Thursday, November 22, 2012

In our bones is the rock itself

Alone in the wilderness, the fire of the sun can burn us; the rains can freeze us; the winds can blow our sense away; Earth can fill us with fear. We are initiated and purified by the elements, empty-handed and undefended. Fasting, our bellies hungry, we feel closer to the bone of life and under the skin of death. The poisons of our body and mind rise up from the depths. They are the stale bitter taste on the root of our tongue. This stuff of a past not worthily lived is also medicine.

 Without food, we seek nourishment in the present and in the silence; the sandy wash, the varnished stone, the dark hard lava, the small gray cloud, all are food for us. We also begin to derive nourishment from our ancestral past. In a Ute song, it is said, "In our bones is the rock itself; in our blood is the river; our skin contains the shadow of every living thing we ever came across. This is what we brought with us long ago." We are the sum of our ancestors. Our roots stretch back to blue-green algae; they stretch to the stars.*

* The quote above is from Joan Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Kindle Locations 446-453). Kindle Edition. 

** The image above is comprised of photographs I took at Gallina Canyon Ranch in the midst of the Chama Wilderness in New Mexico last spring combined with a space image of Mother Earth.

I am drawn to Joan Halifax’s writing, and her as a person, because we share a similar mix of esoteric passions. But with that, the comparison ends. Yes, I am blessed that my diverse passions give me frequent insights – standing, as I do, at the intersection between psychology, anthropology, art and myth, Buddhism, photography, ecology, indigenous wisdom, and sustainable living –   revelations that often blow my socks off.  Yes, I get terrific rushes! But while I have lived my life, at least to date, skimming along the surface as an inveterate dabbler, Halifax has made a commitment with her life to full immersion living, time after time plunging below the surface into the dark unknown, seeking the essence of things. She is my hero.

Joan Halifax (born 1942) is a Zen Buddhist roshi, anthropologist, ecologist, civil rights activist, hospice teacher, and photographer. She collaborated on LSD research projects with her ex-husband Stanislav Grof, in addition to other collaborative efforts with Joseph Campbell and Alan Lomax. She has studied Buddhism under both Korean master Seung Sahn along and Thich Nhat Hanh. Throughout her life, Roshi has loved photography and has taken thousands of extraordinary pictures of people and landscapes in Nepal, Tibet, Burma, China, Cambodia, Korea, and many other places.

The Fruitful Darkness was first published in 1993. Grove Press had this to say when they reissued her book a few years ago: “Joan Halifax delves into "the fruitful darkness" — the shadow side of being, found in the root truths of Native religions, the fecundity of nature, and the stillness of meditation. In The Fruitful Darkness, a highly personal and insightful odyssey of the heart and mind, she encounters Tibetan Buddhist mediators, Mexican shamans, and Native American elders, among others. In rapt prose, she recounts her explorations — from Japanese Zen meditation to hallucinogenic plants, from the Dogon people of Mali to the Mayan rain forest.”

This quote from the The Fruitful Darkness, to me, is a fair synnopsis of her book:

Like Buddhism and shamanism, deep ecology is centered on questioning and directly understanding our place from within the web of creation. All three of these practices-Buddhism, shamanism, and deep ecology-are based on the experience of engagement and the mystery of participation. Rooted in the practice and art of compassion, they move from speculation to revelation through the body of actual experience.(Kindle Locations 216-218).

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