Ceremony of Darkness


I had made a pact with Marie that she would wake me up when it was time, but I could not fall asleep and so I waited for her between dreams and the cold desert night. She whispered into my tent and I emerged ready; we embraced and promised to check in before the sunrise spilled its light into the valley. She headed east into the poverty hills and I south through the dried up riverbed, flanked by an ocean of sage brush and the Sierras in the west.

A friend once told me they were called the poverty hills because miners had found no gold, but there was something austere about their texture that reminded me of the spiritual poverty of those who do find gold. I pictured them in my mind, jumping up and down and pulling the flesh from the earth, filling their pockets with her teeth. I offered some tobacco and pulled four stones out of the riverbed. Black, yellow, white, and a black igneous pockmarked rock. I set them into a line and opened the door. Crossing the threshold into ceremony, I looked back at the camp as I closed the rock door back into its’ line. The wind blew through the valley and the tents looked like they were dancing in time to the movement of the planets overhead. In the desolation of the valley, the strangers who slept in those tents were my best friends. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin.

The moon had not risen and would not for hours; it had a long climb over the Inyos before it would grace the valley. And it was dark. Dark and silent save for the wind and my own breathe. In and out, the wind and my breathe, this is reciprocity, I thought. I walked until the tents had long faded into the darkness, and I turned up into the hills. With each step, a gentle cascade of quartz dribbles out from underneath my foot and in the darkness I can see the infinite lattice extending these crystals through time and space. One speck of sand breaks the symmetry of it all and I look back towards the sky to see the stars beginning to tumble out of suspension as the heavens continue their turn and the reflection of the moon becomes like a silver sunset in reverse. The light is coming.

The terrain is steep and I left my flashlight at the tents, no need for it anyways. Each step brings greater depth to my lungs, each breathe more excited as my body gains elevation. As I climb, my roots descend deeper. I am following the moon and there is a fox or coyote following me; I cannot see her but I recognize the movements of a skilled tracker. She does not want to be seen and neither do I; we keep each other’s solitude by walking with respect.

I climb until my heart commands a pause. I lay my body upon the surface of the hill and feel the contrast of our temperatures; she is cold on my skin, though I know underneath there is a fiery heart at play. I ask myself why we so often fear the darkness, why there is such anxiety over not knowing, over not being seen and not being able to see. Without the light there is no shadow on the earth, and I see the unity of darkness. Separation is a fallacy; we are all dark matter on this night.

There are moments when my mind thinks of continuing up the hill, but my body knows to stay still. Continuing might bring me closer to the horizon, but the moon will come of its’ own accord, there is no need to rush our meeting. I think back on the woods of Lincoln in the winter, when the starlight on snow reflected into every nook of the Three Friends Trail. I would walk from my home through the forest and over the railroad tracks and greet all the beings who lived on the path. In the darkness, I always found the shaman’s heart inside. Perhaps this was a natural consequence of a childhood amongst the elements.

As a man, I am still most like myself inside this same silent stillness, though the desert winds are of a different flavor than the breathe of the Atlantic. These winds are dry and fragrant, they bellow through the valley and pick up the taste of the sage. My awakeness may be the same, but I am a different man now; in this and every moment, we are all made new. As the moon draws closer to the precipice of the horizon, I find that I am reluctant to abandon the full darkness. It has become comfortable, like the womb. The light will bring differentiation and it will drive awakeness away like a scattering of birds lifted into the air. I am not ready.

Grandmother moon calls the fears out and a pair of rabbits scatter into the brush. They must have been watching me the whole time but their fear was quieter than my own. The fox is gone and I am alone; I know this now. Breaking apart from the darkness are shapes and statues draped in shadow. The landscape is like liquid without gravity; everything is circles and spheres and moonlight as bright as all the stars combined. And I, alone, am of the earth now. The boundaries of this skin remind me there are bones underneath, that this body will not flow, it will break; this is my seat in the West. We are inside the temple of darkness, we are chasing the sunset, we are the fulfillment of each other’s dreams and nightmares. You are never alone, because you are never you, the moon whispers.

What is authenticity if everything we ever learn is made by someone else? What is this specialness that we crave? If all knowledge descends from differentiation, then unity must be the lack of all knowledge. The zen master rings a bell deep in my memory and I know it is time to get up. I wash my shadow off the trail, sending clouds of dust down the hill as harbingers of my footsteps as I follow it into the valley. By the time I reach the threshold, my gaze has been lost to the sky. What is there to be afraid of? If fear is generated by the mind, and is an illusion like all other perceptions, then these forms of energy themselves pass under the moonbeam and through their own cycles. Fear and hope, this is reciprocity; we cannot deny the fullness of our experience, for this is where we see ourselves reflected back.

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