“Nelly and Fred. Fred died when he was in his early forties from leukemia a few years after our camping trip. They had four kids: Doretha, Arnold, Alan, and Sheila. Doretha was the oldest and didn’t go camping with us. Anyway, that weekend, as we explored the other side of the river, Arnold suddenly started thrashing around. I thought he had gone totally insane. It turned out that a hive of bees had targeted him but had totally ignored me. When we finally pulled his shirt off, I slapped about eight bees off of him.”
“I didn’t know that,” she smiled.
“That weekend we went camping with them, I found an ancient outhouse at the edge of the campground and decided to take advantage of it. The door got stuck. Can you believe that? I pounded on it and screamed bloody murder for at least half an hour. Someone finally came and tried to pry the door open, but whoever it was had no luck either and just walked off. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally kicked the door open.”
She chuckled, “I didn’t know that either.”
I told her other stories, about my boy scout initiation at Kirch Flats, about glimpsing a car at the bottom of the river, about the washed out bridge where I later found an abandoned Native American village site. (See April, 2014 post.) As I was driving, I spent about an hour trying to spread some kind of personal significance on a place that she could barely remember.
Since I grew up in the suburbs, when I was young I assumed that some kind of human presence extended beyond the road into the mountains, but that day, even as I followed with my eye the high tension power lines stretching across the hills, I realized with a sense of amazement at my own long-standing ignorance that human influence does not spread very much beyond than our own hubs of activity. Even after decades of hiking, it never occurred to me that humans even now have a tenuous foothold on nature. I have never encountered a person who actually lives in the wild. Instead I’ve discovered Native American sites abandoned over a century ago, a few irrigation hoses, even a collapsed tent high on a hill near about fifty mysterious plastic trash cans. During all those decades, I’ve only stumbled upon a few discouraged hunters in the wild.
Every time I take the road I inevitably cross some invisible boundary where the whole of human life no longer seems significant--even as some of the most significant memories of my childhood flood back to me. As human meaning fades quietly in the flowers and grass, the trees and rocks, I remember people who over the past forty years have passed on or moved to another state or simply disappeared. I remember a time when I felt sure that my friends and family would remain the same indefinitely. So much has vanished in the rush of time that I could almost imagine that there is no permanence to human life at all, but at the same time over the years by this river memories have returned so vividly, and I have heard wise voices in my inner ear and seen visions in my mind’s eye so clearly that I, each time that I reach the magical point in the road, am forced to contemplate, with a sense of sorrow, fear, and wonder, what does remain.
One reason I took my mother out on the road to North Fork was to stimulate her memory, which is getting worse every day. When we got there, I realized that I had also wished for the impossible: I had hoped that, with her help, I would get a better perspective on the significance of my childhood, which changed so dramatically after my father died, a month after I turned seventeen. And I wanted her to know why I remain so fascinated by this road: I can leave the community behind, its history and values, its attainments and illusions of permanence. I can find a peace beyond understanding.
She couldn’t hear me very well in the car, so I made no effort to communicate these feelings. I hoped that she would experience some sense of what I was experiencing, but I will never know if she did. She doesn’t speak much anymore and repeats herself a lot when she does. She has never told me about her spiritual experiences and probably never will.
I have recently discovered that if I ingest even a little gluten I experience heart palpitations, a condition that has inspired me to examine my life with ruthless honestly. Processed foods with gluten and corn byproducts and god-knows-what chemicals have assaulted my body--especially my digestive system--for decades. I realized on that road that I have never been able to have a normal life--but as I grew older I always expected to have one. At the magical point in the road, I was reliving a time when I had no expectations, just as I understood that I could have no expectations anymore, in a place where nothing was ever expected of me.
At the magical, invisible border that keeps changing, I saw clearly that on many levels my life has lacked continuity, a condition that began the day my father died. Besides my home and family, only nature has provided a sense of coherence. As I drove with my mother, I wondered if even that sense of coherence and continuity vanishes.
Nature provides a sense of continuity but communicates nothing about the past. Homo sapiens’ success as a species depends on communication of the past from one generation to another: Our niche is culture. We have to maintain continuity to survive, whether or not continuity is an illusion. Besides the abandoned Native American village sites, there is no culture anywhere beyond this road. Each moment is fresh and clear and lush with vegetation that sprouts and reaches toward the sun and destroys all evidence of the past. Flowers grow profusely even in dry years. This year, instead of the purple of Chinese houses, fiesta flowers, larkspur, and Ithuriel’s spears, and the soft pink of fairy lanterns, we found a sea of yellow tarweed and madia flowers and the fantasy pink of clarkia.
I felt myself becoming steeped in the river habitat, after we reached that invisible border, as though immersed in some magical realm. Several times by that river when I was a child I heard a voice in my head that told me what would happen years in the future, and, meditating by the river, I have envisioned the rose cross, which corresponds to an archetypal symbol that abides through the millenniums, reflecting, perhaps more clearly than any other symbol, what it means to be human: the Tree of Life. I had visions related to the Tree of Life before I knew it even existed, as if the Tree persists in some timeless, eternal dimension of the collective consciousness--whether or not individual memory fails, whether or not continuity prevails within a society, whether or not a society forces limiting, destructive beliefs and expectations upon its citizens.
Recently, in the floodplain of the river, the inner voice told me to “be free,” after I asked myself, “What should I do now?” After I realized that I suffered from gluten intolerance and adopted a gluten-free diet, I have felt physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually liberated. I am free of physical symptoms and negative thoughts and emotions. On the road, after I stepped out of the car, I felt like I’d been reborn in a place without any poisons that ravage the body, mind and spirit, a place without limiting, destructive beliefs or expectations. I felt like I could develop all the potentials within me.
As a symbolic matrix of the cosmos and the human psyche, the Tree of Life reveals all the forces and potentials that humans can know and develop. Some believe that it is an eternal glyph in the mind of God. No one religion can claim it as their own since it reflects facets of all spiritual traditions.
The Tree of Life symbolically reveals the cosmic forces, whether latent or functioning, within each human soul; each of us learns to handle these forces through a uniquely personal evolution. At the magical point in the road, I had an epiphany about my personal journey on the Tree of Life that I knew very few people would believe. I was born under the sign of Aquarius, on the 28th path known as “The Star,” or the “Path of Tzaddi” (“tzaddi” being a Hebrew letter that means “fish hook”). In other words I began my present life moving from the sphere of the Moon, Yesod (the ninth sphere, “The Foundation”) to the sphere of Venus, Netzach (the seventh sephira, “Victory”).
The state of being known as Yesod, in terms of cosmic evolution, provides the foundation of background energies behind physical manifestation; on the personal level, Yesod is associated with the background energies of the subconscious, and is considered a sphere of psychism. The seventh sphere of Venus on the cosmic level is the sphere where the unified energy of the Sun, from the sixth sphere, is refracted into a multiplicity of natural forces: The seventh sphere of Netzach is where one force becomes many. Venus, therefore, on the cosmic level is associated with the spiritual forces behind nature. On the individual level, Venus is associated with beauty, the arts, and love.
At that magical point in the road, I could clearly see that for the past several decades I have been experiencing the terrible initiation of the 24th path, known as “Death,” or the “Path of Nun” (“nun” being Hebrew for “fish”) between the sphere of Venus and the sphere of the Sun.
Experiencing the initiation of a path on the Tree of Life is perhaps the only way to see beyond a society’s limiting spiritual beliefs. Many people in Western societies still believe, for instance, that plants and animals are not intelligent forms of life; some believe that they do not contain the divine spark of life at all and only function through blind instinct predetermined by DNA. Moving on the 28th path from Yesod to Netzach, from the sphere of The Moon to the sphere of Venus, an individual experiences the sentient vibrations of plants and animals as well as invisible natural forces known as Over Souls and Gods. In the sphere of Venus, the individual grows enthralled by the beauty of nature and the arts and eventually develops a yearning for the light of the Source, symbolized by the Sun. This can lead to another initiation, where the consciousness of the lower personality is torn apart and reborn as the higher self on the “Path of Nun,” also known as “Death,” the path between the sephiras of “Netzach” and “Tiphareth.”
At that magical point in the road I also realized something else: Nothing can stop a soul that is ready for initiation, and nothing can keep an unprepared soul on the path. Nothing can convince a soul that a spiritual initiation or adventure is even possible if he or she is not open to the possibility.
After an oriole flitted in front of the car, I stopped, realizing that it was time to go home, but I didn’t want to leave that strange domain where human expectations don’t matter, where logic is different from the logic of the “normal” human world. But I also realized that nothing in nature can provide evidence that my spiritual experiences reflect anything more than a “human” need for continuity and permanence.
Soon, too soon, we headed back, and my mother smiled as I tried to describe another adventure in the hills. “Aren’t those flowers pretty,” she exclaimed.
Take the next path.
Climb the Tree of Life.