In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself.” If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.” –Thomas Merton
The Day-Long vision quest organized for new Living Dharma Volunteers (LDVs) has a dual purpose of connecting to the land and affirming internal centering that life in retreats often disturbs. The purpose of the journey is also to incorporate the elements of the outdoor- based elements of wilderness therapy, shamanism and “vision quests” with an objective to transcend an ancient journey into a modern one. Often, wilderness fasts are important part of these journeys as they have been a part of human culture and psychotherapeutic encounters for thousands of years. Fasting should temporary free us from the role the food plays in our lives promoting non- detached outdoor wandering.
Our commitment today, however, will not be so demanding. We are requested to show up after breakfast, at 10am at a specified place on the Ridge where morning Prajna Paramita and Samatha mediation are performed. In addition to breakfast we are also given sandwiches and bags of cherries. North American focus on food is immense and I am slightly worrying about black bears and whether they are especially fond of cherries. We are going to meet our guide, have a brief council and leave the place on our own walking in the woods for a few hours to come back with answer to two questions: what gift we have that we need to honour; what is that we need to leave at Tara Mandala because it became obsolete.
The sun is already high when we start our climb and although I have been on the land for some time already I am still periodically breathless. We are passing by the tents and houses, and by the field with wild sunflowers. Now we are approaching the Secret Meadow where the final part of the climb is. On the top we sit in the shadow waiting for our guide.
At the counsel we pass around talking stick and share our current struggles and stories about our strength. I always feel especially grateful when I am surrounded with young people with strong spiritual interests – I feel encouraged knowing that the World might be in good hands, after all. We are asked to live the circle and return with two objects –one that will represent what we need to keep, the other representative of what we want to abandon.
I am aiming to climb to the top of Ekajati Mountain to my left thinking that going further up is the most obvious path to take. Yet, others seems to follow similar line of thinking so I decide exactly the opposite will work for me better. Instead of ascending I decide to descend, and in fact descending describes my spiritual path better.
Marc Forman’s Guide to Integral Spirituality (2010) differs that those who are spiritually ascending and find the truth in “transcendence of the physical, sensual and animal” finding “the material world is distrusted due to its illusory or less than real ontological status” , and wanting “to develop wisdom and insight that allows one to understand higher spiritual realities” (p. 213-216). On the other hand those descending have a worldly orientation and although “the greater truth is imminently found in nature, in embodiment and in service to others, and developing compassion’ the emphasis is on “sanctification of daily life and the embrace of creation… the sacred in the mundane allowing greater emotional connection” ( p. 213-216 2010).
And as I descend even further down, the myth of Persephone/ Core (Ishtar, Ashtar, Astarte and Inanna) and her rape and abduction to the underworld arises in my mind. Persephone’ mother, Demeter, eventually found her in mythical Eleusis negotiating her stay above for a period of time, propelling survival of extremely guarded Eleusinian mysteries. Both goddesses will continue to feature the animal powers being the first of a series of underworld heroines – daemons. Eleusian mysteries advocated immortality vs. ending expected in Greek Had. Scholarly take is also that the Mysteries were propelled by psychedelic agents derived from barely or poppy seed in the form of potions called “kykeon”, although no conclusive evidence has been reached.
This rocky path going deep down is finished and takes me to the main road. As I am passing by some houses and I decide that I need to leave the marked path and walk parallel to one further up in the woods. How typical of me, I reflect. In fact, I rarely follow main roads for too long and have often found myself walking in the parallel. It usually starts with an intuitive urge, or simple curiosity to find what what’s in the distance or what is situated behind some hill or forest or river. On this journey too, I am about to leave the view of the main path, venturing toward the top of this hill to see what could be out there. I need to find my place to meditate and this side road is steep and rocky and uncomfortable. At the end it could be nothing but a view. But having a good view is precious to me and I have no other requests or expectations.
I rest a little, and then I continue, rest again and continue. It is high elevation still and my pace is slow but steady and deliberate. I look for animals and I do not see any. I am thinking of bears, if they live nearby and if I would need to suspend my lunch indefinitely. The path is winding and I am not able to see any trace of the main road any longer. The sky is getting dark and the rain could start any moment. I have camera in my back pack I need to guard so I am thinking how my rainproof jacket will be useful to camera in case sudden thunder and not as useful to the rest of my body.
Surprisingly, I am reaching a cabin and then the road divides in two. I take the left path to climb a bit higher above this cabin, and to my surprise I am at plateau and a place that I never believed I will see with my own eyes.
I have been visiting the Tara Manadala’s website for over 5 years and often I was fantasizing about taking refuge in one of their top cabins with two trees. This cabin has a view on Ekajati and a wrap around veranda with a fire pit in the Eastern exposure. I felt this could be the place where union with nature can happen, when I could descent into the underworld and “find the sacred in the mundane“ by performing simple tasks of tending my daily life with reverence and attention.
And this fantasy, this cabin happened to appear right in front of me. I am in utter disbelief and I am walking from all sides to make sure it is what I believe it is. I prefer not to be deceived. I am also not sure if the place is inhabited so I am circling wide to see if I can see a back pack or shoes on the porch that will stop me from coming closer. Nothing is there. I give the cabin some space. I choose a nice spot on a log and bravely taste my cherries. No bears allowed around my cabin! I am taking pictures gaining courage to approach a bit closer. I am positive – nobody lives here right now and as all doors at Tara Mandala are open at all times I know that this cabin, too, must be open. I press the handle and enter the pristine spot on the top of the mountain. There is orange linen on a single bed, and a small, tiny kitchen with a wood stove with iron kettle ready to boil. I sit on the floor overwhelmed with excitement as if I reached the top of Himalayas. Here I will meditate – on this porch I will sit and close my eyes and open myself to spaciousness and power of intention. Are these gifts of trusting the descent? Or is this the Eleusian Mystery revealed and cherries were my kykeon?
After an hour I am getting up to find the artefacts – a bone-resembling piece of wood that will represent embracing my willingness to descend, to go to the underworld of bones and rebirths. I am also bringing in a sedimentary stone that symbolizes my compulsion to finish projects. Sedimentary stones are porous due to fast cooling (unlike basalt stones) and their commitment is weak although they appear as really solid pieces. Yet, give them enough running water and they will dissolve. Compulsion to finish is what I need to leave at Tara Mandala. Compulsion to finish is just sediment – there is no beginning and no end to anything anyway.
On the way back to our meeting place I come across dead chipmunk. I ponder whether it would be the most appropriate artefact for embracing decent. However, we do not have funeral pyres ready to burn so I choose to leave him where I found him and simply remember that nature will speak to me, clearly and directly, when I am ready to listen.