During the second week of April, Valerie, Ocean, and I visited some good friends in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, then spent the remainder of the time camping in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Otherwise known as the: Place Where Gary Injects His Heart with New Life.
We camped in our brand new ginormous (as Valerie likes to say) tent just a few miles into the main entrance on the North Carolina side of the park, north of the Qualla Boundary, a Cherokee Indian Reservation. We were in love, totally head-over-heels in love with this beautiful nature preserve. This particular patch of Earth speaks a language that I can understand. From the thickest part of the forest in the lowest valley to the heights of the mountain tops and their panoramic views, Beauty is a tangible, living presence here. It is heaven on Earth and it brings me home. It is like this...
Imagine that over the course of several years during the beginning of your adult life you wake to realize that you have been fast asleep in what conceptually feels like a foreign land filled with foreign people in a foreign culture operating in ways relatively foreign to your own intrinsic nature. From infancy to childhood to adolescence, you had for all intents and purposes become a foreigner yourself. You, rather blindly, (and understandably) adopted the thinking of the land, identified with it, made it your own, and, while being true to your service-to-others oriented nature as much as was possible, you buried your own truth in the pursuit of the acceptance of those about you, those within the culture whose collective values were in variance to the values of your own deeply sleeping soul. You strove to meet standards which were never your own to begin with, internalizing those perceived standards and turning them against yourself to initiate a life-long, deeply entrenched habit of self-judgment. Forgetting your true identity in so doing, you let the perceptions of others construct your identity for you.
In this process of living your life prior to awakening, you made friends, experienced family, earned money, had girlfriends, partied, went to school, experienced many of the available range of emotions, and you had figured out to some small degree how to function as smoothly as possible within the system; you learned to adapt by developing a sense of what can and can not be done within its parameters. And your thinking, for the most part, never ventured beyond those parameters.
At some point an alarm clock began to sound off within you. With a certain degree of crisis, confusion, and turmoil, your awakening begins. As your eyes truly begin to open to who you are and to the world about you, you awaken with a fire to reach for the infinite. You find new and ancient desires emerging within your being and your thinking. You begin to reflect intensely upon yourself and the nature of reality itself. Over a considerable span of time, an old self dies and a new self is born. A new sun arises within you, illuminating your heart with love and your vision with a sense of previously unthought-of possibility. With every fiber of your being you proceed forward, stumbling and tripping over yourself most of the time, to see through the illusion, discover that which you seek, become who you truly are, and realize the One.
Your environment for this growth is of course your own interior. But the field within which desires are manifested and tested, the environment which mirrors you to yourself is a life in a body on a planet composed of various groups of people who in general tend not to share your focus, your values, and your desire to seek the truth. Upon becoming more intimately familiar with “the world”, you are struck most by its profoundly deep-seated ignorance to the reality of love. Of consensus reality you observe that it seems to limit rather than promote free thought. You note sadly that it serves as a box through which many people can not see. Not that you can sum up the experience of six billion plus souls in your thoughts and writing, but if you could name two features of the planetary culture which stand out the most, you would note that what predominates is an absence of unconditional love and an almost permanent state of confusion as to the divine nature of reality and the human experience.
To answer your many questions about the way the world is, you open and study the pages of the available literature left by those who have seen beyond the societal thinking of their day. You pour over the words of those individuals who have had penetrating insight into, or who have experienced first hand for themselves, the unchangeable truth of the eternal reality. (An underlying reality which can be apprehended only by the open heart of unconditional love. A reality which, while including consensus reality, transcends it altogether.) In this reading, you grasp that the confusion and lost-ness of the world is, as all things are, a function of the divine will. And thus you develop a growing faith in the universal attitude of the mystics which says, “Always, all is well.”
But day in and day out there has been and continues to be a discomfort which stays with you... an out of place-ness… you feel disconnected and estranged from the world about you. Though you build a sturdy foundation of philosophical thought which amply includes within its internal and exquisite order all possible modes of being and categories of thought, and though you structure a cosmology (saturated with mystery) upon that foundation, you, nevertheless, as a being of compassion and caring, are still pained by the current state of affairs of the world you inhabit.
If you read the news the world seems stricken with madness. If you look deeply into the culture, behind and underneath the surface appearances, you realize how pervasive (and almost total, in some cases) is the influence of corporations, advertisers, political parties, and the "military-industrial complex" upon the collective thinking. You have this sense that those who run the world, the governments, the policy-makers, the autocrats, and the wealthy elite, while giving lip-service to the ideals of love, freedom, and truth, still manage to steer the collective thinking as far away from the light of unity as possible. You observe so many disempowered souls acting as unconscious mouthpieces for an agenda which is not their own and which ultimately serves humankind no good.
So pervasive is this sleep, apathy, and confusion which you perceive, so often does it seem that shadow is mistaken for light, that it seems the "good" occurs only in isolated instances. Those who act in love, kindness, and self-sacrifice to help another, those who stand up against the might of the status quo to speak of and embody the way of peace, seem few and far between.
Though technology has progressed to a point which would allow humans to completely annihilate themselves and their environment, though many of the challenges the world faces today are historically unprecedented, you realize that, by and large, things here are as they always have been on planet Earth. The spiritual situation of humankind, the opportunity of the moment to accept, reject, or ignore the Creator, and the interplay between darkness and light, is now as it was described thousands of years ago --- in the responses to the fundamental questions of existence which various historically situated cultures have produced, such as the ancient Vedas of India, the sutras of Buddhism, and the pages of the Bible.
So you persist - with ever greater focus, purity, and dedication - to go about that work in consciousness which you feel called to. Knowing (intellectually, at least) that all is "Lila", the divine play of the One hiding and forgetting itself within the shadows, you attempt to the best of your ability to see and to experience the Creator in all things. Yet the challenge of actually experiencing the One in the many, especially when the many seem to be so disoriented and adamantly opposed to recognizing the One within themselves, is enormous.
Then you return and hike along a mountain stream in a solid 800 square miles of dense woods in the oldest mountains of the world. With each step made on a tiny fraction of the hundreds of miles of hiking paths that criss-cross the Smokies, you step out of the illusions and delusions and self-perpetuated suffering of humankind and into the Creator's unspoiled world. And you feel the closest to home you've felt in ages.
You hike, you rest, and you contemplate the vibrancy of the many levels of life being carried out simultaneously in the stream, in the atmosphere, in the fauna, in the animal realm... all of it unconsciously in tune with a natural order to which man has separated himself. All of it alive with the life of the Creator that lives within every cell of your own being.
You contemplate and tune into this web of life happening underneath your feet and all around you and understand on a non-intellectual level that you are as intricate a part of that web as the tree growing next to you... you and it, the squirrel running up it, the bird laying eggs upon it, the soil from which it grows, the boulder planted next to it, the cloud shadowing the sun above it... all are varying forms of consciousness whose Source is the same... all partake in that single Source of all life. Intellectually you know that, on the physical level, as scientists will tell you, all began as and is made of light, and you know that the matter of which your body, the surrounding forest, and the planetary sphere are composed came literally from stardust.
And in this contemplation you take another step on the long road of knowing the metaphysical truth that all of which you can perceive and experience, whether "out there" or "in here"; all are sparks of the One Infinite Creator. You are not just part of a “web” of all that there is, even more so, you are one with all that there is. Literally as you take each step upon this particular hike and figuratively as you take each step upon your evolutionary journey, this understanding becomes more and more meaningful, resonant, and real to you.
Your second to last day camping you wake up in your tent (on an air mattress, the way to camp I tell you!) and you have the phrase "the answers are blowing in the wind" stuck in your head. Though it is indistinguishable from any other thought, you have the feeling that this particular thought (in no way related to the Dylan song, as far as you know) was planted there somehow. Whether placed there by your subconscious mind or some angel from above, you feel that this thought has special significance.
So you set out on a small four mile hike that day by yourself. While going uphill the first two miles you initiate your spiritual practice of repeating the Creator's name. You focus all your thoughts upon the single most important consideration your mind can put its energies to: unity. Your feet slow down, your mind slows down, and you finally, finally leave behind you the hectic hussle’n’bussle… the circus inside closes its tents... your heart rate slows, your body slows... all the many mental channels and the multitude of wayward distracted energies begin to converge into one strong, concentrated river of focused, coherent awareness... your mind, body, and spirit become unitary, acting as a single awareness... the mind continues to think but you, the awareness behind the thoughts, watch the thoughts pass by.
You use the thinking to observe the experience of the moment as it is... you note the three dead leaves twisting in the wind in front of you, you notice the raven flying high above in the peripheral, you hear the wind rustle the trees around you and feel the same wind caress your skin, you observe the sensation on your skin of the April sun shining down upon you, you hear the rushing waters of the mountain stream somewhere to your left, you feel each stone being pressed underneath your hiking boots and the feet that fill them, you hear a bird song behind you, and you observe the steady rhythm of your breath, the primary link between your mind, body, and spirit.
What happens is that you become the loving observer which the texts of meditation teach you to discover and cultivate. You note each sensation and experience with reverence and love, wishing not to change a single thing... Thus do you enter into a meditation on your hike, accepting the moment as it is, not craving something which is not within the moment, not running from anything unpleasant, not holding onto any perception but letting each one flow by.... your desire is not for the shallow craving of the chemical body but to experience the One, to enter more deeply into the moment as it is... and there could be no more a perfect setting to incline your energy in the direction of the already existing perfection than the Appalachian Mountains... God, I swear…
You contemplate the time scale in which birth, growth, and death unfold in the forest... the stillness of the trees towering above you... the almost edible beauty of the clear mountain water rushing down over boulders smoothed by years of contact with the downward moving water. You contemplate the massive span of time within which the geological processes took to form the mountains themselves. You wonder what it looked like when the violent collision of tectonic plates forced the (molten?) stone of the Earth thousands of vertical feet. You ask yourself how long it took to wear down these mighty mountains to six thousand, five thousand, four thousand feet. You, unschooled in the lessons of nature because you played video games and watched TV a great deal of your childhood, wish to sit and listen to all of nature's many lessons... to learn what the plants and leaves and rocks have to teach you... to study the ways in which they grow and reach for the light, the unconsciously and instinctually driven choices the entities of nature make to survive, reproduce, and interact. And on the spiritual level it is their beingness with which you wish to commune.
And then as you near your destination for the day's hike, you sit on a rock and you feel the sun filtering between the newly budding trees. At that moment the wind blows across you and as the phrase stuck in your head that morning indicated, you intuit something that feels like it goes deeper than bone, something so deep that you associate it with God’s truth. An “answer” is delivered to you by the wind. It is absolutely wonderful and amazing and euphoric and (who knows how to describe it) but you feel a kinship with the wind that blows through your hair and moves across your skin!!
You feel a personal connection to the sun, a loving embrace with the blue sky and the clouds that populate it, and a friendship with the trees. You wish to address them all as brother and sister, as did the Native Americans: brother tree, sister plant, father sun. You wish not only this once to address them and relate to them in such a manner, but to devote your entire life to interacting with nature with such love, familiarity, shared identity, and utter reverence for the sanctity of it all.
You feel at one with things... you feel a distant memory... it feels so damn good, so damned right...
The Creator is everywhere and is all things, but in those mountains and under that sky the Creator is somehow more apparent. Naturally and without effort the Creator shines through the dynamic bio-diversity of the relatively unspoiled mountains, much more so, to me at least, than the urban and sub-urban environments of concrete and construction material which so many of us occupy.
If it weren't for my commitment to L/L Research and my love of Jim and Carla, I would be planning my move with Valerie to be as near as possible to this majestic reflection of divine beauty. I swear that if I lived near these mountains I would, after seeing to my worldly responsibilities, move heaven and Earth to spend every free moment meditating upon unity and hiking in the mountain forests of the Smoky Mountains. I am more in love than I ever thought I could be.