Present

Finally, birds. Bird song, bird color.

Finally, crocus. Snowdrops. Glory of the Snow. The grass might even need to be cut soon.

glory of the snow

Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow)

Peter Matthiessen died this past weekend. I’ve only read one of his books from beginning to end, The Snow Leopardwhich I recommend. A nonfiction account of traveling the Himalayans after the death of his wife, it’s lyrical and the kind of stark that strips you down to feel more free than bone-naked.

Matthiessen was a longtime practitioner of Zen; The Snow Leopard  is an amalgamation chronicling his physical journey (in glorious, stay-with-you detail), memories of his wife, and his search for the plainest of mystical experiences: the “wholehearted acceptance of what is” (The Snow Leopard, 242). As Jeff Himmelman in The New York Times Magazine puts it, “the various strands of Matthiessen’s journey cohere into a kind of fable, in which the potential for clarity and insight struggles to fly free of the past and the people that he (we) can’t ever really let go of.”

That combination of mountains, journey, grief and . . . how to say? . . . absolute presence is right up my sky-loving alley. And because life is great this way (or is it because my brain, as a matter of course, sees connections between seemingly disparate readings and/or realities?), I must reference here one of my new favorite voices, Emma, of Emma’s Hope Book. Emma painstakingly makes her words and sentences by either pointing to one letter at a time on a stencil template or tapping the same on a qwerty keyboard connected to an iPad. Here she is discussing how she thinks, in contrast with the way her parents think (with whom she is having the discussion). Her father asks her to describe her internal experience, particularly since she only uses internal dialogue when communicating with non-autistic people.

Emma responds: Know that I am almost always happy and take great pleasure in sounds, color, fabric. Everything in life is beautiful if you are able to be here.

Emma seems to be saying she very much lives inherently present to the moment—the way that Peter Matthiessen wanted to live and think, the reason he trained and practiced Zen meditation for so many years. In “The Tree Where Man Was Born” Matthiessen writes,

Lying back against these ancient rocks of Africa, I am content. The great stillness in these landscapes that once made me restless seeps into me day by day, and with it the unreasonable feeling that I have found what I was searching for without ever having discovered what it was. 

Which seems to be a kind of holy Presence. Matthiessen calls it that himself, earlier in Himmelman’s story, when describing an experience he had at the end of a meditation session:

The silence swelled with the intake of my breath into a Presence of vast benevolence of which I was a part . . . I felt “good,” like a “good child,” entirely safe. Wounds, ragged edges, hollow places were all gone, all had been healed; my heart lay at the heart of all Creation. Then I let my breath go, and gave myself up to delighted immersion in this Presence, to a peaceful belonging so overwhelming that tears of relief poured from my eyes.

Grace is all I know to call it. And the reality that healing—real change—is possible.

 

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