I went back to the woods behind the Montague Farm this morning and couldn’t find my way. It seemed as if no matter where I went, brambles and fallen branches and trees blocked my progress.
Remember, I’ve been doing this walk for more than 20 years and I thought I knew my way. You go up the slope, enter the woods, walk down a half-flooded road wide enough for a vehicle, at the top veer left, and voila! You’ve taken your first steps into a forest that seems to go on for miles, connecting with state land and other forests and mountains up north.
At that point I’m on a path that winds around oak groves, keeping the creek to its left, then veers right and up, crossing rocky perimeters and circumnavigating enormous rocks that jut out of the ground till you reach the top of a hill dotted with tall pines hiding the sunlight, where the snow lasts longest, and then descending towards pools that connect with the creek.
That’s where I stop. I’ve crossed the pools in summer and walked on, but not for a long time.
I’m accustomed to the fact that after each winter, limbs lie strewn on the path and big trunks get in the way, often camouflaging the path so that I need to find ways to go around and rediscover it anew; it’s an annual spring ritual. But this winter, after 20 years, the path seems to have completely disappeared.
“Do you think my time for walking these woods is over?” I ask Aussie.
“You’re old, maybe you need a GPS.”
“There’s no signal here so it won’t work. Right now, I’m running into brambles whichever direction I take.”
“Maybe brambles are the path,” says Aussie.
“Aussie, you’ve been around too many Zen teachers.”
“What’s the matter, afraid your skin will be scratched, your jacket torn?”
“Nice for you to say, Auss, with your thick fur.”
“You’re the one who always says that meaning comes out of interaction. Well, here’s your chance to interact with brambles.”
“Aussie, what I meant was that we sometimes think that meaning comes out of sitting in our chair and thinking about stuff. When I look back, I think most of the time I did that was a waste of effort. Sure, you have to reflect on things here and there, but most of the thinking that I did didn’t come to much. More and more, I think that meaning arises out of the space between people, between people and things, how we meet each other and what arises. How we treat each other.”
“Doesn’t that include the shrubs that scratch your cheeks? The many branches on the ground that, with any luck, will trip you up?”
“With any luck? You want me to fall on the ground, Auss?”
“Think of it as a meeting, an encounter. There you are, walking on and on, not paying much attention because what can you do, you’re human, and suddenly—CRASH! Down you go. A perfect occasion to interact with the earth. Feel the hard ground under your knees and hips, feel it giving a rough kiss to your back.”
“I’ve never heard anything so silly in my entire life, Aussie.”
“Don’t forget—every moment is a chance to wake up! A good fall will shock you out of your head big-time. You could have a major insight!”
“I don’t know, Auss.”
“Of course, the minute we talk about it we ruin it. You realize this entire conversation can’t possibly be true? Words are delusional misrepresentations of the truth. In fact, THIS ENTIRE POST IS DELUSIONAL! You think you’re baring your soul, sharing intimately, but you’re just deluding your readers!”
“What do you suggest I do, Aussie?”
“Post a warning: ALL POSTS WRITTEN HERE UNDERMINE YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE. IF YOU WISH TO WAKE UP, STOP RIGHT HERE!”
“Good idea, Aussie.”
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