It is early spring and I drive to Kripalu, a Center for Yoga and Health, in the Birskhire Mountains. I arrive in a depressing, dismal cold rain, but after a couple of days in retreat, the storm in the sky and the one in my mind are beginning to clear. Â The chronic depression Iâ€™d hoped to get a handle on, all the hopelessness, anxiety and fear, are seeming to be no more than a prank I’m playing on myself.
It is the evening of my last supper here, which has threatened to make me a vegetarian by deliciousness alone. Â The clear air, gold of late afternoon sun, green of new grass, and budding trees anticipating foliage, compel me to take a meditative walk around the campus. Â Coming upon a freshly cut tree stump brings to mind the sixty foot blue spruce behind our house, recently brought down by a nor’easter. Â I count the rings. Â Sixty-five. Â This tree, as well as our deceased blue spruce, would have been a seedling the year I was born.
Once a large estate, this landscape is terraced lawns with occasional steps of New England granite leading from one level to another. Â At the edge of an embankment I look down to see a fantastic tree, umbrella shaped with branches gnarled and twisted. Â I can think only of the Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha was supposed to have become enlightened and, approaching this arboreal magnificence I see that there is a bench at its base, icons scattered around the roots. Â I consider that if I sit under this tree I’ll become enlightened, as did SiddhÄrtha Gautamaâ€”consider that to sit long enough through the night, I’d likely freeze to death.
But I do sit – relaxed and without expectation. Â Sudden cool breezes slap my cheek, as of a Zen master shocking a student out of lethargy. Â There are occasional soundsâ€”a truck? an airplane? Â No interest in an answer. Â They are just soundsâ€”without originâ€”nameless as distant music. Â There are the cries of crows, strangely mystical. Â My Mom is a crow. Â After her funeral, we would sit at the picture window every evening, watching hundreds of crows fly home to their roost, at precisely the same time each night. Â Dad said that he and Mom had made a routine of this and one evening, counting crows, logged over five hundred.
I feel more and more at oneâ€”with the breeze, the sounds, the crowsâ€”with every sensation. Â But the illusion of being Me persists. Â Suddenly, a voice in the headâ€”deep, loud, insistant. Â “You cannot achieve enlightenment, because You don’t exist. Â How can that which does not exist achieve anything?” Â I laugh, get up and walk to the top of granite steps and suddenly, loud caw-cawing. Â I look up to see two crows wheeling, diving, dancing a few feet over my head. Â I greet them as I would an ancestor arriving from an almost forgotten past. Â But Mom is not a crow, she is all crows. Â And Uncle Dick lives in the blue spruce behind the house. Â Whenever I climb that great treeâ€”with tools given me by my wife’s Uncle before he diedâ€”I feel him there, guiding my pruning hand. Â It is gone, and I remember my one regret: that I was not there to see it fall. Â But with the tree fallen and now cut up for firewood, where is Uncle Dick?
Reaching the bottom of the steps, I turn to see the setting sun stretching my shadow out toward that commanding stonework. Â I must take a photograph, and decide to call it “The Path to Enlightenment.”
I Take out the camera, frame the shot, but just as finger touches shutter, to my right there is loud wooden crackling. Â I turn just in time to watch a tall oak tree fall and crash to the ground. Â I am for a moment frozenâ€”shocked, delighted, confounded, and just a bit frightened.
I will walk into the woods to prove to myself that there is a fallen tree there. Â I will spend weeks trying to get my head around this, and fail. Â We trick ourselves into thinking we know how things are, but the truth is we don’t know Jack Shit! Â What a gift it is just to know that.
Next Clue: Â A litany of confusion.