Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Soul in a Heat Wave

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I've just returned from a retreat, a week of living in a cabin at an old boy scout camp with a host of other like-minded beings.  The venue had some comforts, unlike the tent and bunk house communal camping I've been used to. Each cabin had electricity, facilities for light cooking, a couple of flush toilets and showers.  There was also a small common room and a deck, which was mostly used at night for star-gazing (meteors!) and heart-to-heart sharing.

Three meals a day were provided by kitchen staff inside a large shed-like building whose cement floor,  not leveled, sloped down the hill. There was a tin roof, and just enough wall to interfere with the airflow. At the bottom of the hill was a rectangular pond created by damming the outflow of a hillside spring. The rooms in my cabin were small and crammed with beds, leaving only a narrow path in which to navigate. In other cabins I visited, the plan was open, with bunk beds lining the walls and a pair of couches in the center.

We had fans, but besides cold showers,  the pond, or the bone-freezing heart-of-the-rock water from the creek, we had no way to get cool. The week busied itself with setting all kinds of records for heat and humidity.

We had come for Spirit and Renewal and Guidance through communion with the Earth. Although I received many blessings, just as I'd hoped, at that camp in the Appalachian foothills, I came face to face with Mother Nature wearing one of her fiercest aspects. Personal survival had become a big part of the lesson plan.

My historical writer self began to manage the situation in it's own bent little way. Lying down in my room wearing next to nothing after lunch, I practiced the venerable hot weather tradition of siesta--don't move an inch or sweat will pop out in sticky freshets from every laboring pore--to collect and categorize various physical sensations, starting with the slightly moldy smell which oozed from the walls during each burning afternoon. "Get Experience" said Jimi Hendrix, and I collected this in a mental notebook, from the drone of the fan to the images that arose during a heat-trance nap. When the fan in my room turned, it blew air at the same temperature as everything else, so there was no sensation of cooling, that little breeze which can bring relief.

On my way to a meeting, I'd wrap a cooling towel around my neck, wear a hat and scurry from one shady spot to the next. I was constantly reminded of the remarks of a friend after a move to Florida:  "The air is 98 degrees and the water is 98 degrees and your blood is 98 degrees..."

Although we weren't living the cushy 21st Century life most of us are used to, we're far more comfortable and a lot safer and better fed than we'd be if we were migrant agricultural laborers, and leagues better off than 1930's dust bowl refugees and today's homeless people on the streets of Mumbai. After all, we didn't have to work in the fields or shovel bubbling macadam onto a road, we only have to attend classes and feed our souls. We are cooked for (brilliantly, I might add) and cleaned up after. We were safe within our community, which had planned this event and which now sheltered us.

To some, this 1950's era venue might seem rough, but we've all camped together in places where you had to walk distance at night, flashlight in hand, just to relieve yourself inside a fiercely aromatic porta-potty, so this new campground is a comfort upgrade. Nevertheless, when we were this hot, there was a definite feeling that we were also getting a lesson that was personal and separate from our studies or spiritual work. This lesson was visceral, teaching that we, without our the protection of our modern house-machines, without the infrastructure  our society provides are puny creatures, completely at the mercy of the good will of others and our planet's disturbed systems.

Stripped of that ever so recent invention, a/c--I remember the days before only too well--you must attend to this sack of biochemistry and water where your proud spirit resides. You must put salt and sugar into your water bottle each time you replenish it--and you need to dump gallons down--to keep heat stroke at bay. Without the shelter of our complex material culture, I was forced into living fully in the present, as I walked from tree shade to tree shade, minute by sweaty, thirsty minute. It was a valuable lesson to remember that I--a human being, stripped of all that customary, comfortable 21st Century armor, only exists at the pleasure of the planet--that fragile terrarium at the bottom of which we all reside.

~~Juliet Waldron

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Roan Rose   ISBN:  149224158X


"Juliet Waldron's grasp of time and period history is superb and detailed. Her characters were well developed and sympathetic."

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