Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day 8: Patience of a Cedar Tree

The Ancient Cedar Tree that Became My Sanctuary in the California Hills

This posting is a segment of my ongoing series Two Weeks in an American Ashram begun in November 2012. To see the previous entries just scroll down or click on Journal Archive at the right.

“Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes space around you.

Let the darkness be a bell tower

and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.

move back and forth into the change…

In this uncontainable night,

be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,

the meaning discovered there…”

There are over a thousand acres to be free in. I walk. I am a wanderer in the hills of this intentional community. The rolling oak strewn, mesquite tangle of central California is my land today. I wander and survey all that I steward with presence and remembrance.

I walk for miles, through savanna and forest. I traipse through the village of people who have chosen to live in a binding freedom with each other. This place of farms and frictional unity. This splatter of homes that have stood through forest fires and schisms and holy blessings for over forty years.

I wander through the central square of the community and its humble collection of white clapboard houses. I walk by the little shops full of gems and amulets of astral magnetism. I wander past the temples and the altars. Then through the herd of goats and deep into the woods.

In the middle of all of this community and beauty I feel that familiar voice, a tinge of I am alone, even here. Which I now believe is a spell I have woven deep into the tangle of my life.

I am more than half way through my time here. Halfway in any endeavor often is a time of resistances. Today I am tired of the sacred songs. I feel non-pulsed by the lofty texts. I am slightly wary of the people that smile at me. And yet… And yet, I know that this is real here. There is family here. That community of virtue and devotion is real on this earth. A tug occurs between the old and the new within me.

So much of the world’s pain has come with me, even here. I need to let that go.

“Just breathe” I tell myself.

I take in three circles of breath. I feel the wind move in spirals through my sinuses. I feel the welling of living air in my lungs. I taste the happiness of release as I exhale. Then I hear the clouds moving through the trees. I am standing beneath a mighty cedar. This being is gnarled from storms, burnt from lightning, bruised by man and his machines. Yet it continues to stand here. Magnificent. Ten feet across. And perhaps 180 feet tall.

I lean into the tree. I sit. I watch the land and empty myself the best I can. But I continue pondering and recalling the old spell that wends its way through me: I am alone.

I think of my father, as I often do at these times, how I miss him. I think of the family who has declined to speak with me and won’t tell me why. But I don’t spiral any further into the inner night. A voice clear and ringing rises up through the wisdom of my body. The voice is from someone who is beyond all names. He speaks:

“You’ve known no father. I would be your father, in a family of love, right here, inside this time, inside me.”

I answer the voice: “Please be patient with me. The sadness is deep in this world. I want to grow closer to you.”

And the reply: “I am eternal, outside of time. Patience is not even a reality of need for me. Remember, the kingdom belongs to the prodigal. What has abandoned you on earth will never harm you in the ascension of now.”

Profound, mysterious and yet clear words.

A simple peace moved all around me. When I breathed in again, peace took root as a small seedling within me. Much like this ancient sentinel of a tree that began so small and now touches the clouds. I knew that I must have patience with myself. And I saw glimpses of love that is real and true and lasting… right here, right now.


*Rilke From Sonnets of Orpheus, Part Two XXIX
Selection from Rainer Maria Rilke's In Praise of Mortality, p. 132
Trans: Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Copyright Richard Sievers January 2013, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Days 6-7 A Fire Ceremony in Winter

This is what we keep
going through, the lyrical
changes, the strangeness
in which I know again
what I have known before.

Wendell Berry: The Recognition
New Collected Poems, p.185

Winter comes for a visit. It is 28 degrees outside and 42 degrees inside the trailer. So, I move down to the warmth of the dining area to work on a long time writing project. Everyone else is working in the kitchen or in yoga training or in meditation. I sit at a long table, alone with eleven empty chairs. Outside, snow spirals lazily. Inside the darkness of my own karma sits as shadows all around the table.

I am, again, writing and arranging the story I've held in my body for seven years. It's a story of spiritual power and ecstasy, a story of illicit love and the death of my best friend. It's a story I long to tell, somehow,  someday, or my life might feel incomplete. And it's a story that vexes me at every keystroke, every rewrite and every attempt to say what I really want to say. Here I am, again writing and plotting. This is the work that I love and that loves me. And this is the work that I sometimes dread and resist.

For eight hours I endeavor to move the contents of 280,000 words into some order. I feel driven and sure of my mission as I write and re-write this book. But there is an emptiness about it too. Because words fail to convey the real truth of what love and loss are capable of.

Toward the end of the day, as the ice begins to thicken, a friend walks in and invites me to a fire ceremony. I accept the invitation and I close the computer and walk with him to the temple. The gist of the ceremony is to become clear on what one wishes to release, describing that intention to the congregants and then literally burning the old ways as a public recognition of moving onward.

Here I was in ceremony, writing something again. I knelt at the altar with a trembling sheet of snow white paper. Upon it were words like "not being enough", "being dishonestly nice", "feeling alone much of the time". I burned the paper! The facilitator (swami) laid her hand on my spiritual eye in the middle of my forehead and blessed me. And it was over. No bells or flashes or thunder. Just simple communal ceremony.

The next day I awoke with the driving desire to get my writing just right. I went down to the dining hall. Same table. Same snow. Same drive. I turned on the computer. There was an unexpected event in the hard wire. All the information I'd so feverishly rearranged and rewritten had disappeared from the memory. I had little reaction to the loss, which I found to be curious. I just said to myself "Oh, I guess that's that."

And I wondered "Who is it that observes all of this coming and going within me?"  

I noticed how I was different after my work disappeared. Not so heavy. But instead of feeling surprised I thought "This is how I naturally feel: Light". I wondered how many limitations I had set on my writing and my life with the need to call myself by labels like depressed, too sensitive for the likes on mankind, unseen, alone etc. etc.?

Then I closed the now blank progress of the old writing project. It was not as if the sad sorry feelings had disappeared. It's that I could hear other parts of me with more clarity.

So, I opened up a new screen and wrote a poem. It was a poem that had little to do with my projects or wants. It was not a good poem or even one that has deep meaning. It simply made me smile. It was just my little song at that moment.

I looked outside. The sun was peeking through the swirling clouds. Our two days of winter had passed. More snow will come in the future I'm sure. But not now.

Here's the little song I wrote

Moon of my night,
Star of my morning,
Earth of my day
I love Thee 
I love Thee
I love Thee.
Breath of my dreams,
Fire of my experience,
Water of my eternal birth
I love Thee,
I love Thee,
I love Thee.
Earth: Holy, Holy.
Life: Sacred, Sacred.
Death: illusion, illusion.
Beloved I love Thee
Beloved I love Thee
Beloved I love Thee.

And I smile, reading this again.

May you discover who observes this life experience within you.
And in the discovery, find a simple thought or song or poem that brings a smile to your face. It doesn't have to be pretty, proper or correct. It only has to be yours and real in these moments of sun or passing snow.


(c) Copyright Richard Sievers, January 2013, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Day 5 - Lineage

My Great Grandfather: Ludwig Muther ca 1900
How astounding that all we usually know about our ancestors are a few tidbits and facts. After a few generations even those facts fade. Is that all that is left of us when we are gone, facts and then nothingness? My gut says NO, our essence lives forever somewhere, somehow. And a competing voice in my gut says: YES, this is all there is. This, what we see and touch. Perhaps both voices are correct.

I went to the community of Yogananda's disciples to dive into the dueling voices inside of me. I also went to discover more about my great grandfather. He was a devotee and direct disciple of Yogananda.  My great grandfather once was a part of this community. He was an American aspirant to bliss in the 1940s. And he was way ahead of his time.

I never met Ludwig Muther.
Like most modern people, I know very little about my ancestors.
These are the scattered facts I have gleaned about my great grandfather:

- Born sometime in the later 1800s.

- In the early 1900s he left Germany in shame after he and his cousin became pregnant with my grandfather. He was separated from his son and entire family. He was pushed across the Atlantic Ocean by a Germanic version of Catholic guilt.

- He immigrated to Flint Michigan and worked as a machinist.
- Married most of his American life to a woman, his best friend, named Bert. 
- In 1930, or so, he reconnected with his lost son, my grandfather Rudolph, and sponsored him as an emigrant to the United States.
- He saw my mother (his grand daughter) at least one time. This took place in the late 1940s in a spiritual community founded by a man named Yogananda, in Southern California.
- My mother saw him and Bert with Yogananda (A glowing man in golden robe: my mother's description) where they shared a meal in a dining hall.
- He was a German Catholic devotee to a yogi from India in post World War II America.
- He is buried with his wife Bert in Flint Michigan.

That's what I know.

I also have one ceramic painted plaque of him when he was a young man. I often look at it. I sometimes ask him if my life brings a smile to his face. I wonder if the struggles I am working through are like his struggles. I have told him of my hopes that my work here can somehow bring healing to him in his time, in his life.

I wrote a prayer to him while I was in the Ashram:
You preceded me here by 65 years. 
I am here now, Great Grandfather. 
Are you here too? 
I'd like to see God with you. 
I'd like to live our family's highest and most healing destiny.

I'm the end of your family line on earth. 
I have no blood and bone descendants to follow me. 
The press of time is upon me Great Grandfather. 
So few breaths are left. 
Yet so much living remains for me. 
Who are you in me? 
And what needs to be said or done before I leave this place?

I began to think of lineage. How important it is to touch someone or something connected with another generation? I have a glimmering that what we do, including our smallest habits, directly affects those who came ahead and those who follow us. That time is a circle, not a unidirectional line. I'm not sure that human beings have the physical capacity to understand the physics of spirit and time, yet.

Try to imagine this: everyone you ever loved or hated, every event that sings in your blood, every voice in your genes, every being, is alive right in the here and now. Just because we cannot see through time and dimensional space does not mean that we are alone in this moment. Perhaps God can see all the ancestors and descendants. And God sees them always right in the here and now, along with me and you.

So I come on faith, into an American Ashram, to find parts of me I'd forgotten. One of those parts has a name: Ludwig Muther.

There are moments in everyone's life that are transcendent, where figuring it all out loses its gravity. Where connection with love and lineage and being present are all that is real. Those moments ask us to have faith, action and will.  If we pause and pray we can touch what is hidden all around us in plain sight.

I see the results of all your good and difficult work, Great Grandfather. May I have faith in loving kindness. May my actions in these fleeting moments of forever bring healing and happiness.

Who sings in your veins? 
What actions and dreams yearn to live through you?


Copyright Richard Sievers, January 2013, All Rights Reserved