“Thou Shalt Go On Quests”
(10 Commandments of Sea Kayaking #9 – Eric Soares)
The first thing you’ll say is, “Why a post about the desert in a blog about sea kayaking?” Here’s why: the ocean and the desert are not so different. Try getting lost on or in either one without food or water for a few days and you’ll be in the same fix. Moreover, deserts are often ancient sea beds. And many writers have compared the sea to the desert and vice versa. In fact, both the sea and the desert have been used in literature as allegories for the inward journey. Consider Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or the Biblical story of Moses wandering in the wilderness.
Speaking of wandering in the wilderness, it’s been 12 weeks since Eric died. On March 30th I scattered some of his ashes at the top of our hill in a little private ceremony of my own. Later I took off my wedding ring. And suddenly I just had to get out of town. I needed to go on a quest, and the desert was calling. I wanted to find a hot spring out in the middle of nowhere, a place lonely and wild where I could take my grief, hold it in both hands and fully face it. Without people or communication devices, without responsibilities or distractions, I hoped to find clarity and healing.
On Easter weekend I packed up and went. At first, I was so caught up in my own affairs I didn’t know it was Easter, but when I did find out it seemed auspicious. Rebirth, immortality, all that. Jesus rising from the dead. Would I see Eric walking at dusk over the desert floor to meet me? After six hours of hard driving, the last part for about forty miles on a washboard gravel road, I wound up at an extremely remote hot spring in the Alvord Desert. I had never been there before. Actually, I had never been on a solo camping trip before. What would it be like?
There was a beautiful, ringing silence all around. Beneath the silence was the sound of wind and water and birds calling. A pack of coyotes singing as I returned from a hike. Nothing else. It was so silent I could hear my heart beat and the blood pulse in my veins. There were pairs of everything: marsh hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, killdeer, ducks, Canada geese, quail, red-winged black birds. I even saw a pair of pronghorn antelope. Everything was pairing up, mating at this time of year. Do they mate for life? What happens to the other when one dies? Sitting in meditation I had an insight.
The water in the creek as it passes is never the same from moment to moment though there is always water in the stream. The little willows that grow by the stream are not the same that grew here two hundred, two thousand, or twenty thousand years ago and yet there have always been willows growing here for at least that long. The birds are not the same that were here years ago and are not the same that will be here years from now and yet there always have been and always will be birds here as long as the creek flows and the willows grow. Our lives are like this, flowing like the creek, growing like the willows and mating like the birds, manifesting over and over. There is a perfect Reality from which we all come and to which we all return and in which we all are. A world of multitudes passes away and comes again, but what is behind our changing world is everlastingly perfect.
I had another insight at night, bedded down in the truck. All night it was very light because the moon was just past full. But whenever I woke, I couldn’t see the moon, because it was always high above the truck. And I realized that just as the moon lit up my world even though I couldn’t see the moon itself, Eric’s love still surrounds me even though I can no longer touch his hand or look into his eyes. I felt blessed and surrounded by love. During the day, floating in the magical healing pool I felt the bubbles rise from their source at the center of the earth as if they had been rising for millennia just so I could find healing here and now. I saw the sky bending over me like a loving parent and I felt held as though in the strong palm of a great and beneficent hand.
I spent five days alone in the desert. I wasn’t bored, lonely, or afraid. I felt peaceful, calm and happy. As I soaked in the clear water (at 101 degrees a perfect temperature!) I asked myself how I could be lonely when the whole universe was there with me. The sky, the earth, the song of water and wind, the incredible beauty of the desert, everything called me to rejoice, to see my beloved everywhere. Sitting there with my grief I watched it vanish in my hands. As the tears poured down my face I felt incredibly moved and privileged to experience this amazing grace, watching my grief transform into joy through the alchemy of love.
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “When you look at the surface of the ocean, you can see the waves coming up and going down…Looking deeply, we can also see that the waves are at the same time water…Water is free from the birth and death of a wave.” (From No Death, No Fear.) I realized that like a wave on the sand, Eric has expended his manifestation in this life, but even though my wave is still traveling toward the beach we are and always will be joined as water. In the magical healing pool, in the great desert silence, I could look deeply…
I know I’ll be grieving for a long time, but soaking in the Magical Healing Pool really helped me to move the process forward. This was one of the most wonderful adventures I have ever had. Have you ever gone on a quest? What was it like? Please share your story by clicking below.