Touching Down


Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been away for a time (thank you for reading this!) I’ve been working on Parabola’s wonderful new issue, walking, and reflecting.  Wondering if I should keep going with a blog, wondering it doesn’t just contribute to the great information flood that threatens to drown us all.

Reflection is the word I am using at present for a process very different than thinking, a way of making space for a deeper kind of knowing arise, for letting our lived truth, our wisdom, rise slowly to the head.  Many of our metaphors are based on the experience of being in a body (I have a book on this somewhere in my teetering piles of books)  When an insight or realization “dawns” on us,  it mirrors the experience of having a deeper knowing rise like the sun, from the depths of the living body, lighting us up.  This kind of knowing has a certainty and clarity that ordinary thinking, however brilliant, lacks.  It has a deeper, softer, steadier glow.  It shines with a conviction that comes from lived experience.  When this knowing dawns in our consciousness, it brings real presence to what we say.   Asked how he made his extraordinary music, the jazz great Thelonius Monk once told an interviewer there are only so many notes, the key was meaning the notes.  There are only so many letters in the alphabet too.  You bring your life to those words, people feel it.

Reflection is not flashy.  An old boss once referred to a co-worker who swiftly moved up and out as “blindingly brilliant.”  How I wished I could be like that!  I too wanted to be so dazzling I would be seen and scooped up and given a perch high up on the tree of success, above the flood. of time and impermanence and fleeting impressions and desires and distractions that is sweeping me along.   But slowly, I stopped wanting that.  Slowly, haltingly (my way of doing most things), it has dawned on me that blinding brilliance doesn’t matter.  Touching the earth matters.

According to legend, as Siddhartha Gautama sat under a tree, breathing and being present, seeking to discover what it might mean to wake up in this world, the great devil Mara came and challenged him–basically asking him who or what gave him the right just to sit there, breathing, being with the sensation of breathing, watching his ordinary thoughts and feelings arise and peak and pass away, abiding in the fields of his own conscious experience.  According to the legend, Siddhartha reached down and touched the Earth, and the Earth spoke:  “I bear you witness!”  Mara gave up tempting and terrifying young Sid, leaving him to go on just sitting there, breathing and abiding.  As the morning star rose in the sky, he woke up and became the Buddha (or Awakened One).

The traditional interpretation is that the Earth bore witness to the Buddha’s many life times of search and effort, affirming that he had earned his right to sit.  But as in every great myth, there is room for more interpretation, more meaning, deeper and more immediate truth.  The earth is our own bodies, our own our breathing, our own capacity to be present.  The morning star is that experience of dawning of living, breathing experience dawning in the realm consciousness–it the wisdom that is seeing the truth in a direct and nonverbal way, in the language of our lives here and now.
Siddhartha Guatama left his palace home, left his wife and infant son, at a time of great stagnation, impasse, shut down.  A small group of Brahmins were in control and the general feeling was that things were not going well, not at alll.  At the time that Siddhartha left home to find another way, many others were also “going forth.”   And he did find another way, a way that was very radical and against the stream, he sat down under a tree and just abided quietly.  He touched the earth.


10 thoughts on “Touching Down

  1. Thank you Tracey – a lovely post. As Mara challenged Buddha, she threw down a bolt of lightning to kill him. The King of Serpents, the cobra, came out of the shadows and offered Buddha its hood for protection. I love this particular part .. that which can kill can also cure.
    I also am concerned about the flood of information that threatens to flood us. Keep yr head above water and breath deeply.

    1. Susan, I love that detail about the cobra’s hood sheltering the Buddha (I also love that you made Mara “her.”) It also remdinds me of the power of being still–no thought or action can strike or sting or poison us when we just sit down. Maybe there’s a clue in there about how to be in this flood.

  2. Thank you Tracy and welcome back! :) love the story. have also been reflecting on it recently – the importance of taking a holistic look at life and moving towards simplicity as a precursor to allow for this gentle witnessing. in that context, so much of what i do is simply the prepatory work to enable quietness. happy day!

    1. Hi Birju, I’ve been reflecting on this movement of simplicity as the ground for this gentle receptivity also. It is so against the stream of modern life, yet essential. Thank you so much for the insight that so much of what we do is to prepare the conditions for inner quiet. May you be happy and well, T

  3. Tracy, I was not familiar with the story you tell of Mara taunting Siddhartha. How like a devil to try to sow doubt and discouragement!! Not so different from the Judeo-Christian devil– with Satan challenging God: “Doth Job fear God for nought? … But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face”–and with Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. One of our family’s favorite Chicago folk singers Tom Dundee (who sadly passed away a few years ago) wrote the beautiful song A Delicate Balance, which has the line “…That expectations we have can lead down that path where that devil discouragement lives.” I was pleased when your new post popped up as a notification in my e-mail. Thanks. Here’s Tom Dundee singing A Delicate Balance:

  4. Tracy says: “Wondering if I should keep going with a blog, wondering it doesn’t just contribute to the great information flood that threatens to drown us all.”

    –Keep writing, Tracy. Your blog isn’t just “information.” Information is something like this:

    the stock market is up today;
    the weather report is partly sunny;
    Myley Cyrus popped a zit today.

    That’s information.

    Your blog is thoughtful and intelligent, which is unlike most of the “information flood” out there. There can never be too much good writing on the Internet, especially when most of the ‘net is garbage anyway.

  5. I ditto CG’s comments.
    Please do NOT disappear Tracy.. I always read yours and try to comment, sometimes successfully sometimes not. I always gain something from your thoughtful and profound posts.

  6. Hello, old friend. It’s hard, choosing simplicity. What to give up? What to hold onto? The journey towards stillness requires choices. I have two storage sheds full of stuff. I have to pay rent just to keep that stuff. I want to work as little as possible to pursue simplicity and loving others. Got to let go of stuff.

    I have enjoyed your writing in this blog. I have enjoyed the exchange with you. You are a wonderful writer and you bring great experiences to life. I would miss your blog as I miss you. But, it is your life to live and simplicity is hard.


    1. Thank you friends, it’s great to hear from you (and thank you for that great song, Robert). I am beginning to think we can have a kind of simplicity and depth and connection starting right where we are. Just relating like this can be a way of stopping, of going against the stream. Peace, T

  7. I’ve come back – to add a little more about Sid (Buddha). When he had reached nirvana, instead of staying there, he elected to go back to the population to teach them the Four Noble truths as a way of relieving their suffering and achieving self- awakening. His Noble Eightfold Path is the 4th of the Buddha’s Four Noble truths… but I like the idea of his electing not to stay in nirvana for all time …

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