The silence on this ridge facing Grandfather Mountain is profound. At 6:15 a.m. I rise with no other purpose than simple being. There is no morning light yet. I wait for the earth to turn a bit further around in our part of the galaxy so that I can watch morning light from our sun begin to fall across the colors of these diverse trees in October of the year 2014. I close my eyes and wait.
Turning to the world of inner being, I notice the fullness of experiencing the breath of life. How could it be enough to just sit here in a mountain home, a few miles from Boone in the North Carolina mountains, and just breathe? How does absolute silence become so full, and simple stillness enough, when a mad culture says I should never slow down from productivity unless I have electronic devices in my face? Still I wait.
I have no grand adventure planned today. I do not have any “to do” list awaiting my attention. There is no schedule filled with appointments, no tasks to accomplish, not one thing to tell me I am a being of worth. And yet I sit here full of worth. I am a man sitting still, achieving nothing but drawing in the breath of life in the United States of America, and somehow I still have great worth. This worth is not earned or produced in any way. Worth is a gift falling out of the hand of God into all receptive beings. Waiting here for daylight, the gift is mine.
After a passage of time, and through the living room window, I notice the light has just begun to fall across the highest ridge. I see the wind already stirring the fall leaves. I am drawn outside. With a warm hat, scarf, and jacket I brace for the cold and step out onto the balcony.
There are no sounds but the wind in the trees. There is no other movement except for the courageous leaves which finally let go, one by one, and spiral down toward the ground. Soon I feel my own desire to catch every sight as my vision sweeps across the landscape. Even that desire feels a bit compulsive, so I ease up and just watch morning light slowly shifting over more trees. How amazing that even the urge to see everything out here can become compulsive.
Fifty feet from this balcony there is a giant maple tree in full color: so many hues of orange mixed with yellows and reds. She stands in contrast to a spectacular green pine. Near her there are trees with every other color of fall and a few who have lost all their leaves. The morning light gifts me with these sights, and I am grateful.
Then I remember the fullness of the morning breath I was feeling before light came, and I draw in a deep, cold breath. There is a delicious smell in my nostrils, almost like a taste. I want another whiff of fresh mountain air in my mouth: exhilarating.
And then the first bird-call of the morning reaches my ears: a blue jay. Within moments there are the smallest cheeps of wrens darting through the trees, as though they were just waiting for someone else to begin first sounds. Soon some large black crows call out to each other with their “caw, caw, caw” sounds, as they soar in circles across the cool morning wind.
From absolute morning silence, the sounds of wind and bird-call have begun. From a dark room and an hour of waiting, morning light has slowly revealed a world of brilliant color. From complete inner stillness, I have moved out into the chill of breezes across my body that penetrate my clothing.
Everything changes. The contemplative does not resist. In our best moments we practice the art of simple being: breathing in fullness, knowing Enough intimately, cultivating inner stillness, becoming comfortable with absolute silence, watching and waiting for the movement of light across a dark earth, and in an especially blessed moment, smelling and tasting a breeze blown into the nostrils as pure gift on a mountain morning. I offer a wordless prayer of gratitude to the LifeGiver.
For more stories like this one see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.