Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Abyss in which the world floats

CC Jean Stimmell: 6/25/14
By adding the all-knowing eye of the owl to my wetland photograph of 6/11/14, I was attempting to enlarge the focus to include the vast ocean of unknowing that surrounds the tiny island of conscious thought.

The following quote by Richard Lang captures in words a hint of what I was trying to manifest.

“Every line or boundary in the world has things on either side of it – every object has an environment, is surrounded by other objects. Check this out by looking at the things around you.

But there is one boundary beyond which there are no things - the boundary around your view of the world.

When I pay attention to this ‘boundary’ I find nothing beyond it. It’s a unique ‘boundary’. Here is the ‘edge of the world’ What is beyond it?

An abyss without end? You are this abyss –
the abyss in which the world floats. All things are within you.”*

* quote from Richard Lang’s website: The Headless Way

Friday, June 20, 2014

Drunk on the Rapture of Solstice

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year,
but this year Litha, the goddess of summer,
started her celebration early.
Conjuring up a quintessential midsummer day,
The goddess Litha lost her magic slipper
dancing wildly with an apple tree
in pre-solstice ecstasy.
Photographs taken at Wagon Wheel Farm in Durham NH: 6/20/14
CC Jean Stimmell

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fishing with an eagle on Father’s Day 2014

Since I didn't have a camera when I saw the eagle today,
I'm using this photo I took back on 2/7/14:
It is a shadow of a branch, twig, and leaf
reflected on a beech tree trunk.
CC Jean Stimmell

Fishing with an Eagle on Father’s Day 

I was wading in the Merrimack today
braced against the raging current
fly-line whipsawing in the breeze
when a whitish bird appeared:
not a gull, maybe a osprey.
Flying up the river
 straight toward me.
the sun illuminated
his white head and 
curved yellow beak:
It was a bald eagle!
Flying close overhead
 he cocked his head,
locking me in his glare,
and cackled shrilly:
“Keep at it pal,
You’ll get it yet.”


Jung wrote, "Even when you think you are alone and can do what you please, if you deny your shadow there will be a reaction from the mind that always is, from the man a million years old within you.  You are never alone because the eyes of the centuries watch you.” * Today it was in the form of a bald eagle.


Expanding our identity inside the subtle world of nature, ancestors and spirits

Life-sized Wooly Mammoth pointing her trunk
at Russet at the Millbrook Sculpture Gardens.
Bob Shannahan, an old friend, created this
fabulous creature from nature's materials:
sticks, vines, straw grass...
CC Jeam Stimmell: 6/5/14
One's identity expands inside the bodies of minerals, plants, animals, and elements as well as inside the subtle world of ancestors and spirits. Speaking in creation's tongues, hearing creation's voices, the boundary of our soul expands. 

Earth has many, many voices. Those who understand that Earth is a living being know this because they have translated themselves to the humble grasses and old trees. 

They know that Earth is a community that is constantly talking to itself, a communicating universe, and whether we know it or not, we are participating in the web of this community.

* above quote by Joan Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Kindle Locations 864-867). 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Trout Fishing, Meditation, and the Biology of Risk

A version of this essay was published in the Concord Monitor 6/25/14
Trout Fishing in the Suncook River 6/7/14
Photograph by Russet Jennings
When we think of meditation nowadays, we think of someone sitting cross-legged on a cushion focusing on her breath or on the flickering flame of a candle in a no stress state of blissful tranquility.

However, other types of meditation can be quite different. The meditator can be active, as opposed to being at rest; the object of his meditation can be anything she chooses; and the meditation itself can be challenging and involve stress.

I found confirmation for this last week when I went fly-fishing for the first time – judging from the date of my last fishing license –since 2004, the year when I became more mindful about not killing other sentient beings if I could help it.

Still, every Spring I would daydream about times past, reveling in Nature’s glory, wading in babbling, sun-dappled streams, feeling vitally alive, matching wits with a fish.

The urge to fish grew stronger this year so I decided to try my luck on NH’s Free Fishing Day. The weather turned out to be gorgeous and the Suncook River was still coursing along at a good clip but not too swiftly for a 69 year-old man stumbling around in heavy waders.

Amazingly, all my old gear still worked; my floating line didn’t sink, my waders didn’t leak, and my dry flies hadn’t been ravaged by moths. Equally amazing – like one never forgets how to ride a bicycle – I still was able to present a dry fly gently on target and do casting contortions like Houdini to escape snagging my hook on overhanging foliage.

Grounded in The Now, I lost all track of time: three hours went by in what seemed like an instant. My body and mind became one, vibrant and fully alive, a blissful feeling that continued afterwards, even though I was sunburned and lame from tripping over submerged boulders hidden by the glare of the sun.

Perhaps, I thought to myself, I had tapped into my hunter/gatherer DNA.  Of course, in my case, I wasn’t hunting to kill: the few fish I hooked, river roach and small bass, were safely released.

Certainly, I reverted back to a primordial state of being, becoming one with the ever-changing river in all its manifestations: the dance of dappled light through the chartreuse leaves, the flutter of red wing blackbirds and the antics of a young heron, the swirl of the windblown currents punctuated occasionally by the ripple of a rising fish.

With every cast of my fly, I had to be ever so vigilant and mindful, keeping the line taut, ready to set the hook in that nano second it takes for a fish to explode out of the water and grab the bait but before he spits it out in disgust, realizing she has been fooled by dead feathers and deer hair.

Fishing that day was a glorious experience. The next morning I had another surprise: Reading the NYT, still basking in the afterglow of my fishing experience, I had a synchronistic rush when I came across John Coates’ essay The Biology of Risk .*

Coates confirmed the notion that meditation can be active and even stressful. He says we get a rush from the right amount of stress – like fly-fishing in a river – “We thrive on risk taking. In fact, the stress response is such a healthy part of our lives that we should stop calling it stress at all and call it, say, the challenge response.”

He points out this stress mechanism is always hard at work taking in information nonstop, calculating what movement might be needed and preparing our body to execute it. In fact, according to many neuroscientists today, it may be the essence of who we are: that our brain is primarily designed to plan and execute movement.

We do not process information as a computer does, dispassionately; we react to it physically. For humans, there is no pure thought of the kind glorified by Plato, Descartes and classical economics.” 

If he is right that we are incapable of pure thought, perhaps we are also incapable of pure meditative repose. But, even if that is the case, all is not lost: John Coates' essay points us toward another variety of bliss.

Whenever we are stressed by the novelty and uncertainty inherent in a project we are passionate about  – whether it be fly-fishing, gardening, art, or motorcycle mechanics – our stress mechanism responds to this challenge by releasing more hormones to prepare the body for action. If everything meshes, we become fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, completely absorbed in the activity at hand.

The end result is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, which Csikszentmihalyi calls being-in-the-flow in his classic book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.**

Certainly, being-in-the-flow perfectly describes my spontaneous joy: standing in the flow of the Suncook River fishing.



**  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row