Spiritual Mysticism or Spiritual Naturalism?

As we walked into our standard Best Western’s breakfast room near the Inyo Canyons, there was a transformation. The walls were plastered with what looked like pictures of movie stars. Apparently, this was Hollywood’s favorite location for filming cowboy scenes, and the hotel wasn’t going to let that one slide any time soon.

The surrounding Inyo canyons were looking like that I admit. The horizons widened, the rocks and foliage blended together in beautiful sandstone with broccoli-like vegetation everywhere. The canyons had miles and miles of rock. Flat plains stretching on before hitting the mountain ranges. Pink, red, orange and sandstone. It took us some time to appreciate its beauty. Life seemed sparse yet the possibility of life here seemed abundant. I tried imagining a time in Earth’s history when the place was teeming with life, maybe large dinosaurs spotted the plains with winged creatures careening overhead, and possibly a lush, green surrounding rather than the pink-ish desert looks that were in front of us now.

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I tried imagining the place a few hundred years from now – would it be a city, or a settlement of some kind? Would there be more visible forms of life and humanity? How about a few thousand years from now?

It is definitely heartening to step out of urban life for a brief spell. It is also when you are most capable of doing what you want. Do you want to sing a song? The rocks are your audience. Go for it. Do you want to jump in the middle of the road, the mountains are your witness. So, we spent the day in near by cowboy locations acting out like cowboys and cowgirls. Only these cowboys & girls wore woolen caps and gloves and heehawed like donkeys.

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The fact that we are miniscule in the scheme of things is never more stark than when gazing at nature’s grandeur. I tried looking for that feeling of oneness, and could come up with no better words than Spirituality and Nature. The internet spewed articles on religion and spirituality. But that was not what I felt there. There was no religion except when the cold got a bit much and I said, “Rama! It is so cold!”.

My grandmother would have approved.

Sometimes, Lord Ganesha kept us company. (We saw rocks shaped like dinosaurs and elephants.)

There was awe, humility, peace and the sense of security that our valiant car could provide transport and warmth.

That night after the heehawing in Inyo canyons, I had vague and hilarious dreams of my grandmother running after a donkey in a 9 yards saree. Who is to say that a mouse did not really pull a wooden trundle with Lord Ganesha seated on it across the canyons that night? Spiritual Mysticism? Maybe.

cowboys

The Tree’s Spiritual Path

Monday’s heat wave sent a shocking yearning for the milder, cloudier days that we have been enjoying in May. It is wonderful when one gets to enjoy the burst of Spring without the stifling heat that the Californian Springs and Summers crack up the Earth with. It was, therefore, with a whole-hearted mind to enjoy the mild drizzle that I set out on Wed morning.

Rain drops on Flowers
Rain drops on Flowers

I was thinking of the week of the storm about six months ago when it truly rained and brought back memories that I had, in my typical butterfly-wing-ed fashion, jotted down as ‘potential blog material’ and forgotten in the ensuing months of rigor and tedium. So here goes.

The rains had been lashing down with some vigor and I sat next to a man on the train, who behaved like he was a Grade-C Hollywood actor. For one, he pulled out his goggles when there wasn’t a spot of sun. Then, he turned this way and that, with a sort of expectant look on his face. It looked to me like he was hoping to be recognized, but was relieved to not have a line awaiting his autograph all the same and in that state of mind, went to sleep. A sleeping co-passenger is infinitely better than a co-passenger who is catching up with relatives and friends on the phone(A subject for another set of blogs altogether). I sent a silent thanks and sat back to enjoy my book, sending admiring glances out the window every now and then. I am a pluviophile through and through even if the pouring rain can sometimes be an inconvenience like I am about to explain below. A few minutes later, I was jolted out of this euphoria by what sounded like a slurpy trumpet. It turns out that the G.C.H.Actor was also a Grade-A snorer. His snores were audible over the hum of the train and din of the storm, to folks three seats away and they sent me quick smiles of sympathy before turning away. I had not the heart to wake him for he seemed to be flying over the clouds happily and smiled in his sleep. A dream probably.

I, however, was on Earth’s solid surface and was left listening to a static crackle that precedes a service announcement. These trains have many advisories: station service advisories, service advisories to name a few. The announcements are meant to help commuters with service announcements that impact all riders for more than 10 minutes.  All other announcements are left to the discretion of the train operator. (I will have to write about that one day).  I was especially attentive at the time, for rains can mean delays. So, every time it crackled, I sat up and listened attentively.

But I need not have worried for I heard notifications such as:

This is a service advisory from the Bart Operations Control Center. All elevators in the Bart system are now functioning. Thank you.

This simple message is delivered with static in a sort of dead metallic voice.  But really now – is it an announcement when all elevators in the Bart system are functional? As though reading my thoughts, there was another one about non-functioning ones:

This is a Bart Station Advisory. The elevator in the 19th Street station is out of service. Thank you.

To me, this announcement was as useless as the one that said every one of them was functioning. What were people to do on the 19th Street station?

Incidentally, there is never an announcement about escalators being off, which is quite another thing that folks are interested in. There are about 200 steps to climb from deep down in the bowels of the city to the surface. The escalators are hypochondriacs and put their hands to their heads dramatically every alternate day and sulk. It is never a pretty sight. I cannot tell you the number of times I see people groaning as they make their way up 200 steps. It feels like 2000 and the gratification is minimal. It is not like there is a temple up there or that you will have gained an inch towards your spiritual journey as these hilltop temples proclaim.

Will escalator malfunction help attain Moksha?
Will escalator malfunction help attain Moksha?

Where was I? Temples, stairs, elevators..oh yes, service announcements, storm. Right. During this time, the service advisories were busy static senders. Elevators are working. Elevators are not working. Mind you, through it all, my co-passenger snored, and I dutifully re-directed my attention from my reading to listen for any potential delays.

Then, with little warning, the train stopped at a station about mid-way to my destination and it fell to the train operator to announce something and get us all out of the train: Something-something,  then something about a tree, and the storm,  and some other thing and then apologize for delay and then some mumble-tumble.  The whole thing caused a bunch of folk to look at each other and say, “What-didde-say?”

“What? No – you didn’t hear either?”

Oh well. Then the train sent a collective shrug and set about doing whatever-it-is people do on the train.

A few incoherent announcements later, we pieced things together and realized that we were going to have to leg it home, for a tree had fallen strategically across the tracks.

The shock is deep I tell you. I mean, for a person, who sets aside everything she is doing every time to see whether anything useful comes out of the announcements, there was nothing preparing me for this. Nothing.

I decided that the time had come to wake my neighbor from his slumber and I climbed the octave ladder with my ‘Excuse Me’s’. Somewhere before I reached Opera-ic frequency, he woke. His eyes opened with a thud and he looked like a tree had just crashed across his path in his dream. I gave him a moment to compose himself and then gently told him that a tree had indeed crashed our path. “Eh?” he said. I told him about the tree that decided to attain the spiritual end to its time on Goddess Earth across the train tracks and the trains were cancelled.

Tree-moksh
Tree-moksh

“Whaddowenow?” he said

I practiced my shrug again.

All elevators are now functioning in the Bart system said a service advisory. I smiled. Glad to have that problem sorted out.

P.S: Incidentally, I am just adding to the rich culture of symbolizing trees and spirituality. See here on 800 Years of Visualizing Science, Religion, and Knowledge in Symbolic Diagrams:

The Book of Trees: 800 Years of Visualizing Science, Religion, and Knowledge in Symbolic Diagrams