There’s a forest behind my house. Half pine trees, half huge deciduous trees, with the ground tangled up in brush and big downed branches. It produces deer and skunk and the odd woodchuck, and it’s teeming in squirrels. A rabid raccoon lived there last summer. Ghost Kitty threads in and out, marking and remarking the boundary of the woods. Ghost Kitty: the square-headed Scottish Fold who visits our cats by night at the kitchen window, levitating there and blinking huge blue eyes. I’ll hear a complete freak-out – dishes crashing and ungodly yowls and hissing – and run to the room only to see Ghost Kitty drop from his hover-height and tear across the deck and back to the woods.
I don’t go into the woods, nor does anyone else. But in the winter dark, I see the lights of houses on the other side, and most afternoons I hear the bells of the church on the next block. Emotionally, aesthetically, I rely on the place. It makes the indoors of my life here quiet and secluded. But come on, this is city life. I’m not gonna go there. Casing the neighborhood, I checked the woods out in city property files. It’s a stark little cut-out of valuable real estate three blocks off Main Street, owned by nobody, just sitting there in the middle of our block.
Saint Patrick’s day, we made an offer on the place two houses up the hill, with a long lot that touches the boundary of the forest. From bedroom window on the second floor, you can see the white domed church roof through the trees. The new house is at least 108 years old, and maybe as many as 112. The city can’t say for sure. It is made to last centuries, built in heavy wood and stone before this lot was urban… built when people were small and so were their homes. Works for me.
I’ll be the first in my family to own a home, and I’m reticent about the grounding effects of possessing a giant, immobile object. But this is how I live now. On this street; alongside these woods; atop this aquifier. It’s so obvious. The feeling tone of this block is something particular; and for now I am of it. So there was no question. I will keep circling the woodchuck woods for a while. I love how empty and wild they feel.
Sitting has been something like this. I do a technique until it does me back, pulling consciousness inside-out. Each inward-drawn sense (the seeing, the hearing, the feeling) untangles from the central perceiver-core of me. And then each sense, free-floating, just hangs there in a black, bright funnel that draughts upward and downward at the same time.
Nothing happens in the empty space, and nothing exists, but somehow it’s important. So for two years I’ve been following the instruction to let this void penetrate me. Moment by moment and cell by cell. “Let it know you, in the Biblical sense.”
Lately I set up for practice and this slightly disturbing image flashs on the backs of my eyes. It’s me circling a well. I’m perceiving in third person, from above. Weird. There I am, just walking around and around a hole in the ground. Then, that drops away and I’m practicing.
Today in the moment of settling-in, the image that flashed through was different –the big empty box at the center of Islam. The black box: the Kaaba. Not entirely different from the empty tomb at the center of Christianity, I guess; today being Easter, and Jesus’ disappearance being on my mind.
That is a very good ritual: forsaking your home and going through the self-stripping pilgrimage ordeal, all to circle (ecstatically) a big empty box. For the trouble, I wonder how well it works; I wonder what are the odds of falling in.
(Photo from the BBC. See also this.)