At One, Just Once
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3. The Practice
Each of us finds his or her own way to enter into that present-ness, his or her own practice for entering “the peace of wild things.” It can be anything from playing the cello to hunting deer, from brush strokes on a canvas to the stroke of an oar through the water. I love sailing because it lifts me body and soul into that dance of wind and water and light. I love Tai Chi because it is embodied prayer, the dance of the Great Spirit flowing through everything and me. The swaying oaks and tulip poplars teach me what it means to stand where I am.
I go up to the top of the ridge and watch the sun set over Sourland Mountain, especially at the winter solstice, when the trees are so bare, the air so frigid clear, that I can see how that red ball rolls slightly westward as it sinks below the horizon, earth’s axis leaning away from the sun. I can almost feel myself tumbling over my left shoulder with the spin of the earth, “rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,/ with rocks, and stones, and trees.”
Is it that diurnal motion that gives “leftness” such mystery and creativity? Is that why we throw salt over our left shoulder? Because our bodies know that they are hurling incessantly that way with the arrow of time? Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui teacher, don Juan, tells him that his death is his advisor and that it is always there by his left shoulder to remind him that “there is a strange consuming happiness in acting with the full knowledge that whatever one is doing may very well be one’s last act on earth.” This “strange consuming happiness” is where our oneness and our onceness meet— as in that Native American affirmation, “It is a good day to die,” or in Philip Larkin’s poem, “Next, Please,” which is one of the most deeply and quietly consoling and affirming poems I know.
In the end, the practice of being present, whatever form it takes, is about letting go of fear, opening the heart, and being love, which is simply the world being the world, the entangled bank, at one, just once, a salmon swimming back home. Easier said than done, which is why we keep coming back to the practice, and as personal and various as the forms of this practice may be, there are three that are, I think, universal and related: breathing, walking, and measuring the breath in song (poetry).
At One, Just Once, Just This