The trees in the woods were maybe at 50% color. There was just enough sun to bring out their glow, especially at wood’s edges. It was good to be out, as the forecast is for two or three days of heavy rain and wind, and foliage season may come to an abrupt end as leaves are literally stripped from the trees.
My walk was lovely, a classic New England stroll through open woods. The trail is in an urban setting, and although I was out relatively early, I met a few people on the trail. Walking along, I remembered moments of young adult lovemaking on slightly less trafficked trails. These memories were sweet, reminding me that sometimes slight risk heightens pleasure, intimacy, and the veracity of memory.
As I walked along, my thoughts turned to the profound conflicts inherent in U.S.culture. One such struggle is between sexuality as power, and sexuality as enhanced, playful intimacy. Another is the conflict between art making as engagement with the beauty and joy of everyday life, with a spirituality of the everyday, and art as commodity. I suspect these divides are rooted in a Puritanical fear of life that lies just below our culture’s surface, leaving us susceptible to both New Age escapism and life-denying fundamentalisms.
This terrible divide ran through my family while I was growing up, and still surfaces within me from time to time. My father tended towards a sort of spirit based hedonism in which life was to be savored. My mother loved beauty but shrank away from the erotic and transcendent, except in carefully delineated, narrow realms.
Several of my teachers held the notion that life was to be lived, explored, and savored, and that we come to the Creator through lives lived to the fullest. They suggested that we may each burn away the appearance of the profane and mundane, leaving only the experience of the sacred. Recoiling from the idea that one could do this systematically, they suggested that we can only approach the Creator through life lived via personal experience and reflection.
It seems to me my father’s brand of Indian spirituality was one in which each person lives and seeks wisdom through a practice of thoroughly digesting experience, even pain filled experience. I suspect he tried to accomplish this by himself, perhaps not realizing that sharing our thoughts and experiences with others is a crucial part of the task, and was disappointed with the results.
I am reminded this morning that we are in the “Turning Within Time,” the season of storytelling and reflection. I have found myself, of late, reaching for novels with depth, a sharp turning from my summertime reading. As cold, stormy weather sets in, I am drawn to the fire, to walks in the ever-changing wood, and to deep conversation.
At this time of year dreaming and memory seem to become stronger and more clear, taking on a demanding immediacy that challenges the prohibitions against knowing self and other. Perhaps our task now is to savor, share, and to be grateful. Perhaps a life lived honoring our experience as sacred will help us to draw near the Creator, and find our way home.