09 December 2018

Disappeared (Part 18)

Awake and breathing with tendrils pushing into the soil, slow and sure. Sycamores along the banks of the Patapsco spoke of this as their daily meditation. To hear such missives requires a discipline for stillness. One has to engage with disengagement. Disengagement from the yokes of modern life which decree and direct what you do and when you do it. The yoke could be a job, a phone or tablet, or a machine. The medium matters less than the message when it comes to the potential for distraction. What is distraction? That which prevents the soul from dealing with the truth of the life surrounding its container. Distraction is anything which prevents or inhibits the accommodation of grief, the reveling in love, the savoring of contentment. In short, distraction is anything that gets in the way of that which feeds the soul and therefore prevents growth or understanding.

Walking along the Patapsco River one morning, in the quiet radiance of my daughter’s presence and not long after our arrival back east, I looked up at the sycamores I had so long admired and had so long missed. Their trunks looked little changed from the last time I had seen them. The trunks shone in the sunlight where it filtered through the leaves. The limbs resplendent in shades of gray wolf and marble dust tinged faintly with ambient green. They stood as quiet witness to our presence. Our phones had been left in the car. Perhaps the trees knew this, and respected that choice. Space had opened up for us to talk of many things. Silence, too, had its place. My heart could tell because my mind was calm. The trees, water, and my progeny were the catalyst for a serenity not experienced in years.

What does it mean that the river is still there? Everything. Whether an internal reality manifested as a vision in the mind’s eye or the external reality of water and stones before the senses, it is this riparian presence that has provided a singular constant in a tumultuous cataract of years. From a place such as it I was figuratively born. To a place such as it I literally returned. Strolling by the Patapsco that morning, a comparison became inevitable between it and the rivers of my most recent experience. The Missouri and Mississippi surely possessed more mud, width, and mythology than the humble river I thought of as mine. But what those two stalwarts of American iconography did not have, and possibly never will, was a hold on my heart. Too little time spent in the company of the Mississippi, I guess. The Missouri and I never became friends. I walked its banks a few times and crossed it more than I can recount, but I never felt accepted. I never felt comfortable. Whether that says more about me than about the river is something I may never know. The Patapsco, on the other hand, has always been quick with an embrace. Humble, quiet, content.

The following months became a sine wave of hope and despair, calm and stress. Adjustments to a new life in a once familiar place soaked up extraordinary amounts of time and energy. This life was a new bike. I knew its theory but not its practice. Loneliness, job stress, and family emergencies extracted from me more than I had to give. I became broken and withdrawn. Existence became a question for which there was no clear answer. A demanding fall slipped into a discontented winter as I flailed about searching for proof that the decisions that had led me here were the right ones.

Alone in my apartment one Saturday in the following spring, embedded in a span of directionless free time, I felt my heart fluttering while my mind raced. The walls were too close. I needed to be out. Water, rocks, and trees chorused their siren call. Soon I was on the road to the river flowing through my mind and in the real world of the valley not so far away. The river held some answers. I heard them in the rush and burble that day while perched upon a boulder near the flow. Meditative deep state has never come frequently or easily to me. That day was different. Within minutes my eyes unfocused. Somewhere inside the heart of a blue whale stirred, with its tardo pulse and stately rhythm. Breathing became a languid zephyr stirring the leaves. The membrane between Me and Everything thinned and slipped. I felt the river in my nerves, heard it in my ears. What it said was that all the experiences of the past few years transpired to bring me to the present, this here and now. All the pain, all the joy, all the in between put me where I was meant to be. In the words of Ortega y Gasset, I truly was “myself plus my circumstances”. The whole was truly greater than the sum, I was going to be okay.

I came to, dappled by sunlight dripping through the leaves. How much time had passed was unknown to me. The voices of the past melded and morphed into the sound of water over stones. Standing up, I brushed off my pants, took a satisfying breath, and walked back into the world as the person that I was faded into the shadow of the person I had now become.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...