Summer solstice is a couple days away, and our drumming circle is preparing to climb Bull Hill as we do every year to drum the sun down over the Hudson River. We climb about a half hour to reach an old rock quarry that, according to local tradition, was begun back in Revolutionary War times when West Point just across the river needed stone and iron. It hasn’t been worked since World War II, and the flat base of the quarry has gone green again with grass and small trees and shrubs, standing proudly beneath the beautiful and awe-inspiring rock face that was exposed during the years of quarrying. We go just above the rock face to a large boulder with its own peaceful face, a boulder whose spirit has called us over the years to join it in its serene contemplation of the river valley below. We meet, offer gifts to the rock spirit and the mountain, and the river, and then drum until the sun bleeds its way into the distant hills and disappears far beyond the valley.
Those are our plans.
In a wonderful poem by David Whyte, called “What to Remember When Waking” (in The House of Belonging), he reminds us that each morning as we emerge from sleep there is “a small opening into the day that closes the moment you begin your plans.” He says that “what you can plan is too small for you to live.” And suggests that whatever we can live with our whole hearts and souls will make its own plans. So how do we capture that “small opening” and keep it open? By not making any plans? That would seem to be his suggestion. Yet human beings cannot live without plans. Maybe more than any other species we are the plan-makers, the planners. We obviously cannot live our lives asleep, and on waking, it’s almost impossible to keep that “small opening” open.
But is there a vision from our dreams, a life force we only experience in sleep, a plan that rises from our deepest nighttime soul that can pop through that opening and color the day ahead? How do we plan to be planless and let the Great Plan have its way? Must we become Buddhists to figure this out?
I don’t think so. I think we just need to be mindful and conscious of the Great Plan that perhaps we cannot describe or even name while we make our smaller plans to get us through the day. David Whyte suggests this as well: “To remember that other world in this world is to live in your true inheritance.” Cats can help. Mark Twain said that God created cats so people would know they are not in control. Faeries are part of the same game, and other trickster spirits that confound our best laid plans. They all remind us that something bigger is going on.
Living close to the rhythms of nature — living close to nature herself — will also put us in that double consciousness of remembering the Otherworld in this world. For as much as we like to think that we create our world, there is some remarkable and ungraspable Spirit or Life Force that flows through the natural world irregardless of our plans, our sense of reality, or our feelings of superiority. It is there whether we are there or not, whether we attend to it, or not.
We might ask ourselves why we should climb the mountain to drum down the sun on the summer solstice. If we missed it some year, the sun would still go down, the river would still turn red, night would still fall on Bull Hill and West Point and the rock face scraped and blasted open over so many years of human development and folly. Perhaps Bull Hill itself (known on older maps as Mount Taurus — same thing!) had not planned to become part of the Brooklyn Bridge or the New York Public Library or the roads and highways stretching through the land. But it did. That rock is still with us, doing different things than what it might have planned. Or is it? Could it be that the “Spirit-Who-Yearned-to-Become-Bull-Hill” accepted blasting as part of what might happen to it? Did it somehow know that whether it stayed a mountain forever or became part of the humanly civilized world, it would be all right. It would be part of the Great Plan or maybe a Great Plan. In whatever form, it would still be there.
Of course we don’t really believe that it is we — WE — who send the sun down into the river with our drums. But on this one night when the rhythms of the seasons are poised in a special moment of change, when the sun hangs on the northernmost edge of summer, we feel closer to that “small opening,” closer to the inbetween place where the Otherworld and this world touch. It is a moment of magic and mystery. Each year we plan to be there.