Quieting the Voices Inside Us

Part of the desire for experiences of the numinous is that we feel limited by the boundaries of the  human mind; and the human soul rails at these limitations imposed by the need to make our way in the world. The story this month is shared by a friend, and fellow oral storyteller, Bill Wood. As a youth Bill sensed this human dilemma intuitively and began his own exploration of the relationship between the human mind and soul. His story is recorded both in an oral interview and a poem he wrote about his experiences as a university student in the late nineteen-eighties.


(audio interview about a numinous experience)

Poem, 1987

Clouds paint notes upon sky,

. their chords entwine the sun.

Crimson yields the day to black,
heaven fuses with earth.

Overhead stars appear,
poems for my eyes.

Silver moon looks down and smiles,
ocean calls me from afar …

Standing alone upon the shore
My feet become the sand
Watching without wanting

My senses flood the sea

Raindrops fall to meet the waves
My self is washed away

Losing thereby gaining

My space is filled with light

In chromatic tones of color
My being breaks apart

Ever soaring outward

‘My’ does not exist

Without space and time between
My mind no longer is

Being without thinking

Now I simply live …

Recalled now in memory,

It seems somehow a dream.
But still I hear the music
In the dewdrops, in the sun
The melody ever-changing,
The song remains the same

* * * * *

In the tradition of the “crackerbarrel” story sharing that we embraced at the beginning of this cycle of stories, I am reminded of a story from my youth. At some point I became fascinated with the writing of John Muir. From his book, The Mountains of California, I discovered the description of climbing a pine tree atop a mountain in the Sierras during a thunderstorm. Encouraged by the exhilaration felt from Muir’s description, I climbed an apple tree in my Pennsylvania backyard during a thunderstorm. My experience in no way equaled that of Muir, still I could feel the tree swaying in the strong wind and felt a sense of oneness with the natural world. I share an excerpt of the Muir’s writing to convey his sense of the natural world.

…Toward midday, after a long, tingling scramble through copses of hazel and ceanothus, I gained the summit of the highest ridge in the neighborhood; and then it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to climb one of the trees to obtain a wider outlook and get my ear close to the Aeolian music of its topmost needles. But under the circumstances (the thunderstorm) the choice of a tree was a serious matter. One whose instep was not very strong seemed in danger of being blown down, or of being struck by others in case they should fall; another was branchless to a considerable height above the ground, and at the same time too large to be grasped with arms and legs in climbing; while others were not favorably situated for clear views. After cautiously casting about, I made choice of the tallest of a group of Douglas Spruces that were growing close together like a tuft of grass, no one of which seemed likely to fall unless all the rest fell with it. Though comparatively young, they were about 100 feet high, and their lithe, brushy tops were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy. Being accustomed to climb trees in making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the top of this one, and never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobolink on a reed…

In its widest sweeps my tree-top described an arc of from twenty to thirty degrees, but I felt sure of its elastic temper, having seen others of the same species still more severely tried–bent almost to the ground indeed, in heavy snows–without breaking a fiber. I was therefore safe, and free to take the wind into my pulses and enjoy the excited forest from my superb outlook. The view from here must be extremely beautiful in any weather. Now my eye roved over the piney hills and dales as over fields of waving grain, and felt the lightning running in ripples and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to ridge, as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air. Oftentimes these waves of reflected light would break up suddenly into a kind of beaten foam, and again, after chasing one another in regular order, they would seem to bend forward in concentric curves, and disappear on some hillside, like sea-waves on a shelving shore. The quantity of light reflected from the bent needles was so great as to make whole groves appear as if covered with snow, while the black shadows beneath the trees greatly enhanced the effect of the silvery splendor…

I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was streaming past. The fragrance of the woods was less marked than that produced during warm rain, when so many balsamic buds and leaves are steeped like tea; but, from the chafing of resiny branches against each other, and the incessant attrition of myriads of needles, the gale was spiced to a very tonic degree. And besides the fragrance from these local sources there were traces of scents brought from afar. For this wind came first from the sea, rubbing against its fresh, briny waves, then distilled through the redwoods, threading rich ferny gulches, and spreading itself in broad undulating currents over many a flower-enameled ridge of the coast mountains, then across the golden plains, up the purple foot-hills, and into these piney woods with the varied incense gathered by the way…

We all travel the milky way together, trees and men; but it never occurred to me until this storm-day, while swinging in the wind, that trees are travelers, in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys, not extensive ones, it is true; but our own little journeys, away and back again, are only little more than tree-wavings–many of them not so much…

When the storm began to abate, I dismounted and sauntered down through the calming woods. The storm-tones died away, and, turning toward the east, I beheld the countless hosts of the forests hushed and tranquil, towering above one another on the slopes of the hills like a devout audience. The setting sun filled them with amber light, and seemed to say, while they listened, “My peace I give unto you.” As I gazed on the impressive scene, all the so called ruin of the storm was forgotten, and never before did these noble woods appear so fresh, so joyous, so immortal…

The natural world, so majestically described by John Muir, is an elixir for those of us who hunger for the numinous in our lives. But no less so, though in a far gentler way, is it discovered by the young university student meditating on the shores of Lake Michigan,  a clutch of prepubescent girls exploring on a spring day as shared by Tina Divine; or, for that matter, the two anthropomorphic, literary characters exploring an English bower at sunset in Kenneth Grahame’s, Wind In The Willows ! The natural world does have the power to quiet the chatter inside of us, to silence the voices that are governed by the “iron-wheeled world” of every day life, and bring us into the presence of the numinous.

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