Saturday, July 15, 2006

Keeping Vigil -- Part IV -- The Fire in My Head

My first drumming lasts 20 minutes or so. I watch the flames move and lick. The capital "I" me begins to fall away and my energy expands and unfolds as I become less myself: the ego relaxes its grip and the essential soul of who I am -- who and what I have always been, and always will be -- comes to the fore. This is the Ur-self, the self that was before there was a flesh named Timothy Duncan McCallum. This is the self that is not identified by its job, or residence, age or nationality. The most purely spirit self -- and in a way, the most human.

After this opening, I set the drum aside and simply sit for a long time. Empty of monkey-mind thoughts, empty of worry, empty of hurry to have anything happen. It is a sweet contentment and I'm aware of it as I rock very slowly and gently forward and back, my hands clasped in front of my knees which are drawn up in the front of me.

I become aware of the idea that my ancestors have kept vigils like this since the first fire. Sit, watch. Tend the fire as it burns. I sense an enfolding support when I consider that I am only the front of a line of McCallums, Chadimas, Cassidys and Schwenkas stretching back into the unseeable distance. The support isn't quite love, not quite approbation or admiration. It is more like: It's Allright, and Welcome to the Fireside, Tim.

For a moment Mr. Ego comes lurching up from where he's been relaxing (thinking about what a fine, fine thing it is to be a self and endlessly self-fascinated with one's selfdom) to say "Oh *SURE*! It's all DANDY! 4000 dead, a City in flames and a War to Come! Just FANTASTI--"

I take a quick, sharp and deep breath, which throws Mr. Ego off balance, wondering if there's something the matter with His Self. As I exhale long and slow, I visualize him sloowwly falling back down to a horizontal position -- and out of the conversation.

I rise to throw more wood onto the fire. In the afternoon I had dragged a number of fallen trees (or large branches shorn off of huge trees by wind or storm) to the side of the fire circle. To create fire-sized pieces I have to break the larger pieces down into manageable lengths. It is hard work, but pleasant to feel the power in my body as it levers branches off of stumps or cracks them over a knee.

As I'm about my work I note the sound of a large jet of some sort passing overheard, headed south. It's low -- on landing approach? Hmm. Stewart Airport in Newburgh? Over the course of the evening, as another and yet another jet passes by on the same course, I eventually figure it must be military transport aircraft, heading to the Air National Guard base at Stewart. My government is already moving its armies around the board -- working logistics out for the invasion of Afghanistan that would come the following month (and then of course, Iraq...and now Iran?). Welcome to the Empire.

Ego's words -- "War to Come!" -- echo in me. But they ping through and find no purchase in me at that moment. I'm seeing now the wisdom in this simple vigil. Sit, watch, listen, tend the fire. Clear the mind, open the heart. Human minds and souls and greeddesperationselfishness create so much agony and so many problems. But the solutions will never be found while the mind is wound up tight, full of hurry sickness, thinking first and foremost of itself, the veil of illusion (what the Hindu or Dharmics call maya) wrapped tightly around the eyes. No: the only way forward out of the maelstrom is to ground myself in the true reality of things, to remember who "I" was before my grandfather was born. Without that essential connection to the greater truth, all my efforts (and anyone's efforts) only take me deeper into the illusion that I am separate from the world around me and the people in it. Away from the unity of all things.

There in the deep woods of the Catskills, the veil fell and I reconnected to the essential source. And began to weep out the week's sorrow, anger and hopelessness.

After a time I felt emptied and purified. Again I drummed, slipping deep into the play of the flames in front of me, catching glimpses of ancestors and friends and loved ones. Down, down into the mandala of fire, each stem and licking tongue of it one of the lashes on the eye of God, peering back into me as I peered into it.

Finally my arm gave out and I wondered how long I'd been drumming, how long I'd been swimming in the flame, how far had Earth spun back towards dawn? A crackling crash in the brush about twenty yards away from me made me jerk my head to the right.

All night long, at well-spaced intervals, I heard animals moving through the underbrush behind me. Judging by the sounds they made and the fact that there were always at least two of them, I had pegged the sounds as deer wandering through on their nocturnal feeds. But this was different. Only one set of sounds, and much larger and not delicate like deer.

I sat for a moment trying to pierce the darkness beyond my firelight but saw nothing. Again the soft, rolling crash of something large moving through the low brush.

I found my flashlight and beamed it over to my right where the sounds continued. As soon as I swung the light towards it, though, the sounds stopped. Whatever it was had frozen. I scanned back and forth a bit with the beam but it didn't penetrate the leafy wall. After a minute or so, I gave up and turned the light off. With that, the sounds began again. I whipped the light over again, thumbing it on -- but of course, whatever it was stopped moving.

Aw hell, then, I said to myself. I shut the light off and left it off as the slow-motion crashing began once again. It was moving in a semi-circle from my right to my rear, being cagey about staying out of range of the firelight. The sounds changed once it was almost directly behind me -- from twig-snapping pops and crackling to a slick-snick of something on stone. I turned, shining the light towards it and was rewarded with the view of a black bear's behind as it climbed up a portion of the rock face. When I hit it with the beam it turned, blinked, and then continued on, disappearing down into a hole in the rocks.

Ahhh, home for the night. Have a nice vigil, two-legs.

I was glad I hadn't brought food.

As I turned back to the fire (noticing it needed to be stoked), my serenity returned, and deepened. I was a child of the universe, after all. Darkness not a threat, alone in the woods not a threat, bears not a threat. Safe in the belly of the world.

I fed the fire, I sang the bear a song, I danced for myself and whoever or whatever was watching -- and then I sat once more and awaited dawn.

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