Blue Heron
Heron on the Rocks
Last light
Last light of a good day.
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Sensations

As you spend more time outside in nature, your mind has a natural tendency to relax and calm down, if you allow it. In place of thoughts, come sensations — a scent of sage upon the cool morning breeze; the warmth of the rising sun across the brow; the crunch of sand upon stone beneath one’s feet. These new sensations can bring new perceptions, as your latent “inner” senses begin to awaken. It just takes a bit of focus upon the present moment. Allowing your usual thought stream to just float by in the background unattended.

For me, this subtle “awakening” process began out on the water — while rhythmically breathing with the synchronized paddling of my kayak along the remote shore of a pristine desert lake. I began to sense something intuitively — a desire, a prompting. It seemed more than just taking pictures of the shore from the water. Eventually that prompting became clear — for me to come ashore with my camera and explore. It would be the first of many explorations.

Going Ashore

On my first trips to the far shore,  I discovered it was a challenge finding a safe place to beach the kayak among the rocks — without flipping over when trying to disembark. After securing my kayak and slipping off my water shoes for hiking boots, a waist pack of food, water and a GPS, I would be ready to head out — to carefully pick my way through the brush and rock formations of the steep desert hills and ravines.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Feeling a sense of purpose, I felt OK with just wandering about — slowly, curiously and cautiously. Past experience had taught me it’s best not to step on a scorpion or surprise a rattlesnake dozing in the sun. Eventually, I would come to a special place — a place which felt cool, calm and peaceful. A “sacred place,” I would eventually call them. Usually a shaded spot beneath a salt cedar or piñon pine, high on a ridge with an ethereal view of the lake in the far distance.

Then it comes time to do something that felt rather awkward at first — to just sit, with nothing else to do than listen, feel and observe. After all, I really didn’t know why I was there. It just felt “good” — often accompanied by a sense of childlike anticipation, wonder and, yes, eventually boredom.

“Be still, and the earth will speak to you.
~ Navajo proverb

As you might guess, the monkey-mind soon becomes impatient. Distracting thoughts bubble to the surface, challenging the tranquility of my surroundings with, “Hey, little buddha! Why are you sitting on the hard ground in the middle of nowhere?” So, a bit of Mindfulness training has come in handy. After some focused breathing, mind gradually quiets down and a calm stillness settles over me. Then, after a period of silent contemplation, something special happens. The wildlife quietly comes out — and begins to teach you things.

Teacher

One morning during contemplation, I opened my eyes to a sight almost beyond comprehension. A very large coyote came trotting right up to me — jolting to a stop the instant she noticed me sitting just ten feet away in the shade of a salt cedar. I was stunned. I knew it was futile to try grabbing my camera, so I just sat motionless, transfixed, staring steadily into her large and alert golden eyes.

I will never forget sensing a profound depth of wild knowingness reflected in those deep vivid eyes, staring calmly down into my own. It felt as though time had stopped and we connected on some level of shared understanding, even a oneness of sorts. After a while, her eyes grew soft, then she gracefully turned away and resumed her morning trek.

To this day, whenever I think of this experience, I still sense the trance-like feeling of that rare moment. As if it has awakened me in some intrinsic way. Like having experienced an ancient and mystical initiation from a wise and benevolent teacher of the earth realm — one who teaches without words.

“My destination is no longer a place,
rather a new way of seeing.”
~ Marcel Proust

So, my time sitting alone in these remote “sacred places” turned out to be anything but boring. Sometimes I would pull out of my pack the writings of Rumi, Gibran, Zasq, and even the profound wisdom of The Far Side — contemplating upon a passage now and then. And if some kind of “ah-ha!” revelation flashed into my awareness, I would jot it down into a small tattered and water-stained notebook I fondly called, “The Sacred Journal.”

Last Light

Each of the many days of sitting quietly in the solitude of nature was essential and formative for me — as I gradually awakened to a deeper sense of myself. Time disappeared, my world seemed infinite. But alas, these daily desert vigils would always end too soon. With the sun quickly sinking towards the western horizon, I would briskly hike back to my kayak, load everything up, jump in and paddle off across the lake into the last light of another good day.

Please join me next time to learn of what I eventually discovered out there in the desert. Until then, try following your heart out into nature — to find that “sacred place” to sit.