My Hill in the Michigan Woods

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When I was about eight, I used to play in the woods with neighborhood kids. We played war mostly, using sticks as rifles. I found a perfect hill to hide behind. It was about one story high, with sand on the side where I would hide. On the side facing my enemy friends, the hill blended into the woods. I could take sniper aim at them, and nobody saw me.

But that’s the not point. Once I nestled into the hill that first time, I was surprised to find the hill knew me. Simple to say, hard to explain.

That day was normal. Saturday in late spring. Not yet summer, but late enough in spring to be confident of the warm.

Sitting on my hidden perch, I notice this was the exact right place to be. An uncommon feeling for an eight-year-old. During those young years I had this feeling occasionally when I was out in the woods – that the world welcomed me. I never had those feelings in my home. People in my home loved me as they were able, but the world wasn’t theirs to offer welcome. They were struggling, and I was just part of their struggle.

Because it welcomed me, the hill was mine. Other kids came up over the hill after me, and we played and fought, but the hill was just a hill to them. And they were just kids. It didn’t matter if they were on this hill or any other hill. For me, though, the hill was exquisitely unique.

The kids raced off into the woods, shooting each other with their stick guns, but I stayed behind on this hill that held me in comfort. To feel welcome in this world is to feel loved. Back then I wouldn’t have called it love, but that’s what it was.

As the days went by, I’d walk by the hill on my way to school. Sometimes I run up to the top. When I did, I’d feel that homey welcome. Sometimes just walking by it was enough to feel its easy warmth. But I had worldly things to do, so I didn’t tarry long. It was enough to know the hill was there and that I wasn’t alone in this peculiar world.

Photo source: Summit Metro Park

This Day I’m Thankful for. . .

This day I am thankful for

The taste of water fresh from the sky,

The sound of the moonrise,

The crisp rocks of the Sandia Mountains,

My dog’s eyes when she wants a walk,

Bare feet on the carpet,

The absence of mail,

The first taste of coffee, and the second,

My son talking through the night,

My friend showing up unexpected while I’m working,

The smell of rotting apples on the dirt,

A spoon I’ve used for decades,

Everyone who is reading this,

Words,

Black type on a white screen,

The presence behind my mind that writes,

The feeling in my arms when that presence is in my chest,

Breath,

Each story in an AA room,

Someone’s whisper,

The young woman minister when she tears up,

The pain of peppers,

My bed in the afternoon,

The smell of fall’s first heating,

The nativity scene carved in a gourd, a gift from my ex-wife who signed it, “to my husband,”

The touch of the uterine lining my child grew in,

My Harris tweed jacket,

Each day I’m alive.

How Do You Live Now?

How much changes everything? Your thoughts belong to you no longer. They drift into the streets and over the houses. They enter the struggle and spill out onto the lawns with answers that float and bloat. You watch the green that shoots through the leaves and becomes life.

The change is not just you. You’ve known it all along. The world you woke to has become intimate. Moons hide where resentments used to collect. Your resentments, like your thoughts, are not personal. They become human and leave their families, seeking brethren.

You can smell the fresh rain at dawn and feel the trees stretching skyward. How do you live now that the next world is seeping through your skin, making you young again? The whispers in the air are spelling out relief – you were alive all along.

You once stood in these streets, crushed by alienation. Now you return to the very spot and you can’t believe the beauty in the air. Was this spirit always here? Did it always move so easily through your cells? Did these voices always know your name?

The same world that had nothing to do with you has now memorized your dreams. They spill out on these once-bitter streets in hope and kindness. In the end you were right. Some distant spirit backed your losses, every fiber of pain drawn taut in blood.

It’s all a window now that looks out onto the dead as they pick themselves up and walk into their glory.

How Does a Spiritual Awakening Help You?

How does a spiritual awakening change your life? You have the same personality, the same body, the same family and friends. At first, everything is the same. Yet when your spiritual awakening comes, everything changes.

You see that you are one with everything around you. You are not separate. That understanding takes away your fear. Maybe not all at once, but bit by bit, your fear begins to stop running your life. You come to realize you have nothing to fear. It’s not that you gain courage. It’s simply that fear has become irrelevant.

You come to see that you have been afraid most of your life. Your reactions, your responses, your decisions have all been based on fear, based on the belief that you are threatened, that you can lose everything that matters, and that you will die.

Lift that fear and you see that nothing that matters can be taken away. You see there is no such thing as death. You are free now. It doesn’t matter who loves you or who doesn’t love you. You suddenly have no argument with anyone – you have no argument with life.

Everything slows down. For perhaps the first time, you can catch your breath. The cloud of cares and worry begins to dissipate. You are lighter now, free of resentments and free of anger.

Your decisions are no longer based on what you need – they are based on kindness and how you can serve. This detachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. You care more for this world than you ever have. Never before have you really seen its beauty. In this caring, you become a caretaker.

You don’t renounce the world; you embrace the world, for the world and you are one.

Kindness to Strangers

Last year, the writer George Saunders delivered the convocation at Syracuse University where he talked about the importance of kindness. Yet he believes kindness doesn’t come naturally:

“Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: 1 – we’re central to the universe, 2 – we’re separate from the universe, and 3 – we’re permanent (we believe we won’t die). We can see these beliefs as we prioritize our own needs over the needs of others.

While pointing out that we know better than this intellectually, Saunders noted we still tend to live by these perceptions viscerally. I agree. You can watch these beliefs play out in our behavior. How we act is the “tell” that reveals our true level of understanding. Gandhi put it well:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

In Saunders believes kindness is hard. As we struggle to put our spiritual beliefs into action, this becomes very clear. Kindness asks that we override the belief that we’re central, that the self is real, and that it must be protected. Getting out from under the domination of the self requires that we surrender to the good of the universe even as the universe offers no visceral evidence of good.

Most of us live in the delusion that the self is real and its interests must be paramount. This belief affects our behavior profoundly. It prevents us from taking care of each other except inasmuch as the care for another extends our own self forward – as in parenting or mentoring. We are not naturally inclined to show kindness to someone who isn’t an extension of our self.  For that kindness, we must overcome the delusion of self.