In the beginning, longing for a path unseen. That is charted in the voices that whisper from the oaks. That is known in the deepest recesses of the soul. When I listen, it is like the sound of a babbling creek, and it refreshes me. When I was a child, in first grade, the teacher led a guided meditation. We were told to close our eyes and to walk in our minds down a path in a relaxing place. I walked through a forest and I always found a creek. I sat by it and listened. This is the same creek I return to now, 30 years later.
I bring myself back here and listen. I sit outside where the bamboo grows several feet each day, leaping out of the soil with heroic fearlessness. The whole earth is trying to get my attention. The whole earth is trying to give me instructions in fearlessness. There is a boundless sky above. I stretch up into this space while my feet root down into the soil. This root grows down and intertwines with the matted tangle of tree, rock, and mycelium.
What is the path back to the babbling creek? The path is the imagination. The path is the story. I let my mind rest on the details of my backyard. The tree that grows over the rooftop is no longer an object but a guardian, who has ancient longings, whose eyes see farther than mine allow. The tree intelligence speaks in another language and asks me to listen. The language of the tree is indigenous to this place. Everywhere I go, the raven is calling out across the open sky. The diamond shape of the leaves sprouting from a soft low-lying plant is patterned in stripes of green and white. There is a firework of purple flowers that emerge from a tall stem and hold their fragile bodies out to the world in an act of extravagant generosity.
Make yourself into medicine, says the dry leaves layered on top of the dark and silent soil. Let the medicine suffuse you and send it outward, like water running through your hands. Stop trying so hard. Look how I lay myself down in surrender to what is, said the leaves. Look how in my transformation I am feeding you. I held the leaves in my hand and they crumbled into pieces. Below them, a layer of dark soil smell sweet and fresh, newly fed by leaf carbon.
Practice gratitude said the tree. Look how I am protecting you. I am breathing in the air and giving you oxygen. The tree held out its branches like the arms of a dancer taking the lead asking me to follow. Remember the story I am offering to you the one where we belong to each other, said the tree. Do you know? said the tree, that I give thanks for you too. I have been praying for you to return to me. To open your eyes step outside and say hello. Remember gratitude for the joy that sings in the veins of sap and blood. Remember gratitude for the wonder that we can witness each other and how deeply our lives intertwine. Let your mind feed on me, said the tree. Let your mind be fed on my courage and strength. The tree stood tall with open arm branches. We will write another story together, said the tree, and the story starts with gratitude.
Remember, said the raven. Remember that the story of your life does not stop and end with you. Remember that our story is woven together with everything in a tangle of words, senses, and space. Look at me, said the raven. I was once you, timid and frightened. I was once human. I was once a ghost. I was a human who became wise and that’s when I took up the call to be a raven for it is the raven who remembers. When you remember, you’ll know how to walk this land with respect. You must let this remembrance teach you who you are.
Mary Oliver says “But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding, Than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.” I feast my eyes on the present, and the vow between us takes hold. Smell, sight, touch– these are the threads that bind and they are golden. There is an inner compass that turns toward true north as the magnetism of the sensuous takes hold. In the grip of the belonging, the compass, once inverted by neglect, points toward home.