The Sigh of Blue

During the festival, when all the people were gathered in the temple, I went into the wood and sat on a little bench made of crumbling stone. I could not see them, but could hear the people singing and chanting down below, and I heard the teacher giving them lessons on peace. Her voice soothed them. When the guided meditation began, there was silence. And it was then, as I sat on the rock alone surrounded by the forest, with the golden leaves falling and the tall tree trunks marching away through the moss and with the birds singing their own gospel songs, that I forgot ritual and belief and faith, and there were no walls to the temple anymore.

Now two years later I come again to this place, where the temple still shines golden upon an ascending hill at the end of a small glade cleared from the oak and rock of the New York Catskills. There’s no festival, but the grounds are as beautiful as before, if not more so since the crowds have gone. The wooden buildings of the monks stand cozy amongst the trees and the flowers cheer the winding stone paths. Hummingbirds can be heard from a hundred paces. It is a very quiet place.

In India during the monsoon we would sit in the outdoor cafe and the power would suddenly go off, and Blue, the German street flutist, would close his eyes and sigh happily. He’d turn to me with the glistening eyes of a conspirator and say, “Joe, do you heeeear that? Siii-lence. Sooo beauuut-iful.” And he’d wave his charras cigarette at the jungle with the feminine delicacy that was his way, and sip his cortada and sigh. The electricity surging through the lines, the turning of a fan, the hum of a lightbulb, the whirring from the kitchen–all had gone suddenly silent. I’d never realized how much noise there was, not until the power went off.

This is why I return here, to the glade where monks live, and why I value the woods and other silent origins. I go to turn off the noise. I wish to hear the sighs of my friend Blue again.

The rain began this morning, a gray New York day in June when everything drips and the green is fantastic. After lunch with the monks and working visitors, all of us working on our smiles together, I leave them and find a path leading into the forest.

I wish to hear the sighs of my friend Blue again. tweet

The woods feel old today. The trees feel of tall sullen men wearing waterlogged boots, huddled in side alleys, peering down at my tiny person as I navigate the sidewalk cracks and risk being washed into the storm drains. These woods remind me of the forests outside Zurich, which from outside look black and one wonders if within there is an old bent man walking with a cane. Indeed, perhaps I am the old man today.

I sit down and wipe the rain from my arms. The loves of my life come and sit down beside me. I think of sad and lovely things.

And when I get up to begin again, there’s movement a little far off. I think it a dog, but it’s a deer, the smallest and youngest deer I’ve ever seen. It walks steadily toward me, and unbelievably, comes within an arm’s reach. It pauses and shakes off the drops from its white-spotted coat, and still it hasn’t seen me.

The trees feel of tall sullen men wearing waterlogged boots, huddled in side alleys, peering down at my tiny person as I navigate the sidewalk cracks and risk being washed into the storm drains. tweet

It can hear my breath now, it’s ears perked and huge on its little baby head, and its eyes alert and startled. But it seems more curious than afraid. It becomes a friend. I blink and give myself away. It becomes a deer again and bounds off into the mist.

The sky opens up and the rain comes down hard, so not even the tree canopy can shield me. I walk fast watching for stones in my way. I stumble ahead and it’s too cold for June and maybe I’m mad at the deer that has left me. And then it becomes something more than that and I stop beneath a sagging limb and am soaked.

If I were to go looking for God, I would go into the woods and walk the trails. I would watch my shoes get muddy and trip on rocks in the way. I’d fall down and rush ahead and get lost and get afraid. Until I lost the path hammered hard by a million previous steps of others who went looking for something they didn’t think they already were. Until I sat upon a tree stump and held my tired head in my hands. Until I looked at my muddy shoes and wondered where I’d been and for why and what on earth lay ahead. Until I was soaked to the bone. Until there was silence and I was drenched in the beauty of all that was there, and knew that this beauty was of everything before and nothing was lost but everything changes and this is why the rain falls and deers bound away. Until I saw the twinkle in the eyes of the tall sullen trees. Until I laughed and knew all of it as me.

Until I sighed.

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