Leaning in to the Places that Scare You

As I’ve worked with my mind over these past couple of weeks, I’ve found some time and mental space to help integrate the experiences I had in the wilderness. Part of that process has been writing and reading. The other part has been creating. My creation process involved writing prose and poetry (bad poetry, actually) about those moments in the wild, and pencil drawings of moments I captured on my camera. It is these images that have most sparked my creativity and imagination.

Pardon the lighting and the odd curvature

This scene from Elk Creek has captured my sense of wonder. AS I hiked along the trail, I was always drawn to these places in which stone, trees, and plants intertwine; the organic and the non-organic. The animate and inanimate. The plants hug the sides of the stones where they settled. These rocks, in fact, fell from a cliff hundreds of feet above the floor of this particular meadow. If you could see through the trees, you would be able to make out the spot where these boulders fell.

Yes. My interpretation is exaggerated and unusual…but it feels like the place.

Glancing at the scene again brings me back to the moment of respite I found on the trail. A moment in which I drank water, ate some snacks, and wandered around the area hearing the tug of the creek, the twitter of birds, and the breeze that made the day bearable in the heat.

What I cannot stop thinking about with this scene is the inevitable process of wearing down the stones. I can imagine their adamantine mass, sitting in the soil below. At the same time, the plants, wind, and water gradually breakdown these boulders into smaller and smaller pieces. See the lichen clinging to the edge of the rock? Those tiny plants are powerful, eating away at the places they land. How long will it be until the stones break into smaller parts and eventually disappear?

Those thoughts, inevitably, make me think of my own eventual passing. Like the stone, I am being weathered away. Slowly chipped away over time to the point when I too break down into my component parts. That final process, cremation, will happen much more quickly for my body than the stone, but I will, nevertheless, end in tiny little pieces.

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going — 
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

Kozan Ichikyo, 1360 C.E.

Now, this blog post is really not about death and the end of us all. The scene I illustrated captures the life of the moment and the entanglement of these objects into a beautiful dance. When I am gone, this scene will remain, with a few small changes. As Kozan might have said, these things are bound together for ages. Entangled. Such a great word.

These ideas bring me to something I read in the past few days: Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on the Seven Point Mind Training originally written by Chekawa Yeshe Dorje. In the opening of the root text “Consider all phenomena as a dream…” Those words fit these images so well. The dream-like quality of the place, the images in my mind shaped around my ideas and feelings. The place itself becomes a kind of beautiful delusion trapping me in a samsara.

Yea, OK, I am extending these ideas out to the extreme. The only thing about the place that is samsaric is my attachment to the scene. Spinning out the many feelings and ideas about the physical place leads me to a kind of suffering: emotional suffering, in this case, for the loss of that place…having to leave the moment and return to my life. I believed, in that one moment, the scene represented a kind of perfection….AND IT DID…but grasping at the moment and holding on to it evokes suffering. I miss the place! I am in pain as a result. Sure it’s not A LOT of pain, but it is a small representation of how samsara works.

So, working through those feelings and thoughts requires me to find a method. Meditation works; what I’ve done it take the meditation to drawing and representing. In a strange way, it allowed me to let go of the attachment. If this image disappeared, I would be OK because by drawing it out I no longer have the attachment to the idea. Make sense?

Abandoning negative thoughts and emotions is a way through. Finding a method to help with the process is a positive step. Releasing my inner struggle by expressing the struggle in the image is a kind of letting go.

In this blog post I’ve wandered around a whole bunch of ideas packed into a few words on the page. Rereading these thoughts, it strikes me that what I’m doing, here, is an elaborate way of releasing my inner demons and painful experiences. Then to find a still mind…the calm abiding that I seek. May you too find that moment in your own life.