Sunday Morning Meditation

Meditate, talk about, walk about in the Maryland countryside


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Events at a Crossing

Photo copyright by iStockPhoto

Photo copyright by iStockPhoto

EVENTS AT A CROSSING

 

Now I have heard that many of the roads we have here today, in the East where the land is hilly and cut with streams wherever one turns, were originally deer trails, adopted by settlers and gradually enlarged as the forms of transportation evolved.  This makes a romantic tale which might seem to justify in some eyes the slow encrustation of our planet in concrete and asphalt.  We just improved on what the deer began, one might argue.  However, the fact is that our network of roads is the fabric of man’s  (and woman’s) desire for mobility, freedom, and dining out.  The deer trails surely served the deer to connect areas of interest to them, whether it were a tasty pasture, a cool stream, or a secluded dell to nap in.  When Native Americans arrived on the scene, their trails indubitably connected their own areas of interest, often opposed to the interests of the deer, who probably shifted their trails away from human fires, smells and weapons.  Then the settlers came with their new concerns and changed the map again, and again, and again, as technology progressed and civilization burgeoned.

The only valid argument for the deer-as-pioneers theory might be the constraints placed on ground traffic by the topography, the shape of the hills and the location of streams, as barriers to movement.  It could be said that anyone (or anything) moving on the face of the Earth, animal or man or machine, attempting to get from A to B, would have to make similar detours for certain natural features like rivers, swamps, precipices, mountains, etc.  (There is one interesting deviation from this pattern, which was proposed in the book “The Giver” but hopefully is not on anyone’s drawing boards, involving huge bulldozers capable of leveling the face of the planet).  Anyhow, there is strength in the argument for  topographically-motivated intrinsic and natural routes of travel.  We have a road in this county which is sarcastically named Mountain Road, whose sole claim to alpine qualities consists of a few low hills, but which avoids all stream crossings, because it runs parallel to the streams, along a rise of land only perceptible to a surveyor.

As you flash across a modern bridge over some river or stream, in your  300 HP Dream-mobile, consider that below flows a natural phenomena which once presented real problems to humans, before concrete came along.  Of course railroads exploited the stream valleys as a passage through the hills, which a train cannot climb.  This is fine if one wishes to travel parallel to the stream, but if one needs to go perpendicular, such as to visit in-laws or get to a certain town, the difficulty arises.  One needs cross.  Logs were used, but wood had the disadvantage of rotting and/or floating away.  Covered bridges were fancy logs with waterproofing added.  On really large rivers which needed to be crossed by a lot of people, often some enterprising soul would set up a ferry boat enterprise, charging a fee.  Some of these ferries utilized a clever design whereby the boat was attached to a cable spanning the river, and obtained effortless sideways movement by tilting the craft at the correct angle to the current.  On less traveled routes, one might have to simply wade across, or ride through the water if lucky, at a ford, a wide shallow spot in the stream without mud on the bottom.  Fords would often become impassable at certain seasons or after a rain.  Another interesting literary reference here is the true story “Into the Wild” where a young man is trapped, to his detriment, by the vagaries of fording a river.

Actually it is interesting to consider the extent to which water crossing finds a place in world literature, which clearly shows how deeply this event has rooted itself in the collective unconsciousness.  One could begin with Jesus of Nazareth, whose approach had to be the last word in sophistication- he just walked across on top.  Moses, using a more brute force approach, “parted the seas” so everybody could walk across on the bottom, regardless of spiritual achievement.  In Orson Scott Card’s series on Alvin Maker, a man so stalwart that he routinely hikes about with a solid gold plow in his backpack, still Alvin is oddly challenged by crossing water (as are witches, in other tales).   Frodo and friends found a lot of adventure at river crossings.  One could go on and on- just add your favorite here.   Anyway, to get to our story, which has a more prosaic setting, sometimes in real life flat stones were placed across friendly spots in the rivers, to help pedestrians.  The story herein occurs at one such stone crossing, at a time in history when just getting over a river could involve danger and therefore, drama.  And then, suppose one was handicapped in addition?

The crossing in our story was over a river, where it flowed over a widened section of small rounded stones just before it was rudely constrained by a shoulder of rock, in return for which the water showed its teeth, and with a gliding hiss which became a roar, hurled itself into battle, as if to push the rocks back, a foray which, having been carried on for millennia, was having some success for the forces of water, for the rocks were round and battered.  But up stream, just above this turmoil, was only a wide, peaceful sparkling, maybe a foot or two deep.  Even this would be an obstacle to most people, and so strong hands had set a course of large, flat stones across the waters here, possible to step across on, but spaced enough to let the water pass, for if the stones had touched, water would have flowed over their top, or carried them away in a flood.  The purpose of this considerable labor was to connect a rough dirt road descending one side of the stream valley, with its other half ascending again up the far bank and proceeding to a city close by, the capital of the realm.

It was to this crossing that an old man came slowly hobbling one fine morning, when the mist and dew still gave that magical sheen to all of the forest wilds about, so there was a bejeweled web of beauty linking the steaming current, the damp rocks, the dripping greenwoods, and the ferns and moss beside the road, all gently illuminated by bars of morning sun.  The old man sat down on a stump with a satisfied sigh, and decided to take a break here from his travels, and do his morning meditation.  He took a drink from a flask, and propped his crutch against a tree, for he could not see or walk well and needed its aid on occasion to find his way.  Straightening his back, taking a few deep breaths, he became as calm as if he had always been part of the woods, so that soon a chipmunk which had dashed off with a chirp, came out to continue foraging.  All was silent except for the sound of the river and the dripping leaves, and the scratching of the chipmunk, or an occasional bird song.

Some few minutes had passed when there was the sound of a horse in full gallop, and a rider came down into the valley.  The person was cloaked and hooded, and glanced often behind, as if pursued.  Such was his haste that he failed to see the old man, but spurred his horse right into the river, and with a wild spray and clatter, passed over, up the far bank, and pounded off into the distance.

The old man followed this precipitous passage with interest, then resumed his contemplation of the woodlands.

After another while, there was the sound of other travelers, quite different.  With slow and tortuous tread, two gentlemen and a lady, all older and rather poor, came into view.  Each carried a cane, with which they felt their way, for they were blind.  They held to each other’s hands, and murmured together

“Careful now, careful!.. here’s a bit of rough… Oh, something brushed my left cheek, we better go a bit right…Hear that water, there is a river ahead, I knew it, when we came downhill so long…Careful now, careful!”

From within the clarity of his contemplation, the old man stared at them and his heart was touched.  He felt their every stumble in his own ankles.  He himself had some difficulty seeing the way, but nothing like this.  How could they possibly get on?  How had they gotten this far?  And the way they helped each other!  If one tripped, the hands of the other two were there in an instant.  What if they were to get off the road? They might starve, wandering lost in the woods.  And now, what about the crossing?  He should warn them, so he hailed them.

“Hello!” he said. “Do not be alarmed.  I mean you no harm.  I am a traveler myself, pausing here for a rest.  My name is Thaddeus.  Do you know there is a river crossing on stepping stones, just a short distance ahead?”.

The three blind people stopped in some consternation.  Then the shorter man, who seemed to be their spokesman, said “Hello, fellow traveler.  My name is Alphonse.  Thank you for your warning. To be honest I have heard the sweet sound of the water for quite a while, although we had hoped for a bridge of some sort.  We are blind, but our other senses have been honed by necessity, and we can tell much. I myself am a musician, and my hearing is keen.   For instance, I hear a small creature close by, burrowing and foraging.  And I hear that although your voice is calm and serene, your feet are unsteady on the ground, and you are tapping with a cane of some sort, I believe, so I suspect that you also may have some difficulty with this crossing you describe.  And also, I could swear that I hear children laughing and singing, is that possible?  Is there a school nearby?  But enough of praising my own abilities, we are faced with a problem here, so we must consider how to cross this river.  Can you give any suggestion?”

“I can tell you what I see, which is not a lot because my eyes are getting old also.  The river is wide, but not too wide, swift but not too swift, deep but not too deep.  There are stones set across it to make a path, but not too smooth, for there is a gap between each stone.  The gap is large, but not too large, at least for an able-bodied person”.

The three blind persons hearing his description gave all of them a laugh, and leaned on their canes.

“I am Beatrice”, said the lady.  “Your description is frightening, but not too frightening.  How can one be frightened in such a lovely spot.”  She took a deep breath.  “To me the smells of the earth are like voices speaking.  I can almost see the foliage, the wet mosses, the damp earth.  There is food here too, for those with the nose to find it.  A patch of cat-tail grows here- they are very useful, you know.  Back in my kitchen, I was quite able to make a tasty dish from cat-tail.  You see, I knew where everything was in my lovely kitchen, and no-one else was allowed in.”  She sniffed again.  “there are berries too, I think, but farther.”  She turned toward the old man.  “I am inclined to trust you, Thaddeus, for I can usually smell the nature of men’s hearts, and I can smell evil, and when I am lucky enough to encounter it, I can smell good, and you may be surprised to know that I like your smell, dear sir.”

Then the second man spoke, and he was large as a bear, and his voice was deep and strong, but slow and gentle.  “My name is Gameon.  It is as Alphonse and Beatrice have said, although we cannot see, we sense the world in different ways, some perhaps that would be surprising to you.  I can feel the pressures and vibrations of the earth and sky, through my bones.  For example, my joints are aching right now, which tells me that rain is on its way, by tomorrow, and I deduce that the river may be higher after the rain then it is today.  Also, your description of the river did not include a rapids or waterfall a short distance downstream, which is causing a great disturbance in the earth, such that I doubt that any of us who is swept therein would escape alive.  And finally, a horseman approaches, walking, from the direction we came.  I am also skilled with animals, if I may be so bold to say so.  They like my touch.  I was employed as a groom, and sometimes helped the old cow doctor in town.”

And Thaddeus replied, “Remarkable it is, that the three of you combined, are aware of more than I who can see!  The world is broad and strange, indeed my friends, and there are many threads that tie us to it and weave our patterns.  Some threads are there to be seen, others can only be felt.  Some come by day, others as if in a dream.  Some are carried by men, others by the animals or the wind.  No one can fathom the marvel of the whole of creation!  And one of the greatest marvels is this , that people such as we, can meet on a road in the strangest of circumstance, and it is as if they were part of the same family.  For I know nothing of you or your history or your fate, but I feel that our roads have crossed now in more ways than one, and that we shall journey together for a spell, or perhaps for longer.”

And Alphonse said. “Well spoken indeed, and who can tell what shall come of this meeting.  I also feel that I can trust you, from the sound of your voice, for I have learned to tell when a man speaks with deceit.  But another thing I have learned, never be in a hurry!  So let us pause a while, and consider, and perhaps come up with some answers to this problem”.

So they stood for a bit in silence, when the sound of another rider was heard coming down into the valley.  Unlike the first, this horseman was progressing slowly, although the horse seemed unhappy with this pace and was skittery and nervous. “A soldier”, muttered Thaddeus to the others. As the man approached, he studied the ground intently.  He pulled up before the four and saluted them without a word.

“Good day, Lieutenant”, said Thaddeus.  “How do you do?”

“Not as well as I might” said the soldier morosely.  “I have been given the task of tracking down a fugitive, because of my exceptional eyesight.  He escaped on horseback from the garrison at daybreak.  I picked up his trail easily and have been following it for hours.  Look!”  He pointed to the ground.  The three blind people nudged each other, but Thaddeus peered closely where the soldier indicated.  “Do you see that hoof print?  Here the right foreleg touched, then  here, the right hind leg, do you see, and now note the shape of the print, see how the shoe of the right hind leg is broken off on one side?”  He straightened up and stared across the river.  “To me, with my eyes, it is as if the trail was painted on the ground.  I shall have him by nightfall, and claim the bounty!”  His horse stamped and snorted impatiently, bobbing its head until the soldier pulled sharply on the reins.  “Whoa, dammitall!  That is, if this fool horse does not ruin every trace to be seen!”

“Hold, hold now” said Gameon.  “My good man, your horse is an excellent animal, well suited to your own high station.  However, such a fine beast requires some subtlety.  I am a professional groom, and with all due respect, may I offer some advice?  You are used to conquest and victory, I am sure, but such tactics will not fare well with this animal.  The bit enrages him, just as obligation irritates you.  What is needed is to use your hands, like so..” and he found the animal’s neck and gently stroked, working toward the head and ears, “and just whisper some kind words in his ear, like so…”  which he did, and lo , soon the horse relaxed the angry bent of its neck, and turned to stare at Gameon, then gave him some nudges in the shoulder, with a low whicker.

“Yes, I see, thank you my good man, I can tell you have some gift.  I will try these tricks” said the soldier, and gave his horse a tentative pat.

“If I may be so bold, perhaps we may trade favor for favor, Lieutenant”, said Gameon.  “Three of us are blind and the fourth does not see too well.  Could we impose on your good will for a ride across the river?”

“Blind!”  the soldier started and only then noticed the blank stares, the canes.  He gaped.  “Hum, hum.  Let me think.  Perhaps I could take one of you, but it will risk my horse just to cross once.  I am not a ferry boat.  There it is.  I will take one only, and no more.  Decide quickly, for my trail grows cold!”

Alphonse shook his head  “No thank you, we have come this far together and together we will remain.  Good luck to you, sir, and farewell!”

With that, the soldier saluted again and then clattered across the river and away.

“Perhaps I should explain our journey,” said Alphonse when the soldier was gone.  “We three have been friends for many years, and helped each other deal with this tribulation.  However, every year we are older, and it gets harder to survive.  And this year, a politician put a notice on the poor hut in the town where we used to live, saying that he was running for office on a promise to widen the road, and that our hut was in the way, and would have to come down!  Then we heard of a community that has been established in the city for persons like ourselves, blind, or with other handicaps.  There are caretakers who help those in need.  Money is earned for the needs of the community by several simple industries which even handicapped persons are able to perform, such as candle making, simple food preparation, and other things.  We wrote to them and they have asked us to join.  If we can make it to there we will have honest work, friends, a roof over our heads and a good meal each day.  This is the reason for our voyage to the city.”

“A worthy quest is yours indeed,” said Thaddeus. “So now…but what on earth is that racket?  It sounds like a swarm of birds is descending upon us.”

“Or of angels” murmured Beatrice.  And indeed she was closer to the mark, for down the road came a laughing, chattering bunch of children.  All carried pails.  They skipped, danced, and sang as they came, so that the woods came alive.  The chipmunk peered in astonishment, then dashed out to sit on a stone, hoping for a handout.  Trailing behind the children and trying hard to keep up came a disheveled young man, obviously their chaperone.

“Hello, good day to you all”, said Thaddeus with a laugh.  “Where are you bound, and what is your game?  Certainly you have chosen a fine day for a romp in the woods.  But shouldn’t you all be in school?”

The children answered in bits and pieces, each scrap from a different laughing face.  “Yes, pretty day… Our teacher is getting M.A.R.R.I.E.D (huge giggles) .. we got the day off…we are going a-berrying… ho ho…look up the hill! Can you see the berries, up near the lip of the valley, across the river?  Our eyes are soo sharp, we can see the ripe berries even from here… berry pies… muffins…yum yum”

By this time the young man had caught up, clearly welcoming the halt.  Mutual Good Days were exchanged.  “Whew, what a handful” he said when he could catch his breath.  “The usual teacher took off to get married, and I am just a substitute.  Since I did not know their lessons, I foolishly let them talk me into this adventure.  Little did I know, there is a world of difference between children sitting sedately in a classroom, and a bunch of screaming savages out in the woods!”  This got a laugh from the men, but not from Beatrice.  She groped for the young man’s arm and clutched it tight.

“You do not know me,” she said urgently, “but I pray you to hearken to my words and avert a possible calamity.  It is plain that care of children is not your usual calling, or else you would be ahead, not behind.  Listen carefully, I beg.  The children are searching for berries, and there are nice ones to be found.  There are also poisonous ones.  I distinctly smell the yew.  Its berries are small, smooth and round, red they say, luscious in appearance and deadly poisonous.  A few can fell a cow.  You must protect the children!  There are other red berries, good to eat, the strawberry, wine berry, and wild raspberry, but they are all rough and pitted, whereas the yew is smooth.  If a child even so much as touches one, you must wash their hands.  Show them, teach them, and check their pails!”

The young man was clearly taken aback.  “Yes yes.  It never occurred to me… thank you so much!  I will caution them and also check as you say.  Thank you again”

The children had actually been following this exchange, as is often their way when adults imagine they are talking in private.  Now they spoke up, like birds chirping “I knew that!..  My cousin ate some once and he burst open…Rough not smooth, rough not smooth…Lets pick some and give them to ol’ lady Jones’ nasty dog…ha ha..oh, my stomach, poor poor dog..ha ha …we can see the difference, rough not smooth, our eyes are soooo  SHARP!’

“If your eyes are so sharp, perhaps you can see a way to help us get across.  We are blind and need help”, said Beatrice.

“Oh yes, you can get across as easy as pie!  Just come with us, come with us, come on, come on, come ON!’’ The children yelled and danced in glee and skipped and flitted across the stepping stones without even seeming to touch them at all, wafted up the far bank, and were gone like butterflies, like dandelion seeds in a breeze.

“I have to go, I must catch up!  Thank you.  Good luck and good bye!” Said the young man and clambered after them.

There was a disappointed silence in their wake.  “Their voices were so pretty” said Beatrice in a longing voice.  Everyone nodded but no-one else spoke for a while.  Even  the chipmunk was discouraged and went down his hole.

But then a more cheerful note sounded, first as just a whisper, then as a bird song, then there was clearly heard the notes of music being played, singing.  The music grew, and into sight came a bridal party, down into the valley.  In front came girls carrying flowers, then the two lovers, arms entwined, and behind them a merry band of relatives, musicians, and bums.  Bottles were being passed and many were staggering already, but all were enjoying themselves.  The betrothed had eyes only for each other.  When they came up to the river, spirits were dampened a bit, but someone, probably the brides father, began busily organizing everyone to help the weaker members get across.

Last of all the band arrived, actually just a few minstrels doing some standard folk melodies without much inspiration.  Alphonse dug into his pockets and whipped out a little flute.  Putting it to his lips, he chimed in with the rather wooden song they were playing for a few bars, and then, like a bird on the wing, he took flight, or rather, his music did, for it seemed a creature in its own right, composed solely of sound and magic, soaring, whirling, darting and swooping.  The crowd was transfixed, frozen in wonder.  The musicians stood with their mouths hanging, until Alphonse, freeing one arm and waving them encouragement, got them started again, now with real energy.  But their music at its best was like the grasses in a meadow, flat and uniform, through which the dragonfly of Alphonse’s flute played,  like the sun, the rain, the yearning of a young maiden, dreams.

They landed.  After a moment, the crowd went a bit nuts.  Some one was crying.  Some began to dance, some to sing, and many to pass the bottle.  “Oh..” said the bride.  “Oh, so that is what music is supposed to sound like!  Oh sir, come with us, do come with us!”

“Actually, its odd you should say that, because I was just about to suggest the same thing”, said Alphonse, without missing a beat.  “You see (turning now to the bridegroom) we are blind, and we really can’t fathom how to get over this crossing, and it is rather important that we do so.  Do you think you could help us?”

The bridegroom answered him without looking, he could not seem to tear his eyes away from his sweetheart.  “We have to get to the city… to the church there…oh why can’t your father get on with it!  We have to hurry you see, she only has today off from her school, and my boss gave me just one day off, he is rich as butter but cheap as dirt, he is going into town himself for some big sale. Joe! Andy! Give these folks a hand!”

Suddenly someone shoved a bottle into his hand.  He took a long swig.  “WHOOOEEEE!”  He grabbed his girl and swung her around.  Everyone began to cheer and clap.   “Over the river, over  the river!”  Someone shouted, and the crowd took it up “O-VER! O-VER! O-VER!”  The bridegroom swept his bride up in his arms.  She gave an appropriate squeal.  He stepped out onto the stones.  Halfway across he pretended to loose his balance.  She squealed for real.  The crowd loved it.  They all waltzed across.  One fellow even fell in but was dragged out before he was swept away.  Then they were gone.  A few flowers lay on the ground, and Alphonse, Beatrice, Gameon and Thaddeus were left once again standing silently.

“I am noticing a certain pattern here”, said Gameon.

“How perceptive” said Alphonse, a bit tartly.

“Now boys,” said Beatrice. “Let us be patient  Where there is a will, there is a way.”  But she did not sound confident, and her face was turned toward Thaddeus, but he had nothing to say.

“Here comes another one” mused Gameon.  “Horse, or something heavy.”

“So how do you do that?” asked Thaddeus.

“Took me quite a while to get the hang of it.  Old woman up in the hills helped me, showed me some tricks.” said Gameon.  “The earth is really like jelly, you know.  Best way to listen to it is to find a rock half sunk in the earth but not sitting on other rocks because they are too strong to vibrate.  The size is important.  The size of the rock has to match what you want to hear.  If it’s a big slow happening like an earthquake, you need a big slow rock, the size of a wagon or cow, but even I am too small to hear these things.  If its quick small sounds you want to hear, like horse hooves, you need a small quick rock, about the size of a dog or cat.  Then you put your skull against the rock.  Take off the hat, push you]r hair aside, get it bone to stone.  Not ear to the ground, whoever said that didn’t know beans about listening to the earth.  Bone to stone.  Another way, what I am doing now, not as good,  is to take off your shoes, or something close to that, and wiggle your feet down into the dirt, then stand up straight, lock your knees and press down into it, if you know what I mean.  Fill up your lungs and then tighten up your whole body tense like a drumhead.  This makes the vibrations resonate inside somewhere, and you can feel it all over- but none of it works unless your mind is still, of course, did I say that?  Got to be silence inside or you will never hear what is outside.  And relax.”

“Of course”  said Thaddeus.  “Thank you.  Very interesting”.

Just then a fat merchant on a mule appeared coming down into the valley.  He was dressed fine, with fancy trappings, and his saddlebags hung heavy.  As he drew near, there was a clinking sound that surrounded him like perfume- it was the sound of the gold in his saddlebags, restlessly rolling about.  He looked ahead and level, so he seemed to see things that were above most people’s heads.

“Hello, stranger”, said the indomitable Alphonse, “Good day to you, and a prosperous one I hope!”

Alphonse had hit on the magic words.  Slowly the gaze of the merchant swung about and aimed itself his way, but real perception did not seem to be occurring.  “Good day also to you”, the merchant said, but made no move to halt the progress of his beast, which continued methodically on toward the crossing.

“Pray, good sir, a moment of your time in a good cause”, said Alphonse.  “I discern that you are a man of means and ability, which leads me to think that you may have the capabilities to solve a problem which faces us.  Can you see any way to help us?  Although we cannot pay, you would earn our everlasting gratitude, which may come to benefit you some day, in some unexpected way.  ”.

“Or not, as the case may be”, muttered Beatrice under her breath, and was elbowed gently by Gameon into silence.

The merchant’s pride was aroused.  He halted the mule, and ponderously considered.

“I will give you the benefit of my experience, without remuneration.  Your every move should be part of a larger plan.  As a great statesman once remarked, all you have to fear, is fear itself.  Buy when others are selling, and sell when others are buying.  Don’t trust anyone who has not proven to be trustworthy, and get it in writing besides.  And above all, understand the compounding of interest”.  He closed his mouth with a self-satisfied snap.  “And here is what I see today, although I should not reveal this to you.  In the city where I am bound, an election will be held next week which will change the course of this country.  I am privy to plans that will shape the future, the details of which naturally I cannot reveal to you. But some properties which are now available for a song, will become quite valuable in the near future.  I intend to buy those properties today, and sell them in a month for five times my purchase price.  And that, you see, is the mark of genius, of success.”  Suddenly a spasm of anxiety crossed the merchant’s face.  “I have talked too much, too much!”  he muttered, and turned away, goading his mule on.

“Wait- “Alphonse was about to go on, but Gameon laid a hand on his arm.  “Do not humble yourself more for our sake, my dear friend”  he said.  “Let him go.  Besides, a much larger party will be here soon.”

“But you know, that was a very interesting encounter just now,” said Thaddeus.  “I must confess that as I get older, I have no strength any more to make any demands on events, so I am content just to watch things happen, as if it was a festival every day and I was in the stands watching the Games.  Anyhow, what was I saying,..oh yes, a very interesting encounter.  Now that man actually said some things which were rather intelligent, and perhaps even useful to us.  Such as, the only thing to fear, is fear itself.  Now that’s good, I like that.  But that is not the interesting part- which is, to wit, how come such a dolt could spout wisdom?  How could a man of such denseness, dispense a ray of light?”

The four stood considering these words for a bit.  Then Gameon said, “He does not see what is in front of his own nose.”  And Beatrice said, “He has no heart, only a purse”.  And Alphonse said, “Yes, both correct, as usual.”

But further conjecture on the personality of the Merchant was interrupted by the advent of another band of travelers, as Gameon had foretold.  This band was more sedate, almost professional in appearance.  Most were mounted on some type of steed, including the leader who was dressed in business attire.  They approached calmly but with a purposeful air.  Once again the hopeful Alphonse hailed them loudly, “Good day, ladies and sirs.  A fine day for an outing, is it not?”

At this greeting the leader reined in and surveyed the four travelers.  After a moment’s consideration, he gestured to an aide behind, who dismounted, rooted in a saddlebag, produced a handful of proclamations, and approaching the four, began to distribute them about.  Meanwhile the leader spoke,  “Allow me to introduce myself.  I am a candidate for the illustrious post of Governor, in the elections to be held next week.  You will find my proposals for the future of this fair country outlined in the proclamations my aide is now providing.  I have a long and respectable history of service to the people of this realm.  My ideas are the most enlightened to be found on the political scene today.  With your support, I will bring prosperity and pride once more to our region.  I earnestly hope that you will make me your next governor”.

Alphonse replied, with some astonishment, “Why, thank you for your interest in us, however the fact is that we are three of us blind and one unable to see well, so if will be difficult to peruse your literature.”

The leader turned to his aide.  “Did you hear that?  We have never considered that some of my constituents might be blind.  I must address this deficiency.  Take a note to have Braille editions of all my speeches and proclamations printed at once and included in our supplies from now on.”

Alphonse again replied, “Once more I must thank you for your concern for our welfare.  However, the fact is that our needs are rather more urgent.  We need to cross the river and get to the town, before nightfall if possible because rain is expected.  Can you see any way to assist us?”

The leader rose in his saddle.  “Do I see any way to assist, you ask?”  He seemed to inflate with an inner energy.  “Let me tell you…No, wait..”  His energy was such that he could not remain seated on the horse, but suddenly jumped down.  At this, several of his aides seemed to protest, one pulling out a watch and glancing at it obtrusively, another saying, “Sir, we must not be late..”  But the politician ignored them.  He ascended a low bank of dirt by the way, and it was as if he were transported to a stage there in the wood.  He paced for a moment in thought, then raised his head, made a fine gesture, smiled, and lit into a veritable speech.

“My friends, you ask if I can see a way to assist you.  You ask if I have a vision.  And I say to you, I do.  Yes, I do.  My friends, let me share with you what I see within me.  Do you see this poor, muddy road on which we stand, sunken in mire?  I tell you that I see a new road, a broad road, firm and smooth.  And friends, I see traffic on that road.  I see people traveling to and fro, I see goods flowing from country to city and back, I see commerce from all over the world, coming to our doors when we open up to the future, to the promise of prosperity. And this prosperity means a better life for you, for me, for our children and their children, and where does it start my friends?  It begins with better roads.  Jobs created in building those roads will help every family in the realm.  And that is just a beginning.  I see a future unimaginable, beyond our dreams.  Oh yes, and by the way, do you see that ridiculous line of stones down there, which currently passes for a crossing?  No more my friends.  No more will the noble citizens of any race creed or religion, risk their lives just to enjoy their God-given right to the freedom to cross any obstacle they like, whether they are healthy or handicapped…”  (Here he became confused, for a second only, by a surfeit of idealistic concepts in a single sentence, but he quickly regrouped.)  “I see a bridge here, a wondrous structure, not of wood to rot away but of this new-fangled material which becomes stone when water is added, with railings, and… and even a rest area beside the road, with public latrines, and a place to walk the dog….”   He gasped to a stop, his chest heaving, wiping his face with a handkerchief while he stared in abstraction at the river, and lo, Thaddeus staring also at the river seemed to see a misty outline of a marvelous bridge hovering there, with happy people strolling easily across it, and in the distance, down a fair turnpike, a gleaming white city with tall spires and pennants flying…

“Sir! Sir! We will miss the deadline to register in the election!”  came suddenly from those of the politician’s aides who had not been hypnotized by his words.  The man turned with a start, awakened from his dream.  He leaped to his horse.  He turned for a final summation. “So, my good friends, I say to you, if you wish to cross the river of fate which we all must cross, VOTE FOR ME!”  And with that, he whirled the horse about and charged across the river and into history, followed rapidly by a parade of aides and hangers-on, and vanished out of sight.

“Now I have been considering”, said Beatrice abruptly, before the dust had even settled.  “I believe we should do three things.  First, we should stop hoping that someone is going to come along and help us- other than Thaddeus, of course.”  She touched his arm.  “ I guess I included you as us.  Anyhow, the next thing we should do is have some lunch.  Often a grievous problem on an empty stomach almost solves itself when considered over a hunk of good bread, some cheese, and especially this” she had taken off her pack and was rummaging in it, to produce a flask and three small cups.  “My berry wine, put up three years back.  I couldn’t bear to leave it behind.  And the third thing is, that we decide right now that by the time lunch is over, we will have a plan to get us across.  Do you have a cup? (to Thaddeus)”

“Excellent idea” said Alphonse, “except lets go lightly on the berry wine, just enough to loosen our worries perhaps.  I have a feeling that we may need our wits, and our balance, about us”.

So they ate.  And while they ate, Thaddeus strolled down and sat on the stump where he was meditating earlier.  Once again he sat up straight, and took some deep breaths to relax his mind and body.  Then he calmly considered the crossing.  He thought about his new friends, and their situation and need.  He felt responsibility for them.  After all, he was the only one who could see their dilemma.  The wine really was delicious.  He thought also of the incongruent words of the Merchant- all we have to fear, is fear itself.  Gradually, a plan revealed itself to him, as if it had been there waiting all along for him to find.  He rose and walked back, and realized they were waiting for him to speak.

“Here is what we do.  I will go first, then Beatrice, then Alphonse, last Gameon because he is strongest.  We hold hands, right hand to the one ahead.  I step onto the first stone.  You must see in your mind the position and size of the stones.  There is not room for two of  us on any of them.  And the space between is not large, you can do it in one comfortable step.  But for you three, it will be a step out into a void.  Each of you will have to trust the one if front explicitly, because if you are hesitant in stepping out, your step will fall short of the next stone, and you will be lost, and probably take the others also.  Each must step in the direction of the person ahead, judging by the direction of their arms.  And we must step in exact harmony, do you understand?  All of us must step forward one step at exactly the same moment, so that the stone we are stepping onto, has just become vacant, by virtue of the person ahead having left that stone.  We all step with the same foot forward, the left one every time, then bring up the right one.  We will be like a 8-legged bug, do you understand?  Gameon will call the steps in his strong voice.  He will say, One, Two, STEP!  Then we all step, then we all pause, he will take a nice slow breath, then repeat until we reach the other shore.  There is nothing to be gained by haste.  And we will hold hands not hand to hand, but hands to wrists like acrobats- it is much stronger- just in case…”

And so they did.  At first everyone was very tense, but it took the first four steps before they were all onto the stones, so there was some practice time.  Had they been able to see it, their progress really did look odd, like a huge centipede inching along.  And it took such concentration.  All around was the unseen gurgle and splash of a thousand little waves, and Beatrice found herself slipping into a rather pleasant trance, what with the mental strain, the simplicity of what had to be done. Step, pause, step, pause,  orchestrated by Gameon’s deep calm voice.  So calm was she that the accident came on her like lightening.  Alphonse behind her stepped onto a slick spot, his foot went, and he was gone like that into the water, held only by their arms.  The jerk on her arm all but threw her also, but years of sightless balance came to her aid and she fell to her knees, only jerking slightly on Thaddeus ahead who was in mid-step.  The cavalcade teetered, almost was lost, stabilized, with Beatrice on her knees, Alphonse in the current and restrained only by their arms from oblivion.  They all began to shout at once.  Gameon began to lift Alphonse by brute force, but this unbalanced his weight and began to drag Beatrice off her stone.  She screamed for him to stop.  For a second they all froze.

“STOP!”  bellowed Thaddeus.  “Now (trying to be calm) listen to me.  First,

Can you stand up, Beatrice?’  She nodded and struggled to her feet.  “Now, Beatrice and Gameon, lift in unison so Beatrice is not pulled over.  Get him high enough so he can get a leg onto Beatrice’s stone.”  And slowly, they did this “I’m getting too tired!”  said Beatrice.  One of Alphonse’s legs was under her feet.  “Alright now, help him up.  Alphonse, you cant stand wholly on either rock, so put one foot on each!”  Alphonse nodded dumbly, and then he was up, straddling the gap.  “  Now we all need to face toward the front, and on Gameon’s call, we will make a modified step.  Gameon will stay where he is, Alphonse will move to Beatrice’s stone, she to mine, and I will move ahead.  Ready, call it, Gameon”  And so he did, and they were back in formation, Alphonse wet and shivering with cold and exhaustion.  “Now, begin with regular steps, Gameon”  And so they did.  Step, pause.  Step. Pause.  And finally, there were no more stones to cross, and the blessed dirt was under their feet.  The fell in a heap and lay panting in silence, on the far bank.

After a bit they sat up.  Thaddeus began putting together a fire to dry out Alphonse, who was struggling out of his wet things into dry clothes.  Soon the fire was hot, and the peace of fatigue came down on them all.  Beatrice rummaged about and brought out the berry wine.  “This time we finish it” she said, and no-one disagreed.  They filled their cups.  Beatrice gave a bit of a giggle.

“You have probably heard a joke which makes fun of the blind leading the blind”, she said.  “But I just had a funny thought.  It seems like only the half-blind (meaning you, dear friend Thaddeus) can really lead the blind (meaning the three of us, of course).”

“I would like to propose a drink” said Alphonse.  “To my friends, who this day have saved me from drowning.  If we none of us ever meet again, still let us never forget this day’s adventures, and how we crossed the river, all for one, and one for all. And thank you”.  They drank, and then they hugged, and then they put on their packs and continued down the road, towards the city.  “Incidentally, where are you going?” asked Beatrice, putting her arm through that of Thaddeus.

“You see, I have no family.  I was the parson at a church in a distant town until it became time to retire.  They would have given me a pension, but all my life I dreamed of living like The Wise One, who dwelt in the forest, you know.  And so that is what I do now.”

“And is that where you picked up the habit of meditation?” asked Gameon.

“Yes”.

“It seems a good practice to know.  You asked me how I listen to the Earth, so now I get to ask you how you meditate.”

“Well, let me see.  It’s not an easy subject to discuss, you know.  Even to myself.  And I seem to keep changing my approach…I guess it’s a work in progress.  But here’s where my practice is right now.  Certain times and places seem to set the mood just right, like that spot back there, with the morning freshness.  First one straightens up and breathes calmly with the whole body, like a cat stretching.  If I am feeling energetic and rested, this awakens a pleasant sensation, which seems to be boundless.  Without this, the process would not be much fun.  Then if one is relaxed, breathing occasionally becomes imperceptible, or perhaps it halts for just a moment, and then I encourage myself to hold perfectly still, not even to move the eyes or think, and a wonderful stillness happens for a short time, and the world… um…puts itself together…or something…”

“So you just hike about?” asked Beatrice.

“Yes, I am headed south in a general way right now, because it will be winter soon”

“If you become too old to wander, and need a home, come look us up”.

“Why wait that long? How about next spring, when I come this way again?” said Thaddeus.

So it was agreed, and they went on to the city, and by and by, some very good stories were told, but that is another tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Man’s Meditation

Meditators are advised to take a Vow of Harmlessness.  Nothing which is stated or implied herein can be taken as advice to harm anyone, by word or deed.  Harming others or ones self is contrary to this path.

Here is how I meditate.  The process involves two very different styles, which are done in alternation.  The first style is referred to as “sensuous breathing”, and the second style as “gaps”.

Sensuous breathing involves breathing with the entire body, by constant gentle flexing motions, a continuous ebb and flow, like ocean waves on a beach.  This practice is performed as background to whatever else is happening, so it is not a process of exclusion of other events.  On the contrary, this practice creates attention to the entire flow of events, by reducing the usual addiction to thinking, and by creating a center in real physical sensations.  Don’t force the natural breath pattern to change, this can be risky. There is no effort made to slow the rate of breathing, or to breathe deeply, or abdominal, although these changes may happen naturally.  Posture is also corrected automatically.  If the body is relaxed, rested and in good health, this practice creates a subtle feeling of well-being and mindfulness, like sun on our skin in a cool morning.

Sensuous breathing may cause unpleasant symptoms such as pain or dizziness or depression or anxiety at first. These feelings can be intense. If these symptoms occur, either stop the practice for a while, or only practice for very short intervals each day. Don’t ignore such symptoms. Perhaps unnatural breath patterns are occurring. Sometimes this practice will bring unconscious emotional turmoil or stress up to light, or health problems, which need to be addressed. I do not feel that I am qualified to give advice in such situations, and I would recommend consulting wiser heads than mine.

The second practice is gaps.  Breath practice may become an attachment in itself. Therefore, use gaps in activity to momentarily free the mind from everything. This means doing nothing, holding still, not even practicing anything or making any effort.  The physical stillness assists attachments to loosen and lets awareness expand. Insights may occur during gaps, like the moon on still water. When we perceive beauty or danger, an involuntarily gap occurs in our breathing and consciousness. A gap may occur for one or two heartbeats during the turning of the breath.  Alternatively a longer gap is possible if the breath is so light as to be imperceptible. Sitting meditation can create a longer gap. A vacation at the beach or a retreat is an even longer gap, assuming one does not take a book or office work. Always allow gaps in conversations and meals! A person who talks without stopping hears nothing, and a person who eats without pause has missed the ritual of nourishment. The aim of a good hike is to stop and soak in the view, not ceaselessly pound the Earth. In meditative walking, there is a pause with every step. When reading or watching a video, occasionally turn away. If working, pause to contemplate what you have accomplished…and to be sure it’s what you intended.

 

 

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Meditation Games

If this were a dinner menu, the two complementary practices of Sensuous Breathing and Gaps, described under the “One Man’s Meditation” post, would be the entrees, and the games given here would be the appetizer, soup de jour, side vegetables and perhaps the dessert.  These games are aids or fun additions to meditation, and are not intended as central practices.

-Stretching exercises such as Tai Chi or yoga

-Help other people.

-Move s-l-o-w-l-y.

-Synchronize motion with breathing.  Generally one tends to consider on the inhalation, and act on the exhalation.  For example, when hammering, I aim on the inhalation and hit on the exhalation.

-Only do one activity at a time.

-Don’t slump.  The body has hardwired programs which trigger sleep when we slump and alertness when posture is erect.  One of the most beautiful features of wild animals is their perfect posture, incredibly alert.

-Do walking meditation outdoors, near a stream or waterfall, in the rain, at night, by the ocean, on top of a rock, in a tree, by a campfire.

-Give a present to someone you dislike.

-Hold still for an hour.

-Say something constructive that you would normally be too up tight to say

-While reading or watching a video, breath consciously

-Work with the opposite hand from what you would normally use

-Associate with others who meditate.
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Problems while Meditating

Discomfort in breathing- Meditation which involves any type of awareness or control of breathing can result in disturbance of the natural breath programs in the nervous system.  One should go very slowly with breath work, and never attempt to alter the natural frequency or depth of breathing, except for a short exercise done no more frequently than once a day.  Blood pH is normally close to neutral, and may be changed from acid to base, or vice versa, by breath control, resulting in health problems.  This is only one of the problems that can be created.  Symptoms of breathing disturbance may involve chest pain, dizziness, vision disturbances, heart palpitations, rushing sounds in the ears, pounding in the head, or headache.  If symptoms are felt, suspend all breath work for at least a week, then try again more gently.  Consider consulting a health care professional if symptoms continue.

Dealing with negative emotions-  Meditation may bring up negative emotions of which one was previously unaware.  This happened to me when I was just beginning.  This is a healthy purging of repressed material, I believe, and will pass.  Do not suppress these feelings, just be aware of them.  After a long period of simply experiencing  a negative feeling, certain solutions may come to mind.  Do not act precipitously in dealing with negative emotions.  Hasty actions which cause unjustified pain to others can cause irreparable damage to everyone concerned.  Sometimes it may be very difficult to find a way which does not cause pain to someone, including one’s self.  In such a case it can be very helpful to talk with a sympathetic person, and to consider and meditate for quite a while before acting.

Unbalanced practice-  It is easy and sometimes tempting to emphasize one aspect of practice, especially the breathing parts, to the point where unhealthy imbalance occurs.  This imbalance for me typically takes the form of focusing on breath to the exclusion of other events, such as dealing with the bothersome details of everyday life and getting along with other people.  Typical symptoms of imbalance for me are insensitivity to the needs of myself or other people, irritation with other people over minor annoyances, and social withdraw.  It is the purpose of the “gaps” in my practice, and also the idea of being relaxed with the whole process, which usually helps me avoid imbalance.

Hidden concepts- Watch out for thinking about meditation using inaccurate concepts, such as “I am practicing such-and-such a way”, or “Here is how this feels to me”.  These statements reinforce the idea of an ego in control of the process.  Another common statement is similar to  “Just watch thoughts go by without interfering.”  This sounds good, but it suggests the idea of an ego off to the side, a separate observer, if not a controller.  Even the concept of “mindfulness” implies an ego watching, so it is avoided here.  Using such inaccuracies is like looking at the stars with a mirror rather than a telescope.

Pain while sitting- Meditation as used herein is not about pain or enduring pain unnecessarily.  It is not necessary to sit in the lotus position.  Use a seat that allows you to sit without pain. Your typical chair or sofa is the worst seat.   In order for the spine to take its natural erect, relaxed curve when sitting, the pelvis has to rotate forward a bit.  This can only happen if the seat slopes toward the front a bit (best), or if it is flat (next best).  Also, the pelvis cannot rotate forward unless the upper legs slope downward toward the knees (best) or are level (next best).  Weight needs to fall on the base of the spine, not the legs. Also, pants need to be loose.  If these measures are taken care of, so that the pelvis rotates forward, then the stomach and the butt should both stick out, unlike a fashion model, and there should be a fluid relaxed feeling in the back.  This takes care of the lower spine.  For the upper body, do not lean on anything, and try to raise the back of the head as far as possible.  Now relax!  Actually this is not a joke, if the bones of the spine are stacked up like blocks, it should be possible to totally relax without falling over.  It may help to get into what appears to be the right posture, then just wiggle around and sway in every direction, to check for tension and settle into a relaxed stillness.  Note that chronic pain or numbness while sitting may be damaging ones body, sometimes permanently.  Especially never straddle a log-type cushion placed between the legs, as nerve damage is possible.

Sleepiness- Sleepiness really de-rails meditation.  Don’t get in the habit of dozing off.  Here are some tips:
-Get more or better sleep!
-Make the body cooler.
-Move around a bit.  Do walking meditation rather than sitting.
-Breathe deeply, for a short time only.
-If the eyes were closed, open them half way.  Make the room brighter.
-Meditate at a high-energy time of the day.
-If sleepiness is a problem, never sit on a soft sofa or with one’s back leaning against anything, or lying down.
-Don’t meditate where you sleep.
-Have lively music in the background.
-Use caffeine as last resort.
-Perhaps one is sleepy because of excessive control.  Try allowing thoughts more freedom.  A good fantasy always wakes me right up.
-Hold the hands palms up, feeling energy in the palms.

Bizarre perceptions or hallucinations- If these might correlate with a change in breathing patterns, see the entry on breath discomfort.  But if these events seem to be related solely to holding very still, then there is nothing to worry about, and also nothing to brag about.  Just let these float on by.  Some of these events can be really weird, but they have no significance either positive or negative.  If weird body sensations become a nuisance, try moving a tiny bit while sitting, and also move the eyes a bit to dispel hallucinations.

Unable to establish a routine practice- It’s important to have a dedicated time every day for practice, even if it is short, although 45 or 60 minutes will work wonders.  If this dedicated practice is done at a different time every day, soon it is not done at all, I find.  So be realistic about how much time is available, and then just practice, every day at the same time, so it is no longer something one has to choose to do.  And, as the saying goes, a short stick is hard to break.

Subliminal thinking- This is as bad for the practice as sleeping.  There can be layers of thoughts- personal observations have occasionally found three simultaneous layers of thinking.  This has got to stop!  Some remedies for concern with thinking:
-To some extent thinking is an unavoidable function for social animals like us.  It is unrealistic to try to stop thoughts.  I like the analogy used by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” (my favorite reference by the way), where he compares the thinking mind to a horse or a cow, and says that one must give one’s horse or cow a wide pasture to run around in, suggesting freedom with limits.
-The standard practice given herein (whole breathing plus gaps) should tend to reduce thinking to what is necessary.
-It is important above all to be aware of thoughts.  Trying to ignore them or suppress them is the worst policy.
-An interesting tactic is to use judo-  when thoughts occur, pretend they are being shouted out, loudly and slowly, in the mind, then wait attentively for the next one and repeat this over and over- soon there may be quite a long wait before another one surfaces.
-Another trick is to picture thoughts as bubbles rising up from the ocean depths, and try to spot them as early as possible.  This can be fun.

Meditation can be used to accomplish goals, such as addiction therapy and many more, but that is not the aim of the path described herein.  As used here, meditation is a technique to investigate reality.  Goals and expectations are contrary to the open mind which is needed to investigate the unknown.  Like Davy Crockett, travel light and you will cover more territory.

Happy trails!

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The Four Wise Men and the Elephant- An epistemological parable

Once upon a time in a distant rather backward kingdom, the King was entertaining the Prince of a neighboring realm.  After a good dinner and a few ales, they got to bragging about their recent acquisitions.
“Just picked up ten peacocks” smirked the King, “Each with a silver chain, of course, to lead them about.  The young maidens like to play with them down by the emerald pools.”
“Very nice, very nice indeed”, said the Prince, pretending to stifle a yawn.  Then, “oh yes, almost forgot- We acquired an elephant the other day”.
“An elephant!” said the King.  “Oh- well!…”
“Yes indeed”, said the Prince.  “Got a very good deal.. excellent condition.. broken to the howdah..”

As soon as the Prince had retired to the royal powder room, the King beckoned to his four wise men, who had been prostrating themselves nearby.
“Quick- what’s an elephant?”  The King whispered.
“Oh, an elephant!” stuttered the first wise man.  “Very- cutting edge.. daring..”
“He probably didn’t get an extended warranty”, said the second wise man.
“Or a service contract.”  Joined in the third wise man.
“I’ve heard the tech support is a real hassle”, quoth the fourth wise man, looking very wise.
“You didn”t answer our question!”, purred the King, looking like a cat regarding mice.  “Let us repeat it. What…exactly.. is.. AN ELEPHANT!”
All four wise men jumped nervously.  “Er..” said One.  “Um” said Two.  Three said nothing but chewed his nails.  Four was frantically thumbing through a small pocket dictionary of foreign phrases.
“Enough!” stormed the King.  “Dolts!  Why we bother.. .  Listen up!  Get us an elephant by the time the sun rises again, or we’ll have your heads… oh damn, we can’t do that anymore,” he muttered.  Then  “We’ll see you in Maintenance! And that’s not a threat, that’s a promise!  Leave us!”

The four wise men beat a hasty retreat to the nobility coffee room.
“Whew! “ said One.  “Bit of a sticky wicket.”  One liked to consider he had a British polish after his vacation there.   “The old chap is quite riled”
“Get on the web!” said Two.  “Google an elephant!”
“No can do”  said Three.  “Been down forever.”
“Back to the yellow pages,” sighed Four.

They soon located Sam the Elephant Man in a nearby city, and rang him up on his emergency number- he was home eating dinner.
“Sam!  This is the First Wise Man!  You know- I work for the King!” shouted One.  “We need an elephant, right quick, old boy!”
“You don’t have to shout,” said Two.  “Ask about a service contract.”
“Be sure to get a warranty”, said Three.
“Insurance”, said Four.  “Remember what happened when we got the dozen peacocks, and two of them eloped.”
“I wish you would just drop that,”  snapped Two.  “Didn’t we all agree when I bought them that they all looked like males?”
But when asked, Sam just laughed.  “Elephants I got.  Hard to stock- big demand, lot of overhead.  Expensive.  Got a nice one just in, special training not to poop during parades.  But service contract you want?  Warranty, insurance you want?  Always the jokes.   After hours you want, all right, all right, seeing it’s the King I’ll do it but you’re going to pay an arm and a leg!”
“That’s better than a head’, said One.  “How fast can it be delivered, old boy?”
“Ground transportation, one month,” said Sam.  “It insists on stopping at every little brook, you know.”
“What..what…Impossible!”  said One.  “This is rather urgent.”
“How about next day caravan?” asked Sam
“Listen, old boy, we need this by sunup tomorrow, and its eight pm now!”
“Ok ok my last offer.  Tandem hot air balloon, shipped out within the hour, if night winds are good you’ll get it by 2 am.  The bill you don’t want to know.”  Thus spake Sam the Elephant Man.

By 2:30 am the Four were bleary-eyed in the coffee room when Receiving rang them up.  “The damn thing is here” a grumpy voice stated.  “I’m going home.”
“No, no!” said Two.  “we need to check it out!”
“Suit yourself, but I wont be here.  Enough already.  The package you ordered is outside in the courtyard, we couldn’t fit it in the loading dock.”

The courtyard outside the Receiving loading dock was lit by the stars alone.  There sat an enormous box swaddled in bubble wrap, dimly visible in the gloom.  At one end of the box someone had chopped a small hole, probably to check the invoice.  Something smelled strongly.  The four wise men shivered- they were also cold.
“After you, old chap.  Climb in and have a look” chattered One between clenched teeth.
“You first” said Two
“For the love of…I thought wisdom conquered fear,”  said Three , and wiggled in through the hole, followed reluctantly by the others.

The courtyard had been as dark as night.  Inside the box it was as dark as pitch.  Something large moved a bit.  There was a sound like the wind sighing through the pine trees.  “Ulp!”  said One.  The others were panting noisily.  One knew he had to seem brave.  He reached out his hand and touched the elephant’s leg.  It was round and felt a lot like bark.
“Oh!”  he thought to himself,  “It’s a potted plant, like a bloody tree!”
Two found himself near the elephant’s rear.  It was smelly and dark.  He reached out a hand and grabbed… it’s tail.
“Oh!’ he whispered,  “It’s like a tasseled rope, and…. Is it alive?”
Three reached out blindly in the dark and touched the elephant’s side with a fearful pat.
“Oh!” he gasped,  “It’s as large as a rhinocerous, and, and, it’s breathing!”
Four, by the elephant’s head, felt something muscular wrap around his arm.  His heart lurched.  Something like a snake but as thick as his arm was caressing him.  He screamed.  The Fearless  Four panicked.  They hurled themselves together through the hole in the box, and didn”t stop until they were safely back in the kitchen, where a few ales calmed their spirits and soon put them into the exhausted, hyper state of those who have survived the fray.  “Did you see how I..?”  asked Three.  “Yes, yes!” snapped One.  “I’m off to chambers, old chap.  I’m beat.  See you tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, not being perhaps as wise as they might have been, they never thought to compare their impressions of the elephant.

The next morning as the sky grew pink, the Four were waiting coffee in hand when the King’s usual bellow summoned them to begin the business of the realm.  But the King had other things in mind.
“We hope for your sake you got that elephant,” he said.  “Speak!”
“ Of course, your Majesty,” said One, with a wave of the hand to indicate that obtaining elephants overnight was child’s play.
“Excellent!  Perhaps I misjudged you four.  And have you seen the..er.. purchase?”
“Yes, your Majesty.  Quite nice, quite.”
“Nicer than the peacocks?’
“Well, your Majesty, I think the elephant will improve our diet,” said One.  “It appears to be a large potted tree, probably a date palm or orange, which….”
“Large potted tree!  Are you crazy?” hissed Two.  “Your Majesty, the elephant is a contraption for summoning your servants, consisting of a tasseled rope which suspends from the ceiling and probably communicates with a gong of some sort by means of pulleys and….”
“Now who is crazy!” interrupted Three.  “Your Majesty, the elephant is a fearsome beast, roughly twice the size of a rhinocerous, with a skin like leather, and..”
“Your Majesty, I hate to be blunt, but these three apparently are hallucinating due to a lack of sleep.  The elephant is a python snake, as thick as my waist, incredibly strong, and….”
‘SILENCE!”  The King spoke one word, then he found that, for the first time in his reign, he was speechless.  He decided to act.
“Summon my guard!”  the King roared.  “We wish to survey the elephant!”

Moments later, as a the King and the Four, with a flustered crowd of security and servants, burst in to the courtyard of Receiving, the first golden rays of the rising sun struck across the loading dock, into the cage of the elephant, now divested of bubble wrap by the warehouse people.  The King, and everyone else who could manage, peered into the cage.  There stood an elephant, calmly shoveling hay and peanuts into its mouth.  Its expression might have been amused.
The king noticed the silence- he disliked silence.  “Well!”  he said, standing a bit taller.  “Yes!  Excellent!  A fine beast!  We are very pleased!  Put it in the pasture with the war horses, where we can see it from the dining room.  And keep it away from the peacocks.  And clean up this bubble wrap.  That will be all!”  He turned and headed back to his throne.  As he paced along,  he muttered, “Potted plant, indeed!”  Then, to himself  “A bell pull!”  Then he smiled, “Rhinocerous- well, closer.”  Then, “A python? Oh my, oh my” and gave a large royal laugh.  Maybe he would keep those four dolts around.  They could be amusing at times, and Maintenance was too important to entrust to just anyone..

Photo by Andrea Hill at  iStockphoto.com, all rights reserved
The story of the elephant and the wise men, retold here, is one of the most ancient “teaching”  tales around, having probably originated in India but re-appearing in a number of cultures including right here!  There are many lessons which might be made from this tale.  What impressed me, and why the story is included in this website, is the relevance to meditation.  It is just our partial views of reality that cause us suffering, I believe, and in the examination of reality, as in many other endeavors, it is important to see the forest as well as the trees.  Also, never climb into large smelly cages in the dark.


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The Art of Strolling- Walking about as meditation

Every once in a while, lay down your load
Discard the maps and wander about in the green woods,
Or climb a high rock, or walk by the sea.
Take your time, tread lightly and quietly,
Don’t disturb the creatures who live there.

Breathe in deeply the sun-given air
And lightly blow on the embers of being.
Stand tall and stretch out the limbs,
Sway and breathe like a tree in the breeze.
If  one is strong and well,
a subtle pleasure will be found, which permeates everywhere.

(Here a little brook sparkles and chuckles,
Hurrying along with some mischief in mind)

Try this for a bit-
Walk

Very

Slowly

One
Breath
One
Step

(A little brown bird waiting for me to move on,
Gives up and goes back to rooting in the grass.)

Now for a moment, stand still as a deer.
Fix the gaze and do not let it wander.
Breathe imperceptibly and listen to natures quiet sounds.
The Mysterious is close at hand.

(The world pivots on a small flower,
Which in turn bows with the wind

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Meditative Labyrinth

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This photo shows our latest labyrinth, number 4.  Labyrinths have been used for centuries in the Christian tradition as meditation aids.  The idea is that one follows the winding circular path, walking slowly and contemplating, enjoying the weather and the natural surroundings.  Some historical European labyrinths are very large and ornate.  This is an interesting Google search.  My own favorite labyrinth is a very old one which we visit whenever we go to the shore near Rehoboth, Delaware.  The labyrinth in question is at an old church in the old part of Lewes, Delaware, and was once part of a monastery there.  It is made of flagstones.  Constructing a large labyrinth can be a big job, and the surface must end up flush so that it can be mowed and leaves raked.  Our farm labyrinth is made from used slate shingles laid flat on the grass.  Previous labyrinths we have made in the hay field behind our house by mowing a path in the hay.  A labyrinth is not a “maze”, in which the intent is to confuse the walker on purpose so that one never reaches the “goal”.  Mazes are also an interesting search but not relevant to meditation as I know it.  In a labyrinth there is only a single un-forked path, which may twist and turn but which will always lead to the center then home again.  The intent in a labyrinth is to calm, not confuse.  A labyrinth is also different from a “crop circle”, reported on some farms as being of extra-terrestrial origin.  No extra-terrestrials took part in our construction.  Photo credit- Anna.

Links- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labyrinth