unskillful because it requires tension to hold us there — how simple is that? Relaxation is about consciously letting go of that tension by focus and attention (“at tension” — isn’t that sneaky?) Both are doing. Peace is the place between, the point where nothing is needed, no action at all.

Wu wei.

Good God/dess, how could I have forgotten that?

Everything around me dissolves, becomes esse, being, even the man who is Stone. Nothing is left but a smile that isn’t even there.

The Mountain Shifts, Becomes A Tree…

(I like to put a photograph up here,
but I’m practicing using my own photos—
and I don’t have one of a Giant Sequoia.
So please, imagine, if you will,
a picture here of a magnificent Giant Sequoia
with the rising sun just touching
the topmost branches…)

After all these years, all these many years of practicing shikan taza meditation, I suddenly made a shift that felt quite profound. Part of shikan taza is to “sit like a mountain”. This morning, sitting with a Buddhist group in Second Life, I was feeling chilled, my back felt all wrong and heavy, hurting. Either I couldn’t find the mountain, or when I could find it, it felt… just wrong. Suddenly, like an unexpected gift, it came to me to sit like a tree, like a giant Sequoia, upright, stable, yet… lifting.

I don’t know what the essential difference is between tree and mountain. The mountain has always felt solid, real, immovable to me. Perhaps that is the change—from immoveable to flexible, from stone/earth to living wood. The mountain has always felt alive, but this was still a shift from alive like Earthmama to alive like a tree, rooted in the earth, branches spread wide in gratitude, and mind illuminated with the warmth of the sun.

Looking at the Chinese five elements—fire, earth, metal, water, wood—I notice that earth supports wood, trees grow out of earth. So perhaps this progression is simply a natural one. It feels like that.

The shikan taza meditation, as I’ve known it, was to “sit hard”, sit like a mountain, mind like a cloud, holding expectant gratitude. This different view was still sitting, focused and solid, but like a tree with deep roots, somehow lighter than the mountain—still a part of the earth, but… different. Lighter. Capable of motion, of flexibility, giving with the wind yet being strong. Growing upward.

This ability to bend and adapt seems important just now—accepting whatever changes come, accepting the increasing wear and tear of age, not expecting to be rigid, unchanging. Letting go of the deep roots in the earth. You know, it’s only now I realize how uncomfortable those roots were becoming and how much they needed to change and soften. Accepting the roots of the trees, impermanent, growing, changing, eventually dying, was such a relief! And oddly enough, it felt like gravity shifted, as if something—the life of the tree, the sap rising perhaps—was lifting me up.

As I followed the energy up from the tree roots, the enclosed grateful heart of the mountain became branches spread wide, receiving light, receiving warmth, vital and alive, in deep gratitude.

The “mind like a cloud” became branches at the top of the tree, bathed in the light of the rising sun. Illuminated. While the cloud always felt light, it didn’t feel quite like this, as if infinite warm light was flowing in and through… the most remarkable feeling.

For me, the whole of shikan taza has always been rooted in feeling, not in thinking. It’s a shift of focus from “thinking about” to “feeling” and then to “being”. I don’t know if this is the “right” way, the proper Zen way to do shikan taza, but it has helped me immeasurably over the years. And now this change that feels so profound?

Who knew? I’ve been practicing shikan taza for over a quarter of a century, ever since I first read about it in Roshi Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen, and suddenly, sitting there in the virtual world with a small group of people, it shifted. This feels like a gift, a benison of warmth and light.

I am so grateful.

October Dreaming

Have you ever dreamed that you could see in the dark? As if everything were faintly luminous? Dreamed that you were small and powerful with a body so lithe and agile that you could dance in moonlight like a wraith?

Have you ever wakened from a dream like that and found a cat beside you, paws twitching on the blanket and her breath coming fast?

Did you wonder whose dream that really was?

When a cat wakes and looks at you with a question in her eyes, do you wonder what she is asking? Do you wonder if she wants to know what you heard, what you’re thinking, dreaming?

Do you ever wonder if all around you everything understands something — except you? Is there is a web of communication between all things—cats, trees, slugs, coyotes, stars? Do you ever wonder if we humans have fallen out of that net somehow? Dreaming that we are better, smarter, more important because we are too headblind and deaf to hear, to see what everything else knows? And we, sleepwalking in our dreams of superiority, blundering around destroying, trampling, wrecking that scintillating, intricate web of life?

Have you forgotten everything? Do you wonder what the cat knows? Is there any way at all to get out of your own head? And into the bigger world outside?

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Guess what? There is a path — several paths. Meditation is one of the best ways to begin.

Meditation links:

Basic Meditation by Jessica Macbeth. On Jesa’s Woo Woo Classes home page you can use the search function to look up more meditation information on those pages.

Shambala Basic Meditation Instructions This one also has a link to a helpful video.

And a meditative exercise applicable to daily life:

Meditating While You Work by Jessica Macbeth

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.