The mountain lion meandered along the ridge, aware of us but unconcerned. We had seen a bobcat earlier, and the differences were clear. The lion had a larger body, a longer tail, and a different kind of gait, more leisurely and confident somehow. It blended well against the tawny hills and now and then disappeared into the brush, but once it was visible, it was unmistakable, and it was master of its domain, a magnificent being. I was glad there were four of us, and that the lion was distant and indifferent. We didn’t feel threatened, so we stood and watched until it was no longer in sight.
We hiked to a high point. To the north, we could see the contours and colors of the earth: the green and gold of grassy ground, the dark of woods, the ocher of sandstone rock, the white diatomaceous hills of Lompoc. To the west, a great expanse of sparkling sea merged seamlessly with sky, the hazy blue outlines of the Channel Islands…and Point Conception, the Western Gate. Still here, still here. And then I heard the canyon wren. How could that not mean hope?
I won’t pretend. I’m still reeling about events that are unfolding in our nation and the world. But I see this as a time to learn and gather strength. I don’t think I can function effectively if I’m in a constant state of nausea and rage. Maybe the silver lining of this election will be that it woke us up, and we realize what wasn’t working and what’s at stake, and hopefully we can limit damage while we regroup.
I watched a clip of a Charlie Rose interview with Jon Stewart, and I thought Stewart had some calm and helpful insights on what just happened: “It all ties together…I don’t believe we are a fundamentally different country today than we were two weeks ago. The same country with all its grace and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength, and resilience exists today as existed two weeks ago. The same country that elected Donald Trump elected Barack Obama. I feel badly for the people for whom this election will mean more uncertainty and insecurity. But I also feel like this fight has never been easy. And the ultimate irony of this election is the cynical strategy of the Republicans, which is: ‘Our position is that government doesn’t work. We’re going to make sure… that it doesn’t work.’”
I suppose we are the same country, although at the moment it doesn’t feel that way. It’s true that there is something inherently contradictory and impossible about the very idea of America, and yet here we are, capable of the best and the worst. Where do we go from here? Lao-Tzu asked a relevant question in the 6th century BCE: “Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”
That’s what I’m trying to do. Not withdrawing, but stepping back a little in order to see the big picture, ready for action when we know what is needed and how to be most effective. I’m still writing letters, making calls, signing petitions, communicating and networking, paying attention, not taking anything for granted. But I’m trying also to pace myself and not get all used up in symbolic, short-lived gestures born of outrage. There is this counsel from Thich Nhat Han disciple, Brother Phap Dung, who advised in an interview: “Go take refuge in nature, and find a cause where your heart doesn’t feel inactive and in despair. This is the medicine. We go out and we help. Don’t allow hate and anger to take over your world. There are other things happening. Right now people in our family are still there, and they might need us. Our friend may be somebody who is being discriminated against. You can only be there to offer them kindness if you are stable. You cannot help them if you are filled with hate and fear. What people need is your non-fear, your stability, solidity, clarity. This is what we can offer.”
This hike was the part where we take refuge in nature, and nature does not let us down. Among our greatest resources are hope and conviction, and the wonders of earth, sea, and sky restore both. We descended the ridge and walked along a narrow road with oak trees on either side, cool shade and shafts of sunlight, brown leaves and damp earth beneath our feet. Still here.