A Course in Outdoor Miracles
One Life (A Play)
Losing it: The Doing and Undoing of Personal Violence
Grandfather would sit at the foot of the bed and tell us stories. There was always a brave young girl or boy who would overcome the obstacles, the monsters, restoring the peace so sorely needed in the land. Help came from the oddest places. A bug or a bird, a grain of sand, a chance wind or a meeting made all the difference in the story. Never, without that help, could the boy or girl achieve their goal.
I always saw myself as the hero. Sometimes the bug or the bird. Occasionally as the land.
But now I see myself as the monster.
People say we have no myths to guide us anymore in America. That is wrong. We have all the stories ever told. we just don’t like the part of the story we’re playing, we Americans, we white male euro-scientistic lost little lambs with nuclear power. We are the monsters, the obstacles, the flies heedlessly laying eggs in the hero’s wounds.
We are the walls blocking the path of Justice, the evil sorcerer using power for greed instead of healing. We are the blight on the crops, the seven years of drought. We are the wind that pulls the last few crumbs of bread from the mouths of hungry children. We are the big bad wolf, the wicked stepmother. We are the monsters.
Every monster thinks he’s a hero. But have you ever heard a story where the monster just got out of the way and helped the heroes in their quest? Me neither.
The monster speaks: I wasn’t always this way. Every time someone comes along this lonely road, they’re always in a hurry to reach the goal, fulfill the quest, restore the peace. I’m always desperate for what I really need. But they take out their swords and chase me, or I get so excited to have some company I squeeze them too hard.
Every time I try to tell my story, my tongue become the Tower of Babel and falls on their heads.
Send me a hero with big ears and a hard head!
Once they sent St. Francis. I was a wolf, starving, full of maggots in my wounds, ferocious. He had big ears– that’s what got me. Plus he brought food. And a job. He even sang to the maggots. They slept so peacefully they fell off my body.
But that was a long time ago.
Who sees my loneliness now, my hunger and longing for meaning? Power and pleasure, I can’t get enough of, because I don’t really need them. What do I need?
A new job.
When The Author put me in the story, he used my pain. She knew I’d do anything to survive.
He exploited me.
I prayed, between victims, to God. I said “Lord, take this cup from me”. Silence. I hate this job. I always lose. In the stories, I always lose. God cheats and becomes a fruit-fly or a crack in the wall or a talking fish.
It isn’t fair.
My job is to lose. If I were to win, the world– the world with a big sky, infinite space and Being– would become too narrow to breathe. There would be only things, jumping through one another, looking for a way to breathe.
So why bother fighting at all? Couldn’t I just let the heroes kill me, throw the fight? I tried that. It never works. I tried to surrender, to be good, to hum lullabies. Nobody trusts me. I bared my belly: “Go ahead”, I said, “kill me”. But some other monster took my place. So was I free? No. I can’t move without killing. Everywhere I go, no matter what I touch, I destroy. When I take toys to the children, they’re laced with poison. When I visit the sick, they die of fright. When I try to aid the oppressed, their bonds grow tighter.
So is this story a prison? Everything in nature becomes something else, after it’s devoured. But no matter how many times I am slain, I stay on these pages, my role fixed, to be enacted over and over again.
I’ve thought of a way out. I’ll disguise myself as a hero. I’ll kill other monsters, fight the good fight. Wish me luck!
I’m back. It didn’t work. I got caught. Wouldn’t share my last crust of bread with a crummy little bird, who told on me.
I’ve started a support group for other monsters. We tell our stories, practice hero-skills. Still, something’s missing.
I read a page towards the end of the book. They mentioned Francis. I remembered he called me “Brother Wolf”. He thought he was my brother. What did he see in me?
Tonight I prayed, “Lord: Who Am I?”
In India, there’s a sacred story where the hero Arjuna, the good part of ourselves, refuses to kill the evil part, and is told by God to do his duty and kill, but without hatred. I don’t understand. What else can you kill with?
All right. I am a monster. I feel terrible. I’ve done horrible things. I have no right to ask forgiveness. There is no redemption for me. I pray, “Thy will be done”. And start to feel the pain.
What’s happening to me? Today I found myself on several new pages. Are these new ways to destroy? I looked into mirror-fragments laying in the ground after a battle. My ears are getting bigger!
Today, on this new page, I have a weapon in my hand and I am facing a monster. I sing to the maggots. We roast them over a fire. I hire him to guard the heroes. He is ferocious, my brother.
Every night I return to my old pages. The pain is searing. It is burning. For this, I give thanks. My ears keep growing.
My ears are as big as Dumbo’s now. Everyone laughs at me. I am a foolish monster. Arjuna says I am his elephant.
I met with the heroes. We made a deal. We traded places for a day. Afterward we shared our experiences. One thing bound us together in the story.
It wasn’t joy.
My ears have grown so large young forests have begun to grow in them. At night I hear owls hunting and mice scrambling over the fragrant pine floor.
I am only ears, only hearing; only eyes, only seeing; only heart, only feeling. Who Am I?
A Course in Outdoor Miracles
Copyright 1983 by Charles Madansky
This work is dedicated with love to Wilderness Sarchild,
who shared a dream of working with families outdoors, and with whom all things are possible.
In the summer of 1981, in a marsh in Western Massachusetts, I stood, crying. I felt desolate, trapped, without direction, powerless. The marsh was a waste of a place which I had passed daily in my empty travels down a main road. I had stopped there several times and stood at the road’s edge, peering into what seemed at once wild and tangled, peaceful and
comforting. The marsh was calling me – a very unhappy thirty year old Ph.D. in microbiology. And one day, I took my fear of being caught on private property, or bitten by a snake, or getting my shoes wet or just plain doing anything other than being depressed, and I stepped into a new life.
I spent a warm day exploring, looking, sitting. I felt safe. Pain began to flow out of me and it seemed as if the marsh took my pain and returned love. I stood there at sunset, my heart filled, my eyes closed, crying softly. And when I opened my eyes, four deer were standing about ten feet away, drinking from a stream. In that moment, I died and was reborn again. I felt myself to be a living part of everything around me. Nothing separated me from my surroundings. I was one with the marsh. And the feeling was so
powerful and so healing that I believe everything I have done since has been touched in some way by that experience.
Mary Pratt wrote of a similar experience (15):
One day, for one minute, I became a tree!
I had lost most of my family. My mother and
husband were ill. My mother was dying, and the
doctor had just told me that my husband’s cancer
was back and inoperable. I had lost all of my battles.
I was in the absolute, awful depth and shock
of despair; and I sat, dry-eyed, staring at a tree
across the street. Suddenly something changed.
and I was the tree! Just an ordinary elm tree,
between the street and the sidewalk, not cared-for or
treated well. I had all the sensations you could
imagine a tree would have. I could feel my limbs
stretching our far over the street and building.
I could feel my strong trunk and rough bark, and
I could feel my roots deep, very deep in the hard
earth, searching for any trace of moisture. I
remembered. I remembered school children; I
remembered heat and cold and dust and dry leaves and
storms; I remembered chattering, quarreling birds.
Most of all there was the sense that this was my
place to be.
And then it changed back, and I was in a hot
car, and there was a less-than-magnificent tree on
the other side of the street.
My doctor said, when I asked him, “Mary, sometimes
the mind becomes so overloaded that it would
break under the strain if Nature, in her kindness,
did not throw a switch to blank out the pain until
it can be borne.”
Was that it? Or did I see, briefly, some truth
that my poor human brain, which cannot accept wonders
without explanation, now rejects, leaving me
with the consciousness that on that day, something
meaningful and awesome happened?
And witness this passage from A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
When the doctor took her bandages off and led
her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind
saw “the tree with the lights the lights in it.” It
was for this tree I searched through the peach
orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and
down winter and spring for years. Then one day
I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing
at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the
backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged
and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on
the grass with the lights in it, grass that wholly fire,
utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like
seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked
breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated,
but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out
in the cedar, the colors died, the cells inflamed and disappeared.
I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and
never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.
I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights
in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live
for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light
roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.
After that day in the marsh, I began to spend increasing amounts of time outside. And this continued to be healing for me. What I discovered for myself was that through the simple act of giving loving attention to whatever called me in Nature, I could experience a relationship with the Earth and its inhabitants in which the boundaries between us dissolved. The experience, for me, was, and is, pleasureful and peaceful and
I regard it as a form of prayer, of contact with a reality greater than ordinary, yet accessible to all.
Within three months I had fallen in love, moved to Cape Cod, and begun my graduate career in counseling. From the start, I shared a dream with my partner in life of working with families outdoors. I wanted to share the kind of experiences I had been having outdoors with others.
To me, all life is interdependent and connected, even though we often focus our attention on how separate we appear to be. Separateness, loneliness and alienation fromourselves, the Earth and each other are at the root, I believe, of much mental, emotional and physical suffering. Healing, therefore, might occur through experiencing our connections at each of these levels of being. I see counseling as providing the contexts in which people may experience their world differently– in more fulfilling, less
destructive ways. It therefore became my goal to create contexts for people to experience connection outdoors, as I had done. By creating these contexts I sought to establish the “communal rites of passage that connect us as interdependent beings” (1) which were lacking in my own life. As such, the work could be thought of as preventative; it is open to all, whether in crisis or not.
In what ways could such experiences be healing? For me, the experience of connection (which certainly followed an intense period of emotional discharge) came as a deep spiritual relief – partly because it filled a yearning for belonging and wholeness; partly because some of the boundaries it dissolved were between visible and invisible,
life and death; and partly because the experience occurred through a particular quality of attention related to surrender, wonder and love. To connect with another being is a letting go of separateness, a willingness to overcome intellectual, emotional and physical barriers of union. Thus, connection involves a process of forgiveness and empowerment, leading to spiritual fulfillment. And it is Spirit that heals.
In addition to the preventative work I will describe below, I believe the outdoors could be an appropriate and valuable context for crisis counseling, per se. Several models already exist for counseling outdoors, notably the Outward Bound model (11), the residential wilderness camping model (14) and the Native American/New Age use of the vision quest (3,7,9,13,18).
In a model in which families went camping in the wilderness for entire weekends with a therapist, the outdoors could provide a suitable context for the intense, mutual cooperation necessary for therapeutic change to occur. First, it puts the situation into a context of survival, mirroring the emotional crisis. Second, it provides isolation and gives special authority to the therapist, both of which are valuable aspects of effective clinical hypnosis (20). Third, the absence of distractions so prevalent in modern life provides the opportunity for clients to focus their attention on natural metaphors, on nature as a mirror of their inward conditions, on their abilities to cooperate. Finally, as camping involves fundamental activities of survival– of finding food and shelter– as well as the novel challenges of outdoor adventure, there would be ample opportunity for the family to act out habitual patterns of interaction as well as to experience each other in new roles and thereby discover hidden or unknown strengths and weaknesses.
The body of work that follows is not only the end result of a directed effort to produce it. The contents of this thesis are also by-products of an ongoing process of personal growth and integration, of spiritual searching and of emotional cleansing which reached a turning point that day in the marsh. The contents are means, not ends. As such, they may seem somewhat bare in themselves. For they are descriptions of contexts in which certain experiences may occur. They are words: they are not the contexts, they are not the experiences. The work is experiential. In a very real sense,
you need to be there. I therefore invite the reader to participate in what follows, in whole or in part, as an individual or with friends. By all means, give it a try. Or, at the very least, read with an eye to the fact that what is described or suggested in one sentence might easily require a half-hour to experience.
What follows is a description of three experiential workshops. The first, A Course in Outdoor Miracles, is intended for use either by individuals or by groups. Several people have, in fact, used the Course thus far. It will also serve as the basis for a workshop I am offering to the public in May, 1984. The second workshop, “Connecting with the Earth and Each Other”, is specifically for families (defined as having any number of members, or any age, related by love or friendship). This workshop has been offered twice thus far, through the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster,
Massachusetts, once in the Spring and once in the Fall of 1983. Finally, the “Earth Festivals” are intended to be community events. I have led two of these to date, one in Spring, 1982, open to the public, and one in Fall of 1983, for the First Parish Unitarian Church in Brewster. And the work continues.
A COURSE IN OUTDOOR MIRACLES
The Course in Outdoor Miracles is designed to lead people to an awareness of their personal experience of Nature and to validate their experiences through sharing. Most courses in Natural History attempt to communicate facts about the world around us. The course in Outdoor Miracles attempts to focus attention on the experience of Oneness– a deep sense of connection, belonging and harmony- by moving freely across
the boundaries between inner and outer landscapes. It is less about the world around us than the One Life to which we all give form.
Western education seems to be dominated by the principle that only those aspects of the world which we can measure reproducibly are worth knowing. But I don’t know anyone who experiences the world in this one-sided manner. Rather, we participate in life as whole beings, free-flowing blends of thought and feeling, scientists and artists, never wholly one without the other. The common experience of being fully human, so
rarely encouraged in an educational setting, leads quickly to an encounter with the mystery of life and other lives. It is the openness to this encounter which the Course seeks to foster.
I speak of mystery not to cloud the world but to leave room for the miracle of connection to occur. People don’t always feel connected with the Earth simply by learning the facts of ecology. Names and facts help us to know a friend; but if we think we know them and fail to experience the fullness of the life which they express, then we take them for granted and the friendship will not grow. We can imprison our friends andourselves in this way.
It is through my own body that I become aware of the miracle of Life. Each part of Nature is a unique solution to existence whose experience I can approach through my relationship with the corresponding energies in my own body. I begin to know myfellow creatures—the wind, the rocks, the trees– not only by observing how they appear to me, but also by opening to how I feel being with them. We are an interaction. I learn as much about myself as I do the tree I am with. It’s us, in a dance of the senses, a song of the soul. To truly explore outdoors is to be willing to explore ourselves and experience the Other within.
The environmental crisis, the nuclear crisis, the crises of alienation and loneliness beg for many solutions. I hope that the Course in Outdoor Miracles can help dissolve some of the boundaries between inner and outer, one creature and another, one person and another; to provide a chance for the experience of connection to occur.
To me, a sense of responsibility grows from a sense of belonging. This can be joyful work. But the root of the word ‘experience’ is peril—to peril out: There is also a risk. To truly reach out for the other, to lay down one’s inner and outer weapons against oneself and others, requires courage…and creativity.
I believe that outdoors is a good place to begin this work, Nature has always returned love to me whatever I had to give: joy or pain, hope or despair. It is a healing place to be. And when one of us is healed, we are all healed; what we share with the warming sun or a favorite tree touches all creation. And so we can safely begin with whatever we like, whatever calls us in nature and become real amateurs—ones who love– who come to share life with others by spending time with them, giving and receiving loving attention, letting love dissolve the layers of separation and walls of
defense until by loving, we come to know ourselves and others and love as one.
Without a certain openness, the course cannot be of full value. I have listed below several areas in which attitude and intentions are important.
Solitude. The Russian word for solitude means both being alone and being with all others. To be for a time, without the distractions of human company is a crucial opportunity to meet the world, yourself, with innocence and honesty. The questions that occur to us when we are alone can be surprising; he answers can be life-changing. And it is said that the more we become ourselves, the closer we get to others. If you are a person who does not often take alone time, this is a good way to begin… a way to renew.
Sharing. We need one another. As surely as people need to eat, we need to share our lives. Nature’s capacity to supply the needs of the human heart is limited. The lessons in the Course are designed to extend and share our experiences outdoors with other people, to spend healing time with each other,
Fear. To begin the Course in Outdoor Miracles, one need only go outside. Anywhere. But one has to go outside and that might mean confronting resistance and fears– “I’m not an outdoors person”; “I don’t know anything about Nature”; “I’m scared of insects”; “I hate getting wet”. We all have prejudices and fears like these. But, as it is said “Where there is fear there is power” (17). I don’t suggest ignoring or suppressing your fear. Rather, at your own pace, as it feels right, take your fear with you and let it become
your friend. When I was a child, alone in the house and frightened of every creak and noise, I was honing my senses so that, alone and frightened in a marsh as an adult, I noticed every sound, every motion and color. As you become more willing to go outside with fewer exceptions of time of day, weather, and locale, new worlds open up. New Worlds!
Boredom and Impatience are familiar stirrings of resistance to the experience of our own emptiness. They are the common signal to flee into our patterns of distraction, holding onto the old, familiar life. If we are to move into new lives, to grow, we need to experience the emptiness, the death of the familiar. Often the painful is familiar; the happy and fulfilling, the connected, are scary, new, unfamiliar. Emptiness is where there is room for Spirit to enter, to be experienced. So when you find yourself bored and
impatient, try staying outside, alone. Find a place to correspond with your feelings. Here is a chance to pray and a church for your prayers; here is a room for your pain. Here is a life enough to let you be empty and fill you with love. And you will find your way.
Wandering. To wander is to let go of control and to trust the not-yet-conscious parts of ourselves that guide us silently on the Path. Wandering leads us into the unknown. Expect a miracle.
Making friends. People often try to scare a response out of an animal; or break a branch to make an interaction. I hope to show more profound and subtle ways of making contact than violence. The golden rule applies to the outdoors, for we are no more or less than a part of the whole. Like transparent vessels adrift in the middle of the ocean– the distinctions of inner and outer seem less significant. Make contact with the outdoors
as you would with a shy friend. Go slow, go easy, go deep.
Changes. If miracles aren’t part of your daily life, it may help to change some of your ways: Go outside more often. Go more slowly, however your getting around. Try biking or walking where you might have driven. Look more closely– new worlds open up. Change your focus: from air to ground, from sounds to smells, forms to movements, colors to patterns, from details to the Big Picture. Give all your senses a chance. Follow a child outdoors and do what they do– let innocence teach you new ways.
Names aren’t everything. Nature isn’t just science, it’s life. If you want to know what it is– be with it, watch it grow, let it move you, see how it makes you feel. Look it up in a book if that’s your response. Or dance. Or make up a story about how it came to be (and don’t forget to tell it to someone– everyone loves stories!). But don’t let the name fool you into believing that you know what it is. Names are meant to be helpful, to help us communicate with one another. But they can end a beautiful relationship before it has even begun.
Language can perpetuate an entire way of seeing the world. Sexist language perpetuates oppression. Not having words for certain experiences limits the world we can communicate through language, just as language can cheapen certain experiences. A language of connection is not yet common– how often do we speak poems to one another? So use whatever means to communicate you can; the ones you learn and the
ones you discover. And realize that the words in this book want to lead you to experiences for which I do not yet have words…miracles.
The Course consists of lessons which are variations on a theme. They are good to do one-a-day or one-a-however long you want to spend on it. Several could be combined workshops of varying lengths. An ongoing group seems well-suited to the Course: Individuals could meet as a group, center, and check in with one another. The Lesson could then be presented and each person would go off by themselves. After an arranged interval, the signal to return is given and the group meets once again to complete the Lesson or to share their experiences. A final centering could reinforce the day’s experiences and help people to integrate what they have learned into other areas of their lives.
The Course can also be done by individuals on their own. If they choose to share their experiences with another person– a relative, a friend or a teacher– that is fine. Otherwise, sharing their experiences with their journal is a wonderful alternative. Above all, feel free to follow your own heart, to use your imagination, and to do whatever feels right. We are each on our own path.
“Today I’ll See Truly and Truly Be Seen.”
For someone to see me truly, to see my essence, they must first put aside their preconceptions and assumptions about me. Otherwise they will only see what they expect to see, which is not necessarily all, or even part, of what is truly there. For my part, I must allow myself to be seen—let go of the masks I put on for display and protection– and un-self-consciously open to the gaze of my friend. One of the nice things about the outdoors is that it does not hide form our gaze, but continually offers us its presence. And to the extent we are willing to be seen, Nature is our unbiased and
loving witness. Go outside today and wander until you find a sign such as “STOP” or “CHILDREN AT PLAY”. Take some time to stare at one of the words until it loses its meaning. What happened? Now wander until you find a tree you are attracted to, and repeat the process…be with this tree until you sense that you no longer see it as you thought it was, but see it for what it is. Take your time. There is no hurry. Let the tree impress you with its essence; try not to commit your intellect on it. Now allow the tree to see you. Simply sit facing the tree and let yourself be seen. Open to its glance without a mask. Be sure to give yourself the time you need to relax
and experience, and appreciate. When you feel ready, exchange thanks with the tree, and return.
If and when you choose, try to See and be Seen with another person. Share theexperience: what was it like? What did you learn– about yourself, and your friend? What parts were fun? What parts were hard?
“Today I’ll See and Truly Be Seen.”
“Becoming the Other”
There is but one life to which we each give form, form upon form, no two alike, but life within each other, one life, one breath. Each creature is a unique solution to existence. Each has much to share. How can we know what it is to be another? What is true empathy, or putting oneself in the other’s place? We know another through ourselves; we understand another to the extent that we have understood— opened to, embraced and experienced that part of ourselves. To make a new friend, whether wind
or wasp, takes a willingness to interact and to pay attention to how that makes us feel. Our bodies are instruments of knowing. Through them we come to know the many forms of the one life within us.
Wander awhile outdoors until you are drawn by a part of Nature, be it an element, animal, color or plant. Give it your loving attention: smile at it through your eyes, caress it with your senses. Imagine yourself becoming the Other. Travel its form, move its way or make its sound. Imagine your body taking its form, feelings, taking in its food. Then physically act it out, dancing the dance of the Other. Once you’ve done this with something you like, please try to do it with something you hate– that one you cannot, you will not love– that one you cannot, you will not become. Embrace them.
And know that in that embrace you will have received far more than you have given.
Go outside, and lie down. Close your eyes and feel the Earth beneath your body. Take some deep breaths and with every breath let all your cares and worries and hurts seep into the Earth, who knows how to use them. Feel the Earth returning strength and caring into your body with each relaxing breath. You are being held. Now, in your mind’s eye, see yourself in your favorite outdoor spot. Take a while to wander around there and feel the forms and greet your good friends. This is a place where it feels right to be. This is a place where you trust and feel good. Let that good feeling flow out of your heart and wash over all the land around. Let that love flow out beyond the boundaries of your favorite spot, spreading like a happy wave out and over the Earth and beyond.
Then, if you choose, and when you are ready, still in your mind, begin to walk from your favorite spot to someplace new, where you’ve never been, but there you are! Notice the land, the creatures, the colors. Take your time and explore this new country; perhaps you will help your friends to find it someday and share its wonders. Go slowly, and notice how you feel. This land is you, but unfamiliar. Part of the life within you dwells there. You need not go beyond what feels right in your exploring. Remember that you can always return to this place, whenever you choose, with friends and allies to
help you along.
And when you are ready, begin to return to the world where your body is resting and sharing its life with the Earth. Slowly return, feeling the ground beneath you, and when it feels right, open your eyes, and take a few moments to look about you for traces of the new…
(To do this lesson, it may be helpful either to take a tape recording of it along with you, or else have a friend read you the lesson when you have relaxed. Feel free to make up your own guided fantasy and share it with yourself or another.)
“Take A Walk On The Wild Side”
Perhaps if we all lived as the Native Americans—native to this land, aware of our place, with respect and love for our Mother Earth– then the wilderness would not seem as “wild”, but simply “alive”. Separated from the source of our food, our roots, we have grown fearful of the unfamiliar outdoors. There is Wilderness- unformed life spirit– in all of us. There is wildness wherever we go. The wilderness is not our enemy to be conquered or owned or subdued. It is our Life, our food, our source of strength and renewal. It is the created, which we did not create, but God. In its diversity we discover ourselves and life itself is sustained. Wilderness is but a name for something alive, as it was created.
Go someplace where it feels wild to you, and think of your favorite part of
Creation– the wind, or a bug or an eagle. Start wandering as they might. Feel the freedom of untamed beings unconcerned with anything but life. Today, give yourself the gift of wildness. Howl like a wolf, or kick up your heels; sneak home unseen, or play without shame! Woop and holler, sing your own song. Be a green thing growing and cracking the sidewalk.
Find the wildness inside your own house– does wildness stop at the door or spill through to the life within, linked by Spirit, linked by the air? Find the wildness within you—does it stop at your skin? Show a friend your wild side, race with the trees!
Celebrate the wild, the alive, by setting aside a part of your lawn or garden or your refrigerator or your life to grow wild. Visit whenever you like.
You can communicate with any part of Nature, through the language of Spirit. Go outside to a spot that feels right. Take a few moments to relax… feel the best you can feel… maybe think of a sunset or a friend. And when you’re feeling the best you can feel, get an image of whatever, whoever you want to communicate with. Hold these two together, the image and the feeling. Having made contact in this way, say or ask what you will—but try to keep it very simple. You will be heard. Listen and look for the response with all your eyes and ears, inner and outer. Give it a chance, and be willing to try more than once; sometimes the line is busy or no one’s at home. It’s a matter of trust.
Think of who else you’ve wanted to talk to but didn’t think you could. Who else has been talking to you but you haven’t heard?
Try sending a group message.
“ Miracle: You, Your Food and your Home are One.”
There is nothing ordinary in life. Even the most commonplace things, like food, are miracles.
Take a picnic outdoors. Keep it simple or you’ll never get to eat. Before you eat anything, look at it, feel its texture, smell its smell, appreciate its beauty. Begin to think of what it is and where it came from…Perhaps it is a slice of bread. At least several years before, someone harvested wheat and saved the seeds; the seeds were replanted, and earth and air and sunlight and water became the life of a kind of grass; wheat. The harvested seeds were ground into a tasteless powder. Someone mixed that flour with water and yeast, and kneaded the dough, and baked the bread. And many hands have carried it to you. Imagine a little bit of that cloud up there, and a little bit of the dirt at your feet, and a little bit of the stream running by, and a little bit of the sunlight on your body—imagine them all coming together and starting to walk around– that’s you. Hello miracle! You are the air walking around appreciating yourself as a fine breeze. You are sunlight catching a few rays at the beach. You are what you eat, transformed. You are a unique form of the one life.
What we eat becomes part of us. The joys, the hatred shared with us also
becomes part of us. The expectations we grow up with become part of us.. The beauty and love we accept all become part of us, become us. We are our own experiences, and those we can accept or forgive in others. To bless the Life that becomes your Life is to bless yourself and your becoming. To honor your food, which has touched in some way
every other part of Nature, is to honor the Earth and Earth’s creator.
Miracle! You, your food and your home are one. Ordinary…and sacred; let your meals become a form of grace.
“Like one hand feeling the other, Nature touches Itself.”
Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Think of the new moon, or the day-blind stars. Just because it’s invisible doesn’t mean you can’t experience it, using other senses: You cannot see the smell of bread any more than you can bottle the essence of love, but their presence is unmistakeable.
We can sometimes sense the presence of another person in a room without seeing them. Most people have had at least a few experiences with this “sixth sense”. Today, try practicing with this sense outdoors. With a companion, go to a mutually agreeable spot, someplace that draws both of you. Turn your back and have your companion sneak up on you. Turn around when you get the feeling that they are about ten feet away. Repeat this several times for each other, perhaps with eyes closed and
approaching from an unknown direction. With practice, you can noticeably improve your sense of a person’s presence.
Now, on your own, take some deep breaths and relax, becoming more and more aware of the colors and sounds around you, allowing yourself to just be where you are, without effort. After a few minutes of this centering, see if you can sense the presence of life forms other than human beings. You can sit with your eyes closed, or wander slowly, allowing your body, your being, to let you know, as it did with your companion, that another living being is nearby. You might sense some parts of Nature more strongly
than others. As with any relationship, the stronger the feeling involved, the more sensitive we are to it. Come back together and share your experiences.
Next, you can explore another way to sense the invisible miracle of connection. Rub your own hands together vigorously for a full minute. Then separate them and pass them back and forth facing one another. Without touching, pass the fingertips of one hand past the palm and wrist of the other. Try this with your companion also. Have them pass their hands all around your body and discover what you both can sense.
We can use this sense to channel our own loving energy through an other person’s body. We can also use it to sense the life energy in another creature– a plant, a rock, or a person. Do your own exploring today, rubbing your hands first, and using the most sensitive part as your sensor. Realize that while you are sensing the energy of another life form, they are sensing your energy too. Like one hand feeling the other, Nature
“Make compost from all of your wastes: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.”
What is the soil? It is the dark; it is the death nourishing life. It is creatures we don’t see sharing life with creatures we do. The soil is dust, it is rocks ground through life into finer and finer pieces. It is the dead and decayed bodies of plants and animals and billions of bacteria and fungi. The soil is the living skin of the earth.
You can make soil, nourishing, fertile soil for new growth, from waste. From
manure, dead leaves, grass clippings, table scraps– any organic wastes will do. You just layer them with a little dirt and turn the whole heap every few weeks, and in six months or so it reduces into compost– rich and dark with promise.
Start a compost heap—outside, if you can, or a very small one in a closed bucket indoors. And, in addition to your organic wastes, also include your emotional, mental and spiritual wastes: Attitudes no longer useful to you, ways of being that you choose to let go of, whose energy you need for new growth; grievances distracting you from ever present chance to heal. Place each of these onto a scrap of paper or send them into the heap with your voice or your hands. Thank each for having served you. Let each go as
you would a dying friend: As these wastes transform into soil, take this time to mourn their death, recall their lessons and celebrate their metamorphosis, for they are your death, your lessons and your becoming well. And when your soil is truly done, plant a seed, nurture it with this compost and watch it grow. Plant a resolve in your compost and give it life on Earth.
“I begin to hear Nature speak to me
by letting Nature speak through me.”
Nature is speaking to us. Through light and sound, through dark and silence, through outward forms and voices—Creation expresses its inwardness. It is a language of beauty, of grace and connection; variety, unity, power and love. Nature speaks a living language, a music and an art; plain as day, mysterious as night. The grasses speak to us of the one and the many, of humility and great service. The tiny, one-celled creatures in the sea sing to us a crystal song of breath and food and beauty. The seasons whisper change into our lives, an endless round to match the seasons of our souls. And everything in nature has a form. Self-display is as basic to life as reproduction and survival. Creatures go to extraordinary lengths to Appear: Outsides are symmetric, while insides are a jumble; patterns are formed out of random parts.
Simple observation, loving attention to appearance, is a gateway into mystery– the experience, the consciousness, the Being of other creatures.
How are we to translate the language of nature? We may discover that there are many kinds of silence…but what do they mean to our lives? It matters not that each of us may translate the language differently; each of us listens with different ears and sees with different eyes. This is our experience, our life, the viewpoint which is ours alone, and is our only birthright. By being present, by giving loving attention to my experience
of Nature and my response to Nature, I engage in a dialogue. And I begin to hear nature speak to me by letting Nature speak through me.
One way to translate the language of Nature is to be open to the energies of Nature – the light, the sound and movement– and without conscious interpretation, transform them into painting or poetry, music or dance; any art at all. You don’t need to be an artist to do this. You need only be willing to channel what you see or hear without trying to influence the results. What you translate is the quality, the essence of what you see or
hear. And the intimacy of the process makes that quality or essence recognizable in its new form.
A wonderful example of such a process has been described by Frederick Franck in The Zen of Seeing. Take a pad and pencil outside and wander until a part of Nature captures your attention. Sit and spend some time with it. Begin to look at it with love, as if it were the most important thing in the world—caress its form with your eyes. Now close your eyes and see that form in your mind’s eye, Without straining, keep your attention on that form; meditate on it. After several minutes, open your eyes and let your gaze fall upon this friend. Now, without looking at the paper and without lifting your
pencil from the paper, trace the outline of the form you see. Let the from pass through your eyes into your hands, and let them move on the paper.
Try not to look at the result until you feel done. Then turn the paper over and try it again. This is a way to learn the language of Nature, to catch the inwardness of your friends. It is a way of seeing how you feel outdoors– the quality of the energy you allow to go through you. The voice of Nature becomes more and more familiar as we let it speak through us. And the more that we understand, the more each of us will know what we wish to say in return, with our lives, and how best to say it.
“There is no place that is not sacred”
A sacred space is a special, special place where your love can flow, a place you trust. A space becomes sacred as you open to what is truly alive there. You start with wonder and willingness. And the more you feel good there, the closer to God, the more sacred that space becomes.
Find a place outdoors where you really feel good; wander and take your time. It may be somewhere you have shared with a friend; it may be a new a new site you are drawn to. It can be anywhere. There is no place that is not sacred. There are only the infinitely varied personal and collective rituals we create to experience the sacredness of life.
When you find your space, explore and settle in. Imagine the place has feelings, because it does. Sit in respect of your sacred space. You have been drawn here for one reason: to experience a miracle, the sacredness of life. Know that you may come here again and again. Today, begin to create your own ritual, to find a way to be in that place, exploring within its boundaries the depths of feeling. Start with the feelings that drew you to that place and, in your own way– in silence or words, in dance or song–honor that connection. It may be a sadness or despair that drew you there. Stay with the feelings and share them with your sacred space. You could dig a small hole in the Earth and place your face in it, letting your love and longing mingle with the odors and the dark. The freer you feel to follow your heart into that space and share whatever you’re moved to share, the more sacred your space becomes.
Bit by bit each part of our world can become sacred to us, touched by love and caring, honored and alive. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we can love it ’till it becomes Real, until we see nothing but miracles. It’s a choice, to let go of being separate. Find a sacred space today. And may it grow until there is no place that is not sacred.
“As I heal the Earth, I heal myself.
As I heal myself, I heal the Earth.”
Go outside and find a part of Nature that needs healing. It may be a polluted stream, a hungry child, or a farm being lost forever; it may be someone whose fear could lead to nuclear extinction, an eroding field, or a plant that badly needs to be watered. Find a part of nature that needs healing and think: How did it get that way? How do I know that it is in pain? What connects me with this part of Nature? In what ways do we suffer alike? You can only think of a part of the answer to each of these questions. Today, go beyond your thoughts, go beyond what you know into learning by doing, into action and experience. Nature is not passive. It meets us at every level of our being, for we and Nature are one.
After you have found a part of Nature that needs healing, find a place outdoors that you can be alone. Allow yourself to have but one question in mind: What can I do to heal this part of Nature? Ask this question of Nature Itself. You will be answered. Look for the answer with all of your eyes and listen for it with all of your ears. By opening to the answer you are opening to the action of grace and to the possibility that you are not separate from the Source of your answer.
When you give to a part of Nature, you give to the Whole. The most profound way to experience this is to commit yourself to act on the answer you receive. For as you heal the Earth, you will be healed. As you heal yourself, you will heal us all.
The vision quest is a powerful way to integrate what you have learnt as a result of the previous Lessons. It is meant to mark the beginning of a new way of life. It is an adaptation of the Native American vision quest, a traditional right of passage in which a youth passes into maturity by fasting alone in the wilderness for three days, waiting in their own sacred space for a vision– a gift of Spirit, a name, a dream, a direction for their life.
We go outdoors to find ourselves. Into the silence, into the seasons of change, into the cycles of growth and rest. What we find there depends on who we are, what we need and what we allow ourselves to experience. Nature is a mirror and a source of balance. It is more than we know, and so we go– to be, to wait, to be touched by God.
The Lesson itself is simple. For up to 24 hours just be: outdoors, alone, and
without distractions. Bring only water and, if you like, a journal. Wear what you need to stay warm. Try to experience the dawn. If you go out with a friend, prearrange a meeting place and a meeting time, or a signal to return. If you are alone, be sure that someone knows exactly where you are, and when you are to return. Use common sense; you are part of a community. Go only when you are prepared to go. You’ll know when the time is right. Try to choose a spot where you will not be distracted by other human beings, or mechanical commotion. It could be a city park, or your own backyard, or a nearby woods or body of water. Wherever you go, wander until you find a spot that feels special. There, may Spirit find you, and feed you…with miracles.
Most of The Course in Outdoor Miracles was written while I was unemployed. Now I am working at a full-time job and the most obvious change is that it is a real effort to find the time to be outdoors each day. Yet whenever I find the time, or make the time, I feel healed and held. Coming home tired, frustrated and scared of my new job, I have felt ever more clearly the richness within and beyond the confines of my own skin. In my need, I am forced to reach out in new ways to life around me. I want you
to know, with all my heart, that I believe it is worth the effort. The act of reaching out will be rewarded with the miracle of connection.
I want to encourage you to try to grow some of your own food– it’s a way to stay in touch with the miraculous. And to take this kind of responsibility for your own life is a political act; an act of health and of connection. It is to take one’s place, to move with the greater rhythms of life, to make living the roots of your history. At this time in the life of our planet there are a few acts more meaningful than to plant a fruit or nut tree in the name of Life, in the name of Peace.
I want to encourage amateurs– anyone who pays loving attention to Nature. You have much to contribute to the world of science and to the world as a whole. In your love of what you observe, you will see what others miss. Your enthusiasm for life, however small a piece of life, can make all of our lives more whole. We all practice the scientific method—we observe, hypothesize, predict and experiment all the time…only we integrate these activities with our emotions, intuitions, feelings and values quite naturally and automatically. That makes our experience more individual, less repeatable, but no less valid.
Please, honor your feelings and those of others. If we can support each other to feel our deepest pleasures and fears instead of numbing ourselves so that life can go on; if we can share our hopes and despair about life, instead of holding them in, and experience it fully– then we can better work and live to preserve life, no longer strangers, but like the peepers in Spring insisting life life life may we be at home, alive, at peace and
growing. Expect a miracle outdoors…and share it!
ACT 1 1
A prison cell with thick, hollow walls, which will be seen in cross-section. A single bare bulb hangs from the ceiling. No windows. As the play begins, the lights are doused, and we hear the sounds of a MAN being dumped in the cell by his TORTURER, and a metal door closing. His moans. Then silence. We see the bright red eyes of the RAT and the bright green eyes of the CRICKET as they emerge from within the walls on either side of the cell. Gradually, as the eyes dim, the bulb grows brighter and illuminates the scene.
CRICKET: Is he alive?
RAT: That depends.
CRICKET: Count on a rat for a straight answer. Depends on what?
RAT: On what you mean by alive.
CRICKET: Oh– you know– warm enough to make me sing, blood flowing through the fountains on his forehead, tasty fresh skin to eat…
RAT: Then he’s alive.
RAT: Yes, well, it won’t be long…
RAT: Before I eat you– are all crickets ignorant?
CRICKET: Oh, am I your first? I am, aren’t I? (Laughs) You don’t get out out much, do
you? (MAN moans and moves a bit) Oh yeah… He’s alive!
(Moves towards MAN, but blocked by RAT)
RAT: Hang on…
CRICKET: Hey, what the hell…?
RAT: This is my job.
CRICKET: What, eating people? …hogging it all for yourself?
RAT: No. Giving them comfort.
CRICKET: Haha! I may be a cricket, but I know about rats. There’s nothing comforting about a rat . They…
RAT: Are you sure you want to continue…
CRICKET: I just…
RAT: (Moving towards CRICKET) Just…?
CRICKET: OK, OK. (Under his breath): Just like a rat.
MAN: (Stirring) Fuck. Maria. Oh, Maria.
CRICKET: Who’s Maria?
RAT: His girlfriend. His Goddess.
RAT: Enough!… (approaching MAN): Hey MIster.
MAN: (Surprised, still out of it) What the fuck! I told you everything… I don’t know anything!
RAT: No, no, I’m not one of them. No questions… none at all.
MAN: What, where are you? Christ, I’m hearing things.
RAT: Hey Mister, I’m as real as a headache. Over here.
MAN: (Drags himself up): Fuck, rats!
CRICKET: You see!
RAT: Mister, it’s OK, we’re not as bad as you think.
MAN: Talking rats!
RAT: Yeah, well, it’s taken me a long time to learn the language… a lot of men.
RAT: It doesn’t matter. Don’t think about that now. Rest. Rest… we’ll talk about it later.
(MAN slumps back down and sleeps) (Lights go down to black).
(Sounds of licking and swallowing) (Lights come up)
RAT: OK… (burps)… your turn. (Ambles away)
CRICKET: Took long enough… Did you leave me anything? Oh, yeah, he’s bleeding like a stuck pig. Mmm, ..what a meal! And to think, it’s winter out there.
CRICKET (cont’d): I’m one lucky little cricket. My cohort’s asleep in the dirt, dreaming about summers and singing…And here I am, livin’ large!
(Finishes, wiping his snout, and plopping down and chirruping) So…what is this place, anyway?
RAT: It’s where humans come to forget.
CRICKET: Forget what?
CRICKET: But why?
RAT: To survive.
CRICKET: You’re pretty obscure, even for a rat. (We hear screams from other rooms down the hall). What’s all that yelling?
RAT: It hurts to forget. The ones who don’t scream, they’ve already forgotten.
CRICKET: How long have you been working here?
RAT: For years… Since I was a pip.
CRICKET: Where’s your cohort?
RAT: I don’t know.
CRICKET: You don’t know!!?? You don’t know. You forgot! (laughs) I don’t hear you screaming, so you musta forgot. (Rat moves towards cricket ) OK, OK, just kidding… can’t you take a little joke? (Rat moves to other side of body again). So…how’s it work– the comfort , I mean?
RAT: First, you have to get them to trust you. Some of them have forgotten too much, they can’t even see you right in front of their eyes. But the others, that still remember, you get them talking, only– no questions, that’s the key. They ask me the questions. It’s all downhill from there.
CRICKET: Uh huh. (confused)
RAT: I tell them what they need to hear. I give them hope. I remember for them.
CRICKET: You’re not like the other rats, are you?
RAT: Perhaps not.
CRICKET: He’s moving…
MAN: Oh…my… (grunts, sitting up. It takes a huge effort).
RAT: Morning, mister.
MAN: Morning? (Looks around)
RAT: Yes, it’s morning out and about.
RAT: The clouds are those lacy, fuzzy kind that skid by quickly on the breeze. It’s cold, but sunny, brilliant sun in a sea-blue sky… the city’s just beginning to awaken….
MAN: Mmm, yeah… wait a minute. Who… What are you? (Tries to sit up) Oh, fuck.
RAT: It’s OK, Mister. They won’t be back today.
MAN: How do you know?
RAT: Oh, I get around.
MAN: Can you get out? Can you tell someone I’m here? Christ, help me get out of this fucking place!
RAT: (Pause. A deep breath.) She knows they took you, but not where. No one knows, not yet.
MAN: C’mere! (MAN tries to catch RAT without being able to move very much)
You gotta help me!
RAT: It doesn’t work like that.
MAN: What do you mean?
RAT: I live here. Born here, die here… I can’t leave.
MAN: But, the sky…?
RAT: Yes, I can see the sky.
MAN: And Maria?
RAT: I just know how things work.
MAN: A hallucinatory rat from hell.
RAT: Something like that… only real.
MAN: (Pause) Does anyone ever get out?
RAT: All the time.
MAN: So I could…
MAN: I really don’t know anything.
RAT: I know. That’s not why they do it.
MAN: Then why? Why? What do they want me for?
RAT: Control. Over something, anything… to reassure themselves they’re in charge… And to make sure you– and everyone else– knows it.
MAN: Fucking sick bastards.
RAT: (almost to himself) That’s me in a nutshell.
MAN: You? But you said… You’re one of them?
RAT: I was… one of them.
MAN: Was…? I need to lay down.
CRICKET: (Moves in cautiously)
RAT: Sleep mister… that’s right… just try to sleep.
CRICKET: What’s all this about ‘you’re one of them’?
RAT: Was. Died. Fried. Came back as a rat to make amends. Didin’t you read Dante?
CRICKET: What? What’s a ‘mends’?
RAT: Help. Confess. Live in the piss and shit with them.
CRICKET: You gotta mend this up? For how long?
RAT: I don’t know… ‘til my next life, maybe.
CRICKET: You remember the last one?
RAT: Enough. I used to work here.
CRICKET: Were you like…they are?
RAT: Yes. I was.
CRICKET: (Moving away somewhat) Huh! So you were a rat before you were a rat. But now…?
CRICKET: Are you still a rat? (getting agitated)
(RAT cocks his head)
CRICKET: (raising his voice) Would you still do what you did?
RAT: No, no… I’d like to forget…
CRICKET: …but you remember! The electrodes, the laughter, that sneer on your face, the cologne you wore so you wouldn’t bring home the stink of blood and death and rot!
RAT: Wait a minute…
CRICKET: And the screams, don’t you remember the screams.? … You liked it!
RAT: Who are you?
CRICKET: Oh, I’m a cricket, see? (Chirps)
RAT: (menacing) Who are you?
CRICKET: (Standing up to the RAT) Manuel Ortega del Rios, formerly human, presently small, but capable of great leaps… and hungry. (Pushes by RAT) Move over. (Lights to black)
(Lights up, CRICKET chirping)
MAN: That cricket’s making a lot of noise.
CRICKET: Why don’t you tell him the truth?
RAT: (To MAN) Yeah, a regular blabbermouth.
MAN: Can you understand it?
RAT: Yes, but crickets just say the same thing over and over.
CRICKET: You stupid fuck. I killed you before and I’ll kill you again.
RAT: You gonna sing me to death this time?
CRICKET: I’m gonna wait until you go to sleep, and eat your eyeballs out, and then chew on your sick, twisted brain.
(TORTURER comes in and drags off Man, who protests, moaning…) (CRICKET chirping)
MAN: No, no, for the love of Christ I don’t know anything! Help me, you’ve got to help me…!
CRICKET: (transitioning abruptly from chirping as soon as people are out of earshot) …and it’s got to stop!!
RAT: So…it was you who murdered me?
CRICKET: Is it called murder in a war?
RAT: OK then, killed. Shot. Put an end to things.
CRICKET: No, not to the torture, not to the regime. Nothing changed, but you died, and that was good.
CRICKET: You agree?
RAT: Yes.. it was inevitable.
CRICKET: Not at all. You could have gone on and on, with impunity.
RAT: But eventually, Manuel, we all die. Besides, I was already dead. I just didn’t know it.
CRICKET: You were a heartless bastard, and you deserved to die.
RAT: Maybe I could have made a different life… but it’s hard not to take sides.
CRICKET: You were for death and pain and terror. We’re for life and peace and justice.
RAT: And yet…
RAT: You killed me… you– the leader of the party for peace and life.
CRICKET: Your death was a small price to pay for justice.
RAT: And others were killed.
C: It was war.
RAT: And now the party of life and good and right is in power.
CRICKET: We are!? Thank God! I didn’t know. I…
RAT: …died. Was it when you shot me?
CRICKET: No. I got away. It was later, I just collapsed. My heart.
RAT: And found yourself here.
CRICKET: Not at first. First I grew up with my cohort. But I kept dreaming of that night, what happened…how I waited for you– I knew where you’d be. So sure of yourself. You walked to your car alone. And the smell of your cologne. The gun. The pure pleasure of that moment.
(MAN is brought back in and dumped, moans briefly, then silence)
RAT: You dreamt… (licking MAN’s wounds a bit, more to clean him up than out of hunger)
CRICKET: About that night… and when the others went to sleep underground for the winter, I stayed awake. I kept leaping along… they’re not far…
RAT: Manuel. Do you know why you’re here?
CRICKET: Not to make amends…not for you.
RAT: No, of course, not for me.
CRICKET: Then why? Do you know?
RAT: To make amends… to him.
CRICKET: To him? But who is he?
RAT: He is the first man to be tortured by the new regime.
CRICKET: But you said…
RAT: You won. Yes. For now.
RAT: And now you must care for him. Explain to him how the suffering of one man is a small price to pay for justice.
CRICKET: But what did he do? Why is he in here?
RAT: No reason. Hadn’t joined a side yet. A warning, a mistake perhaps. Or perhaps not. Maybe he killed someone. Or might. These are precarious times.
CRICKET: But we wouldn’t do such a thing!
RAT: Is torture worse than killing? Yes, I suppose it is. Nevertheless, as I said, these are dangerous times.
CRICKET: We wanted only peace. Truth and reconciliation.
RAT: And so you shall have it. One person at a time. Shall we begin?
(MAN wakes up at RAT’s gentle prompting)
RAT: (to MAN) This cricket has something to say to you.
MAN: Chirp, Chirp?
CRICKET: I have nothing to say. This is not what we believe in. This Rat was one of them! He is a torturer. Don’t believe anything he says.
MAN: Wait, slow down, little cricket!
CRICKET: And just why are you in here?
MAN: I don’t know! Fuck you!
RAT: (to CRICKET) I told you– no questions!
MAN: Just leave me alone, both of you.
RAT: (to MAN) Sorry, Mister. Crickets can be cruel. And ignorant. Forgive him. Let me tell you about Maria.
MAN: Maria? Really? Tell me.
RAT: Now, she’s just gotten home. She’s rubbing that cream into her hands, weary from trying to find where you are, running from prison to prison, getting nowhere. She has to be careful, though, it’s not just your life at stake, or hers, anymore…
MAN: Is she….
RAT: …pregnant? Yes, she is.
MAN: How long has she known?
RAT: Three months. Just before you disappeared. She must have been waiting, to be sure, before she told you.
MAN: We’re going to have a baby. I have ot get out of here.
CRICKET: He’s lying!
RAT: Am I?
CRICKET: You said you never left this place.
RAT: True. But I know what I know.
CRICKET: This is ridiculous. (to Man) You want the truth, don’t you? This rat tortured people– people just like you.
MAN: …but he’s helping me. He…
CRICKET: He’ll say anything. He can’t be trusted.
MAN: Is it true?
RAT: She’s three months along. She made it to the outer office today. I heard her voice, listened to her pleading. Her black hair, the way it curls just so behind her ear…
MAN: A child! I have ot get out of here.
CRICKET: Listen, Mist… 10
MAN: Shut up, you stupid cricket! I don’t care what he was, I don’t care. I just need to stay
alive ’til Maria can find me… get me out of here.
CRICKET: Fine. Maybe you deserve each other.
MAN: Well, what did you do?
CRICKET: What do you mean?
MAN: To get in here.
CRICKET: Nothing. I’m a cricket.
MAN: (to RAT) What did he do?
RAT: He killed someone. Someone who needed to die so badly, who ground the life out of everyone he knew.
MAN: Are you sorry you did it?
(Just then TORTURER bursts in. CRICKET watches as the RAT attacks TORTURER, biting him in the leg. The TORTURER kicks the RAT off, stomps on him, then leaves, cursing)
MAN: Wow, thanks for that, Rat. Rat? Rat?
CRICKET: You’re dying. Again. Stupid Rat!
RAT: One man’s suffering…is a small price to pay…
CRICKET: Take it easy now…
RAT: Manuel…. please… it’s time…
CRICKET: But I don’t know what to say..
RAT: Just remember…life, and then sing… (RAT dies).
(Slowly, CRICKET places his hand over RAT’s eyes– then turns his head towards MAN, takes a deep breath, and speaks):
CRICKET: It’s daybreak… and dreams are dissolving into morning. The light is getting stronger now, with just a hint of rose. Everywhere, the rains are turning into new born babies. The time to remember has begun…
(As the bulb dims to darkness, only the Cricket’s eyes are visible, facing the audience, but now they glow bright red, like the Rat’s eyes glowed originally, then fade to dark).
ACT 2 11
One year later, in Maria’s apartment. Visible are a table and chairs, simple kitchen, couch and several doors leading out of well-lit, sunny room with windows.
MARIA: You want eggs?
MAN (PAOLO): Eggs?
MARIA: Eggs, then. And tea, with fresh ginger, the way you like it.
PAOLO: Yes, Maria. The way I like it. Thank you.
MARIA: Paolo, I just need to run down the street for some things…for the baby…we’ve run out.
MARIA: I’ll be right back.
(PAOLO shakes his head. MARIA takes his face in her hands.)
MARIA: I am coming right back, OK? … OK?
(PAOLO nods) There. Hold the baby. She won’t bite.
(PAOLO walks over to crib and smiles at MARIA as she leaves. After the door closes, he goes into another room an closes the door.)
BABY: I’m glad he’s home.
CRICKET: (Who has been behind the couch): Yeah. It’s gonna take him a while… to relax.
BABY: She needs him.
BABY: I mean she almost killed herself, killed us… more than once.
CRICKET: That must have been diificult.
BABY: Were you born or hatched or what?
CRICKET: Hatched. You changed the subject.
BABY: No. Being born was difficult. Seeing her sad was just…sad.
CRICKET: You’re very well-spoken for a baby.
BABY: Am I? Thanks. I haven’t met any others yet. 12
CRICKET: A talking baby!
BABY: Look, I need you to do me a favor.
CRICKET: Sure. If I can.
BABY: Help me find out why I’m here.
CRICKET: You’ve got time for all that– years to go…
BABY: No, I don’t have time– I only have three weeks.
CRICKET: Oh, then it’s easy. You’re here to break their hearts.
BABY: He won’t even touch me yet… or her.
CRICKET: He’s had a hard time. You’ll help him remember how to feel again
BABY: Yes. Pain.
CRICKET: Love turned inside out. It comes with being born. Are you sorry?
BABY: To be born? No, I’m getting used to it. I like the milk.
CRICKET: To die, so soon.
BABY: As long as I know why, I guess it’s OK. Besides, they said it’s my last time.
CRICKET: No kidding! So what’s next? Did they say?
(MARIA comes in and the CRICKET starts to move back behind the couch, but MARIA puts down her bag of groceries and grabs him and tosses him out the open window. The BABY lays back down in the crib and starts to cry. MARIA goes over to the crib and begins to cry. As she croons and soothes the BABY, PAOLO emerges from the room).
MARIA: There there pobrocito. I’m here. It’s all right. Where…? Oh, there’s your papa. Yes he’s home now. Now we can all begin to live again.
PAOLO: You got what you needed?
MARIA: What we needed. Yes.
PAOLO: Good, good. I think I’ll lay down for a while. I didn’t sleep very well last night. That mattress is too soft. The floor is better…..(MARIA frowns) … For now…just for now.
(CRICKET is seen in a cage, chirping, next to the crib, where the baby is goo-gooing)
MARIA: Paolo! For weeks that cricket’s been chirping! He’s driving me nuts!
PAOLO: I told you, that cricket can talk! He kept me alive! 13
MARIA: Paolo, that cricket can’t talk any more than our baby can talk.
PAOLO: (To the CRICKET) Why won’t you talk? Why won’t you tell her… how it was, the way it was for me, for us?
CRICKET: She can’t hear me. I’m trying, believe me!
BABY: She sort of hears me… him not at all.
CRICKET: How are you feeling?
BABY: Fine. I wanted to say thank you.
CRICKET: For what?
BABY: Keeping me company… and keeping my secret.
CRICKET: You’re not scared?
BABY: Ugh, I’m wet! I won’t miss these diapers, let me tell you.
PAOLO: The baby’s crying.
MARIA: Paolo, you do it…please.
CRICKET: (encouraging PAOLO as he starts to change the diaper, and the crying stops.) That’s it. Bravo, hombre!
PAOLO: Maria… I think something’s wrong. Maria!
MARIA: What… wha.. Baby? Baby? Baby!?
MARIA is sitting quietly, holding a baby blanket in her hands. She smells it and looks toward the window. The cage is gone.
MARIA: You know, when Paolo was in that place, and I couldn’t get him out, I wanted to die, more than once.
CRICKET: I know.
CRICKET: The baby told me.
MARIA: You’re so lucky. You could talk to her.
CRICKET: You did well… she really liked the milk. She was so happy.
MARIA: I miss her so much, my breasts ache with missing her. 14
(PAOLO comes in)
PAOLO: My love.
MARIA: Will we ever be happy?
PAOLO: I love you, Maria. Happy or sad, in this life or the next. That’s all I know.
MARIA: (taking his hand) Yes.
CRICKET: (Chirps delicately and they look up): I’m leaving now. I’m going to find my cohort, live my days as a cricket should, in the sun, in the dirt.
MARIA+PAOLO look at each other and then back at the CRICKET)
PAOLO: You can stay with us…
MARIA: Yes, please stay….
CRICKET: No. I’ve done what they asked. And it’s time. They’ve turned us inside out, all of us. I want to rest, and sing. For the rest of this life… this one life.
Losing it: The Doing and Undoing of Personal Violence
(This article appeared in the Sept/Oct 1990 issue of Family Issues, a publication of The Society for Family Therapy and Research. The level of violence it refers to involved anger, impatience, defensiveness and once, a kick under the table.)
…for how can he remember well his ignorance, which his growth requires, who has so often to use his knowledge? —Thoreau, Walden
Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings. —Rilke, The Man Watching
…amateurs always blink just when they most need to look. —Needleman, Sorcerers
It is not demanded of us that we always be in the state of the heart which grants us vision and self-mastery. It is only demanded of us that we know the state we are in…
It is going to sting… —Needleman, Lost Christiantity
I recover my tenderness by long looking. —Roethke, What Can I Tell My Bones?
Over the past six years, I have been living the question of violence. I was violent and I wanted to be nonviolent. I wanted to change but, at regular intervals, I would reach some limit and lose it. I wanted to learn to be nonviolent, but first I had to learn how to learn. And in so doing I found a nonviolent path to my own truth, to compassion for myself and others, to nonviolence itself. Here is what I learned…
I wanted to change my violence—my impatience and defensiveness. After all, I said, look at the people I’m hurting. I wanted to surgically remove my violence from myself. I wasn’t interested in my violence, I simply wanted to control it. And I kept failing. My failures taught me several things, however. First, it wasn’t enough to know why I should change or to want to change.
Second, behavior management wasn’t working. And there was something vaguely familiar about this effecting to be good.
Disillusioned by my failures at self-control, I began to lose interest in nonviolence per se. Rather than pretend to be someone I wasn’t, I wanted to find out who I actually was. I committed myself to be who I was, even if it meant losing my family. Within 24 hours of this decision, lost my temper again. But this time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something new in myself. I saw a person filled with fear. There, waiting all this time, was the violent one in me. No longer (for the moment) absorbed by making excuses for his behavior, nor swept away by self-criticism and judgment, I simply saw him. And the nature of our relationship became clear. I had long before abandoned him, but he never went away. I had tried to control him, but of course, that was his idea. I planned his demise…but there he was. And over the subsequent weeks and months I came to see the full extent of his roundedness. And his youth. I welcomed this child back into my body, with all his feelings. I began to appreciate what he had done to take care of himself all these years—to survive. And my heart began to melt, through understanding instead of control. I recognized his presence by the tensions I had installed to keep his pain at bay. As my resistance to these tensions dissolved, he and I became one.
My new internal relationship directly altered my external behaviors. Understanding my controlling behaviors were the desperate efforts of a powerless creature to try and take care of himself, I lowered my expectations of what I could handle and attended far more carefully to my need for safety. Instead of trying to get them to take care of me, I began, for the first time in my life, to actually take care of myself, directly. I was loving myself and my world was changing.
Whenever I reached a limit—a risk, a fear, a threat—my control alarm would go off: a habitual, compulsive, regressive , reactive, self-protective, mechanical network of thoughts, feelings and actions would manifest itself. As I became interested in this machine, I discovered that it could effectively distract me from the act of self-observation; it literally absorbed me. In short, I saw that losing it was a mechanical emotional response to having reached a limit. And that what I lost was awareness, the ability to attend in a a very particular, open way. What I gained by getting swept away was a comforting fix of control. The trick to not losing it was to keep looking, even when I didn’t like what I saw; to be interested in what disliking consisted of; to stay present to pain by understanding, first, precisely how I avoided it. By studying myself in this way, I noticed my controlling behavior sooner and sooner. If I actually reached a limit, I began to back off and to take time-outs; this kind of attention seemed to give me moral power.
When I reached a limit, I lost attention and the power to choose. At the end of my rope, I habitually reached for my trusty spare rope, and lost the learner—the one who can stand to not know and still want to find out. And it was not my need to change me that changed me, but my great need to know me, to learn who I was. By not abandoning myself at the crucial moment, I learned how to live at my limits. By hanging out there and just watching—without justification or judgment—I extended what I could tolerate without being swept away. I learned meditation.
As the years passed I made further discoveries. I found that, at my limits, I only stepped up my controlling behavior. By attending to (or trying and failing to attend to) my bodily sense of the state of control, I identified more and more subtle states of control, a continual dynamic between habit (or thought) and presence. I saw that I was not so much present in my body as I was always in the wings, maintaining a a stance, a house of cards designed to bend life to me. In fact, one liberating evening on the couch, I realized that all of who I thought I was consisted of this construct
and that I had no inevitable loyalty to it. In short, by studying my controlling behavior to finer and finer degrees, I sensed the systematic affirmation of emotional reaction (Needleman, Lost Christianity) which is ego.
My interest in my violence led me to see my reaction to being at my limits. This gave me the bodily clues to seeing my dance between presence and control and the processes of fear and desire which disperse my attention and convert the energy of awareness into fuel for the ego (food for thought). Only when I began to value the moment of reaching a limit did I see the process that sweeps me away rather than get swept away by it. I had to reach this point over and over again before I understood that it is only in this moment of awareness that control can die: The act of pure attention is itself nonviolence.
Thus, I now believe that every limit is an opportunity, a doorway to the arising of presence. This doorway is available at every moment…new. For this reason, I encourage the violent men who I counsel in group psychotherapy to begin to learn about themselves—to attend to their violence and bodily states of control—and to make a relationship with the one in themselves who is perpetrating the violence. A nonviolent relationship.
Because I have been living this question in myself, I relate to these men without fear, without enabling them, but with compassion. In fact, I have begun in this way to sense a truth for myself in the mythic view of life, where the external world is myself, turned inside out, mirroring my internal relationships. My relationship to the violent ones in the world is my relationship to the violent ones in me. Likewise, I relate to the poor and hungry, the trash and the forest in the world as I relate to these energies in myself. The more I understand myself, the more of myself I redeem—the more I treat my neighbor as myself, with unsought-for compassion. In this way, there is an end to conflict.
Our first approach to violence is generally as a problem to be solved. People hating, hurting, killing; someone hurting me or my family. Violence is an enormous problem, one that elicits as much fear and tension as anything in our daily lives. Yet it is just this fact that we approach violence out of fear, that we seek to control it, which has perpetuated violence in ourselves and in the world—which is ourselves writ large. Violence does not cease by violence.
When I try to solve the problem of my violence, some part part of me separates itself from the violence and thinks it can solve the problem. So I am in conflict with myself, one part seeking to control another. Is the part which separates itself different from the rest of me? Am I really different from the rest of the world? Or is the separation, within thought, itself a cause of the problem? Therefore, I want to approach the violence out there by approaching it in myself. And I seek a nonviolent approach to my own violence.
The Romans had a god called Janus bifrons, the god of thresholds (Latin: limen), limits, passages, doorways: the god of beginnings.
Beginner, perpetual beginner,
the should knows not what to believe…
—Roethke, What Can I Tell My Bones?
According to Ovid, Janus developed out of Chaos into a god who looks…in two opposing directions at once. It is Janus, our soul, which can see both our possible Being and how, precisely, we lose it. At our limits, at every moment, we may live the question of our lives. Then, within us arises a god: the tears of remorse, the eyes of wonder, and the vision that ends all violence.