Self / Not Self

Do you know that feeling deep inside that hasn’t changed since you first knew you     were  separate, alive, aware?  Is that knowing, the same or different from who you are?

We learn to know the world through our reactions, and from them we begin                     to form our idea of who we are, what we can do, where we belong, or don’t.

Remember the wonder of bright colors sailing past your eyes, or                                          the cold astonishment of being outside on a winter morning?

How many different selves have come and gone since then? And each one                          so true in its moment.  Surely this must be who you are:

The first time someone else truly saw you, and you felt known?  Or finding the delight in allowing another in, or the bewilderment when others invaded you, unbidden.

Our emotions, too, create a self: elation at the loveliness of the spring daffodils,             terror when the ground shifts and balance falters.

We believe in each of these selves as it arises; forgetting what preceded, or that another will surely follow. Each one we take up, hold, only later to discard, unnoticed.

We feel we should know who we are, and that very wanting creates yet another self.  You’d think we’d finally ken this, our only too human way of becoming.

Yet in all our years of forming and dissolving, beneath all the selves, isn’t there                  a deeper, internal sense, without story or reaction, that knows you, as you?

April 2019

In the wash

Join me in walking in the wash at Ghost Ranch in Abuquiu, New Mexico, where I was on a meditation retreat last August with Linda Modaro.

Georgia O’Keeffe made the colorful mesaland of Ghost Ranch famous in her many paintings of the multicolored cliffs, the juniper skeletons, and the deeply saturated blue clouds hovering over distant Mt. Perdinal.

As part of the silent retreat, Linda offered time in the schedule to pursue our own creativity.  Because the days were shortening, that hour and a half of time in the heat of the day, was the only free time we had to walk on the land unless we skipped a meditation period. On retreat, I seek out the container of the schedule to hold me in formal practice.

But walking is also an integral part of my daily practice, on retreat and off, and that is what I wanted to do with my free time. Since the temperatures that last week in August were still in the upper nineties, I searched out the only place that was cool—the wash that flowed down from the mesas, through the ranch, and into Lake Abiquiu.

I took my phone with me and started talking pictures.  Then I discovered  the video feature.

Come, let’s explore the wash together…


Condor Gulch

Dave and I went to the Pinnacles (National Park) last Sunday afternoon. We arrived somewhat later than we’d planned, but we still wanted to do the High Peaks hike, a trail we have done many times in the past. We started out at 4:30, knowing that the days are longer now that we’d have time to complete the hike before dark.  However, a ranger saw us starting off and suggested we take a flashlight with us, which we did, though we weren’t planning to use it.  (We didn’t have to; no false suspense on that account.)
It was a longer slog up to the top than we remembered, (and how wonderful that it was that way, since if we’d really remembered what a demanding hike it was, we might have talked ourselves out of it.)

I have been training myself to look up and around now and then instead of just down at my feet to avoid tripping. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, perfect for hiking: a cool breeze, uncrowded trail, lots of green still.  On our way up, we saw four large birds, each on its own high peak, but far enough away that we couldn’t determine if they were crows, vultures or maybe even condors. They looked pretty droll, each guarding its own pinnacle.
When we finally got up that last stairway, actually shallow little notches carved out of the rock, we looked out over the valley to the west and the coastal range.  The light was soft and lovely in the distances with different greens and purples, blues and grays.

As we were catching our breaths, right in front of us, maybe 25 yards away, soared a big bird we had never seen before.  Amazingly close.  Its wings were spread out on either side of its head, almost in a wave, with white patches along the edges. Its head was so odd: tucked right between the shoulders, bright red, and a yellow bill pointing straight ahead. Its posture made it look more like a duck or goose in flight than anything else.  We just looked at each other, with that kind of wonder that sighting an unusual bird calls forth. Then about 30 seconds later, another identical bird, in the same gliding posture soared by, and then another, and finally, a fourth.

By then we’d understood, without a word to each other, that these were the birds we’d seen sitting on the peaks above us.  The red was clearly a condor head, and the white patches on the wings another condor diagnostic. (I just checked the bird book to verify the yellow beak—and there it was.)  To have seen four such high flyers, at eye level, and so close was almost unimaginable. The profile of the soaring condor in all the birdbooks doesn’t come close to the actual undulation of the wings in flight. And to see the head tucked into its shoulders, and the beak pointed forward. We forget how unique and thrilling living beings are in their own true lives.

We felt so proud and fortunate to have seen such a sight. We floated back down the trail, and arrived at our car at dusk. No need for the flashlight.  A perfect hike.


Here’s a poem that I wrote a long time ago that still resonates with me.  How about you?


All We Like Sheep 


The sheep are sitting in the next pasture

Clumped together in the grass

That thick, rich carpet they eat for breakfast

I see them sitting in a loose circle

Chewing greenness


By the fence, a ewe stands apart

I approach her slowly

She holds her ground.

We face each other, the fence between.

Her coat, an ancient ivory

Flecked with gray, curls tightly wound


Our eyes meet

Hers slitted onyx, mine round,

We gaze at one another

Eyes unlocking

The ewe, me

The fence.


And then, no fence.

Who is staring here at whom

Which is me, which is ewe


A sudden gust of wind, I blink and

She blinks too, and dances off

I turn and come inside to this room where


We sit clumped together

Mute, chewing our thoughts.

Forming out own loose circle on the gray carpet

Flecked with ivory, woven tight

Of fine English wool


Gaia House




(Originally published in Inquiring Mind Vol. 12/1 Fall 1995)