And every footstep is a prayer
A few years ago a friend sent me a silver bracelet with the words “Pay attention be astonished tell about it”* engraved on it, a quote you would, of course, know. Your description of wandering through Council Grove feels like that, but also the appreciation of cool art, all the things that we were super into as teenagers or delighted by as children. In fact, your newsletter very often feels like an embodiment of that 🧡
*(No punctuation, just extra space between the phrases--one of my lessons when wearing it is forcing my copy editor self to not care!)
I think you do yourself a disservice by saying you're not a deep thinker Chris. And I bet lots of my peeps here would agree!
I love this paragraph with my whole being: "by returning to the source. The world. The land. Nature. Whatever you want to call it. That wild and unpredictable world that exists outside of these miserable, glowing screens. The same voices that spoke to my ancestors across millennia are still out there, whispering, waiting for us to start listening again. I am trying to. That is what I mean by paying attention." Me too.
Grappling with a current investigation in spirituality wrapped up in being a “good ancestor” (as you’ve mentioned in the past) but also a responsible descendant, I’m conflicted. The beauty and spiritual potency of nature around me in the Southwest is undeniable, but I wonder if it’s something I can or should access. It’s not where generations of my ancestors lived their lives, and claiming an adoption to a land I’ve lived on for decades still feels like another wrong done. I sometimes think about how the residual cells of your children live within you, that the indigenous ancestry from their father’s side might welcome me, that borders and lands shift and tribes grow and shrink. It doesn’t feel complete, though, and I feel I have to think wider. For example, I think about how the same wind blows here as it does in the forests where my ancestors lived, a wind that arrives here after time and through strange journeys, many times not of our choosing.
[Note: This is still a musing in process.]
The examples of what is a poem gave me some tears this morning, Chris. Thank you so much! I love paying close attention...when I remember to do it. It really does take some practice to exit oneself from the busyness.
Paying attention. Finding empathy. Thank you for this. I teach 5th graders and I try very hard to approach all my students in this manner. It sure as hell isn’t easy, particularly at this time of year, but so worth it it when it works.
I’ve been trying to write down what I remember about my dreams the second I wake up and it’s crazy how quickly the memories disappear. I had, until I read about your bald eagle sighting, completely forgotten that I dreamt I came across three eagles in succession, a bald one, a brown one, and a golden one, in my dream last night. Does it matter? No idea. But grateful you jogged my memory. Dreams, as part of life, are poems too I suppose.
Beautiful, Chris, and exactly what I needed to hear right now. This is so easy to forget, yet so essential:
So how then does one (allegedly) follow a spiritual path without access to mentors, to elders, to fellow seekers on a similar path? I don’t have the answer to that but I can tell you how I’ve chosen to do so: by returning to the source. The world. The land. Nature. Whatever you want to call it. That wild and unpredictable world that exists outside of these miserable, glowing screens. The same voices that spoke to my ancestors across millennia are still out there, whispering, waiting for us to start listening again. I am trying to. That is what I mean by paying attention.
Re: that last picture - you are definitely a Level 24 Wizard in my mind.
Two muskrats AND a close encounter with a great blue heron. What a way to start your day!
Yes to a spiritual path on the land.
Good on you for making a life forward as a musician. And on living the Anishinaabe life - something I too believe in. When do we hear the music??
Lovely essay Chris! Why do we take walks in nature?
Annie Dillard offers this too:
“If we were not here… the show would play to an empty house, as do all those falling stars which fall in the daytime.
That is why I take walks: to keep an eye on things.”
"Spirituality should be cool. Shouldn’t it?" Yeeeeeessssssss. Musing on this in my life so much right now . . . how to talk about all the weight and beauty without falling into categories that turn people off . . . Love your writing and LOVE THAT HERON. What a beautiful photo. Thank you, Chris
Thanks for taking the time to write this! There is so much I could respond to here but I don't want to use all the air in the room for what could be a very long, meandering comment. I may come back to it either here or on the substack I have decided is As Good a Place as Any to Write In for Now Maybe.
What I can say coherently at the moment: the childhood spent in Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity rendered me allergic to dogma. What appeals to me in Buddhist practice is sitting--or walking, which I often prefer--and paying attention to what is here, "inside" and "outside" (the distinction tends to blur much of the time), and allowing myself the luxury of non-judgment, of connection to whatever comes along, to the contents of my own thoughts and feelings as well as to all that goes on around me.
I was taught to regard earthly life and my own responses to it as inherently suspicious, probably Satanic, and to be resisted with all my strength. By the time I was fifteen, I started to see through the double-binds and paranoid, circular logic. I turned out queer, trans, and completely enamored of life on this planet.
And suspicious of systems of thought--despite studying the Western literary and philosophical tradition, the most important thing I have learned is that no book provides privileged access to truth. My favorite Zen quotation--always barely attributed, to some monk somewhere long ago--is "if you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him." Which I take metaphorically to mean something no fundamentalist of any stripe would ever say: not even Buddha/Jesus/Mohammed/[insert enlightened personage here] can tell you what is real or how to approach it.
What is real is right here in front of us. And as far as I can tell, approaching each other and the world at large with compassion and a willingness to just show up works way better than anything I learned as a child--and better than anything my death cult culture-of-origin continues to push.
I wish I could get out of the city more often, but the wind and trees and sky speak even here in downtown Seattle. There are a million tiny creatures that live and/or pass through the deep furrows in the bark of the Giant Sequoias in Denny Park; the tree seems fine with my leaning on it and watching this other world that is not at all separate from mine.
Years ago I was up at Logan Pass in Glacier NP, on a trail that was quite crowded that day. But towards the end of the day I had the trail to myself and about ten to fifteen mama mountain goats and their kids! walking by two by two, nonchalantly, within touching distance. I dared not touch lest one of the mamas teach me some manners, but sat down in the middle of the trail and marveled at the company.
How my forebears found this frightening and unbearable is beyond me, but I am trying to understand them.
Thank you for the space here.
If my experience has anything useful to say here, I think it's this: If you want to slow down and pay attention in a group of like-hearted folks, Chris' class on poetry & spirituality is a good place to be.