Taking the Plunge

[This continues the meditations from December 9, December 10, and December 12, 2014, and January 9 and January 21, 2015. reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park. If you want to receive the full gift of this one, I suggest you read the earlier ones. Clicking on the date will take you there. But you can, I think and hope, enjoy this post without reading the others.]

2014-09-10 17.44.31It was one year ago today–September 11, 2014–when I took the plunge. Literally. I waded a short way into Lower Cathedral Lake, naked, and as I felt the bottom drop down, I dove in.

Shock! The coldest water I have ever felt. I lived in Maine for several years, and went swimming in very cold small spring-fed lakes and in the Atlantic Ocean, but this water was cold, C-O-L-D! Actually, beyond mere cold.

I think I lost consciousness for a moment or two. I felt myself sink. I am not a good, or strong, swimmer. I panicked. But I had enough sense to turn around and begin to paddle furiously. After what seemed like eternity but probably was well less than a minute, I felt the bottom. Relief.

Naked Man Underwater 007-largeI stood up. There was applause on shore. “You made it,” shouted a friendly voice. “You discovered just how cold it is!” I nodded and waved, not able to find my voice as I clambered through the water to shore (later I thanked God those day hikers stayed long enough to be sure I got out).

I remembered that I came to the water to swim naked, to stand up naked going in and going out, in response to awareness of body shame. In this moment, I was so cold, I only knew I wanted to expose myself fully to the sun (I had not thought to pack a towel for the Quest, so air drying was it). Forget shame. Get warm, be “skyclad” as the Wiccans say, and feel the sun.

dive naked everything looks bigger underwaterToday, I still fight the shame. Parts of my body are not the way I want them. I wish I could say the plunge into Lower Cathedral Lake cured me. It did not.

But it set me on a journey that continues today. I am making friends with my body. [Note, it is a peculiarity of English, I think, that we can write about our own body as if it is somehow an entity apart from ourselves.]  I am exercising much more, and I am letting myself be visibly naked in the locker room at the gym sometimes. I can even admire myself sometimes.

And the plunge into the icy water? Today, I understand it as being about more than overcoming shame.

It is a metaphor, perhaps more than a metaphor, for living.

naked art Spencer TunickIt is good to dive in sometimes. Perhaps often. Don’t hang back. Dive in. Splash around. Make waves–even if sometimes they are due to panic.

It may not be good to get in over your head regularly, but on occasion it can be very instructive (like embarking on a Vision, or Soul, Quest when you have never gone wilderness backpacking or camping). How else will you have the satisfaction of righting yourself, or learning something new, or receive the gift of being rescued?

As to bodies, we are each one. Together, we make a larger body and/or bodies. Every body is different. And beautiful, each in their own way.

On this anniversary, I honor mine. I hope you honor yours.

“And the Writing Keeps Crying Out”

[This continues the meditations from December 9, 10, and 12, 2014, and January 9. 2015. reflecting on moments during a Vision Quest in September 2014 at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.]

2014-09-10 13.42.34As Thursday’s sun continued to warm me and the rocks on which I sat, I knew the moment was coming for me to walk naked into the frigid mountain lake waters (see December 10, 2014).

But before this exposure–pushing aside my shame by showing my body to whomever was at the shore, and daring the icy waters my fellow Quester told me about two days before–I felt the need to meditate and write more. I wear only my Radical Faerie/RFD pansy t-shirt for inspiration (left).

I fin2014-09-11 14.59.41d a spot where I can sit away from the public path (only a few day trippers come through, but still after a time of being alone each one feels like an intrusion, even though of course they have as much right to be here as I do) but where I also can see the lake and the pines and the great bowl of rock around me . . . and as soon as I am settled, I say to myself, sort of out loud but mostly inside myself, “I am afraid.”

It is not being alone here–some of my fellow Questers are, I think, within shouting distance, at least if I really yelled–or even my hunger which is beginning to nudge me around the edges, but as soon as I say it, I know it is because something is rising up in me, something what will create big change in my life.

It is what I came for, I suppose, to connect with this “something” that has been getting under my skin for a couple of years, and longer, maybe for most of my adult life, something about my life that needs to change. I write down that fear, and also some of the good things I am learning–how to reconnect with trees (December 12, 2014)  and how to observe creatures in nature (January 9, 2015). In some ways, I realize what I am learning is how to pay attention to the wild, the natural, as a source of wisdom (something our culture actively discourages) . . . .

. . . and I say, again, I am afraid there is more . . . and then it happens. The more comes.

In that moment, out of my control, I say out loud–and I write exactly at the same moment in my journal. . . “and the writing keeps crying out.”

The writing keeps crying out journalThe writing keeps crying out.

I did not say this and then write it down, or write it and then say it out loud. This was a simultaneous action of speaking and writing, as if my voice was moving my pen, or perhaps my pen was moving my voice. Either way, my voice hung in the air for just a moment or two, and I burst into sobs, I wail, I cry out big loud cries of agony and joy all mixed together. I try to stifle the noise, and then I know I must be even louder, this is decades of denial that needs to come out.  I breathe, it feels as if I am taking in big gulps of truth which then send me into tears. I exhale. I drink. I breathe. I cry. I sit.

I cry more, and I write. And cry. Some long neglected part of me has come home, I think, or more accurately, I have come home to it.

I reflect on how out of balance my life has become. I have lost my earth connection, I say. I don’t dig in the soil, I don’t run the soil through my fingers like natural rosary beads, seeking its truth. And I admit I am afraid to write from my soul, afraid I will be found out as a fraud by others.

2014-09-10 17.44.31It felt good to write a poem back in Richmond to bring to give to my fellow Quest pilgrims. I then wonder what it would be like to spend an entire day writing, and then another day, and another, a rhythm of writing, digging, reading, playing, walking, resting, writing. Is that my vision, I ask.

I ponder, and write a poem (still needs work!) about the Cathedral Peak behind me, and reflect about the smoke that blows from fires not that far away (what are we doing to the earth?).

And I write of how the question of whether to stop my pastoring and organizing and turn to writing, perhaps in conjunction with some teaching, is not exactly a new one for me. I wonder if I made the wrong choice when I left pastoring MCC Richmond and took up leading People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV). Did I hear God wrong?

I pause. I seek some peace. I breathe.

I realize all I know right now is that “the writing keeps crying out.”

Enough, for now. Time to go into the water!

More on that later.

Paying Attention

I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window and ruminating about what to write, when a large black bird walks across the lawn and a squirrel scampers from our yard across the street into the woods.

Now I know what to write. These two creatures, now disappeared from my sight, are messengers, reminders that it is time I began telling of my adventures on the Vision Quest–what I have come to call my Soul Quest–in Yosemite National Park in September.

The understanding that other animals (not just human animals) and the natural world contain and share messages and truth for us is one learning from the Quest. I learned a lot from these teachers during my short time in the relative wilderness at 10,000 feet, and a primary lesson is to pay attention.Soul tree front view

Being without a watch, cellphone and internet reception, books or other devices that divide my attention from what is immediately around me in the natural world opened my eyes to what I so often take for granted–the movement of flying creatures and four-leggeds, as well as sky and water and earth, and, perhaps most of all, trees.

Trees are my special love. I grew up on a tree farm. I was not especially enamored of all the hard labor helping my Dad, but I always loved the trees (and I really liked growing flowers, too, but that is for another time).

I try not to use the word “love” when it comes to talking about things I enjoy, or like, but with trees it is the right word. I love trees.Soul tree side view

We had thousands on the farm, all in rows, plus 10 or more acres of woods, and I felt connected with so many of them. I especially felt close to the trees in our small orchard–pear, apple, apricot, and cherry–and most of all to the giant white oak, Quercus alba is the Latin name, standing majestically next to our driveway where it met the public road.

Trees are signs of God to me. Like God, they grow everywhere, or try to. They appear in whatever form is most conducive to living. They grow in the most improbable places at times, like the five-needled white bark pine, Pinus albicaulis is the Latin name, that grow out of granite in the Alpine or timberline forest in Yosemite. How trees can be rooted in granite is a mystery to me, but then how God takes root in us is one, too.

As I spent time alone, fasting, near the shore of Lower Cathedral Lake, sitting on huge granite boulders, I began to notice these trees. Some of them were soul tree side view 2tall and graceful, well-shaped conifers. Most of them, however, showed the effects of living in harsh conditions so that many appeared as dwarf trees, and others almost prostrate, almost all lacking the shape we think of as normal for pine trees.

Together, these trees became my spiritual teachers, even masters, helping me move into a meditative state and then guiding me into some deep soul truths.

One tree most captured my attention. As I share three pictures of my soul tree, I am going to pause to gaze for a while. At another time, I will write more about our encounter.