Still touched by what I wrote about last time–the wholeness or perfection that is present in each seemingly imperfect moment–I was invited up to visit some old high school friends in a cottage on Campbell’s Point on Lake Ontario. I couldn’t make the party. But I was able to participate in another extraordinary kind of re-union–of seeming opposites, of going out into the world and coming home, of rugged independence and our mutual interdependence on one another and on the Whole. Early one morning, my high school friend Scott (whose family’s cottage was the scene of the bash) generously drove me all around Point Penninsula and Pillar Point. I was searching for the site of a 60 acre farm once owned by my great grandfather Cade. I was also searching for the point where my great-great uncle, a sailing captain sunk his three-masted sailing ship. Although I know it’s impossible to time-travel, I had this longing to stand where earlier ancestors stood, to look out over the water the way they did, to maybe feel what they felt.
After driving around the coastline for a good long time, we decided that we had probably unknowingly crossed and maybe even re-crossed the place where Cade’s farm once stood (near the “Long Carrying Place,” where long-ago Indians portaged their canoes). We got out of the car and sat on a stone boat launch at the edge of Point Penninsula, looking out across the vast lake and the great river beyond. We talked about how this is the kind of view Cade looked at, about how hard it must have been to farm in such a place, how dependent you had to be on your fellow farmers and on forces and conditions beyond you. As I watched great fluffy cumulous clouds mass and change shape, I realized the sense I had formed of Cade was incomplete. I thought of him as a rugged individualist, stubbornly self-sufficient, travelling by horse and carriage long after others started driving cars, indifferent to a changing world. Yet, living here, farming here, he had to be constantly aware of weather and seasons and forces beyond any of our knowing and control.
The rugged individualist had to have lived with an awareness of interdependence. This may seem obvious to many people. A high school teacher friend told me that even Cade’s very presence there could be traced to a series of interconnected movements from the time of Jaques Cartier. But I had clung stubbornly to this idea of his stubborn independence. I thought my life stood in stark contrast. After all, it has come around to interdependence–to the “new” idea of sustainability (which a subsistence farmer on the edge of Lake Ontario could not be expected to know). As I sat on the stone boat launch watching the wind make white caps on the rocky shoals, I tried to describe my realization to Scott: that the drive outward into the world, towards independence, that longing for freedom from conditioning–it turns out it is not separate from the return home. Independence is not separate from interdependence. It seems that the end of all journeys outward, all searching, is the return, the letting go, the surrender to the inescapable knowing of interdependence. There is a rthymn to it, like the in breath and the out breath,opening to the world and then letting it go. “It’s really all one process, like breathing,” I said, fearing that I sounded a little, well, trippy.
Scott, who has been engaged in a deep Christianity, reminded me that for Christians real freedom consists in surrendering to the will of God–giving up our separation for interconnection with the Whole. As we sat there the beautiful sight of the wind on the water, he told me the Hebrew word “Ruach,” means Spirit and also wind, breath. The breath of God moved over the water and brought life. (The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin “spiritus” or breath).
Sitting there on that rocky shore thanks to the generosity of my friend, I glimpsed how every moment is determined by conditions, forces, mysteries that are ever out of our field of attention,no matter how sincere we are in cultivating awareness. I glimpsed how no matter how much we seek to know, to love, to be with life, what we can know is always partial in every sense of the word. Clinging to certain stories, elevating and cherishing a particular independent “I” — well, that’s missing what is really happening. The breath of the life force is moving through us. It does not belong to us but links us with our ancestors and with all beings. Stop grasping at knowing and open to the unknown. Moment by moment, Ruach moving over the Deep.