The following is a piece taken from my journal written long ago – pre-email, pre-cell phone, pre-Facebook. .
It comes from a completely different time and world than the one we now live in. I am editing work I want to include in my upcoming SHRINES & SIGNS: SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS ACROSS NEW MEXICO, due out 2011, from The Countryman Press.
Lama Hermitage – New Year, 1987
First, there’s how I see myself; how I think of myself. I carry these pictures and ideas up the steep icy path to the High Hermitage on Lama Mountain, along with food, water, backpack of warm clothes, notebooks, candles, charms, finger cymbals. Of my adventure, friends say, “How brave,” while thinking, “How peculiar.”
Then, there are my expectations. All that time, all alone. I expect to be visited by all my fears, those old reliable terrors I know so well yet still don’t understand, as if understanding them will make them go away. OK, so come and get me. This time, I’ll really take you on. Meditate and pray. Surely this is a the place and this is the time for a revelation or true vision, way up here on this snow-covered mountaintop with a view all the way into Colorado; where the length of the Rio Grande rift and the the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico are arranged to convey the curve of the planet’s spin.
As night falls, I make lights inside this magical, many-windowed cottage. A fire in the little wood stove. All the Chanukah menorah candles and Shabbos candles, shining out and inviting in. Surrounded by stars, watching the new moon arc across the couthern sky, I stay up by the stove until I don’t know how late, feeding the fire, log by log. Outside, fierce wind, deep snow, forest creatures hovering, peering in at this bright spot of warmth, as in a Norse myth.
It’s taken 38 years to get here.
What is here? A cot, a few utensils, enough food and water for a few days. Enough wood for a few nights. I will have to chop more. These limited supplies are so precious; I feel love for them. I notice the pleasure in living within this economy, in having everything I need and using only precisely what I need. All my actions — boiling water for tea, washing, lighting a fire — become ceremonies. I learn how beautiful the essentials are, and I wish to discover what in myself is essential.
Can this really be the first time I have ever been totally alone, with no possibility of the telephone ringing, visitors, TV, movies and other assorted attractions? Yes. It really is the first time.
The first thing I notice about being alone here is: When I am quiet, everything becomes intensely sensual. The taste of an orange explodes in my mouth. Dried apricots are a trip to Turkey. Cinnamon smells so exquisite that I sniff each little bag of spices in the cabinet. Food tastes much more delicious when I am aware of my resources. Is that why I am here? To become aware of my resources? Each bite of each humble meal is perfect, like something cooked up and reveled in during childhood, say, Rice Krispies and marshmallow fluff.
Being alone is a learned fear. Perhaps the biggest fear. Is it worse if you are female? If you are a girl-child, you are not supposed to ever be alone. That means nobody wants you. Your aloneness equals rejection, humiliation and failure. I spend so much time avoiding that. Here, with only natural light, or the light I choose to make, and only minimal essentials required for survival, there is no confusion. No need for it. No need to try, to tell myself stories, or to convince myself.
Out walking the next afternoon, I pay attention to the trail markers tied to the trees and the position of the sun. If I get lost or fall, there’s no one to help. I have never heard such clear silence. I am surprised to notice that hiking this mountain alone is so exhilirating. Hiking alone. Another new experience that defeats another “I can’t do it.”
As I follow the trail back the the hermitage, I am possessed by new enthusiasm for the project piled on my desk back home. Gift after unexpected gift.
All night, creatures scuffle and snuffle inside and outside my little mountaintop home. I go outside to relieve myself, and instead of rushing back in, spend an hour looking at the sky. I’ve never seen so many shooting stars. Every few seconds, another falls a million miles. They are moving in all directions. Far, far away, coyotes bark.
Sunday morning peace is irresistible. Sitting on a tree stump in the sun (so much warmer than inside), eating fried eggs and cinnamon bread, listening to the qualities of the wind as a breeze begins, then blows louder up through the scrub oak, then roars through the spruce above — peace is all there is.
Nothing else is needed or desired.