Blue Grasshopper

The opening chapter of Work as a Spiritual Practice features a shiny blue grasshopper landing on the head of a statue of the Buddha. I read and reread the book often and finally gave it away when I retired and moved. Since then, I’ve reflected on its lessons, such as awareness of the task itself as meditation, being present to one’s steps and breath even when rushing, and keystroke meditation. But I never saw a blue grasshopper until today.

Silvery blue and coral pink against the gray of a monsoon season sky, it struck me as too beautiful to be real. It also struck me as sign, a reminder to make all my work—writing, yoga teaching, community volunteer work, housework, my to-do list, everything—more of a spiritual practice.

Monsoon Season

The gray on the horizon isn’t wildfire smoke anymore. It’s rain. Heavy, thick clouds bearing blessings. Everything is new. Everything has changed. Turtleback Mountain wore a double rainbow this week instead of a brown haze, and every wrinkle in its rocky skin was visible when sunset sliced through the clouds, painting the mountain gold.
The sand in the desert is damp, dotted with the footprints of raindrops, marked with flowing rivulets and the slender tracks of snakes. A humble puddle is a miracle. A wet lizard clings to a rock, trying to get warm. I feel a bit sorry for him. He looks grumpy. But I’m joyful. Monsoon season. It’s always a cause for gratitude and awe, and this year even more than ever.

Spontaneous Serenity

When I finished a long run at Caballo Lake State Park, I was so reluctant to leave the bliss state of immersion in nature, I did my yoga practice on the small brick patio behind the visitor’s center. Its adobe-brown stucco walls and an L-shaped stone bench were my props. Balancing poses in the wind became open-skill activities, challenging and unpredictable. The views of the mountains and a cute little cactus with bright yellow thorns provided a change from the familiar views of my apartment and my outdoor teaching space, making my inner space feel different as well. Savasana on a hard stone bench, listening to the wind, was deep peace.

Then I took pictures. While I may never be much of an artist as photographer, the effort makes me appreciate even more the work of those who are, and helps me reconnect with the extraordinary serenity of that moment.

 

Whoo!

About once every two years, I encounter another runner on the trail. Mostly there are dog-walkers in the fall and winter, and no other humans in the spring and summer. Last week, the rare runner approached, and he didn’t just say hi and pass, he grinned and whooped.

He wasn’t a kid—there was gray in his beard. I guessed he was visiting from some snowy place. He wore a tank top while I wore long sleeves and gloves. Escaping to the sun and the desert, he had to be in a state of pure delight. We passed again on the next lap of the loop—at almost exactly the same spot, going in opposite directions at equal speed. He whooped again, raising his hand in a high-five. “Good job!” My cheering section. “You too,” I said.

His exuberance got me thinking about joy. About letting go into the moment. Not taking for granted this experience I have four times a week that was such an exhilarating treat for him. And he celebrated our mutual awesomeness as senior runners still at it. As I ran on, I slipped into my inner “whoo!” zone.

I’ve done it since even without his cheers. Yesterday, I spent two laps mentally fussing with my volunteer work’s to-do list and was about to stop early to deal with it. But then my inner whooper turned around and ran for another half hour, dumping the to-dos and choosing freedom. Then I went back to town and dealt with it all. Today after I taught my outdoor yoga class, I watered the plants (that’s how I pay rent for my “studio”) and instead of going home to get on with the endless list, I gave in to the urge to do my own practice before I even rolled up the hose. I’d only had time for a short warm-up before class. This long, spontaneous practice under the brilliant blue sky was bliss. More om than whoo, but a good bit of both.

Kindness to the Earth

Ezra picked up a plastic bottle from the grass, tire-crushed litter blown in from the road. “I hate this … People trashing everything. Like, what do they think is sacred? The earth or the inside of their cars?”             Ghost Sickness, Mae Martin Mysteries book five

On Thanksgiving Day, I saw a post on the T or C Litter Pickers Facebook page from a man who said was he passing through and had collected twenty bags of litter on the road between Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte. He wondered who he should call to collect it. Our members let him know there was no one to call, but several of us drove out and picked up the bags.

For the entire holiday weekend, our roadside angel kept cleaning. He posted that he was camping in his van and had no room to transport trash in it. We kept finding and collecting more bags.

The scenery on the steep, two-mile hill he adopted is subtle but beautiful. An expanse of brown desert with cacti and thorny shrubs, a small reedy pond where migratory waterfowl spend the winter, and a view of mountains in the distance. At night, it’s a place of stars, with no streetlights and little traffic. To some folks, though, it’s a convenient place to toss cans, cups, bottles, plastic bags, straws, foam shell food containers, and other junk they can’t tolerate keeping in their cars until they get where they’re going.

The roadside angel filled over thirty bags of litter. A couple of days into his project, one of our Litter Pickers members finally met him. The angel is a visitor from South Africa. I’m in awe of him. How many tourists leave a place better than when they first arrived? Does he travel the world, being kind to each patch of earth where he stops to camp? Or did he feel some special pity for our abused roadside land, for the snow geese and ducks and pelicans who visit the pond?

Such kindness to the earth can change how we see it. Stopping near the pond to put some of the last few bags into the trunk of my Fiesta, I had a moment of closeness to the silver-blue water, the rusty-colored plants poking up from it, and the ducks gliding on its surface. I’ve often wanted to stop and contemplate the pond, but I’ve been On My Way Somewhere. This time, I slowed down. In gratitude to the angel.

 

Bee-ing in the Moment

The purple asters in the yard of my apartment building are as tall as I am and full of pollinators. I invited a neighbor to admire the pollen party. The guests were four kinds of bees—big furry bumblebees, honeybees, tiny bright green bees, and one enormous black bee with iridescent wings—and three kinds of butterflies. Though I’ve seen other species, this day’s visitors were a Western Pygmy Blue (the world’s smallest), a green butterfly with yellow spots on its wings, and a black one with white trim. In a ceaseless and seemingly random dance of wings and petals vibrating, they changed flowers and sought nectar again.

My neighbor and I became entranced, neither of ready to move on. He said, “They’re so busy, I feel a sense of accomplishment just watching them.”  I said I felt the opposite way, that I was doing nothing at all but watching bees.

My Days with No Clock

“To Customer Service, Now and Zen:

The clock I received for the order copied below does not work. I tried reinstalling the batteries. Removed them and tried it on the cord alone. I guess it’s truly a Zen clock, because, as in that classic cartoon of the two monks, “Nothing happens next.”

I have owned one of the older and truly perfect models for over ten years, the triangular wooden clock with the circular face, its hands moving over art, not numbers. I’m sorry that style has been discontinued. Last week, I knocked it over by accident, and the hour hand is loose, though the minute hand is still working.

The new design is dull and blocky in comparison, offering limited aesthetic value, just the chime. The energy of the digital face isn’t serene like the old circular face. Sad change, Zen clocks, sad change. The symbolic relationship with time as expressed by clock design is so different. A digital readout, a relentless march of numbers, is linear and measurement-oriented. Quantitative time. People in a state of nature experience time as circular. The round clock face with no numbers echoed the roundness of the earth, the curve of the horizon, the cycles of planets and the sun and moon, all round, all moving in circles. In mathematical perfection, yes, but with no numbers.

I mourn my old clock. Maybe the new one felt judged and refused to function for me. I know all things must pass and change, but I as they do, I would like to experience time as a circle and my clock as a work of art. If the old clock can’t be fixed. I may have to settle for a new one to replace the malfunctioning one I received, but I may hide it behind the old one and just let it ring for me, unseen.”

*****

After I sent this message to Now and Zen, I packed the digital clock for shipping and waited a few days for a return authorization. Meanwhile, in my clock-less bedroom, I slept well—unusually well—and woke thinking of Evan Pritchard’s book, No Word for Time, his account of studying with Mi’kmaq tribal elders to learn his ancestral culture. He tells of asking what the word for time was. The answer? There is no word for time. Apparently, that was also the case at Now and Zen. Nothing happened next. So, I unpacked the digital clock, put the batteries back in, and it worked. Today, I found someone who may be able to repair the old clock. I could end up living with both linear and circular time. And remembering the peace of sleeping and waking with no sense of time at all.

Lessons from the World’s Smallest Butterfly

Have you ever seen a Western Pygmy Blue? They aren’t rare or endangered. In fact, they’re all over the map, north to south, wherever there’s desert habitat that suits them. But they’re hard to notice. It’s easy to walk past the flutter of such small wings and not realize whose wings they are unless they arrive in a flock.

The yard of my apartment building has been honored with a little flock. One of my neighbors and I get wrapped up in gazing at them, the exquisite patterns on the tiny wings, the mingled flight as all the butterflies rise and flutter and change flowers, as if a square dance caller had directed a new part of the dance.

They remind me not to overlook small wonders. The scent of purple sage in bloom. A baby greater earless lizard with perfect little orange forelegs. The silver fuzz on green creosote berries. Breath. Movement. Friendship. Another day of being alive, connected, and grateful.

Image source: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/sighting_details/1236172

A Day Outside of Time

Tuesday July 21, as I was leaving Las Cruces, one of those big highway signs with electronic lettering said “7/21/21 Time Begins.” It looked ominous. Usually, they say things like “get vaccinated and you could win the lottery,” or “construction at exit such and such.” After that strange announcement, I was happy to get a Day Outside of Time. The opening prompt in my online writers’ group the following Sunday said July 25 is an extra day in the Mayan calendar. There are thirteen moons, so the 365th day is outside of time.

I literally ran with that idea, alone in the beauty of the desert, allowing my mind to be unconstrained by past or future, by any sense of time pressing on me from one side or the other. Nothing impending or demanding. To be free, I didn’t have to run off on some great adventure, because the moment was the adventure.

When I got home, I realized I hadn’t walked down to the Rio Grande lately. The river looked like a long, fast-flowing mud puddle after recent monsoons. I stood at the edge. Strands and wreaths of desert willow branches floated past, green and flexible, torn off by wind and water. Time and thought are the branches. The present moment is the river. Beyond that, the mountain. Steady. Tadasana.

I walked home past the “cat house,” a trailer that houses a cat colony—at least in the yard. (I don’t know if they have indoor access.) Someone feeds them. Among them are two unusual and beautiful cats I plan to use as feline characters in a future book. They were snuggling and sunbathing with their friends. Animals always have all days outside of time.

 

Green and Present

For a year, I’ve been making few plans and not giving much thought to what I was doing without. When I got my vaccine appointment, though, I began to think about the future. Then my appointment was rescheduled for a week and a half later, and this brought me back to the present. It’s better than leaning too far ahead. More peaceful. The future will still come.

On a typical spring day, I tried to squeeze in a run at Elephant Butte Lake before the wind kicked up. The lake was blue, the sand staying in place on the ground, the sun warm—and then the blowing started. At one point, the flying grit was so thick I had stop and turn my back to the wind. I couldn’t see, could hardly move forward, and the sand was stinging my skin. In a few minutes, it eased enough that I could proceed, grateful for a visor and for wrap-around sun goggles, and the view was stunning. The wind made the water appear bright green, whipped into miniature whitecaps. Thin clouds of white sand streaked over the surface. I was still being pelted, but even a dirt storm has its moments of beauty.

When I got home, I discovered new greening on the fig tree. Its first leaves had unfurled, tiny but thick and sturdy, and a few velvety, bead-sized green figs had popped out. Later, the fruits will flower inside their skins, and little wasps will somehow slip in and pollinate, unseen by human eyes.

A few weeks ago, my friend Bob loaned me his copy of Tales from the Tao: The Wisdom of Taoist Masters. As I walked home with it, honored by the surprise, I opened the book randomly and came across this passage from Lao Tzu.

Without going out your door,

You can know the whole world.

Without looking through your window,

You can see the Tao of Heaven.