“...The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
Myself to set foot
In the still sleeping town and set forth.”
~ Dylan Thomas, Poem in October
From above the trails, leaves sailed down from extended branches to rushing waters along my steps. I returned home on river-trimmed roads, down from inland elevations and up to the mist of the Maine coast. Navigating widening roads, noticing the changing waterways, my thoughts remained with the intimate trails I left in Vermont. Before leaving the region, I had to hike to one more waterfall. With light and weather changing, these moments are to be savored all the more. From still rock perches, I’d watch one leaf’s progress from aloft to waterborne. Some of them would find refuge on solid surfaces, others were carried by cold rapids. The woods, in combined intricacy and grandeur, are conducive to subverting thoughts of self.
The journey was an unburdening, as much as an addition of new experiences. What returned with me, as my wheels resumed the night-darkened, yet vividly familiar neighborhood streets? Alongside weathered boots and word-thickened notebooks, some helpings of peace, morsels of discipline and confidence, and many thought pictures. Colors, sounds, and temperatures. And a wavy yellow leaf that somehow found the inside of my typewriter case, wafted to my kitchen floor.
By its very nature, the motion of spiritual journey perseveres though imperfection and unknowing. Implicit is an aspiration toward the sacred, yet also the assurance of acceptance. As with those floating leaves, landing places cannot really be predicted. My preparedness for the future does not foretell what is ahead. Where do the streams we know join the changing rivers and vast oceans as yet unseen? It is as bolstering as it is disturbing. At times anxiety and excitement coexist. In silence and respite, with a change of scenery, I can draw from strengthening sources to be better able to navigate the unknowns. Not that the source of what lives is limited. Yet it seems I’ve just come from places which brought me to a much more direct experience of sources of creative life and trust. Subsumed in the return to work and multitasking is an abiding cord of gratitude. I’m slowly learning how to avoid burning out, while keeping alive the fire of the Spirit.
Reflecting back- even now- as with an ancient devotion, there are new and crisp images for the archives of the soul. When my front stoop and some of the nearby waters freeze to stillness, I’ll recall lush, singing, and aromatic forests. In a similar sense, while hiking I could imagine the Long Trail’s verdant density transformed and hidden under snow. The lasting effects of a sojourn are determined by time. It is fascinating to consider how minute and glancing details can become gems in our memories.
Now re-acclimating to the stream of routine, my thoughts turn to whether I have been changed by these two weeks. Transformation is always in progress; the specifics remain to surface for me to describe. Pilgrimage sojourns, being islands amidst the quotidian sea, tend to attest more pronouncedly to discovery. The Weston Priory itself has been a life’s landmark to me for 15 years; a beacon and consistent place of tranquil welcome. When I mentioned to the brothers how it had been 10 years ago that I lived the monastic experience with them for 6 weeks, we were all amazed at the passage of time. It is one of my life’s great and enduring inspirations. 1999 is as much a long time ago as it was just a bunch of fleeting seasons back.
Journeys of many shapes, distances, and purposes have brought me to cultivate better travel skills. And transition abilities. “Descending from the mountaintops” has rarely been easy. At times, it had been anguishing- especially when returning to sharply contrasting situations. The ability to straddle different spheres has grown with me since childhood. Rather than distinguishing mainstreams, wherever I am is a nowstream, gathering and blending otherwise scattered and arcane influences. But to maintain the heart’s treasures- to preserve and nurture what is holy and useful! Even the ancient desert wisdom in the Philokalia offers as much about cultivation as about watchfulness of the mind. The monk Nikiphorus called the latter discipline an art form to be refined with one’s life. He advocated training the intellect through patient discernment via the heart. With the mind rooted in the heart, extraneous factors are less likely to discourage and distract. A tiny rock from a mountain stream now sits on my desk. Indeed, the good reminders subvert the discouragements. Now at ocean’s edge, the rapids are as evident to me as the tides.