Sunday, May 18, 2014

Looking East

When in doubt, I look east. That seems to be a theme with me. We've established my deep-rooted connection to Maryland's Eastern Shore, its brackish water and shallow rivers; its small towns and open fields; its marshes and panoramic Bay sunsets. Its history and my family's intertwined. There are times when it feeds my soul.

But that's not the only east.

There have been times when my soul struggled. In college, it was Buddhism and writers/thinkers like Thich Nhat Hahn and Fritjof Capra that dialed me in to interconnectedness and gave me a new way to think about spirituality. When I was between jobs years ago, it was Chogyam Trungpa's "Shambhala," that gave me a code, the code of a sacred/spiritual warrior, to think about and try to model my life around. It has been yoga, second to only running, that has grounded me and elevated my awareness of my body, pointed out how connecting mind and body creates a holistic peace that I can't go without.

Aesthetically and creatively, it is east-meets-west writers, Gary Snyder, Robert Hass, Alan Watts and Tom Robbins that have meant the most to me.

And recently, I have turned east again. This time to Cold Mountain. I had read some of the songs of Cold Mountain through Gary Snyder's translations. I used some birthday Amazon money from my sister and her family to snag Red Pine's take on Cold Mountain's songs. Cold Mountain was a person, not a place. His name in Chinese, "Han-shan," translates to Cold Mountain, a name he took from the cave he chose for his home. He lived mostly as a hermit. And he wrote. And what he wrote connected soul to land to Nature to Universe. Like this:

Today I sat before the cliff,
sat a long time till mists had cleared.
A single thread, the clear stream runs cold;
A thousand yards the green peaks lift their heads.

I may have said this before, but I wish the Eastern Shore had mountains. I'd like to import some if we could. There is a sense of awe and beauty that a smooth landscape just doesn't touch in some ways (though it does in others). But while I don't have mountains, I can follow his example on a more simple scale.

When I am having coffee or Dale's on the back deck, watching a male cardinal circle repeatedly, I can pay attention. Or a robin protecting her nest in our rose bush, which is beginning to bloom. Or when I sit on the front steps, and feel a breeze come up from nowhere, and see the moon rising in the dusk, just as the streetlight comes on and tries to copy the moon's glow. Or being divebombed by spring birds while out on a run, who seem to be having fun with me, showing me Nature's smile.

I don't think I would make a good hermit. Or much of a poet. I don't have mountains or solitude. But I understand, sometimes, what Cold Mountain is doing, what he is showing me. And, as has often been the case in my life, I will keep looking east.