We all need allies—fellow travelers on the path—to connect with deeply. This is especially so when words don’t express what takes you beyond the everyday life to the one that has no form. Yet your allies do understand and can add their own stories that place you on common ground. I’m truly fortunate to have such people in my life. It’s not by accident. I’ve cultivated them, or we’ve cultivated each other, over time. This is a post that shares such a foundation.
Last week near dusk—the Hour of Power—my long-time friend Yaqin Lance Sandleben and I ventured into the forest. Yaqin is a Cherag, an ordained Sufi minister following the Chisti Sufi lineage of India. A number of years ago, we would meet periodically to meditate among the pines. This time was different though. We felt called to offer prayers in the wake of the Doce and nearby Yarnell Hill fires. We got as close as we could without overstepping the areas the Forest Service had closed to re-seed the burned places. Yaqin shared his own insights later with a message to his community. With his permission, I’ll share excerpts with you.
“Granite Mountain is a sacred mountain to me, and to many others. As a friend says, it is our mount Kailash, our Mount Meru. It is quite different than the other mountains in our area and has an ancient old growth forest on top. The fire, the day it began, was whipped into a great frenzy by strong winds, going from less than a hundred acres to over 5000 acres burned or burning in one day. The smoke was towering over Prescott. I knew that at some point I would have to go to the mountain and meditate. Seek understanding…Naturally when we meditate, we may hear many voices and ideas, and part of our awakening path is to develop discernment. I pray for that wisdom.”
The area is filled with rock formations. We made our way to one of them and settled in, Granite Mountain rising up before us. Yaqin was quite content sitting next to a fallen tree while the black ants that covered it made a beeline to me. I finally decided it was an invitation to go elsewhere. I’m glad I did.
Close by I noticed a ponderosa pine so large it towered over any of the others in the area. A Grandfather. All the others were much younger. When I got closer I noticed the most curious thing. Its trunk was newly charred at the base and every bit of ground within a fifteen foot radius was burned. Yet the other trees and bushes in the area weren’t touched, only small places of brush damaged. We were a distance from where the fire had been raging. I silently questioned if a spark had been carried on the wind.
I was drawn to to this Grandfather like a magnet. Its energy was extraordinary. I wrapped my arms around it, put my forehead against its trunk. Then moved to place my back solidly along its line of support. It had stories to tell. After walking slowly around its base I sat down on my haunches and gazed up at its high branches. That’s when I got the real sense of what it is to be stationery and know a threat is approaching that you could do little about—except perhaps to attract it. And it seemed to me, that this Grandfather, with all its resident energy, drew the fire to protect the others.
I knew I could share my impressions with another ally Mike Weddle, who lives in Maryland, initiated in the Kaqchikel and K’iche Maya traditions as an Ajq’ij, or Daykeeper and Spiritual Guide. He wrote back to me.
This is the way of the Ajq’ij, to pull the enemy near,
to resist using your power to cause them harm, to turn them into allies.
And shortly on the heels of Mike’s message, Yaqin shared this in his community message: “I settled into meditation and breath. After a while, I began offering prayers of healing. I practiced with the Medicine Buddha, offering healing. I felt intuitively that fire was a natural part of the life of the forest, causing harm to some beings, such as trees, birds, insects, and animals; but also a kind of purification, a natural cycle of life.
“I began asking questions to the Universe, at first about fire in the forest around me. The first impression I received was a koan.
The memory of fire remains but not forever.
“As I sat and breathed, I felt this had more than one level, including describing the workings of the human heart, and that further contemplation is called for. When I opened the query again, gazing at Granite Mountain, I received a second, though quieter impression:
The mountain remains but not forever.
“That thought echoed down the halls of eternity. I continued meditation and breathing. After a while, I asked the forest beings, the invisible ones, whom Inayat Khan calls the ‘unseen beings,’ about the fire and whether it damages them or what their relation is to the fires, and I got a clear impression, a vision. I saw that within the raging fire, there are invisible fire beings, who are with the fire itself, and are a part of it, as other invisible beings are a part of the forest. Perhaps they tend it, as it has been said that invisible beings tend every growing thing.
“I asked the invisible beings around me if they have fear or suffering with the fire, and the answer came fairly clearly…
They are our brothers.
…’they’ referring to the invisible fire beings. I am not sure gender is actually a part of their existence, maybe it was just how my mind interpreted the answer. I continued mediation, also watching large black ants wandering around a fallen tree, and the rock on which I sat. Sometimes they wandered on me. I could see a few smaller ones going into a hole in the tree, coming back out with very small pieces of wood from the hole they were digging tirelessly.
“I then asked the question: Is there a meaning to the Sacred Mountain in the heart of Prescott burning? And I heard these quiet replies.”
The Mountain is.