Walking in the early morning on the Lizard Head trail under the red cliffs of Sedona, Arizona, last Sunday, I repeated the mantra I often use while taking hikes: “Am I here? Am I here? Am I here?” Was I really present, really awake, to the crunch of dirt under my feet, the calls of small birds flitting among the junipers, the glow of sun on walls of bright stone? Or was I adrift in thoughts of yesterdays and tomorrows? The question brought into the present my thoughts of the past and future. The movement of my body, the changing scenery, the slow rise of the sun in the sky, the rising and ebbing drone of cicadas, reminded me that now is not a fixed point, but rather is attentive consciousness of a constant flow.
My legs flowed up red ledges of rock, smoothed by rivulets gone dry, to the base of the massive promontory. Above, on a long thin ledge amid banded walls of solid rock, was a natural garden: a sublime composition of cacti, juniper, yucca, and scrub. Beyond to the northwest were mesas glowing yellow and orange in early light, and a range of austere mountains in the faded distance to the south. I sensed the movement of everything, even the slow movement of the stones.
The meditation heightened my appreciation for all that surrounded me, but left me with a longing for something (Someone?) more. The gorgeous landscape allured me. What was within and behind it all? I yearned to experience the Whole that lived and moved in the parts.I began another meditation while walking down from Lizard Head: asking “What is here? What is here? What is here?” I asked, and observed: rocks, bird calls, sunlight, sweat on my forehead, steady pants of breath, broken branches, orange sand, aching for Ultimate Reality. My mind was part of the scenery that fascinated my mind. My longing for God was present, just like everything else. My awareness of the longing liberated me from attachment to it. Once I recognized and released my desire for God, the one longing and the One longed-for were one. I laughed: so far away I thought I’d been, yet always so close to the One I sought. So God and I flowed back down the trail in the lightness and freedom of the eternal now.
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California – orl.usc.edu