“I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows.”
~ John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
What is it that draws us toward the seemingly intangible marrow that lies hidden, buried within the movements that make up our experience of living, or the common human desire to feel a sense of connection to the scenery of the world that revolves below our feet?
It isn’t quite clear if there is a definitive, logical answer to this, but resting within a sense of not knowing and learning to be with what draws us to the path and to that which cannot be rationally conceived is an intriguing practice.
Regardless of receiving an answer, the desire to seek something substantial is built into the fundamental framework of our human consciousness, and attempting to fill this hole with some form of pursuit is part of what it means to be a human being—an apparent disturbance that is perfectly natural, like a black pebble on the side of the road or a lounging Rhodesian Ridgeback’s wagging tail. The search is part of the overall landscape of living.
For some, the void is filled with various accoutrements and hobbies rooted into the outside world, and for others there is a sudden turning toward the source of our experience—a crown jewel or an unmapped realm buried deep within the experience of this mind. This particular search extrapolates outwards into a quest for meaning and also, a sense of connection to the infinitude around us moment to moment. The rationale here is simple: the way to understand the outside, is through first knowing the inner territories. The call to delve into our own mind and connect to the universe around us, finding our place within the mind-boggling magnitude of vastness, is the beginning scent of an impending transformation.
Stepping more mindfully onto the cobblestones and dust of the inner path, the surrounding darkness of the unknown allures with fresh scents—coyly calling us in for a closer look—the same way Keats was drawn to the nightingale’s beckoning song emanating from somewhere deep in the night. Shrouded within the darkness of the unknown and the vastness of our surroundings we envision the sweetness of what may linger beyond the senses and so the call is endearing in the same way that the phantoms of the woods were to the English poet. This calling knows of nothing else.
With a child-like sense of curiosity, we head in further to get our hair damp and our hands muddy, to howl at the moon and run with the fluctuations of the scenery.
There is a faint sense of familiarity at the edge of our inner depths, as if this expansive unknown is part of us, and this sense of familiarity is something that bleeds into the world we move through as well. The prospect of intimacy and understanding looms large here at the gates of the journey, but mirages no matter how vivid, fall to pieces in a soft breeze. Learning to get back up when the journey overwhelms becomes an important part of the voyage too. At times unfathomable and at times resting on the edge of our nose, the inner path presents itself to us shrouded in intrigue and mystery.
The call is a harbinger for a looming transformation. It is on the path of mindfulness we learn to attend—to be with what is here and to let the marrow of that “here” nourish us no matter what form it takes. Learning to attend the ‘nows’ that comprise our experience whether it is contentious or full of grief, the continuation of our attending begins to unravel us into the flow of reality, the pulsating beat of infinity.
Answering the call means coming back to the simple and profound task of taking inventory of our moment-to-moment experience of the life that is before us, to delve into the depths of inner stillness below the passing waves of doubts and opinions.
From the depths, we begin to question our versions of reality, our cherished answers to life’s seemingly fickle and bizarre manifestations, and then fundamentally, we question the ‘who’ or what that constitutes the ‘experiencer’ of reality. This ego figure which we associate ourselves with loses its parochial hold and dominion over what bleeds into our lives and there is a chance to take it apart, piece by piece, and realize the flow of energies. The calling for an internal journey signifies a flip or reversal to the status quo and a slow relishing of feeling off kilter. The ruler cannot fill the void any longer and so it is time to leave the abode and head out into the prospect of being with what comes into our zone of awareness.
When the dominoes have fallen and we have exhausted our outer avenues, it becomes clear that there is a way and that way leads straight into the mind.
The calling can come from any direction at any time.
A midlife crisis, a beautiful walk, the perceived freedom of children playing in the grass, a near death experience, a change of heart, or a slow drift away from an old lifestyle can catalyze the beginning of a transformation and alter our interaction with the present. The rug is pulled out from underneath our feet and suddenly the path is laid before us stretching into the silent distance. Whatever led us to where we are at that moment, we are there and that remains the quintessential law of the bending road.
Wherever we are, is where we are and it is just as worthy of our presence and our attention.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta