Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - January 2023
“Traveler, there is no path; paths are made by walking. – Phil Cousineau
For 35 years now, Hawaii has been a sacred place for me. These islands hold deep, personal meaning, well beyond the obvious draw of their enjoyment. Perhaps to honor that meaning, years ago I adopted a practice to make my experiences there more intentional – a pilgrimage of sorts. My intention, expressed simply by Phil Cousineau in The Art of Pilgrimage: “to find the sacred ground that stirs my heart and soul.” In my trip to Maui last month, however, I found myself struggling to inhabit that space … as if I were trying to force something.
I mentioned the struggle to my son in a phone call early in the week. The wisdom of his response surprised me: “Dad, the islands give you all you need; just listen to what they say.” Although from the movie Moana, his words were not lost on me. He had a point; despite my effort to impose my will on the islands, he suggested the opposite.
So, I took some advice from my suggested practice of quiet self-reflection: show up ... shut up ... sit still ... listen. (Do nothing, be aware of everything.) Sitting quietly by the ocean, deeply connected to this sacred piece of ground I occupied at the time – perhaps a 3’ x 3’ square – I stared at the island of Molokai seven miles away. And I listened. What I “heard” was both clear and striking: Seek peace; we do. Be peace; we are. Teach peace; we’re trying, are you listening? Powerful simplicity. In my fight to “find” it, I’d almost missed it.
Later that day, watching a phenomenal sunset, I recalled a time weeks before, when I’d been given a few moments of pure peace and calm – moments I neither invited nor created – during which I was overcome by a deep sense of gratitude – for this moment, for my awareness of this moment, for this life I’ve been given, for the beauty in the world, for the loving kindness of so many others in my life. In that moment, too, I was aware that the 3’ x 3’ piece of planet I inhabited offered me all I could ever want or need. It was as if I was experiencing “pure self,” not tainted by my stories, my talk, my thinking, my concerns, or the world. Perhaps this is what the islands were telling me.
Fast forward to this past week; my reflection on these ideas makes the point crystal clear to me:
· I’m both responsible for and in control of everything inside this 3’ x 3’ piece of planet I occupy in each moment (my thoughts, feelings, viewpoint, attitude, awareness, clarity, self-care) … and how I bring this “me” into the world each day. My “island” offers me all I need; the peace I seek is already inside me; indeed, it is who I am.
· While my presence may impact the world outside the space I inhabit, I’m neither in control of nor responsible for any of it. Nevertheless … whether it’s across the table, across the room, across the community or across the planet, the external world will always pull me – to join its blame game, its drama, its herd mentality. If I get hooked, I drain my energy on what doesn’tmatter … at the expense of what does.
· When I take full responsibility for seeking peace within my sacred space, in myself, and for becoming that peace in how I choose to live, I’m then available to help others who want to find peace in their lives, by shining light on their path. The more I “remember to remember this,” the more meaning and impact my life holds.
· And …. no matter how aware I may be, I will step in the lake now and then, falling into the traps set by the external world. In these moments, I need to treat myself kindly … stop, step back, regain awareness, and come back to tending the garden of the “sacred ground that stirs my heart and soul.”
In his book Embers, Richard Wagamese reminds us: “All we have are moments. Live them as though not one can be wasted. Inhabit them, fill them with the light of your best good intention, honor them with your full presence, find the joy, the calm, the assuredness that allows the hours and days to take care of themselves.”
With that, my “recipe” for the upcoming year is simple: seek peace; be peace; teach peace. (Everything else is “just entertainment.”) I am grateful; the islands did give me all I need.
Exercise: think about your little 3’ x 3’ piece of the planet – the space you inhabit in each moment. This space is who you are; it’s the [only] space you can control; it’s the [only] space for which you have full responsibility. Do you inhabit it with your best intention? Do you know what that intention is? Do you have a regular practice that helps you know, and continually regenerate, this “home,” the sacred ground that stirs your heart and soul?
This exercise can help. (See September 2021 article for a more detailed version of this practice.) Set aside 15-20 minutes of quiet time each day. Instructions: Show up … shut up … sit still … listen. That’s it … no more, no less. It won’t be “quiet.” You’ll hear all the “voices in your head,” telling you … what you should be doing instead, why this exercise is dumb, why you can’t possibly slow down and sit still, etc. These voices are habituated to the point you don’t know they’re there; you just unconsciously do as they say. As you gain some practice listening for them instead of to them, they begin to calm. Then you can start “listening to the islands,” the voices (that have always been inside you) voices that invite you to live your true potential instead. The questions in the paragraph above might help guide you. As you gain practice listening to “what stirs your heart and soul,” you find you start to become that … with no force or effort. Awareness alone creates change.
Life Lessons from Nature: This morning, January 1, I did it as I’ve done now each New Year’s Day for nearly 20 years. I got up at 3am, made coffee, and headed to a place where I knew I could eventually see sunrise – this year it was Nobska Lighthouse in Woods Hole. The weather was foggy, 49° with rain most of the drive there. Dressed for wet weather, I set my expectations low for a sunrise, and sat quietly in the dark, enjoying coffee … and fog. But it was no longer raining, so I looked up through the fog, and, surprise, saw stars! A gift. For the first hour, I reflected on the year past … its joys, its trials, its teachings, where I’d allowed my energy to be drained, where I’d been able to use my energy consciously – to make a difference. I thanked the year past for all it had offered me. For the next hour, I envisioned the year ahead … its potential, its invitation, my place on the journey. As the sun rose, I spoke simple words of gratitude about the year just beginning (including an unexpected beautiful sunrise), then packed up and came home. I cherish this ritual, as it sets the tone for me for the year ahead, while at the same time, acknowledging so much about the year just past. See an article from six years ago, with “more” about this ritual.
Book of the month: The Art of Pilgrimage, by Phil Cousineau. This month’s article offers many reasons to read this book, whether traveling or staying home. Cousineau suggests that our sacred longing lies not in a time or place or event or plan, but in how we see and think and walk, every day. “Practice listening as if your life depended on it; it does.” This book has provided a great framework for my travels and serves as a companion for life’s every-day journey, too. A repeated bit of wisdom: “Pass by that which you do not love.” What a freeing thought. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.