Belonging to a Place

I have traveled to many places around the world. When I was younger, I loved the thrill of visiting new places and then moving on to a new one. However that changed radically when I had lived in the mountains in Switzerland where I stayed in one place for four months in my early twenties. I learnt deeper what relationship to a living land was like. I didn’t go to the village below the valley or ride in a car. There was not an indoor toilet either or a shower. I chopped wood and made fires in the wood burning stove to keep warm and baked bread. I was very intimate with 40 young cows I was in charge of along with my partner. I simply stayed put on the same mountain. This gave me an opportunity to know the mountains in different seasons, when it was sunny, rainy and even snowing. I saw the land filled with a bounty of wild flowers early in the season and grass turned into hay later. I harvested mushrooms from the forest nearby and wild blueberries near the summit. I also collected nettles and wild spinach as greens for meals and wild rose hips and linden flowers to be dried for teas. In the simplicity of nature, I was able to witness the cycle of life. I was also able to fall in love with one place and develop a living relationship with it. Traveling was never the same afterwards.

For the last 18 years, I have lived in the San Francisco bay area. Part of this is having walked the same trails in the same valleys! The other day, I went to one of my favorite places and was struck to look at a bench where 17 years ago, I sat with a spiritual friend who traveled from the other side of the world to offer a comforting arm around me after my partner had just died. While the waves crashed unto the shore, I was reminded of the intimacy of that moment that still lingered to this day. I remember not quite knowing how to receive this much needed comfort as solace to my soul. I also unconsciously felt that if I allowed that embrace, the shattering of my heart would spill on the spot and I wouldn’t know what to do if I fell apart in front of another. Although I had known this friend for 10 years (mostly sitting together in silent meditation), he had never physically touched me so an embrace felt strange yet I felt him wanting to offer comfort at a time when I was completely devastated. I think I finally got it just the other day how deep that was. Although I felt really awkward then, I realize now how profound that moment was.

People here today have forgotten how to just stretch their arms silently and put it around another’s shoulder in the sheer simple act of comfort and solidarity. I don’t mean a front to front hug that finishes after a few seconds. Or a long diatribe or some offering of false truisms either. It is not about fixing, or running away with a quick A bomb new age sentiment that really creates a great divide (by the way). It is simply to be in that no man’s island place when you don’t know what anything means and yet the heart is erupting with the depths of the ocean and you are simply willing. It is in these places (by the way we all go there at some point in life), so pregnant that we cross the abyss and show the best of human kindness to each other. It is in this chasm that we bridge and restore human relationships.

Just like then, I go to this shore now to listen to the rhythmic pulsing of the waves as I ground unto the earth and allow the cycles of time to bring me a lullaby at a time of great change. I touch the fresh wild flowers this spring and I am reminded that Persephone rises again from the underworld. I glimpse the wide horizon and smell the salt, listen to the ravens fly side by side as the soft breeze touches my cheeks. I watch the blue heron, very still for a long time hunting for its next meal. He accompanies the whole of the marsh so quietly that he appears not to move just as I linger with the escorting waves and the washed up stones. In Tagalog (Philippine language), there is a word called “kasama”. It translates as “including’ or “companion” or “to be with”. The depth of “being with” another in the place of unknowing is such a precious gift we can offer each other.

May you stretch your arms and reach another. May you be comforted in the midst of the deepest unknowing.

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