Watching the sun rise over the wetlands, the mist fading, even here in the midst of nature there is the strange stillness of a world in lockdown—waiting, wondering, anxiety, and fear its companions. I am writing these words in the time of the great pandemic, when for a few brief months our world slowed down and almost stopped; when as the stillness grew around us there was a moment to hear another song, not one of cars and commerce, but belonging to the seed of a future our hearts need to hear.
This song comes from a place where the angels are present, where light is born, where the future is written. This is a future that goes back to the beginning, to the time when the names of creation were given to humanity, when the waters were pure and the plants and the animals sang their true purpose and we were present in praise and thanksgiving.
And now, even when thousands of years have passed, civilizations come and gone, even now in this time of the great forgetting—when the wells run dry, when the air is toxic, when we are at the end of an era in the time of the great dying—that essential note is once again present in my consciousness, that song of the angels that is also the song of creation, of what is born and comes into being. Without this return to the Source nothing true can be born, just more layers of distortion, more veils that obscure us from what is real. And this note of the Source is so simple. It is not an answer to a question, because in the simplicity of Self there is no question. Like a bud breaking open in springtime, it just is—life returning after a long winter, after storms and snow.
I will try to tell the story of this beginning, of this note of the Source, of this place of pure being. Because stories are what bring the unborn into life, allow their songs to be heard and understood. Stories are what weave us into the many colors of existence, and take us by the hand and lead us into the circle of life’s dance. And at this time—when we are surrounded by all the signs of a civilization that has lost its way, that has forgotten what is sacred—it is vital that we recognize there is a new dance beginning, a new note of love that bonds together humanity and the web of life.
Every culture has its creation stories, whether they are of the Garden of Eden of Judeo- Christianity, or the Great Light of the Skywoman falling to Earth of the Haudenosaunee people. They tell us where we belong in the beginning, and how this beginning is then woven into our lives. And for many centuries we live this story: we are a people after the Fall, banished from Eden, living by the “sweat of our brow”; or we are present in the generosity of a land where the Good Spirit protects Her people. And now, at the end of an era, when these stories are mostly just remembered in books, and we live without our feet touching the earth, there is the possibility of a new story—one that carries the sweetness of that first spring day, when the sun grew round and warmed the land, and everything was known as sacred. And if we can take the note of this beginning and weave it into stories and songs, make it a remembrance that is alive in each moment, then the Earth can be healed and a new cycle of life begin. Or we will remain stranded amidst the debris of the world we created, of concrete and metal, the sacred nature of life long forgotten.
Of course I am also recounting my own story, because all we can truly tell is our own story—what makes us live and gives us meaning. And our own story is our greatest gift to life, if we can find the thread, the song of our own unique story, and untangle it from the stories around us, especially the dark dreams of consumerism, the collective stories of greed and desire, that are destroying the web of life. If we can return to and uncover the essential story of our own existence, we can give what is real back to the Earth, which craves this simple nourishment, this songline of a soul. The Earth in her endless generosity has given us life and the opportunity to live our story, and so we return this gift, this note of love. Many years ago I was shown how this can be an offering on the altar of life:
Wait till you feel your own story like a dream, like a possibility, and then give it to the Earth as an offering. Give your own story to the Earth as an offering, full of meaning, full of possibilities, and full of the song of the soul, that ancient song, so ancient it was born before the beginning and yet also knows the meaning of time. The Earth has been so much cut up that it needs again to know wholeness, to be given wholeness as a gift. What you can offer is your own story, which is your own wholeness, the essence of your becoming, to give that as a seed to the heart of the world.
My own story began one summer day when I was sixteen, when I read a Zen koan about wild geese, which opened a doorway into a world full of wonder. Until then I had lived the story of my family, of a grey middle-class childhood of boarding school and cold baths and sports. Then I began to practice meditation and had access to states of inner emptiness, but I was also given a key to a world full of light and laughter, sunlight reflecting off water. There was a garden in my boarding school beside the river where I would go when classes were over, and I could sit in this awakening world of wonder, of color and fragrance. It was a time of prayer without words, a prayer because around me all of creation was alive with light, and I could sit and see it all, the water flowing around my hands as they dipped into the river.
And now, half a century later, this garden again calls to me. Its story speaks to me of a different way to be that belongs to both silence and love, as well as to the simple sounds of nature, bird calls and wind in the trees, water moving over stones. I will try to tell this story as it comes to me, as I walk down the pathways of this garden and feel the memories in the air. This for me is the world before the Fall, before we forgot, when magic and wonder were as present as the breath.
But before I walk down these pathways, even before I enter this garden of magic and beauty, where the fragrant honeysuckle hangs over the wall and the jasmine is a symphony of white sweetness, I must speak a little of the darkness, because in our present time a dark thread is being woven into life’s tapestry. This pandemic has faced us with a collective suffering, fear of death and fear for the health of loved ones, as well as our own future. There is also the pain of the poor, hunger and destitution, the migrant worker without home or job or food. This suffering is real and touches upon the social and racial inequalities of our cultures. And as this unfolds around us we also face the prospect of the many calamities that await as climate collapse enters our world more fully—not just as a scientific prognosis, but as a fully felt reality, creating more refugees and migrant camps, starvation as the crops fail, as droughts and floods come more frequently. Yes, we have seen the seeds of love and compassion as communities come together to help and support each other. But we cannot deny the dark side of the coming years, as anxiety becomes fear, hunger becomes famine, social unrest becomes social collapse. This time of transition will not be easy.
There is a dark price to pay for our abuse of the Earth, for the years we have lost in our patterns of denial, in our exploitation, greed, and corruption, despite all the warnings we have been given. The first time we walked in the garden long ago, it was as children—innocent, naked, unknowing. Now if we remember to walk through the door that is always open we will have paid the price of our forgetfulness. We will have suffered and bled. It cannot be otherwise.
And now that we have wandered so far from the Source there is need to remember our origins, to return to the place where we were born so long ago. Our scientists tell us that the origin of our universe was the Big Bang almost fourteen billion years ago, when, from out of non-existence, first light was born, and then the physical universe came into being. And then, only four billion years ago, life first appeared on this planet.
But our home is not just the physical world, but also the numinous world of the soul and its stories, stories that describe our world coming into existence from Aboriginal Dreamtime, for example, which belongs not to some definable past, but to “everywhen.” Or as the mystic experiences, all around us, every moment of every day, the dance of life coming into existence as the infinite emptiness takes on form. But this deeper understanding of our existence has been covered over by the concepts of our mind and its patterns of thought. And so in order to reconnect with the Source we need to uncover and return to a more pristine consciousness. We need to reenter the garden where life and light and love were first woven together, where the threads that define our existence came into being.
This garden is hidden all around us, present in places our rational self cannot enter. Here the angels stand guard, keeping the integrity of what is sacred, holding the light of the first day. And they are also waiting for our return, for us to walk out of the cloud that covers us, this fog of forgetfulness, and to return to what is sacred, what is essential, what has neither past nor future even as it embraces both. Yes, we are born from stardust and that first light; we came whirling out of non-existence, and we carry this memory in our DNA, in the cells of our body and memories of the soul. And before the Earth becomes just dead matter, finally killed by exploitation and grief, we need to find this story, song, dance, dream, and so help the Earth become alive again, its colors to sing in the air.
Because just as stories nourish our soul, give us a sense of belonging, so too do stories nourish the Earth in hidden ways. This is part of the ancient covenant between humanity and the natural world, how magic is woven into the web of life and how that magic can come alive again, in the songlines of Dreamtime, in the images of the First Peoples, spirals engraved on stone, or the animals, bison and bulls, even a rhinoceros, painted on the cave walls in Southern France. Our rational world may have banished magic from our consciousness, but it is still very present in the Earth and Her ways. It speaks of the hidden mysteries of life, the power of sacred place, or the healing properties of plants. This is traditionally the domain of the priest or shaman, but is also our common heritage, part of the wisdom of the early days. And when we speak to the Earth with reverence and thanksgiving, when our stories are true, then the magic within the world can come alive, and can nourish life, clear the water that has become polluted, return to it powers that have been lost.