I just found a half-sheet of yellow paper ripped off a legal pad, stained with coffee and displaying the beginnings of what looks like an excellent round of crayon doodling by a toddler. The title says, “Blog Post” and under that I wrote a list of things to write about:
- The warmth of eggs on cold hands
- The crescent moon slowly slicing its way across the western sky
- The huskiness of coastal dusk
Finding this list this morning stopped me in my tracks and brought a smile to my face for it is a brief glimpse into my life, into a day in my life showing something about the richness in which I live and the mind that I try to cultivate – a mind without walls that can be present, aware and appreciative of whatever is occurring in the moment.
How wonderful is it to know the delight warm eggs on cold hands, eggs that had been warmed the soft body of an ochre-colored hen. If it was cold enough that my hands were cold in this mild coastal climate then the skies must have been clear. And if the skies were clear then nascent stars would have been visible to the east and the western sky would have been the most splendid dark blue color fading to lighter blue and on down into a very subtle green where the blue of night-time sky and the yellow of the daytime sky just above the horizon merge. Yellow and blue make green.
The crescent moon slicing its way across the western sky would have been hanging there or perhaps this was another evening. The crescent moon with a planet dangling off of it like those Arabic earrings I saw for sale in Moroccan shops. There is something about the smallness of a crescent moon that illuminates the vastness of the night-sky in ways that a big, round full moon fails to do. Just enough light to let me know where I am but not so much as to make me feel exposed.
On other evenings when I head out to do the chicken chores, taking them fresh water, collecting eggs and closing them in for the night, the air feels thick and heavy. It’s a huskiness that can feel oppressive in hot places but not here on the coast, where it is almost always cool and mild. On these evenings there is cloud cover, which acts like a blanket over the earth, holding in the heat of day and raising the humidity. Calmness and quiet reign supreme on these nights as if the moisture in the air captures any errant sounds. On these nights a few chickens may still be out, pecking here and there or getting their last drink of water before roosting for the night. If this is the case, I slow down and simply take it all in. If I hurry, however, and am impatient the chickens will run away frustrating me to no end. But if I just relax and let things unfold, the stragglers will put themselves to bed. No effort on my part but mind that it takes to just be there. In these instances I am afforded the opportunity to look around and take things in. I may see the trees in the orchard beginning to bloom, plums first then apples and pears. My skin may feel the slight movement of a soft breeze, gentle and refreshing, perhaps bringing the scent of plum blossoms along with it. And I may hear the sound of a cow mooing in the distance and think perhaps its Basil, the cow that has been giving us delicious fresh milk once a week when Kristin volunteers on that farm. The sounds, smells and sights of this moment are always there, if and only if, I can be there too, not distracted by self-centeredness or delusion. When the walls of mind come down, anything is possible and the moments of life scratched down on scraps of paper come truly alive.
Dawn is breaking over a fuzzy and opaque coast range. Just as slits in a crocheted blanket let in light so too do the slender gaps in the velvety gray clouds, revealing the clear sky and sun rising aove. I walk along a well-known path in the half light and partial darkness of early morning. This is a time of day when day and night, light and dark seem to merge and I cannot tell which I am in. Is this still night or has morning begun already? With my eyes cast downward looking at the path before me, I find myself lost in thought. My mind wanders and finally settles on an ancient Chinese Zen text – the Sandokai. Often translated as the “Harmony of Difference and Sameness”, the Sandokai was written by Shitou Xiqian, a Chinese Zen master in the 8th Century. As I strode an often traveled path, the following came to mind:
In the light there is darkness but do not take it as darkness.
In the darkness there is light but do not take it as light.
Not one, not two like the foot before and after in walking.
This text and these lines often enter my head for some reason. Perhaps I have something to learn and here is the teaching. Like the foot before and after in walking, I cannot tell which came first: the breaking dawn or the fading darkness of night. And just like walking, my thoughts cannot impede the flowing movement of changing light, so I continue on and enter the orchard to an awakening world. Robins are beginning to sing a welcome to the day and I hear the first white-throated sparrow with its characteristic song. “Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada-Canada,” it seems to be saying. While gray clouds still dominate the sky, slits of light shine through the half-closed eyelids of dawn like a slowly waking up child.
I hear the hens waking up inside the chicken coop and they get louder as I approach. I open up the door and say good morning as they flutter to the ground in order to search for their breakfast. I am surprised at how happy I am to see them foraging on new ground. They had been moved here just the day before. My joy and theirs merge as I watch them forage in the luscious new grass where insects must abound. I love moving them into a new part of the orchard although I am always filled with the trepidation of one knowing how the coop was built and wondering if something is going to break in the move. This part of the orchard is filled with the lush new growth of spring time grass and hasn’t felt their footfalls in several months. They seem happy, which perhaps is just a projection of my mind, but surely they are elated to have so much fresh food to eat. Their world is abundant again and there is joy in that.
As I walk back home, returning the way I had come, to see if my family has awoke yet, I pause and look to the east. The sun has yet to crest the ridge but its light is almost everywhere giving outline and revealing form of forest, cloud and earth alike. Sparrows and robins continue to sing their morning greetings and the chickens move about the new pasture. At this moment of the day, darkness and light, cloud and sky, foraging chickens and birdsong, all merge with the rising sun and with me standing in the middle of the orchard. I take it all in, knowing that I cannot hold on for long, and then continue on my way back home. As I open the back door, I feel the warmth of our home on my skin and I hear my older daughter calling from her bedroom. “Papa, come here,” she calls out, stretching each syllable into a song and bringing a smile to my face due to the sweetness of it all.