Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Be Still My Heart these Trees are Prayers.

Admittedly I was a bit of a chatterbox. Call it nervous energy but I hadn’t yet really learned to be still. Now we were walking in silence through the sun drenched forest across the way from our home and I saw nothing but forest for miles around.  

And the silence was exquisite.

Our humble home was in the Eastern Townships of Quebec,  or “Les Cantons d’ Est” en francais. South East of Montreal this region bordered with Vermont. It is a landscape of beautiful rolling hills, actually the worn down mountains of a very, very old (pre-ice age?) mountain range that extends to and joins the Appalachian mountain range still today. We had a little old shack on a county road just outside of Knowlton. It was a clapboard house painted blue I remember and it couldn’t have been more than about 800 square feet in total. A one bedroom house with a proper bathroom and an adequate kitchen the house had  linoleum floors and drafty windows so it sure was a fixer-upper but it was all we could afford then.

Nine months pregnant and with winter approaching--it was already October--we desperately needed shelter. We had come upon some real good possibilities and then things fell through at the last minute. Why so many disappointments. What was the Universe trying to tell us? That we should be trying to live here now or what?

Once we found the little house on Mount Echo road we settled in with all the enthusiasm of a young couple setting up housekeeping. We were preparing for a home birth but needed a home first.

Little did we realize the long abandoned house already had its own little family of mice (or rats or both) but we settled in and prepare to nest here and welcome into the world our new baby.   

Akbar was a musician, a poet and a Sufi and didn’t have much employment so we had limited funds. Still he wanted to live in the country and we at least had a car; a wedding present from his family.

As we walked silently through the woods I soon enough discovered how vocal the forest was. Hearing the sounds of our own footsteps crunching the patches of snow and dead branches and debris below us that made up the forest floor, I was suddenly hearing only this. Listening to the sound of my own breathing and the sounds of the birds calling back and forth, the various animals scurrying through the same forest and the wind in the trees and the rustle of the leaves  I imagined what it must have been like for the native people who lived here before we did.  How did they walk in the forest? And in their bare feet or in moccasins?  I imagine…silently, like we are now.

Akbar was a mystery to me. He was very serious for a young man and didn’t tolerate frivolous chatter and talking gossip. He measured his words very carefully himself as was evident in the way he spoke. He would often break off in mid-sentence to analyze if he was saying what he really meant. It was charming, and well sometimes frankly a bit  annoying as his self expression sometimes meandered a bit too much but overall you listened because he was so sincere.

We had met in a Tipi on a friend’s farm in Sutton. The farm was actually a spiritual community of devotees to Neem Karoli Baba. I had met Baba in India just two years before. That was in 1972. Now this community of mostly one family and a bunch of their friends who were mostly Neem Devotees had arranged a gathering at the Markus’ Family Farm known as Abercorn Satsanga.

So here’s this interesting man: A Jew, named Akbar living in a Tipi in Quebec. A poet, musician and artist he was an all around refined and sensitive man. And if not really handsome in the classical sense one who captured my heart none the less; for his beauty lay in his heart qualities and those - unlike good looks - do not wither with age. I knew a jewel when I saw one. 

Or maybe not. I’m not sure exactly how we chose one another. Like I said we met in a Tipi. It was the summer of 1974 in August I believe. There was a gathering of Neem Devotees, the first such gathering since he’d had his Maha Samadhi (Great Sleep) and devotees were coming from all over north America and even some from India. I was invited by Dasaratha a friend  who had  been a great support to me while I was in prison. It was the anniversary of the Master’s  death. In India they do not celebrate the birth of a great saint but rather his death as it is considered a true liberation for the soul; something to celebrate indeed.  

I was still in shock from my previous experience in jail and still recovering. I had been out of prison just four months now and living in an excruciatingly boring situation.  I just craved some kinship with fellow seekers. When I got the letter with the invitation from Dasaratha I was delighted. Now I would finally meet him in person. We weren’t sure if we’d actually met face to face in India although we were there at the same time and same place. Either way, it didn’t matter he. He had become a dear friend, a kind of wise counselor for me throughout the last year and some and now I was going to hang out with him for a few days and a whole bunch of devotees from California were coming up including possibly Ram Dass himself. Reading the letter my hands shook a little; the excitement was immediate. It would be a fantastic gathering of like-minded souls and there would be lots of chanting and ceremonies, copious rounds  of chillums, art installations and impromptu theatre and great vegetarian feasts and fun. I absolutely had to go. Clearly in violation of my Parole conditions I left my small town Ontario community and hitch-hiked my way to the Eastern Townships of Quebec  my sister in tow.

The gathering that weekend consisted of about 60 people and it was understood  that many would have to camp out so there were tents everywhere you looked. And a couple of small Tipis too and then one large communal Tipi of about 20 feet diameter  which no one slept in because it was reserved for Kirtan, Yoga and community readings and other events. 

Akbar was living in a Tipi with his best friend David - two middle class Jewish guys from the Suburbs of mostly English Montreal at that time. Their Tipi was situated near a river on the farm  in the lowest quarter. We’d walked from the main house at least a half hour and I was thirsty and tired. Then in a clearing in the forest swith a little stream rushing nearby I saw a tipi, a carpet and a little out door cooking set up and a few char blackened pots and pans and implements hanging from the trees. It was the penultimate experience of out-door living. Well that’s what I thought, anyway. 

David and Akbar had lovely little outdoor living situation right there smack in the middle of the woods. And just across the stream Howard and Donna also had a tipi and a little installation. 

These guys were really doing the back to nature thing, pretty seriously. That evening David made some lambsquarters with dandelion greens and wild rice and some kind of zucchini chutney. I wasn’t too keen on eating this stuff but have to admit it tasted pretty good. Who would have thought you could eat weeds? My new friends certainly were both healthy muscled lean men in their twenties with the good looks of a sun tanned skin and outdoor freshness in their aura. I remember David, half naked in loin cloths…yes, I am serious he was wearing a loin cloth! squatting by the fire to shelter it from a bit of wind that was annoying his attempt to make tea. Akbar wore a lunghi - an Indian garment for men much like a sarong. We’d just smoked a great big chillum and he had been reading from Rumi. ]

I was so pleased he had introduced me to Rumi. I’d heard of him a bit in India but now I was meeting a full on Sufi initiate who was well steeped in the poetry of the Persian mystical poets. His own master Hazrat Inayat Khan, was a great poet and musician and one I’d never heard of before. Akbar  introduced me to the beauty of the word well written. He, having had a very fortunate upbringing in that his mother saw a deeply sensitive child with tremendous artistic potential and put him into art schools from the beginning, had won a Province wide poetry contest in High School. I guess that was pretty impressive for me as a young woman then.  Yes, he seduced me with poetry and music, with philosophy and intense dialogue and even at times with silence. Now he seduced me with silence again.

What did he mean these trees are prayers. And why is he more interested in the trees than in me?

I later discovered that he was quoting from Hazrat Inayat Khan, our Sufi master who’s son Pir Vilayate was our living master. At the time I thought these were his own words because I’d heard some of his own spontaneous utterings and he’d sound just like that..like  Rumi or Hafiz or Sham’s or Omar Khayyam or Farridudin. It didn’t take long to realize that the man I had married was in fact a poet, a devoted spiritual seeker and a committed Yogi except that he was thrust into the householder role right now.

Still both he and I believed that having a baby would not really in any serious way impact our freedom, our way of life or our spiritual pursuits but rather that it would enhance our journey along  the spiritual path because as parents the first lesson is: Self Sacrifice.

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