Green Earth

Alone in a wild place, I gradually began to sense to earth as a living being, a relative. Like us, she breathes and has fluids and bones. We have our microbiome; she has us and our fellow creatures.

The wild place where I stood, the dirt dam road at Elephant Butte, isn’t entirely wild. The road is paved, though no vehicles have been allowed on it for years. You’re greeted by a sign that warns you to do no damage, because this is property of the United States. (It’s Bureau of Reclamation land.) People respect that sign. There’s no trash. Everywhere else around here, litter abounds, but those who walk the dirt dam road honor it. Maybe the sign reminds visitors that we the people are the owners. Or perhaps those who come there are a special breed, the seekers of silent, isolated places.

The earth along the road has a green tone, shifting from gray-green to yellow-green. The vegetation is sparse: tiny stubborn, ground-hugging white flowers, cacti with inch-long thorns, spiky shrubs, and brown grasses. The space between them looks alive because of the green dirt. Pink and purple rocks glow against it, pebbles that might look dull in another setting seeming as bright as jewels.

Advertisements

Opening to the Season

One day it was summer and the next day it was autumn. A deep silence heralded the change. Then, with a sudden wind, the new season flew in, bringing a day of dramatic skies—sunny patches, blue-gray clouds shedding thin sheets of rain, white clouds towering in wild wind-sculpted shapes. The only creatures I met in the desert were quail. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees, and everything that lives in a warm burrow was in it. Even after the weather began moving, my mind remained affected by the strange silence that preceded it, fascinated by sounds and the space between them. The tapping of rain. Nothing. The brushing of wind against rocks and trees. Nothing. A quail peep. Nothing.

I went to City of Rocks state park a week or so ago when friends visited from Virginia, and it was perfectly silent unless we spoke or walked. No cars. No other people. Nothing.

It’s hard for the human mind to sustain total silence. Openness to the arrival of pure experience can be overwhelming. My head is more at home filled with the chatter of its own products, from the turning point in a plot to my daily plans. But without stillness, none of the activity works as well.

At home, the silence embraces me. After nearly six months of running the air conditioner, I’ve been able to turn it off. On an evening walk, my neighbor and I fell into silence as the bats emerged from their new home, swirling into the sunset sky from behind a broken blue wall with a mural on it. They’ll only be with us for another week or two, and then they’ll migrate to Mexico. We humans, our heads full of words and the sense of time, are aware that when the bats leave, another season has changed. Something has ended. And yet it hasn’t. In the perfect, circular nature of real time, the cycle is eternal.

*****

Read more of Amber Foxx’s essays on this blog and in the collection in Small Awakenings: Reflections on Mindful Living.

 

Turn it off. Turn it all off.

One of my yoga teachers in New Mexico often mentions the importance of quieting the nervous system. He doesn’t use music in his classes. I teach in places where music is expected, so I use unobtrusive, meditative music, but it’s still background sound, another level of stimulus.

Readers of this blog may have noticed I like to contemplate the effects of power outages. Today there was a brief one at the fitness center at my college. Normally, there are a few fluorescent lights in the group exercise studio that never go off, though I turn off the ones I can. These perma-lights were finally gone. So was the steady blowing of the air conditioning. Its presence has been ceaseless, so I never knew how harsh and persistent it was until it stopped. With plenty of natural light through the windows of a room that had been chilled a little too cool for yoga, the outage was wonderful. The quality of my voice softened. The clarity of my thoughts sharpened. My teaching became more precise, more aware, and I felt a matching shift in the students’ energy. When I stopped talking, there was nothing to be heard at all. Except, perhaps, each student heard his or her own breath.

Overstimulation has a subtle yet pervasive effect. Sometimes I wonder if it’s addictive. There are people who say they have to sleep with a TV on or have one running at all times when they’re home—“for the noise.” That would drive me crazy. I write in as much silence as possible and do my personal yoga practice in silence, too, either outdoors with only the sounds of birds and insects and occasional neighbors’ voices, or indoors in a quiet room. I’ve praised perfect silence in nature before, but today was the first time I’ve experienced the benefits of deep silence in my teaching.

Yoga doesn’t require stimuli that keep our minds bouncing and nerves buzzing. Yes, we can learn to do it in the midst of a barrage of sounds, but when we can choose to be free of them, it’s even better. The yoga sutras begin with a definition of yoga that can be translated as “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.”

 

Silence and Words

There’s so much noise in the world—from engines and various electronic hums to the TVs that play in waiting rooms and laundromats to the music and ads pouring out of speakers in every retail space and even at gas pumps.  Partway through working on this post, I went to the hardware store to get a new battery for my car key. Ford chip keys are hard to open, like a kind of puzzle, and mine defeated me. I let the man who was helping me concentrate on solving the puzzle without talking, and over the speakers in the store came Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “The Sounds of Silence.”

How often do we really hear silence? Hiking in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument a few years ago, I came through a slot canyon and stood alone in the desert, in awe of the view—and realized with even greater awe that there were no sounds.

Then, a single insect made a single sound. One living note in the stillness.

More recently, I was practicing yoga at home while my washing machine was running. I heard my thoughts running, too, chasing each other. When the machine cut off my head suddenly went quiet with it. Such a bright silence, that special kind that comes when noise stops. It made me think of my favorite section in The Phantom Tollbooth—a children’s book I’d recommend to every adult.  “Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”

Last week one of my regular yoga students mentioned how much he appreciated the fact that I’d used some non-melodic tones for background music. Being a musician, he found that most music took so much attention that he didn’t meditate or focus as deeply as he had with these simple tones. When I told him that the studios where I take classes don’t use music at all, he said that sounded like the perfect way to practice yoga. His wife disagreed. But she works with words. Music without words helps her quiet her mind. She feels a need to get away from words.

In his book of essays The Man Made of Words, N. Scott Momaday discusses the relationship between words and silence in Native American songs and stories. He says that silence “… is powerful. It is the dimension in which ordinary and extraordinary events take their proper places. In the Indian world, a word is spoken or a song is sung not against, but within the silence. In the telling of a story, there are silences in which words are anticipated or held on to, heard to echo in the still depths of the imagination. In the oral tradition, silence is the sanctuary of sound. Words are wholly alive in the hold of silence; there they are sacred.”

Tent_rocks_MG_3174Tent_rocks_2

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster, Random House, 1961

The Man Made of Words, N. Scott Momaday, St. Martin’s, 1997

Pictures of Kasha-Katuwe by Julius Ruckert, from Wikimedia Commons