Friday, July 24, 2009

Pixie dust and serendipity

I am coming to see my trip up north as a kind of pilgrimage--visiting places that were special to Kathleen and me, and scattering her ashes (which I have come to think of, I hope not irreverently, as "pixie dust").

I stopped off at many places along the coast to savor amazing views--far too many and far too beautiful to describe here. One of the places we enjoyed visiting is the New Camoldoli Hermitage located just north of Lucia in Big Sur. To get there, you must drive up a winding mountain road with spectacular views of the ocean below. When you reach the top, you find yourself in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth.

You must book reservations six months in advance for a room, but you can make "mini-retreats" for an hour or two just by stopping by and finding a bench that overlooks the ocean. Or you can go to the lovely circular chapel where there are cushions for those who want to meditate Zen style, as some of the monks do.

There is also an excellent bookstore with books on spirituality from a variety of religious traditions--Jewish, Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, as well as Catholic. Among the books I perused was "Dying, Grief, and the Family" by George Bowman--which helped me to see my grieving process from a pastoral perspective. Bowman mentioned the importance of rituals to help people mark the various stages of their grieving. This is what started me thinking of my trip north as a "pilgrimage."

I also was fascinated by Thomas Ryan's "The Sacred Art of Fasting" which takes an interfaith approach and looks as fasting from a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian perspective. Ever since I began fasting for Ramadan, I have been interested in this spiritual practice. For the Christian, the most important part of fasting is giving back to the poor, and being mystically open to the arrival of the Bridegroom. Jesus said that his followers do not fast while the Bridegroom is present. This implies that fasting is preparation for and anticipating of the arrival of the Bridegroom--a time of joy and celebration.

I left the Camoldoli Hermitage feeling very spiritually nourished. And I scattered some of Kathleen's "pixie dust" there as a reminder of the times we had spent in this sacred spot.

I arrived at the Fernwood (our favorite campground) and found it extremely crowded. I was the only single person there. All the rest were either couples or families. I reminded myself that I am not alone--God and Kathleen's spirit are always with me--but I still felt solitary. As the sun began to set, and the "vesper light" created a sense of deep stillness, I hiked through the redwoods on a path that Kathleen and I had taken many a time. I found comfort and peace among the great old trees who preceded me by many hundreds of years, and will be around long after I am gone. I nourished these venerable trees with some of Kathleen's ashes.

I also went to the Henry Miller library, which was not only open but was also hosting an open mike for local musicians. The library is situated in a redwood grove where there are various strange outdoor sculpture, including a ten-foot high crucifix made out of all TV monitors, with a Christ-like figure made out of wire. There is also a stainless steel ladder that leads upward and has various body parts (hands, feet) on different rungs.

The library contains not only works by Henry Miller, Annais Ninn, Lawrence Durrell, but a curious assortment of fascinating books--modern and ancient. And no best sellers!

I stayed till around 10 PM as a colorful crowd of locals showed up to see and be seen, to listen and to be heard. I heard one intense young man sing his passionate, mystical, and incomprehensible songs and decided it was time for me to go back to my tent and rest. One of the best "souvenirs" I found at the Henry Miller Library was a copy of "The Colossus of Marousi," his wildly imaginative account of his trip to Greece just as WWII was breaking out.

When I got back to my campsite, I discovered that my neighbors were rather loud. Snoring to the left of me, and a bawling baby to the right. But by midnight things settled down and I was able to sleep reasonably well.

The next day I went exploring and discovered places that Kathleen and I had never visited. For some reason we had never gone to the Nepenthe Cafe, which has the best view of Big Sur. We had never gone to the Molera State Park, which has a trail leading you to a pristine beach and the mouth of the Big Sur River. We had also never been to Point Lobos, one of the most beautiful convergences of water and rock on the planet.

Serendipity means making unexpected discoveries while looking for something else. It was surprising for me to discover how many remarkable places Kathleen and I had missed during our many years up and down the coast. There is still a lot for me to discover and to do as my new path unfolds before me.

I spent the night at the home of Ellie Huffman, who lives in Monterey. Her beautiful home (which was designed by Julia Morgan, the architect of the Hearst Castle) has been open to traveling Friends for many years. Ellie has made hospitality her spiritual practice and is a wise as well as gracious Friend that I love to spend time with. Kathleen and I often visited her and her husband Jack, who has Parkinson's and now is unable to move or speak. Ellie is a wonderfully loving caregiver and it is inspiring to see how she looks after her husband in his diminished state.

To cheer up Jack, I showed him funny clips about Kathleen, which made him smile. I also gave him a hug and told him how much I love her, which also made him smile. It was good to connect with this dear man.

Ellie and I had a wonderful visit and now I am off to see the Monterey Aquarium and my nephew Edward. The journey goes on, and where it will finally end, Spirit only knows!

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