I’m resting quite contentedly in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northeast Georgia this weekend. The air is cold but it’s pure. The stars are overwhelming. The silence is breathtaking. The only sound is the wind that comes whipping across the mountains through the mostly bare trees and the mountain laurel. It is a sound that speaks directly to the soul. There is wisdom there; something deep, primal, and ancient. If silence is the best teacher, then the sound of wind is the runner up.
I live in a different world than this. Being here makes it easy to understand that we have lost some essential bit of knowledge that was probably commonplace among earlier civilizations. We live in a time where the living of one’s life is entirely externalized. Time, as we understand it, seems to always be working against us. We engage in war with the inevitable. We reside almost solely on the surface of our own humanity and as a result we feel as if we are under constant threat. Fragility, insecurity, and despair stalk us like a malevolent shadow.
Profiteers and others in position of power exploit this condition. They emphasize the trivial and nurture our affinity for the superficial. They convince us of things that are absurd beyond measure unless viewed solely from within the context that they have created. And oddly enough, “they” are really us. The lower nature that dwells within all of us combines with a cunning and ruthless determination and personalities are born who worship at the altar of personal gain. Some of them even make human sacrifices there. Even more sacrifice themselves there.
Life in the ancient world was surely brutal in its own right but we have different demons to contend with now. In the absence of the sacred we are left with the cruelty of an artificial reality, a world that never sleeps; a television commercial that won’t turn off and can’t be muted either. Turning inward is a rare act of rebellion. We can look around and see the results of living in such an externalized way. We can feel the effects in our own body and we can witness the thoughts that have been implanted into our consciousness by parasitic outside agencies.
But here in these mountains the static starts to clear. You are surrounded by the sacred. You realize how small you are. You realize how petty and insignificant your problems are. Interestingly, you are also empowered because in connecting with the sacred you become aware of the part of yourself that is also sacred; the part that has been covered up by the virtual reality of modern urban life and the make believe concerns that accompany it.
Simplicity. That’s what I get out here; the feeling that so much of what is essential comes down to simplicity. Keep it simple stupid. I think of a line by Ramana Maharshi, something about how what we really are - the Self with a capital “S” - is more like a feeling than a thought. It’s pre-thought. That’s where the sacred lies. It’s simpler than thought. Thought is too clouded with self-importance and unnecessary complexity. It’s too busy there. I think of another spiritual teacher who talks about The Art Of Do Nothing. That’s a wonderful and practical piece of advice but has nothing to do with being a couch potato.
I’m returning to the metro-life tomorrow but I’ll be taking these mountains with me. It’s clear that the part of me that recognizes the divine sense of wonder in this setting is just as capable of recognizing the divine beauty in any and every setting. It’s just a matter of tuning in to the right frequency. So I’ll get back home and wake up early in the morning at start fiddling with the dials again, tweaking the controls a little each day until the static disappears for good. Maybe it’s just a matter of finding the off switch.
I can’t think of any better way to conclude this train of thought than this Zen poem that I came across years ago:
The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.