Redwoods, Give Me A Word.

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Photo by Cassidy Hall

The towering redwoods of northern California have always mystified me. I’m constantly swept away with awe and wonder, as if I’ve rewinded my life back into childhood. With my gaze upward and my mouth wide open, I oooo and ahhhh at the way the light shines through the endless towers, the great elevated heights of trees, and squint my way through each crevice in hopes of seeing the array of creatures who call these woods home.

While on a stroll by a creek bed, I was so at ease with my surroundings that an overwhelming sense of equilibrium and a peace began to hypnotize me. I was startled back into the moment by noticing I was holding my own hand, as if the nature I was surrounded by intertwined with each of my fingers. Glancing down at my hands, I smiled in wonder, and continued my gentle clasp. I could breathe, feeling as if I inherently belonged to the moment — I to the trees, the trees to me, and the moment to us.

I’ve often wondered why these ancient trees bring me so much contentment and comfort. To me, this isn’t just about being in nature and reveling in her beauty. This is about growing trees that can attain the height of 378 feet with bark as thick as 12 inches; this is about a living thing whose arms (branches) can be up to 5 feet in diameter; this is about something that can live through 2,000 years (3,000 years for their inland relations, the giant sequoias)* worth of storms and remains standing; this is about trees who see, house, and intimately know generations of squirrels, birds, butterflies, bears; this is about trees who lived through the births and deaths of mothers and fathers of religious movements; this is about wisdom beyond human understanding, ancient wisdom.

This ancient wisdom is beyond any insight of words written on a page or stories passed from age to age. Though the desert fathers and mothers of 4th century Christianity often offered words, phrases, and a variety of insight to passing pilgrims asking for a word; these trees speak a different language, a universal language to thousands of generations of meandering pilgrims. This is the wisdom whose words speak to our deep mind in the silences and spaces between. This is the wisdom of the discourse we run father away from in our busy every day lives. Though we muffle it with destruction, it remains below our feet; though we forget it with distraction, it exists in the silences of our days. This is the wisdom whose exclusive interest is to be.

We live in a society that values the decided mind, yet the decided mind often doesn’t have room to be, because the decided mind is closed, shut, and unopened to the fluidity of being. The tree moves and dances with the winds, but remains a tree. The tree encounters wounds in the storms, but doesn’t cease to stand and be. This ancient wisdom points me back to wonder precisely so I can also be. So that I let the unfoldings of my own life open out, so that I may accept myself with the child-like wisdom of innocence, holding my own hand. From here I may evolve in the spaces where I lack understanding, so I may at every moment unfurl my tired clasping hands. And in doing so, I get to partake in this ancient wisdom, this deep beholding, and let it hold my hand.

To be, just as I already am.

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Photo by Cassidy Hall

* http://www.visitsequoia.com/redwoods-and-sequoias.aspx

This essay can be found in the book, Notes on Silence, by Cassidy Halland Patrick Shen. available on Amazon or the Transcendental Media store.

Creative Intention

RedwoodsBefore embarking on the winding roads leading to the Redwoods Monastery last weekend, I briefly stopped to rediscover a friendship that has been on pause for 14 years. This dear friend is an artist whose spirit and company can take anyone on an inward exploration. Her words are as striking as her movements and depending on the space from which one encounters them, they can evoke the deepest of emotions and awaken the most tired of travelers.

“When it’s done right, you don’t know who is doing it…”

Among the many things spoken between us, the simple statement that she made above about a piece she created seemed to echo throughout my weekend. This spoke to me about intention, specifically the artist’s intention when it comes to their creative work. Her desire to give the viewer a blank space, an empty room, where one is allowed to project their own experiences and story. This ego-removed-intention struck me as perhaps the place of true artistry, where one most naturally births their creativity for whomever it resonates with.

“Intention is powerful, and the power of its workings remain something of a mystery, though its effects can be profound and wide-ranging.” Maggie Ross, author

Most often, creativity seems to be a modern day paradox that is all about receiving attention amidst the creative project and for the creative output. I believe creativity’s original intention, with the ego removed, has been lost within the chaos. I often catch myself joining this confusion; creating and thinking what will make people turn around to see?, instead of asking myself what is gnawing and nagging at my heart to be spoken? or what is real to and for me?. I’m struck by this need in modern society to be relevant — but remember that relevancy does not transcend — relevancy is a safe box with limits and clarity. I don’t want clarity when I create; there is no certainty in the midst of innovation.

“Our task is not to make an amazing thing called art. Our task is to get a thrill from what we see. When we are moved, we will move others.” Jerry Fresia, painter

Redwoods

Many of us in this creative paradox of today find ourselves wanting to go away, disappear, shut things down, evaporate, and dismiss the sheddings of everyday life. Yet, I wonder, alongside my experiences of this, what does that solve? I’ve tried this a time or two in various ways, ponder I’m maybe even trying this now as I travel to the Redwoods. Yet, I always end up back in this space between wasting my time driving out the influences and realizing that such a fight leaves little to no time for actual creativity. My energy is often given more to pushing life away than to centering myself in the midst of everyday life and moving towards a space with the least possible amount of ego involved (I do believe it’s impossible to remove it all!).

“No matter what the writer may say, the work is always written to someone, for someone, against someone.” Walker Percy, author

Despite my yearning to create uninhibited, I cannot deny the influence of life’s emissions: television, marketing, music, likes, shares, comments, notoriety, people of influence, and so on. I spend the majority of my time in creativity with someone else in mind, with society in mind. It seems I’m more often than not creating for someone else or to someone else as opposed to creating from an authentic space that organically flourishes. Creating from an ego-removed-intention invites me daily to embark on what things I am to speak to, let go of, express, and offer (noting that often this offering is just for me and/or simply a part of my own journey).

“As soon as I am taking my focus off my own finite being and pointing my lens out, I’m still filtering my work through my own experience.” Joe Henry, musician

As I said goodbye to the Redwoods and carried on into my everyday world, I couldn’t help but circulate my car’s atmosphere with the words and mysteries that arose. The untouched radio, the open road, the words unveiling nothing and everything; I was opened once again to the vastness of the mysteries, happily carrying more answerless questions, open to continually letting go of what myself and others think — open to what I am to create.

It seems my roughest edges are most often the precise things I need to embrace and love as opposed to rid myself of. The fight against society’s influences is ultimately a fight against myself. The daily encounters that make me cringe are a part of me and the artist that I am. But, perhaps it isn’t a fight and only a greater opportunity for love. A chance to love more from my position as a fellow human that is among and a part of all our brokenness. After all, art comes from a raw and naked place; the artist is vulnerable, unclothed, and sensitive. Perhaps this is the purest of spaces to create from; perhaps this is the space of ego-removed-intention.
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Originally posted on my HuffPost Blog 

Redwoods Monastery • Whitethorn, CA

The Redwoods Abbey was founded in 1962, when the founding sisters arrived during the winter, to see if they could withstand the trials of weather. Now over 50 years later it turns out they could withstand the winter. Through my interactions with these sisters, in words and experiences, the common theme of non-judgment arose; it is obvious that this feeling in me was born from the depth of love these women have for God, one another, and each person that crosses their path.

I always said I was just an ocean girl, but that was before I met The Redwoods. Perhaps it’s the trees that are thousands of years old next to, and seemingly supporting, a tradition that’s nearing the same age; or maybe it’s the silent roar and kinetic stillness of the forest; or how each of those trees smiled upon me as they gazed upon me and our sunshine. It doesn’t make a difference where this admiration within me came from. All this to say there’s something very special about this place. It cannot be pinpointed or explained, most wonderful things can’t, but it simply is. Also, it isn’t something you’d come across in a day or a vibe you’d get after a few hours – it seems one really has to submit themselves to the traditions both of the forest and the monastery to get this sense of awe.

The topic of mindfulness and the focus on the present moment was something that seemed to resound in my time there. As I was sitting with the other guests for a meal one night, we were all trying to come up with words to describe what the forest meant to us, when one finally said: “It is as if they’re saying, ‘everything is going to be ok.’” We all sat somewhat baffled at the simplicity and accuracy of her statement. Recognizing how vast the world is – in nature, population, size, but ESPECIALLY nature – seems to not only set my soul at ease, but also gives me an acute awareness of the precise moment before me.

“…being able to hold whatever is before me without having to work on it,” was said to me of silence. It isn’t about what I need to do next, the depth of emotion arising in me, the laundry I left somewhere, the panic in lack of motion – it’s that ability to sit with all those things arising and letting them pass to come back to the silence, come back to the space, the peace, the ease. “The moments of silence that come: they’re precious.”

In a previous post I talked about how more questions than answers seem to come up and I’ve been quite glad with that. At the Redwoods Abbey this topic came up again and I was reminded, “the answers are in the questions.” This doesn’t mean some fixated point or determinate decision. To me, it is more about the letting go of the need to know, being ok with the unknowing. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “for it is in giving that we receive.” Which leads me to think, it is asking that we know. To me, not knowing (and coming to peace and acceptance of that) is gaining more knowledge and insight than any amount of false pride in knowing.  To have any sense of knowing is a false sense of control; to have any concept of control is to forge the signature on the check of fate – I cannot sign that. There are few things in life I have control over. In the long run, however, we have no say of birth or death –I have no say in the things that make me more vulnerable than I care to admit. Yet I still find myself sitting with the false layer of knowing, to protect those vulnerabilities that will continue to be exposed.

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“God breaks the heart again and again and again, until it stays open.” Hazrat Inayat Khan

From The Desert Fathers, by Helen Waddell:

“The Abbot Anthony said, “who sits in solitude and is quietly hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: yet against one thing shall he continually battle: that is, his own heart.” …”

“One might say I had decided to marry the silence of the forest. The sweet dark warmth of the whole world will have to be my wife. Out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secrets that are whispered by all lovers in their beds all over the world. So perhaps I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I attempt to cultivate this plant in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most rare of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle and the Cross. Nulla silva talem profert. There is only one such tree. It cannot be multiplied. It is not interesting.” Thomas Merton

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