A hiker who joined my silent hiking group asked me what I did, and I said I write spiritual books — but am thinking about teaching meditation in either group sessions or one-on-one.
They asked me how meditation can be taught, rather than just practiced, and I thought about it for a moment. Whenever the mind is stopped, silence welcomes me. That silence, of the trees, the shy sun ducking behind a cloud, and the dust swirling from the group’s footsteps, all answered for me.
I said, to help another on the spiritual path you only have to share an ounce of yourself and a pound of Truth.
You only have to stand, not facing each other, but side-by-side, looking to the sunrise together, as you speak or not, walk or not, laugh or not, all from the connected, silent appreciation of dawning light.
To share, you only have to dip into yourself deeply enough that there is no one left to share from.
The weather was beautiful this morning, with cool breezes tasting warm skin as I hiked the side of my favorite mountain. Volunteers had recently trimmed the grasses beside the trail — some of which, after this especially rainy winter, had been taller than I — so it was nice to be able to see down to the valley while walking.
Some days my hikes bring silence, where nature itself seems to tiptoe in and whisper its breath into my head to calm it to acquiescence. But today my mind was particularly noisy, always wanting to fall back to daydreams. I projected Zubin into the future and past, making him the star of imagined vignettes, ranging across titles such as, What to Write Later On, or, I Remember When…
Every time something would bring me back to the moment, such as passing another hiker, or a startled bird taking off at my approach, I melted into the now, disappearing enough that the heat, dust, and nature-smells were the only things hiking. But then, just as easily, another daydream would filter in to displace the mindlessness.
I remember hiking when I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and being obsessed with having a quiet mind. I would think that I was failing if I wasn’t hyper focused on nature, and would force myself to always return to whatever my senses were feeding in.
Today, I stood at the top of the trail and rested for a moment while looking down at the city. I chuckled to myself, for I saw haze forming clouds and breeze fanning bushes, and also clearly saw I was nothing other than the source of both daydreams and silence.
I was busy with work and so only took a very quick walk this morning at the VRP (Ventura River Preserve). I haven’t been there in almost a year, so it was nice to walk the dusty, familiar trails. A few people out on horses nodded as they passed. The horses seemed to nod too, but perhaps they were just trying to get rid of pestering flies.
I walked by a tree with peeling bark and thanked it for its uniqueness, and by the time I got to the uphill part of the path, began thanking my heart for picking up its beat. The river was full of water — the fullest I have seen it in two years, so I stood for a while to hear the laughing of its motion. I found the boulders to walk across, but couldn’t leave just yet, so I stopped and thanked the water for its aliveness.
As I stood, I felt a free and open space inside. That space was a mix of openness, appreciation, self-recognition, and happiness, all due to seeing and feeling — over the past few weeks — that my stubborn habits had dissolved forever.
Even though I lost a hundred pounds fifteen years ago, my peace with overeating was always tenuous. Some years I’d be active and eat healthy, other years I’d go through patches of binging, of once again running from life and pain to food.
The last year I went through a challenging dark-night, where the habit of escaping seemed to come back as strong as when they were first born. I binged and binged, had some clear weeks where I breathed easy, but then the whole thing repeated. It felt like dark hands tightening around my neck and life.
Every time the urge to run to food arose, I tried to look at the sadness underneath it, for I had seen in the past that that sadness was only a rumbling of love. But even so, my thought patterns were too overpowering in their bargaining. They would win out and I would give in.
Over the past month, I began looking at other energies, at boredom, at happiness, at shapes and forms like trees and chairs, and began getting more entrenched in seeing all these energies as me. Armed with this ‘spiritual breathing room’, when sadness returned, I dove more fully into it, and saw it so clearly. The intensity of the emotion translated to an intensity of Loving self-recognition when not run from.
The trickling of the water took me out of the inner free space and to the freedom of the outer. The water was no different than me, as were the trees, rocks, and flitting lizards. The energy of habits painted the sky and two stubborn clouds still lingering, for that energy was no different than the plain elusiveness of me as everything-ness.
I rode my bike today and realized I was free.
This was not from the air painting dances on my skin, nor the watching mountains and trees along the trail, nor even the beautiful sunshine brightening my mood.
A man who had spent twenty-plus year depressed, who had contemplated and attempted suicide decades ago, was now free.
This freedom did not mean no sadness, nor a cocoon of happiness, but something more mature.
This was freedom through no doubt about my true nature, from feeling awareness expanded to include the world whenever I stopped and looked for myself.
This was freedom through knowing that at any time I could feel the pain of an emotion, or I could dive into it and see it again as love, as two hands enjoying a game of separation before re-clasping.
This was freedom through feeling connected to the trees, mountains, sky, trail, and bicycle, as little arcs of exploding consciousness arising out of my heart — theheart.
This was freedom through being the owner and the ownerless, from straddling the personal and divine, and reconciling the two.
I rode my bike today up the trail, a day after a storm of storms passed through the area.
Trees were down and blocking the way, boulders had rolled to kiss and crush fences, and mud patches like frozen rivers hinted with swept debris at their former flowing fury.
I carried my bike around the boulders, climbed over trees, and slipped through the mud.
My clothes were soaked and stained, but all it took, when I got home, was a few minutes of baking in the surprise afternoon sun for everything to dry and flake off, to return me to how I was.
Today was a beautiful day. After quite a few weeks of rain, clouds, and cooler temperatures, it was nice to have sunshine and a perfect 75℉/23℃.
I took my bike out for the first time in a week — the bike trail was covered in mud and debris last time I rode — and I was hoping it was clear by now.
I decided to play a game of ‘This moment is perfect’.
As I rode, I moved my mind to the back seat, letting it appreciate the sun, floating warmth, nods of passersby, and the thrill of downhill sections. I aligned with awareness and focused it on the raucous parts in my head, the thoughts that, out of habit, wanted to rest in lack.
A thought said I’m not sure if Ojai or Southern California is for me and I let my attention sink into that feeling. Mind said that moment sucked, and I let it go because that thought violated the game.
Another thought floated by and said I wish my happily-chosen, non-sociable phase ends soon, since Ojai might be enjoyable if I made a few friends.
Resting my awareness in that feeling, the game continued. I tried to find what in that moment was imperfect, and nothing was coming to me. Mind was saying that lack, aloneness, or uncertainty over my future, were all bad, but yet all I could see was the deeper me coming from beyond to hold and love the imaginary with reality.
Lack was being held by a wholeness, and so I could not say that that moment, even with lack on the surface, was anything other than perfection.
As I continued to ride — even on the way back as I huffed and puffed for the uphill sections — I could not find a moment that was not whole and complete, no matter how much my mind tried to wrest control.
When I was loading my bike onto my bike rack, I caught glimpse of my entire past, from childhood to now, all coalesced into a single flash of energy and emotion, and everything felt perfect.
Even the spots I cried and pounded against when I first went through them —that I wished would be gone or I would be saved from — even those were simply the dance of the deepest me.
That me, that energy that creates lack and it’s dissolution, or contains the potential of the universe in every simple inhale, that was the same me that appreciated this perfect day, and also gave birth to it.
Today was a playful hike, where the morning was cool enough that shady parts were tricksters that lingered too long, and the sunny patches were welcomed, making me slow to a crawl to relish their warmth.
I saw the usual birds scatter from trees when I neared, the panicked lizards zig-zagging across the trail, and I also saw a lot of people. Fridays are always a bit busier in Ojai, but I had hoped that with the cooler temperatures people would not hike so early in the morning.
After the first three groups of people passed, and we exchanged our hellos and head-nods, I felt a little mischievous. I didn’t mind the quietly happy dogs being walked, but wasn’t so much in the mood for the chattering humans. And so I decided to avoid all of them for the rest of the hike.
I went up to Fuelbreak road and had the choice to turn left or right. When I saw a cyclist racing down from the right, I turned left and picked up my pace. When I heard a woman talking on her phone as she walked her dog, I walked as fast as I could, just a shade under a run, and dove back down onto Fox Canyon. I went over to Pratt when I heard people further down on Fox, and I continued that way, until I made my way back to my car in treasured silence.
I giggled on the inside at the accomplishment, that I didn’t say hello to another person on that hike. I was okay with it for today, for I knew I had given my greetings over to the trail and to nature, and I knew it, in turn, would greet everyone who passed through its midst.
On Friday I decided to wake up early and hike up to Nordhoff peak. It had been a few months since I made that trek, and the weather now seemed cool enough for such a long hike. I was at the parking lot by 9:30AM and there were already a few cars there.
People were on the lower trails, and as is usual in Ojai, everyone is friendly, nodding or saying hello with a smile. Even the walked dogs are friendly, often coming over for a pat on the head or a playmate for a second or two.
Once I got past the turn-off to Nordhoff, I didn’t see another person for the rest of the hike. I was feeling particularly energetic and, knowing that my fastest time to the peak was about 90 minutes, I tried to best it. I began walking faster and faster, relishing the uphill parts, and soon my attention began dancing with the pounding in my chest and my rapid breathing.
What a marvel of engineering the human body is.
As shade and sun took turns hanging out, and as birds chirped complaints before flying away, I began reminiscing. Like a lottery pick, once you set foot on these magical trails you never know what you will draw; some days it is silence, other days it is precious memories that bubble up.
I remembered how this body was in my teens and twenties. I was a hundred pounds overweight, wore extra-large shirts and pants, and the circumference of my waist was only a few inches shorter than my height. Back then, in any of those years, I would never have been able to climb this hill, let alone do it with such a quickened pace.
A thought flashed through, that I will be 50 in less than a year, and I thanked the body for being healthier now than it ever was. My legs churned, my breathing begged for a wide-open mouth, and yet I craved the sandy, uphill turns that made me gasp even harder. What a marvel of engineering this body is.
When I got to the top I ate a snack and tried another lottery draw. This time silence came, a precious blanket of boundless stillness, as I spun around to take in the view of mountains rippling off to the distance in all directions.
When I looked up at the abandoned fire tower, and its rusty, rickety stairs, I chickened out this time at climbing to the top. Just looking up at its height made my legs unsteady, and instead I thanked this vessel for housing a splinter of me, and thanked the mountain for housing the rest.
I went for a bike ride this morning, and it was already 86 degrees (30℃) when I set out on the trail. The shade at the start was welcomed, making up for the lack of breeze, while the sunny sections offered a two-faced blanket: a warm one gently wrapping on the way down, and then a stifling one suffocating on the way back.
As I coasted downhill (my favorite part of the trail), feeling the warmth and sunshine on my arms, I thought back to growing up in Montreal. In November, some years it would be a beautiful autumn day, with the leaves colored beyond green and a crispness to the air. Other years it would already be cold, with a layer of snow everywhere.
As memories came, of walking around the town I grew up in, relishing the solitude that colder weather brought — for less people were out and about — I was thankful. I was thankful that I grew up in a place that had seasons, that had beautiful fall colors, and that air was something that tasted differently when cold or warm.
I contrasted those memories to the heat blanketing the bike trail and was thankful for today too. I am thankful to now live in a place without snow and barely any difference between the seasons. I am thankful for downhill sections of the trail, and, sometimes reluctantly, also the uphill sections.
I am thankful that, in one moment, there is someone here to be thankful, and in the next, there is only thankfulness itself riding a bike.
Yesterday I want for a hike up Fox Canyon trail. It had been cooler the last few days compared to the heat of last week, so it was nice to go for a longer walk. From Fox I went to Fuelbreak, and then over to Pratt to stand and look at the valley from a different angle.
On the way back I felt peace. The sky was preciously blue — so blue that when I took off my sunglasses for a peek I sighed at the vibrancy. The one tree whose leaves had changed to yellow was a spot of color in all the dustiness, and I felt a kinship to it.
With the crunch of my steps the only sounds, I found myself looking down continuously. Perhaps it was to keep the sun from my face, or maybe to stare at the sandy path and how it held fast to footsteps of people I’d probably never meet.
When I reconnected with Fox Canyon and headed over to Luci Trail, still looking down, one thing on the ground caught my attention. It was different from the light browns and flatness of the dirt, and it took my brain a moment to recognize it: a rattlesnake.
Time slowed. For two long seconds I stared at it, yet was still swimming in a silent peace. On the outside, I instinctively took half a step back. But, the snake, apart from its visual differences, was not separate from the trail, the moment, or even me. Everything around was a single, unbroken canvas.
But when the snake withdrew to a coil and started rattling, I was snapped out of it. I took another two steps back this time. Finally, the snake escaped to the grass while noisily letting me know it did not like me there.
As I got back down to Shelf Road and headed to my car, I was back to a quiet peace. The people I passed on the way, their dogs, the trees and rocks, the snake somewhere up there slithering, even the parked cars, all were brush strokes on the single, glorious canvas of my heart.