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"Science is a powerful, exquisite tool for grasping an external reality. But within that rubric, within that understanding, everything else is the human species contemplating itself, grasping what it needs to carry on, and telling a story that reverberates into the darkness, a story carved of sound and etched into silence, a story that, at its best, stirs the soul."
Brian Greene, Until the end of Time: Mind, Matter and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe
I’ve been a traveller most of my adult life, but when people ask me, “Where are you going next?”, I have no answer. There is no next. I’m here for now, and it’s a freeing feeling. No need to plan complicated travel schedules to take me to adventurous places, no need to train my body for changes in altitude, and tough hiking schedules. All’s quiet in my world. I’m paying attention to my needs: how much movement do I want and need to feel good; how much wildness do I crave in my day-to-day doings; how much time do I want to putter? My days have an uncanny emptiness. Few need my help. I only go places when I chose to do so. Even the commitments I made to do presentations are far enough away that I don’t have to feel pressured to produce.
The dust gathering on my window-blinds in the sun don’t compel me to a cleaning frenzy. I’m just watching the soft down lie there with its crinkly tiny white hairs hanging on a sloping surface. Someone is singing a melodious song on the radio, titillating small waves of feeling in my chest, making my body sway while my brain is finding words to write this piece. The new ring on my finger holds a stone, found on a faraway Tibetan plateau where I went to experience the outer edges of self.
These days I’m looking inward and am exploring the inner edges of myself. One way is no better than the other; one may be cheaper than the other, but money doesn’t hamper or determine my travel. What then holds me in this moment, this place, without great plans to explore the world?
They say the universe turns in on itself. The ever-expanding cosmos collapses into a black hole, and the whole thing starts over again. I guess a winter of hibernation wasn’t enough of a turning-in. I know to listen and watch the surrounding forces influence me, and right now they don’t pull me outward except for a short jaunt into the mountains around my home now and then. Last summer I let my vegetable garden lay fallow, I only put in cover crops to enrich the soil, while I was traveling. Maybe now is my fallow time, uncultivated, inactive, not producing. We know the importance of letting the land lay fallow, to allow the soil to rebuild its microbial structure. Not that we adhere to it in our current production-oriented society; we add fertilizers to make up for the exhaustion the soil is experiencing. So it goes with our bodies and minds: we drink coffee or red bull to give us energy, we peruse the get-away offerings to stimulate our tired minds. More money can be made by offering a product to enhance our exhausted selves than just plain rest. You may remember the days when a bout of the flu was a week of being sick and a week of lying around, aka healing? I remember my mother sending me out for a walk in the watery spring sunshine when I was recovering from the flu. How strange it felt to go for a leisure walk by myself while everyone else was in school or at work.
The roots of who we become are generated in our youth. I was born a wanderer. My baby wanderings took place out from under my blankets in frigid temperatures and out of my clothes as I stood naked on the tray of my highchair, my arms stretched out like the leafless winter tree outside the window with its branches reaching. As a result, my parents tied me in my bed at night so I would stay warm, tied me in my highchair so I would be safe.
At three years of age I went in search of frogs my brother had told me about. We were living on the outskirts of a medieval town in the southwest of Holland. A bulwark and a moat surrounded the original town, with sixteenth-century city gates and bridges to allow entrance into the town. A police officer found me, as I was standing on the edge of one of those bridges peering into the dark water in the moat. After that incident, I was staked out in the backyard like a goat, rope around my waist, rope connected to a pin in the ground. I saw a picture of myself, leaning my face into my four-year-old boy cousin’s ear. Was I whispering something about pulling up stakes together and exploring the world?
I became a walker, an explorer of the world. There was so much to love about life and living in all these different places. But being tied down every now and then, I also learned about being in one place. I came home last fall from the Himalayas with a renewed love for life and I’m loving the living daylight out of my days right here for now. If the microbes of lying fallow do their work, a healthy base for producing new ideas, a new story will come about.
Roses and Romance
I was 62 when my lover friend sent me 12 red roses for Valentine’s. It was the first time in my life I received this token of romance. It also was the last time. This lover friend developed Alzheimer’s and spent his last years locked in an institution. In my romantic younger years Valentine’s day didn’t exist, but flowers came my way in the form of corsages. I spent several years going to fraternity parties with my boyfriend; the gentleman that he was he did what we considered romantic in those years. When a Marxist group in the late sixties radicalized our thinking, we considered corsages from then on a bourgeois excess.
The flower-power years followed and anything that reeked of commercialism was taboo; certainly bunched red roses flown in from South America. A bunch of field-picked wild flowers was the closest to a romantic flower gift then.
Love and the Heart
When long-term love and marriage entered my life, we cut paper hearts with the children and pasted them on construction paper for a multitude of “friendship” cards. Some chocolate to go with it all, was the extent of our Valentine’s gift.
No romantic dinner’s, no surprise get-aways for that one day in February when everyone expresses their love. Gold-dipped chocolate roses arrived for my teenage daughter but not for me. My husband and I loved each other and wasn’t that enough? I found a card in my card recycle box the other day with a sweet, meaningful message for one of those not-so-Valentine’s days. I smiled and remembered our love, still in my heart even though he is no longer in the body.
Ahh yes, love! The elusive, yet real feeling. Can we experience love when we don’t have a lover? Love produces longing when we don’t feel it. Yet love, according to some, becomes pervasive when we are close to death. Rilke wrote: “Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love,” When we feel the moments slipping away and each moment we still have becomes precious and radiant, many people report experiencing a state of love. Can we feel romantic when we don’t receive red roses? Can love just arise out of nowhere?
I say yes! Love arises when I sit in meditation long enough; love arises when I surround myself with the beauty of nature; love comes up spontaneously when I slow down, straighten up from bending over a garden bed and take in the beginnings of spring. So instead of rushing around to find a gift for someone you love, be the gift of slowing down and be present for a friend, yourself, or your loved ones. Make Valentine’s day a slow day and see how you feel. Get up slowly. Drink your tea or coffee slowly; chew your food slowly and eat less; walk slowly, drive slow. Gaze out the window, stop and look at a tree, a bird, a river. Feel. Look everyone in the eye, stop to listen, be with whoever is asking for your attention. Breathe. Love for all-that-is will rise inside you, and who needs roses when you feel that kind of love?