I awoke naturally, rested and calm about 6:15 am. Snug and warm in my sleeping bag, revelling in waking without the alarm. Eager to get up and go for a walk but given the darkness outside reading a little of Lama Surya Das’s “Awakening the Buddha Within” seems the better option. As is becoming usual his words lift my spirits and keep the course processes rolling. Pale dawn light starts to lift the darkness through the window so out of the cocoon, into warm clothes and off for my walk. It has been some time since I have been able to indulge in the pleasure of an early morning winter walk and I have been looking forward to this.
But which way? Our service team leader had warned us about staying on the bush tracks, of the dangers of cliffs, and the extra time it takes to walk back uphill. Therefore I figure that I need to head downhill on a bush track to get the views I long for. I also sensed that the tracks were on the other side of the main building so set off in that direction. The trail to the right of a fork looked interesting. I passed an outdoor campfire site on my left, complete with strategically placed logs around it as seating. A piece of branch, ideal for a walking stick, presented itself on the track and on I tramped now aided by my new found friend the branch. Ah, the beautiful fresh air, the birds singing, the fresh smells of the bush are all enervating and I revel in it. My joy is dampened a little by the sight of the same campsite appearing on my left again. I am going round in a circle! And there was the main building again.
Let’s try further on from the start of this path. Through the bush, I catch a glimpse of something white showing through the trees. As I get nearer a small stone seating encircles a single white post like those used in street signs but without any cross pieces. Just a single white post pointing to the sky with the message “May peace prevail on earth” painted vertically in black on one face. On the other faces the same message I presume but on one face in French, on another in Spanish and on the last face, Chinese characters.
I stand in quiet awe of the strength of this simple statement and how sitting here in silent contemplation might imbue one with the will to assist in this most worthwhile of endeavours.
Lying on the ground, as if pointing a silent entreaty to look at the sign post is another broken branch. Not just any branch but one with immense character, of interesting curves and colours. A little heavier and longer than I would normally select as a walking stick but it seemed to be just there as if it was meant for me. It also reminded me of a small statue I had seen where a laughing Buddha had a solid knobbly staff across his shoulder. I placed my recently acquired, but now most uninteresting walking stick on the ground and picked up, accepted the gift, of my new bold, trusty staff.
Soft rain is now falling steadily but on I went. Ok, let’s try the other path from the original fork. This leads down past the kitchen building and on to the entrance to the sanctuary. I considered for a moment carrying on down to the main road and the outside world but the sounds of a car and then a train drove me back through the sanctuary gate. Through the car park and on to the main building again. How many wrong paths can I take in one morning!! The path to the right of the main building looks promising and encouragingly, within a few metres, the path starts to descend. Another fork in the path but as one path heads uphill and the other downhill it is an easy choice.
My glasses are misting up with the soft rain falling and why am I even wearing them? Not much to read on the path, so in to my coat pocket they go. My beanie is also getting wet and wouldn’t this beautiful rain feel wonderful on my bare head? Yes it does as my beanie follows into another coat pocket. In fact, it is delightful, the soft rain falling on bare head and face an uncommon pleasure.
As my trusty staff and I continue down the path I am breathing in the present and feel so alive. The bush clears a little and I can see hills all around covered in mist. Birds are everywhere, trilling their welcome to a new day. They are probably revelling even more than I in the soft rain, a chance for a rare bathing in this long drought.
Ahead of me to the left of the path appear two large rock formations, smaller but similar to the Three Sisters at Katoomba. They sit alone in a valley and across the hillsides behind them are scattered countless other rock formations, all varying in size but all much smaller than the “two brothers” in front of me.
Suddenly, a bolt of consciousness surges through me!! The whole morning has been a metaphor for my life so far. Travelling down various paths that lead nowhere I want to go, or just lead me in continuous circles of frustration. Now, here on this path, the larger rock is Buddha and all the other rocks are the myriad lamas and monks who have developed, enriched and kept alive the traditions and wisdom that is available to all those who seek it. I am on the right path at last! This is it! I stop dead in my tracks as the realisation washed over me. Leaning against my staff, emotion surged through me and I began to cry in great racking sobs. My cries found voice and echoed back at me from the hills. For several minutes at least I leant heavily against my staff with tears streaming down and mingling with the rain on my cheeks.
One of the other members of the course passed me on the way down the track. I continued to stand there in quiet contemplation unable to leave this place. Another course member passed me going back up the path. All of these meetings in complete silence. When I next looked up the first course member was now way above my “lama” rocks on the far hillside. Her position set off another insight. The only part of the path visible to me further on was, at most, about 20 metres. Yet it obviously continued on much further than my senses could determine. My new life path is like that, my experience only shows me the next small part with so much more for me to discover, perhaps even without end.
As I started off back up the path full of quiet excitement from the experience yet another insight presented itself. Many of the gum trees had obviously been caught in a bush fire. One of the blackest of these had masses of new growth, fresh bright green leaves on thin branches, sprouting all over the apparently burnt-out, dead, tree. A new life was possible in the direst of circumstances, even for this old lost soul. Rebirth is possible. This is the start of a new life for me, on a new path with all that that presents. I will carry with me only that from my old life that is useful to me and leave behind old habits and attachments that no longer serve me. They make take some time to discard but discard them I will and take up whatever the new path presents.
** Stace says: This was a retreat experience on 10th July 2004 as part of the Mastery & Service course.