My walks in the hills beyond our back door have always been a mix of therapy, meditation and incubation of ideas. The pace of the walks vary from a bombing up the incline of graveled switchbacks to a slower chant of foot-meets-earth, “heel-toe, heel-toe”. The reward comes at reaching the top in which a 360-view saddles the ridgeline offering an explosion of Mt. Tam and the spires of San Francisco peeking over the hills to the south, while the smooth, marshy reaches of the bay meander on the north. In recent weeks the morning fog has been so dense that the milky air only reveals a visibility of about fifteen feet around me. In the near distance, I hear the sounds of other hikers calling their ebullient dogs, the harmony of blue jays, wood peckers and mourning doves and the occasional lament of a lone coyote not quite ready to retreat to his den. Rather than striving to see beyond the shroud of fog, it offers a sort of seclusion, a reminder to reel myself back in from the tangents of thought. And then the simple four-word phrase which I received as a gift years ago comes back into my ears, “…just be here now.”
Forgive me in advance for roaming onto this new tangent, but it’s an excursion I find necessary to take. It tells of a special discovery of this phrase “..just be here now” and why I keep it close. Seven years ago my beau and I had just begun dating and he promised to “whisk me away” to a place called Tassajara, a Zen retreat and hot springs deep in the belly of the Ventana Wilderness. The words ‘wilderness’, ‘retreat’, ‘Zen’ and even the name ‘Tassajara’ sounded so magical, how could a girl resist? Although knowing now that the Esalen tribe named Tassajara for “A place where meat is hung to dry”, I might not have been so enchanted.
Established in 1967 as the first Zen training monastery outside of Japan, it generously opens its grounds to all visitors during the summer months. Guests go to enjoy the meditative peace, the healing waters of the hot springs and vegetarian cuisine so divine that over five cookbooks have been written offering up their secrets. To stay in their snug stone cabins, walk through their forests, gardens and twinkly, solar-lit pathways and soak in hot springs tumbling out of the land itself is nothing short of a fairy land. And so it seemed like a perfect place to invite the wisdom of the Green Goddess to join us.
Salvia Divinorum also known as”The Green Goddess” or “Seer’s Sage” is a legal, psychoactive plant which can produce visions and ‘other hallucinatory experiences’. Now, before you roll your eyes and say to yourself, “Oh Jennifer, really?! You’re taking us on a mushroom trip?” No. A shaman friend told me about Salvia and how his medicine people of Oaxaca use it to enter into the higher realms for spiritual healing. It’s far from a ‘party’ drug, it’s an herb with a long tradition of sacred use. It’s to be taken as a ritual with someone sitting for the other while they have their experience, primarily so the individual doesn’t wander off like an alzheimer’s patient from a nursing home and get into some prickly predicament.
My beau and I obtained a small bottle of the tincture and brought it with us to have our own spiritual experience amongst the Zen monks in-training. We sat one evening concealed by the privacy of our back deck off our stone cabin. We vowed to hold hands, as we sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the cooler night air, staring out at the indigo blanketing the trees beyond our railing. The snare of crickets and the occasional oompah of an owl accompanied us as we sat holding a few drops of the magical tincture like tiny jewels beneath the lid of our tongues. Ten minutes into our anticipation, a sneeze made me reflex, letting go of his hand on my left. Before I could turn back to grasp him, I became enveloped in the tsunami of the billowing green appartition joining us on my right. If someone had decided to make a chinese calligraphy painting of Quan Yin then add 3D animation to it, this is what was flowing from the ether and spilling onto our deck. A grand entrance, true to the promises of our shaman friend who had delivered the Salvia Divinorum in a 1oz bottle, the Green Goddess, the genie had been uncorked.
And she’s off!
The tincture had no effect on my beau so while he sat bored out of his mind, I followed the Green Goddess higher and higher into the upper spiritual realms. I had people from an imaginary houseboat community inviting me to join them beyond our wooden railing which then morphed into singing trees. Rather than falling down the rabbit hole I was rapidly falling up it. I finally reached an emerald meadow flecked with pink wildflowers. In the middle was a large conveyor belt and characters, I couldn’t quite call people, who were busily swirling around it. If you took the vintage Campbell’s Soup Kids and replaced the lower half of their bodies with two large wheelchair-like wheels, this is who delivered the important four-word message to me. I kept trying to stop them, make them pause, pleading to tell me the meaning of life. “Stop, stop!” I cried. “Could you just tell me what is it I’m supposed to know?” Just then one of them skidded to a stop, spun around and cheerily replied, “There’s nothing to know, just be here now.” huh.
And so as our minds wander off into the all-consuming ether of should-haves, could-haves and must-dos of our very busy lives, just remember the message from those omnipotent guides, “There’s nothing to know, just be here now.”