A Quiet Year Begins
This morning I woke, drifting in and out of a series of dreams with people from my distant past and symbols still to be discovered. I was pulled out of the dream world and into the shadows of moving trees on my wall in the pre-dawn light. The early sounds of the very first birds called out the new morning. There was a slight breeze moving through the open window and it was brisk for a summer morning in Costa Rica.
Although I wanted to turn over and pull the covers overhead to make one more journey into the dream world, I stumbled out of bed, my legs still uncertain from the three-mile hike into the surrounding nature just the day before.
The morning moves slowly and quietly here on the mountain, in keeping with my own natural rhythm. As I open the door into the small living room and kitchen area of my small 300 square-foot casa, I am struck anew, just as I am every morning, with a panorama of trees and plants outside my windows. I slide each window open fully to listen to the symphony of birds unfolding and watch them begin the day.
An orange male Tanager and his yellow female companion have taken a liking to the lustrous tree at the corner of my small patch of grass. The nest which I have watched from the very first day I arrived still remains a home after a season of rain and winds to begin the dry season. The same family of Grand Kiskadees leave each morning and return again at sunset. On rare days, if I am lucky, I will see a couple of toucans return to the trees in the near distance.
I turn on a piece of music called “Kyoto Morning” which is a delicate and tranquil handful of light piano strokes as I begin the ritual of making my cup of pour over coffee. As I sit quietly with my thoughts and listen to the wind and the birds on this fourth day of January, I am mindfully aware that these are the beginning days of what will be a quiet year. After four years in a row of nomadic vagabonding and more that twelve living spaces in four different countries, I am intentionally beginning a quiet year, a year of slow and deliberate living on a small handful of life elements that are truly nourishing and life-giving. Much has now been left behind and only that worth cultivating remains.
It is from this place I will write.
View from the Road
Costa Rica’s English speaking newspaper, The Tico Times, recently began running a column on my travel journals from my first three months in Costa Rica during the rainy season. The column will be an ongoing series through the eyes of my experiences during my first season here along the Guanacaste coast. I hope you enjoy following along.
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.
In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
― Herman Hesse
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Zen and Ink Journals represents hundreds of hours of writing over the past decade, sometimes from a train in remote China or a coffee shop in Kyoto, a hammock in Costa Rica or a simple cabin on a mountaintop in Boquete, Panama.
On these pages, I share my observations of kindness and beauty from my adventures in the world and invite you to listen quietly for the call within you to explore the places that beckon your soul.
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