Returning to this piece—originally written about a year ago when I was still in deep retreat—I couldn’t help marvelling at how I ever managed to leave my little hut in the wonders. The simplicity of being and the wild connectedness of the way of life it afforded were so precious to me, so rare, and gained at such great cost, that only an act of god, I feel, could have moved me on. And so, here at Amma’s ashram with my beloved partner Vaishnavi, I feel held in grace, knowing that I am exactly where I’m meant to be. Still, I sometimes miss waking up in the woods…
I awaken to the dawn chorus pouring in through my open blanket door. Unhurriedly, sated by sleep, I come to full consciousness as if on the wings of birdsong. Beneath those wings is the continuous music of a little mossy stream that flows past my door, filling my little round hut and the wild glade in which it sits with beautiful liquid tones. The air in my hut is cold but not freezing, and my covers are thick. My bed is a woollen futon which I wove from two-dozen whole sheep’s fleeces. It’s very cosy. I am warm, happy to exist, curious about what this day will bring.
I roll over and gaze out of a window looking North-East. Night recedes slowly from the woods. The darkness lightens, the last stars fade. Branches appear silhouetted against the brightening sky. Shadowy boles emerge as distinct shapes and presences. A black carpet of shadow sinks to the woodland floor then fragments into separate pools before dispersing into ever-lightening greys. Finally, colours appear and grow clearer.
Yesterday evening I sat at dusk and watched this process in reverse. I was out under a tree in the tangly woods, gathering stillness and silence among the mossy stones. When the darkening was complete it was very dark and the stars sparkled white through the branches. I was pickled with silence. A little while later a fat waning moon appeared and by her cool light I walked slowly home to the warm embers of a log fire and a pot of stew still hot beside them.
Yes, I love the twilight transition times of dawn and dusk. I’m a regular spectator. I enjoy the vastness and total implacability of their unfolding, and the way their gradual, imperceptible shifts add up to such radical reversals. Again this morning I look for the exact moment when the shadowy greys of pre-dawn are replaced by distinct colours, the greens and browns of these wintry woods. Again it eludes me.
I sit up and gather blankets around my shoulders. I listen, watch, witness, using the opposable thumbs of my mind to behold the quiet miracles of breath, song, light and thought. More transitions to catch here as I become absorbed in following the back-and-forth play between inner and outer perception, and in trying to enter the space between the end of one breath or thought and the beginning of another. But it’s still too subtle for my intellect to connect to: that opening, that vanishing-point. Maybe one dawn, or dusk, or death.
I rise, step outside, pad naked down to the small fall in the stream and splash my face and body with its tumbling silver-black water, gasping slightly with the cold. Grasping the stone goblet that lives there beside the fall and filling it first with soft light and then liquid, I say a brief silent prayer for the beauty of this day and slowly drink down the clear living water. I drink in small sips, holding each one in my mouth to warm it before swallowing, for otherwise it chills the stomach, bringing lethargy. This way, it chills only the head, bringing clarity. Fire in the belly, moonlight in the mind, honey in the heart—a Welsh bardic saying, good advice for all aspiring mystics.
I crouch there as the daylight strengthens, my cold skin tingling. The soft aura of the sun crests the horizon. As the golden orb itself rises visible between the tree-trunks a song rises on my lips; a song of thanks, a song of wonder. A powerful sense of the great miracle overwhelms me: each ray of golden light, each soft hue of the splendrous sky, each droplet of water, every leaf and feathered note… Such a vast gift, to breathe and be part of all this. How do I deserve it? And how can I possibly reciprocate? Tears fill my eyes and overspill, falling into the stream.
“Your being here is enough,” I am told, by the stream, by the golden sun, the sky, the trees, the birds flitting about the woodland glade. I let this sink in as far as I can, and a little bit more. I smile, accepting my inherence in the miracle.
Suddenly I feel uncomfortably cold and pleasantly hungry. I stand up and return to my hut to get dressed and light a fire to cook breakfast. I am humming to myself and enjoying each of the movements involved. About fifteen minutes later I step back out through the blanket door, dressed in greens and browns and carrying porridge and coffee. The birds and the stream are still singing as I sit on my doorstep and eat. The sun is sporting among the branches of trees now, with the squirrels and birds. After breakfast I might go and join them.