Sunday, September 25, 2011

Choosing the Empty Cup

© 2011 Oona McOuat

Sometimes choosing emptiness is the fullest of experiences.

I ended the summer camping alone on a dolphin-studded beach in Hawaii.  Was I fortunate?  Yes.  Was I hoping the dolphins would want to play and interact? Yes.  But primarily I was there for what the beach didn’t have.   No electricity, wireless, or cell phone service.  No twitter, texting, or TV.  No “to do” lists, no deadlines, and no one who knew me or expected me to talk.  After a busy and stressful year, I was worn so thin, burnout was just one small blown fuse away.  And so, the beach became a beacon, beckoning me to stop fanning the flame and pushing the river, and start diving into the vastness of open, unplanned space.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

I arrived on a Monday.   Too tired to think about cooking, I ate my leftover lunch for dinner and fell into bed while it was still light out, sometime around 7:00pm.  The next morning I awoke with no agenda other than doing yoga on the beach.  By 10:30am it seemed like midnight, and I wondered how I was going to survive a week of slow-moving open time - life without agenda, obligation, or distraction.  I felt like a dolphin out of water, and then I looked up and saw the dolphins cruising into the bay. 

As I swam out, I was greeted by a mother and her brand new baby.  The wee one was so young it still had its umbilical cord! It was barely over two feet long – the tiniest dolphin I have ever seen, a squirmy, excited bundle of delight.  I coined it “Squiggly” and as it wiggled across and into my heart, I fell into a wordless place.  I was enfolded by the deep spaciousness of ocean communion where clarity comes in swirls and sensations, where peace and timelessness enfold my body, where I am everything and nothing – an answer that forgets the question, a haven that no longer seeks home.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

The days felt into an easy, natural rhythm – do yoga, swim, walk, eat, sleep.  The only rule I had was that I could not drive my car or leave the beach.  The only book I had was a much-loved text “Anam Cara – A Book of Celtic Wisdom” by Irish poet, philosopher and priest, John O’Donohue.  As I merged with the deep joy and breath-filled beauty of the dolphins, I revisited the home of my ancestors. 

How could it be 10 years since the day I first held this book, sitting in my solitary thatched cottage in County Donegal, Ireland, taking breaks from the novel I was writing as I wandered the countryside in search of blackberries and faeries?

Here, in a very different sort of retreat, I let O’Donohue take me to the Circle of Belonging, the power and presence that foster true connection between two people.  I let him remind me once again to “whisper awake the deep well of love within”.  When we allow this nourishing stream of belonging, of ease, peace and delight to move through us, the ground that has hardened within us grows soft again. “Solitude is luminous,” he says, and to grow is to change.   Death is with us always, and teaches us, eternally, about letting go.  As we let go, “a greater generosity, openness and breath comes into our lives.” Where there is no space, the eternal cannot waken.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

Being here, in a body, with a whole world within and around us to explore is an immense privilege, and it is incredible how often I get numb and shortsighted and forget the miracle of living.  Today, here is Salt Spring, a small island in the Pacific Northwest with the sweet earthy smell of baking squash filling my cottage, and apple-laden branches and turning leaves outside my window.  Social reality (and social networking reality) can deaden and numb us so that the mysterious wonder of our lives goes unnoticed.  Daily I remind myself to fully touch and be touched, to taste, look, listen, commune; to love largely and unabashedly, to celebrate the beauty of this body and this Earth.  

Photo by Kmax

We are alive. We are wildly and deliciously free. Let’s live as if we have eternity in our cups, and an hourglass that it is held in divine hands inside our hearts. We do not know when this particular earth walk will be over. We only know that we are here.

Some nights stay up til dawn as the moon sometimes does

for the sun.
Be a full bucket, pulled up the dark way of a well then
lifted out into the light.
Something opens up our wings, something makes boredom
and hurt disappear
Someone fills the cup in front of us, we taste only

Blessed Be

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