Essays and Stories

In Beauty It Is Finished

I lay on my favorite rock watching the rivulets of light and shadow flow in serpentine rhythm on the arbor of tree limbs above me, the light dancing on the water like neurons firing in my brain. I wonder what it is that makes these visits so compelling. Is it a recalibration, the synchronizing of blood and water, as I know myself in this creek flowing in the sunlight? The Buddhists see each person as an individual, a member of society and as part of the land. This is the land from which my life springs, the fountain that nourishes my soul. Coming out to McKinney Falls and just letting go has cleansed me time and again of wounds that fester in the city. Today I saw a little frog leap off a big rock right in front of me and wiggle its way to safety down the hill. It paused just for a moment in its flight to watch me watching it, in a moment of mutual recognition. I hear the whistle of the hawks hunting together in the distance. The mockingbirds are feisty, ready for spring, as are the cardinals and the woodpeckers that beat in rhythm with the quickening buds. Everything is starting to sprout and blossom. The warm sun radiates over my body, chilled with cool breezes tasting of champagne. Like summer in the water when the currents are warm and cool, the air revitalizes my skin, shedding its winter pale, turning ruddy in the heat.

This connection to the earth reminds us who we are to each other and to this time. The water sounds so different with every bend, tree and pile of stones, acoustic alchemy touching the soul with memories of other lands, other people, and other times. When natives lived in the cave looking out over towering cypress and clattering cottonwood trees, they had everything they needed in the forest. Pecans, animals, water and grasses in abundance.  Would that our needs were so simple. We must find Eden somewhere in our lives. There is no other fountain of youth. When our breath sounds in rhythm with the sun’s beating heart we are truly one in spirit. The deer and her fawn I saw when I went fishing for a hawk feather in August were so shy and so beautiful, reminding me of my own unspoken tenderness. The hunting falcon, who let me see her strike but not her quarry, was another first. So much life is all around us that we never see. Peel back the layer of routine, of worry and preoccupation and there it is, cast before us like pearls every day, every minute. Why is it so hard to break the spell of our small lives when such beauty surrounds us? I’m reminded of angels who stand by, watching as we blindly spin our cocoon of thoughts and desires, loving us even when we forget to ask.

Nichirin Daishonin, a twelfth century Japanese monk, considered by some the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, quotes the great Chinese teacher Tien Tai, “Since the Law is wonderful, the person is worthy of respect, since the person is worthy of respect, the land is sacred.” So many of us ignore the opportunities we get every day to learn through nature. As every person we meet can be a teacher, so can we learn from every walk, any time spent reflecting on life outdoors. There are immense benefits to just being. In the moment lies the Holy Grail. It is the gift of life to feel this fountain of love pouring through everything and everyone. As the Navajo say:

Being as it were to be, long ago may I walk.
May it be happy before me.
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
May it be beautiful all around me.
In beauty is it finished, in beauty it is finished

In the cave at McKinney Falls, looking out over the land, marveling at the sounds and colors of life, I am loved. The Buddhists call it many in body, one in mind. When we know this unity of body and spirit, love springs forth from the small rock of our individuality into the ever-flowing river of life. It is a river of pearls, if we just have the eyes to see.


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