Rolling away the stone … or … the night I got lost in a cave
Quiet. Whoossshhhh. Quiet.
I mean QUIET. LOUD quiet. No denying its quiet quiet. No sound – void – empty – where the rush of your pulse in your own temples is a freight train barreling though the cavern inside your skull.
Dark. Soil dark. Center of the earth dark. Invisible cloak dark. Absence dark. Black swirls of matter dark. Can’t see your hand in front of your face dark. Eyes pulling in pushing out searching for light dark. Mind races to identify – NOTHINGNESS. No sound. No light. No dark. No breath. Yes breathe.
Return to the womb dark. Where the pulsing sensation is your own heart, the sound is your fluids rushing up and down the interior rivers of your corporeal form. The visual forms you perceive are the insides of your eyelids filled with memory of form, light, visceral shape. Floater swims past locked into the fluid of your eye – which suddenly expands into horseshoe nebula and spiraling pre-stellar gases; iridescent in the sea of silver soil darklight.
I’m in the womb of Mother Earth. Deep inside the largest cavern of the Balcony Cave in Pinnacles State Park. Standing still, no flashlight, at 9 o’clock at night, alone, in the bowels of the earth. It’s July, I’m all alone in the middle of the night, lost in this place where there is no sound, no light, no other living creature that I can detect. I feel the ancientness of this place. The echo’s of other beings who have passed this way drum deep in my subconscious. Others who have listened to this quiet, and found solace. I know that some greater consciousness is in play here – there is no way I will ever be in the space again. Alone, at night, in a cave. So I will myself to swallow my fear and just be there. Fully present. For as long as I can stand it. Until I become so still, micro movements take over, and a gentle swaying of my body takes over. I sense the movement of the sphere of earth, keeping me balanced upright, in my body. I don’t want to sit or lie down – I want to hang in space held up by the energy of the vastness.
Black HOLE has a whole new meaning to me now. Groundlessness, no reference points in time or space, is an actual PLACE. The meditation practice of being in the moment, suspended between breaths, is all I have. I know in all my cells that this is a lesson, a dance lesson, a life lesson, a practicum for what IS to come in my unfolding journey. Savor and learn deep in my bones. No fear. No anxiety. A kind of breathless joy at being part of the life force. Adrenalin must be pulsing through every pore at this point.
Finally, I feel I have had enough – I’m filled to the brim and can no longer be still. So I turn on my feeble flashlight, and continue to look for the deepest darkest hole, because that is where I need to enter to get Out. What a metaphor. The only way out is in deeper.
As I climb, I find these palm sized arrows of white paint every so often on the cave walls, reassuring me that I am in fact heading SOMEWHERE…. I have to crawl on my hands and knees in spots, like a spider to scale the walls – and NOT think about anything creepy crawly that might be climbing alongside me. Eventually, I reach the surface and wham! The sky opens up from this little crack into a density of stars the like of which I have only seen in Montana. The Milky Way unfurls like a flag across the sky and I am humbled.
I continue to climb through the upper cave that is formed of boulders that have loosened and fallen into the fold of the Mother, like a birth canal. This symbolism is not lost on me. So I go in and out of the dark, with patches of stars blazing through the moonless night as I traverse the distance.
Finally Finally Finally Slowly Slowly Achingly I reach the end and for the first time I am afraid. There is a steel bar doorway that could be locked up in front of me – and it strikes me that the first time I feel really fearful, it is a manmade object that confronts me. Not Nature. Turns out it was open, so I emerge into yet another obstacle course that requires I crawl upwards on all fours making it impossible to hold the flashlight. The smooth rock seems to have just the right hand and toe holds, so I keep moving, praying my knees hold out and I don’t fall backwards.
Eventually when I reach the top it takes another 20 to 30 minutes of searching the scree slope through wiry brush before I find an actual trail. When it widens and flattens out, I allow myself to lie down, drink the bit of water I have left, and eat the quarter apple and dried bit of cheese I have saved. I watch the sky move above me and marvel at the shooting stars, knowing the Spirit wanted me to be here, having this perfect survival experience to inspire me when the rough waters ahead bear down on me.
How did I get here?
This has been a time of archetypal experiences for me. As it nears Easter, all the symbols of the time of emergence from the tomb bring me back to that extraordinary event that happened this summer.
I was driving back from Santa Cruz after visiting my daughter, Emily, who just graduated from UCSC in photography and anthropology. One of the places I like to explore is Pinnacles State Park in Soledad. It’s a nice break in the 6-hour drive. A beautiful place that provides incredible stone formations that offers a refuge to the California Condor.
It was early afternoon, and I figured I’d have a few hours to wander. I stopped at the Ranger station and saw several excited people standing outside looking up at sky. A condor had been spotted, and it was the first time one had been seen this far from the Pinnacles. The young woman ranger told me about a trail that led to a series of caves. She told me to bring a flashlight, as it was quite dark inside, but only half mile or so from the parking lot, so I’d have enough time to explore before dark.
It was nearly 100 degrees, so I put on shorts, hat and sunscreen. I had a bottle of water, a flashlight, and a little snack for the few hours I’d be walking. I set out ready to explore a new direction into the park. There were a few other hikers I passed, but it was a weekday, so pretty quiet. I made sure to take note of my surroundings, as I know I have a tendency to wander unaware of taking into account landmarks and have been lost twice hiking. Though it was supposedly less than a mile, it took longer than I thought because of the terrain. After about an hour, passing though a beautiful rugged landscape, noting a few trail markers – very small and near the ground – mentioning areas where you could rock climb. My destination was Balcony Cave. Reaching it, I had to climb down a steep rock face into the entrance. The day was clear and bright – very dry. I had my iPhone with me, taking photos as I went. I noted it was about 4 pm when I got to the cave. I wasn’t getting a phone signal or able to use the map features, but could use it as a flashlight. I came upon an actual human made iron gate that could be closed when the passage way was unsafe due to water, weather or whatever.
I climbed down into the caverns and felt the ancient echos of the space. It was a passageway formed by large boulders falling into a narrow crevice, hence the name “Balcony Cave.” As I climbed deeper into the cave, it began to look like passageways you might see in Old Jerusalem – I could feel the presence of history – imagined how many people had passed though the ages – what they were like, what the place was like, what rituals they might have performed in the quiet space. It was so cool, still, clean. Quiet. So so quiet. The initial passage way was lit by cracks and spaces between the rocks above. I felt the passage of time. Of human beings. Of natural and unseen forces.
I sat in meditation, and felt the palpable sensual presence of Spirit fill me and hold me. Eventually I heard voices coming from the entrance. It was a girl my daughter’s age, also named Emily, and her brother Andy, with a child and a few friends. I had a brother Andy who died at 48 in a car crash. They told me there were more caves further on and offered to show me the way.
I willingly followed, and knew I would never have done it alone. Just beyond the passageway we emerged from was a steep drop into a hole. They reassured me that once I got down into it, it opened out, and I could climb through. It was exciting and fun- making me face my trepidation about small, dark spaces. It was remarkably dry and clean, due to the intense heat. Nothing seemed to live down there – not even bats. It was extremely dark, and intensely quiet. The only sensation I felt was a breeze against my cheek that felt like a breath.
Emily and Andy showed me these painted arrows on the cavern sides that showed you the way. At the very center was a huge cavern that led out to a steep cliff ledge where a waterfall develops in the wet season. They took my picture, and I looked back and took theirs. When I got to the top, I turned to go back to my car, supposedly a half mile away. I walked confidently, drank the rest of my water, proud I had faced down the cave. I walked, and walked and walked. And after an hour, then another hour, I was nowhere near the parking lot where I left my car. I kept thinking it would be just around the next bend. There were a few signs but I never realized I was not reading them right. It was about 7 pm by then and I was starting to get scared. Suddenly I saw the rooftops of some building and breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I must have just come to the other end of the parking lot. But no, this was a lot full of Ranger trucks and unoccupied buildings.
A ghost town.
Finally I heard some raucous music and followed the sound. I came to the front porch of one of the cabins, and looking through the screen saw two little girls dancing to the radio. I knocked and they called out, ‘DADDY someone’s at the door!”
I was almost in tears explaining I was looking for my car. He talked to me through the screen – didn’t even ask me to come in. “I’m exhausted,” I said. I’ve been walking since 4 pm. Where am I?” Eventually he let me, and a woman emerged from another room. The two girls stood back staring. They brought out a map and explained I had walked the entire park to the other entrance. No one would be going that way till morning. It was a 3-hour drive. “I can’t possibly walk all the way back at this point,” I lamented. “Oh no, you’ll be fine. We’ll give you some water and food; drive you to the trailhead – that’s as far as we can take you. Just don’t go back through the caves and you’ll be fine. We did see a family of bobcats recently, but they won’t be interested in you.”
Pushing back my tears, and disbelief, I accepted an apple, cheese stick and goldfish crackers. The woman climbed into a truck and waved me in. “We’ll let the ranger know at the other entrance that if you don’t show up by midnight to go look for you.” I was dumbfounded. I figured they live here, they trust I’ll make it and are sending me on my way – they must know something I don’t. They hadn’t offered a bathroom, a cot, a map. Just showed me the door. And you know what happened. I put one foot in front of the other, started to recite the 180 verses of the GuruGita and smiled at my destiny. Three times along the path, at the edge of dusk, a little black bird landed and led me on. A guide?
So now here I am months later, still in the dark in my life, not knowing which direction the light will come from. Where will the reference points emerge? What shape will they take? What will the path look like when it is revealed? I’m confident if I keep that foot going one in front of the other, eventually I’ll emerge into the stars. And I haven’t even told you the story of when I was struck by lightening this summer… that tale is yet to come.