An interesting conversation with a dear friend has had me thinking for a few weeks about mystical experience. And one of the things that I've realized is that while it's generally not possible (absent LSD or other psychotropics) to have a mystical experience on demand, it is possible to do work that will lay the groundwork and help pave the way. (That's not to say, given the nature of such experiences, that they don't sometimes come to those who have done nothing to prepare for them, or that all the preparation in the world will ensure them. In this way, they're a bit like athletic performance. Some people are natural athletes and can achieve amazing performances without as much practice as it would take, oh, say, me. Others can practice and work out for a lifetime and still not break the record or perfectly execute the grand jete. It nearly drove Salieri crazy.) And I'm reminded of Adrienne Rich's admonition that:
No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
or music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.
And yet, and yet, what I've observed is that daily spiritual practice and an openness to mystical experience, as well as a willingness to go with the experience when it happens (to not shut it down, discount it, run away to some distraction) are certainly helpful.
And I think that all of this is relevant to the notion of developing and being in deep relationship with your landbase, with your own Bit of Earth. Which is, for me, where mystical experiences come from. Few of us living in this technology-studded culture are able, without some work, to connect easily and deeply to our landbase. Like most important relationships, it can take work. And, yet, that "work" -- once we decide to make time for it -- is really quite easy.
1. Pick a place. Better if it's quite accessible and won't take time and effort to get to. It can be your yard, a nearby park, a strip of weeds between your apartment building and the dry cleaners. It can be a potted plant in your window-sealed office if that's your most likely option.
2. Spend time there. That's all. Don't expect to have a conversation or receive insights. Just go there and spend time. Fifteen minutes, if that's what you've got. An afternoon, or a sunrise, or a long lunch break if that works.
3. Repeat Step Two daily, if possible, or as close to daily as you can. Keep doing this.
4. Begin to notice how things change. What new animal did you see? Is the plant that you sit by blooming, losing its leaves, sending out runners? Keep doing this for months and months, years and years. Maybe you'll feel, at some point, like getting a field guide and trying to learn more about that bird who sings to you from an invisible place in the tree or about that weed that seems invasive. Maybe you'll want to look something up on the internet or ask a local gardener who's been working for years in your area.
5. One day, maybe early on or maybe after a long time, you may get a notion to do something: leave a crust of your sandwich for the ants, bring some water in a bottle to pour on the thirsty little plant you've been watching, pick up the trash, plant a vegetable garden or a tree. Maybe this is the land telling you what it needs, maybe it's just your wild whim. An' it harm none, do as ye will.
I pay a lot of attention (and we all know that magic, like energy, follows attention) to the strip of land alongside the Potomac River that I travel through every day on the way to my office. After years of this work, I can recognize subtle changes and I welcome so many manifestations of the landbase's energy as my old friends.
Today, I noticed that the chicory is now in bloom. Chicory's flowers always remind me of the color Alice-Blue, derived from a dress worn by Alice Roosevelt Longworth and they're happy and dancey, the way you'd feel if you wore that dress to a party. I didn't used to know chicory's name; to me it was just that pretty blue flower that grows by the roadside. But eventually, maybe it was chicory and the landbase talking to me, or maybe it was just a whim of my own (and the real lesson is that there's honestly not much distinction), I wanted to know its name and that's led to me learn more and more about it.
Like Miss Alice, (her father is reported to have said that he could "be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.") it's got a mind of it's own and spreads where it will. The chicory growing along the Potomac River in Virginia likely came from some that Thomas Jefferson imported and grew at Monticello. Like a dear old friend who shows up at the first sign of trouble or hardship, without waiting for an invitation, chicory grows in abandoned fields, along roadsides, in places where the land needs to begin to recover itself. Its leaves can be eaten and its roots provide the flavoring in chicory coffee. It is reputed to have medicinal uses and is sometimes encouraged as fodder for livestock.
And it's pretty and happy and sways in the early-morning sunshine as if it were skipping home late from a dance.
What's blooming just now in your landbase? What might you notice if you committed to spend some time paying attention for the next week, or Moon, or turn of The Wheel?