memory – Joshua Tree

July 3rd was the Thunder Full Moon which reminds me how we live so protected from the elements. Having lived in Bodhgaya India and the wilderness of Hokkaido for years, Sensei was a man with few if any needs. I think he enjoyed the overnight excursions we made on occasion over the years, though he’d never admit it. Instead he’d say we were on a search for a good meditation place in the wilderness (aranya). I think it was sort of an excuse because he’d often quote Buddha saying the best place to meditate is where you sleep (i.e. your home), and that there’s no need to go here or there in search of ideal conditions.

But one such excursion was pivotal in my own life. The two of us went camping in Joshua Tree National Park in the middle of Summer in 2002. The landscape there is really interesting, and we got to experience it first hand on our way home via a 4WD-only road called “Geology Tour Road” which we followed through Berdoo Canyon all the way back to Palm Springs. There were three times when I had to drive over large boulders and get out to check the car and the rock, rock and car, then move forward a foot and repeat a few times. Sensei probably thought I was crazy and I was a little, having had no experience with this sort of thing and being so isolated there. But we made it out with just a couple scratches. We had camped the night before at Jumbo Rocks, where Sensei slept in the back of my Ford Explorer and I tucked myself into a sleeping bag/bivy sack combination on the ground. It had been an exhausting and transformative day for me, so I fell deeply asleep. Hours later in the dead of night, I was startled awake by the sounds of a dozen coyotes yipping and running all around within a couple feet of me. After a few minutes of sheer panic, I discovered they were chasing a rabbit and not attacking me. The next morning over a light breakfast, when I recounted the story, he just laughed kindly before we headed out Geology Tour road. We had arrived the day before in the mid-day sun, set up meditation cushions in the shade of one of the Jumbo Rocks and sat for one or two hour-long periods. I couldn’t do it. I was restless and couldn’t sit still any more. Something was eating at me and I was determined to face it. Sensei told me, ‘If you can’t sit then walk. Walk until you sit.’ So I put on my hat and set off in a random direction across the open desert with no plan. I love hiking in the heat and was at home despite my directionless mind. Several hours later, in some small valley somewhere it hit me; somehow what I was struggling with became clear. I just said to myself “huh” and sat down where I was standing for a half-hour meditation. While there was no action or decision to follow the insight, I had released something and life and meditation became easier. I wandered back to dine with Sensei who was happily meditating in the evening shade as he had been some 4 hours previous.

How did he know? So grateful for his insightful guidance. I’d been struggling with meditation the previous 7 years, and within about 6 months of this epiphany, my practice was more serene than it had ever been. I’ve been so lucky. Thank you, Sensei!!

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