We are in our secret spot in Matilija Canyon, taking an afternoon off after many weeks of non-stop work. Dyan is sitting in her beach chair drawing and I am sitting in my beach chair drawing her while she draws. It is a beautiful day, on the warm side, with a welcome breeze flowing through the canyon, like a river, making the oaks sway and keeping the gnats at bay.
We are sitting in the shade of a venerable Live Oak with a huge, gnarled trunk and limbs reaching high into the sky. One wonders, how in the world does such a giant, complex organism support itself in this arid environment? How does it feed itself? How does it get nourishment to countless leaves on countless branches as well as to those at the very top, a hundred feet from the ground?
I stop and lean back and watch and listen to the limbs and branches rustle in the breeze; the sun shining through the leaves and blue, blue sky above. The whole world is in this magnificent tree. The whole world is in this day, in the hills and dry river bed, in the wind and bending grasses. There is the whole history of the world, the immense beauty, and power of life, the joy of life.
To be with this old tree in silence, without mental comment, without judgment or comparison; to relax into that innocent presence, is a doorway to a world without separation, without conflict, without an inside or an outside. You are the tree. You are the hills and vast blue sky and even the gnats. To enter this other world, even for a moment, is a healing, not just for oneself but for everyone and everything. How do I know this? I don’t. It’s not me that knows it. It is life knowing itself.
Ojai, June 4, 2021
Mike Stiler is a friend of ours and a Zen teacher in California