Veiled Reality

I am on holiday! I love how the British call it that. On vacation has a sound to me of leaving life as usual behind (which is fine and good) and suggests recovery from exhaustion (which is true and needed). On holiday, however, sounds like a “going to.” Doing a new thing. It feels like a celebration of life rather than an escape from life—like dancing as opposed to running away.

photoMy first stop was Seattle for a day and two nights with Elliot and his moms. My sisters and a Seattle friend joined us for Pink Martini at the Woodland Park ZooTunes concert. We were surprised by the appearance with the band of the four Von Trapp Family Singers, great-grandchildren of Georg and Maria. They were terrific! This holiday is off to an auspicious beginning.

Today until Sunday I’m on Whidbey Island, where five friends from my two writing retreats on the island have rented a house for communion, writing, and recreating. I’m the first here; sitting on the patio overlooking Puget Sound. The sky is cloudless and the birds, including an osprey, are flitting, swooping, chirping.

I arrived on the island well before check-in time, and stopped at Aldermarsh Retreat Center (where we all DSCN1434met) to see the garden in summer, having only been there in December. It’s the one my garden fence is modeled after. It is lush and gorgeous, teeming with growth, and some overgrown zucchinis like mine. I have some new ideas for my garden.

Farther up the island I visited Earth Sanctuary, a 72-acre nature reserve and sacred space of art and spirit. I walked the trails and the labyrinth and stood at the edge of the marsh and in the center of the Stone Circle imagining the monoliths to be my ancestors, and breathed. A new piece of art is called Veils of Reality. I don’t really understand it, even having read the DSCN1453description, but it’s a steel plate that was etched with a mandala and then burned. Or something. The instruction is to stand in front of it and see what you see in your reflection. It warns not to over think.

What I saw was a shadowy fun house mirror image. Yep, that’s about right; that’s where I feel like I have been living lately. My head was tiny, my torso was wide, my legs were invisible. I walked away feeling the message: “You need to stay out of your head, and you need to not be in a hurry to move on to whatever is next, and you need to learn to live in your heart.” If I learn truly to live in my heart, will I feel less like a shadow?

I started a book on the brief ferry ride from Mukilteo to the island, one I picked up at the library the morning I left home: “Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden,” by Karen Maezen Miller. (It always astonishes me when random things fall together—Zen Budphotodhist sanctuary, Zen garden book written by a Buddhist priest.) On page 7, the author writes: “From the curb you’ll see the gate. From the gate you’ll see the path. From the path you’ll see the ground, and overhead, the sun and moon to light your way. These signposts will bring you to paradise.” Did you know the original meaning of paradise is “an enclosed area”? Before it became a mythical ideal, imaginary and unattainable, it was just your own backyard.

Walking in the Earth Sanctuary my mind drifted to my backyard. It has everything I need to create paradise. I lived in paradise as a young child, too, on another inlet of this same body of water I’m looking at now. Time was spent mostly outside on long summer days. Now, as I listen to the heart-call of those years by the bay, I am flooded with memories of days filled with carefree joy and a feet-stuck-in-the-bay-mud passage of time—childhood would last forever and nothing would ever go wrong.

Miller writes that childhood memories are so vivid and lasting because we pay attention to what’s in front of us, undistracted by things we haven’t done and places we’ve yet to go. That’s what I’m going to do on this holiday: pay attention and live in the moment.

When I leave the island, and rare social time with friends, I will have three days of solitude in the Mt. Baker National Forest. I’ll see you again when I return to my own backyard paradise.

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