Leanness into their souls

I’m spending the winter in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of the big San Francisco Bay area. I hide in the big redwoods. I hide from the city.

I went on a walk in the redwoods just yesterday. It’s easily one of my favorite activities, and good trails aren’t far. The trees are enormous, rising maybe a hundred feet or more, I’d say, towering above, making me feel a similar smallness that I experience when I look up at high rise buildings in the city. I often find myself smiling, the best kind of smile, spontaneous and unconscious, when my neck is craned, straining to take it all in, the spires ascending and forming a wild and sacred cathedral.

There is the smallness and the smell. To me, the smell of the redwoods reminds me of the rich but calming scent of pine.  It is distinctive without being overbearing. I really love the smell.

Going on a walk in the redwoods is something I love, it’s a good activity, good for the soul. And I wish life were that easy: just do the things you like to do, that you want to do, that feel good for the soul, and avoid the things that you don’t enjoy. God, do I wish it were that easy! But it ain’t. Life does not work in this cause-and-effect way.

And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul. – Psalm 106

There’s something that is almost unshakeable, deep within me, that gives me the sense that doing what I want to do (while avoiding the things that I don’t enjoy) will bring happiness. It’s the way that I order my life, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, even though I know better.

Oscar Wilde often whittled away at the nature of life until there was nothing left but the bare basics. “There are only two tragedies in life,” he said, “one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

The true tragedy of the way we live is the fact that our lives are so completely dominated by desire, by the belief that satisfaction lies just outside our reach. What is worse is that satisfaction itself becomes something that we search for, and so even satisfaction itself can become a snare, something that pulls us away from the immediacy of life and propels us into a quest for the holy grail of happiness.

Even something so enriching as a walk in the redwoods can become a source of discontentment. I find myself thinking, “Oh damn, look at the time, I’ve got to get away so that I can go on a walk. But I’ve got this and that keeping me away.” Then the sense of discontentment and longing set it. Desire kicks in. Life is not okay as it is. I need the redwoods. If only I had the redwoods. I need a walk. Now!

I am drawn to Buddhism, because many of the Buddha’s teachings address this issue, this very core human issue. But even those of us who sit in meditation and seek to implement the Buddha’s teachings of non-attachment can find ourselves sitting in meditation in order to achieve something, to change something, to get something. That’s definitely true for me.

It’s the paradox of life: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It seems as though there is no escape, that we are trapped in these cycles, ever pushed forward by desire.

I do experience moments when desire drops away. I’m sure you do as well. I don’t think there’s any easy answer to getting out of the loop — or maybe it’s just too easy, perhaps that’s the problem. In any event, I’m not writing this post to bring you the words of enlightenment. I have no answers. For myself, I simply try to pay attention to those rare times when I am content with what is, with no need to alter or change things, when desire drops away for a few blessed moments. I only know that these are the moments to watch and learn from.

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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