Quite unexpectedly the other day I found myself on a treasure hunt. There are three ancient oaks within a few minutes of where I live, and early in the morning in the blue light before dawn, I often visit them. This particular morning, they told me to walk deeper into the forest and to look for treasure.
The word treasure was unmistakable. It was the old grandfather oak this morning that called to me. Approaching, I folded my hands over my heart and felt his presence deep beneath me and far above me, then gently walked into his circle.
A few deep breaths… I smell his astringent odor, a moist mossy flavor in my mouth, my sandals are kicked off and the salient curving of his roots rise up where my feet meet the red clay soil. Silence, chill morning air, the pressure of the forest building on my skin.
Contact. My head rests against his massive trunk, which my mind knows is hard, course, and abrasive–but I swear it feels soft and inviting, almost like water. My palms are flat, softly placed, and I feel a distinct, sweet-warm sensation swirling in my chest. My feet, knees, thighs are all buzzing. A gust of cool wind wraps around us, then a showering chime of autumn leaves fall.
Treasure! The word pops into my head strongly in a mental voice that, over many years, I’ve come to associate with trees, particularly oaks. Perhaps it’s just subconscious noise surfacing, or random neurons firing off in the silence between breaths. Who knows.
Few people take time to listen to the “still, small voice within.” And fewer still take the time to learn, sense, discriminate the many voices that speak within that voice. Perhaps the “still, small channel within” is more accurate. Sometimes the emotion, thought, vibration, color, sensation, imagination that floods the inward channel is neither small nor still!
I often wonder… perhaps this is all make-believe. Perhaps there are better uses of my time and spiritual focus. Or maybe this muscle inside is actually important, like something inside waiting to emerge, like participation of the mind and heart of the soul that has somehow become dissociated from our bodily sensations. Perhaps human beings once lived with all their faculties fully awake, engaged, and deeply attuned to life everywhere.
The oak tree roars, Treasure!
What?! I blurt out loud, startling myself. Silence… My mind runs over images of gold doubloons, chests of jewelry and precious stone, images from movies and books of treasure.
I take another deep breath… I exhale into the tree, letting a deep, calm, devotional current of myself flow down into the mighty oak. I inhale, feeling a current of information, energy, consciousness flowing into me from the oak’s deep roots and high branches. The first rays of morning light are reaching over the top of the forest now.
After a few rounds of breathing, the word comes back, softer, richer… treasure. I create a space of gratitude, unconditional love, sensitive feeling around the word “treasure”. The word melts and new synesthetic images appear: rustly emotions, tingly thoughts, kinesthetic flavors, geometric brushstrokes that make impressions on the background of my mind.
A vibrational soup arises, a sense of being imbued with something (Treasure!) swims up and down, from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I take a step back from the tree feeling mellow, warm, a bit dizzy… a moment to look up and let my eyes wander through brown branch and blue sky, and then begin my treasure hunt through the forest begins.
“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also – if you love them enough.” ―
Trees, rocks, invisible feelings in the wind–if we’re careful and listen deeply, there are hidden messages everywhere. It’s a lot like learning a new language, or perhaps an old language we have just forgotten.
I first learned to listen when I became a school teacher. My students would tell me things with words, but I’d always hear something else, a subtle message, feeling, sensation behind the words. For awhile I just called this “consciousness”, but that quickly became too obscure to be useful.
Some people feel a little peace in meditation, a little magic in the full moon, a little wonder watching a child play, a little wisp of beauty in the spring flowers, a little surge of god behind a prayer… I’ve always been driven to learn that language, to remember the language of the invisible places that fascinate our imagination and spiritual ambition. Surely that language is embedded in us all, waiting to turn abstract mystery into lucid, full-spectrum experience.
On my saunter through the woods, treasure hunting, I found a pink snake skin, an arrowhead, a beaded stake from a native american ceremony, an unusual green polished stone, and a hawk feather. I knew my journey was complete when I found the hawk feather. It appeared suddenly underfoot, and instinctively I knelt and imagined the bird it came from (perhaps a speckled Cooper’s Hawk). Then, with a gust of wind, a very large, speckled Cooper’s Hawk fell from a branch about twenty feet above my head, swooping out through the oak, pine, cedar, madrone, shrieking it’s hawk cry… Treasure!
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” ―
I walked back in wonder, passing by my friend the ancient oak with gratitude. Again, the wind, air temperature, forest noises, rustling animals, the “pressure” of the atmosphere against my skin… everything seemed to play with me, warming and singing and illuminating me inside, much like the mystique one feels staring into a crackling fire, bundled up on a cold night. Well… perhaps my journey was just imagination!
Yet, there is a secret language to life, and often we label it unfairly. Some call it instinct or intuition, or our conscious, and they listen to it when they can. Others call it fantasy because they know not the mechanisms of their own imagination (thought perhaps they knew its workings as a child). Some label it “psychic phenomena” because they’ve never had experiences of their left and right brain “lighting up” at the same time. Others might fear this language, if the nature of the mind of the soul feels foreign to their personality. Still others might call it madness, because deep down, where they’ve imprisoned the faculty to know life’s secret language, they feel frustrated–deaf, blind and mute.
Everyone, however, is free to explore, experience, and experiment with the vast quality and substance of inner space and the mysteries of self. There’s nothing really secret about life’s language at all. In fact, the only real secret–and an important one to seek out–is how humanity became separated from this faculty in the first place.
For me, knowing this “secret” language is a matter of survival. Since I was a child, I’ve had a deep yearning for more. A profound, often physical sense of unbearable separateness from something I once had connection with, and a deep loneliness sitting in my psyche, lodged in that space where once unity existed.
It is only when having these “conversations” with life, both within and without, that the yearning is fulfilled, the separateness subsides, and the sadness churns into a rich, kinesthetic nectar of belonging. And so daily I have conversations with my soul because, simply put, the feeling of separateness and loneliness is excruciating if I do not!
My soul, of course, I can find everywhere, or more accurately–anywhere there is life. Strangely, I often find more life in an old oak tree than in the people I see in supermarkets and drugstores. Perhaps our definition of what makes somebody or something “alive” bears scrutiny.
In any case, as Thoreau says, there are “essential facts of life” that are not self-apparent to us without effort and intention, especially not in this day and age. We all spend our lives looking for treasure of some kind or another: material, spiritual, social, psychological. We look for it in entertainment and in leisure, in the ancient promises of our wisdom traditions and in the exciting hopes of future technology.
Patiently, as we seek here and there, efforting, this precious thing inside us sits, waiting for us to decide that we are ready.
One might imagine the whole cosmos waits, holding its breath, for us to decide that we are ready. For this precious thing that only we can bring forth is a gift for all creation. It was given to us, planned and prepared for us the moment our universe first came into being. This thing, this primeval element, waiting to be acknowledged and activated, is our birthright, something natural and intrinsic and inherent to our existence. Slowly, we find it, fragmented at first, then more and more a part of our greater whole.
Meanwhile, soulful urges within us and ancient places around us that still remember roar, Treasure!