Stirred by the breezes, two sets of wind chimes and various single bells played orchestral accompaniment for the songs of the finches in the trees; the Golden Rain tree fulfilled its name as the small, bright yellow flowers fluttered to the ground from the highest branches, landing in floral puddles at its base; every now and then the fragrance of the alfalfa being mowed in a nearby field wafted through the garden, momentarily covering the honeysuckle, sages, and rose geranium growing within it. I sat, allowing myself to become increasingly grounded and aware of everything going on around me. As I did so, I became aware that I was losing the ability to come up with words to describe what I was experiencing. I had a choice at that point to keep myself in my mind and search for just the right adjectives, or allow myself to fly free beyond my thoughts and open completely to the experience.
As a writer and as a photographer, I find myself presented with this dilemma quite often. When do I choose to try and encapsulate a moment either in word or through an image, and when do I let it be something that I simply enjoy experiencing? Sometimes, the choice is made for me by one circumstance or another, and I receive the moment as the special gift that it is.
Rutury was in Northern California last weekend to perform a drumming ceremony. He always has a few words to share before the drumming begins, and his words are always gifts of insight and wisdom. Last weekend, he was talking about how we can all approach each day in a way that will add to the process of healing for the Earth. He suggested that we all feel gratitude, and that being connected with that feeling will do a lot for the Whole that surrounds us. He also made mention of the fact that the people of his culture, the Wixárika (also known as the Huichol) still refrain from writing things down, preferring instead to teach and learn through apprenticeship, storytelling and experience.
Many cultures over the centuries have not communicated in written form. Unfortunately, most of these cultures have been either lost or so homogenized by another (dominating) culture that their indigenous ways are unrecognizable in their true form. When words started being written down they became locked in to a certain definition, and much of the subtle nuance of meaning was lost. Thankfully, there are still cultures around the world who keep to the traditional ways of letting the natural world share its wisdom with them, and continue to live within that wisdom.
Rutury, though fluent in English, often says that when he speaks he is translating from his native language, to Spanish, and then to English. Imagine the care that he takes in finding the right word to express himself! And then, as each person in the room hears him, they are hearing through the filter of their own understanding. That understanding comes from a combination of individual experience, the way that each person hears the melody of his voice and the intonation of his words, and the resonance that is thereby created within each person.
When I was teaching, I would often have students close their eyes and quiet their minds, and then I would softly say the word “red”. After a few moments, I would ask them what they thought of or saw in their mind’s eye when they heard the word. There were always as many different responses as there were students. Each person had their own association with the word and/or the color. The point was that, especially in the fields of body-mind therapy and energy work, practitioners can unfortunately tend to place their own “definition” on what clients are telling us. I would underscore the point with the illustration that if someone starts talking about seeing a horse standing under a tree behind a fence along a road—-it is not up to anyone to assume that they know what color the horse is, what type of tree it is, what the fencing looks like, or whether the road is a country lane or a freeway. The only way to find out is to seek more information/ further description, and have the openness to receive what is being shared and not over-ride it with one’s own assumptions.
Sometimes we aren’t able to fully understand what someone is sharing. One day last spring, when the garden was in full bloom, I posted a photo of it on social media. The caption I wrote was that I wish there were some sort of “frangrance-ison” or something that would allow me to also post the intense beauty of scent that was emanating from the flowers. Many people commented on how lovely the honeysuckle looked, and yet there wasn’t any way for them to fully share the experience that I was having. The fullness of that moment was mine alone. And, here I am, writing about it. When I write “honeysuckle”, what does that represent to you? Does it bring forth a mental picture of the flower, a remembered fragrance, or perhaps an instance when you had the pleasure of being close to honeysuckle in full bloom? Truthfully, had someone else been with me, their experience would have been different; filtered through their own self-ness. While we may have agreed that it was dynamic, the dynamism would have still been highly individual.
Here we all are in these modern times of millions and millions of words being written down, sometimes trying to describe the indescribable. Dictionary definitions are given to standard sets of characters on the page, and we as modern cultures rely upon them in order to communicate. The world is all a-buzz with bits and bytes flying around as we all try to get on the same page. A lot of that is a good thing. Curious minds are satisfied, and people can communicate and hence learn from others in different lands and distant times.
But still, there is a strong need to allow ourselves to have no words that will describe an experience. We each need it for our own well-being, and the Earth needs us to deeply listen. To look at a flower; to feel the breezes, the rains, the heat, the salted spray of the ocean; to let the fragrances dance through us and illicit both memories and new experience; all of these will allow us the time and give us the energy to heal, to become better humans. From that basis, we can shift to heal the Earth that surrounds us.
This is the gratitude that I feel—that I get to have these experiences of connection, hold them in my spirit, and let them both uplift and guide me, even if I can’t put words to them.