The night air is rich with the heady scents of plumeria and puakenikeni outside our door, luring me sweetly to the dreamtime with intoxicating aromatherapy. How lovely to sleep in my own bed with my beloved.
I’ve recently returned to Hawaii after three weeks in Carmel Valley, California, my longest stretch of time away from the islands in the three years since we returned from living in Europe. I am still readjusting to the islands’ warmth and humidity, reorienting to the sounds of the neighborhood and a decidedly different chorus of birds. Being back, I also notice the slight heaviness and lethargy my body always feels here, so different from the mainland.
Certainly I’m glad to be home in this gracious Kailua house amongst the things that adorn and define my current place in the world. It is good to be puttering around my kitchen with its familiar spices and select batterie de cuisine—the carefully chosen, well-made tools, assorted objects and dishes that bring gladness to the hand and delight to the senses when using them.
Even with the easy, comfortable relating I share with my longterm mate, there’s still a period of adjustment in being back together after time apart. It always takes a few days to settle into the other’s rhythms, to readjust to sharing space and schedules. Yet it is paired with the delight in rediscovering each other again and the simple, quiet joy of savoring the other’s company.
My dear beekeeping mentor on Maui, Mark, a keenly spiritual man with a generous and sensitive heart, once said, “There is nothing like being reunited with the beloved.” So true.
In the long stretch of years of our loving, my beloved and I have spent some extended periods apart—for work, school, or simply exploring different stretches of the journey on our own. Some people have remarked on our ability to spend such time away from each other while remaining fully supportive of the other’s path or travels, and the integrity of our shared commitment. Yet both my partner and I realize that infinite models for relationship exist, and the only correct one is that which brings true fulfillment and growth to both parties.
What is required for each to evolve into their true potential? If we are root bound in a pot, surely we will not bear sweet fruit to feed lovingly to each other.
As a writer and artist—two labels that I now comfortably claim—I’m acutely aware of my need to be in a place that nourishes my wild soul. My recurring trips to the central California coast are an aspect of that profound hunger and need, to find myself enfolded by a landscape and climate that speaks to me, where I feel inspired, at home, and fully my authentic self. It is an inestimable gift to have a partner who supports a soul summons, who knows that each person must follow the path that brings growth and expansion, the track that leads deeper into a dark forest to find one’s soul’s offering to the world.
This morning, after a late breakfast at our local coffee shop, we went together to the long (2.5 mile), sandy white crescent of Kailua beach, crowded on a Saturday with the revelry of local families and tourists alike, there to spend a little more ‘quality time’ together. Reconnecting. Sharing stories and events from our recent time apart. While my mate swam in the calm, turquoise waters, I sat for a while beneath an “ironwood” (Australian pine, an invasive species), taking shelter from the bright sun and moist heat. Alternately, I contemplated the intricate design of the ironwood’s seed pod—similar to a miniature pine cone and scattered abundantly around me—and watched a large honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle) not ten feet from shore.
Appreciating the tall, solid tree and its welcome shade, my eyes followed the noisy mynah birds and nervous pigeons competing in the sand for various scavenged tidbits, while I loosely considered what I might write in this week’s entry for the Soul Artist Journal. Relationship, perhaps. Or trees. Both, maybe.
A few hours later, I’m gazing out the window at the grandfather/grandmother mango tree, the great limbs spread wide and heavily cloaked in oblong, dark shiny green leaves. It stands at the edge of our yard and watches quietly over the tropical ravine below, a humid realm of tangled vines, feral chickens, and voracious wild pigs. Along with the statuesque, orange-flowering poinciana tree—the ‘Prayer Tree’, I call it—the old mango is a being with whom I share a relationship, saluting it each day when I step out to greet the morning, or when I take the dogs out. Barefoot in the grass, I reach toward the deeply furrowed trunk with my heart’s energetic field to touch, feel, and commune with it silently, always appreciating its presence and beauty.
Looking out at the venerable mango, feeling a certain affection for trees and their quiet teachings, I find myself recalling a particular segment I wrote for my original manuscript, part of the chapter on ‘conscious relationship’ (a chapter that will be in my followup to The Bones and Breath) in which a pair of trees wordlessly shared some wisdom with me:
“I trust that you’ll forgive me if I make a short detour here that compares a human intimate relationship to a couple of trees I once met (though I suspect we could do far worse for a metaphor). I’ll confess to an abiding love affair with trees of all sorts and have been privileged to meet some remarkable Standing Ones on my wandering journey. Let me tell you about a pair that especially stands out in the forest of my memory.
When I resided in Taos, New Mexico, I frequently visited two dear friends who dwelt in a small, adobe casita on a large ranch that encompassed a picturesque stretch of land along the Valdez River at the north end of the valley. Whenever I spent the day there or stayed happily with their dogs while my friends were away, I would walk a half-mile or so down the dirt road of the property to where it forded the river among some tall, graceful cottonwoods.
Crossing the upper pasture where Sassafras the crazy mule lived, and then snaking down the hill, the rutted track passed through an evergreen community of piñon and juniper trees where I always felt compelled to stop and acknowledge two individuals. Just slightly apart from all the others, in a wide circle of space, a pair of junipers grew side by side, one male and female (only the females bear the aromatic purple blue, berry-like cone pods). In a landscape of gnarly trees, both of these stood particularly straight and erect in their rough trunk, each with a similar size and a full, pleasing shape to their spread of boughs. The outermost branches between them were just loosely touching, with untold hundreds of small green fingertips entwined with the other’s.
Both trees were distinct individuals and yet together they created another unit, as well—a very tangible space of sharing and relating, where little sparrows could nimbly hop from one tree to the other without ever taking wing. The expanded, overlapping circles of shade cast by the boughs offered its own mini ecosystem for all the small denizens that tend to go unnoticed from the heights of our lumbering, two-legged passing by: ants, beetles, crickets, spiders, grass shoots, seedlings, mice, snakes, and uncountable others with antennae, scales, feathers, or fur and little feet.
Perhaps it was their location, just apart from the others and close to the dirt track, but such a palpable sense of relationship emanated between these two beings that it always managed to catch my attention. Observing them, I would halt and stand for a while, pondering their long lifetime of quiet, wordless communication with each other’s sphere of energy and intelligence, with earth, wind, and sky. Having stood so very long together, if a windstorm or axe felled one, would the other mourn its companion’s absence? How could it not, I thought.
I began referring to these two junipers as The Lovers. On every visit to the ranch, whenever descending to the river or returning to the casita, whether crunching in boots through a white blanket of freshly fallen snow or barefoot, shirtless, and kicking up little clouds of summer dust, I stopped in front of them. I addressed the pair aloud, admiring their evergreen beauty, and even bowed to them in gratitude and respect before moving on along my way.
“Hello, lovers,” I would smile.
I realize that I’m talking here about a couple of neighborly trees in a world where everything exists as relationship and an entwined love affair. The arrangement of Standing Ones in a side by side relating is hardly unique to these two longtime Taos residents; I notice it all the time when I’m out walking and roaming, often pointing out unusual pairs of trees to others I’m with.
“Look,” I’ll point, “lovers.” (My statement has met with some rather curious reactions and puzzled responses.)
It may seem absurd to compare the richly veined complexities of human relationship with a couple of resinous juniper trees. Yet as if they were the ones speaking, these two beings never failed to remind me of Rainer Maria Rilke’s eloquent and acute observation, “Love consists of this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.”
Yes, exactly. Without compromise or apology, each one simply embodies his true nature while energetically—physically, even—connected to a similar being with the same essential imperative:
Soul Artists understand that awakened relationship is something more profound than sex, companionship, or happiness. In conscious loving, both partners realize that they are whole and complete unto themselves, but that their relating is the place where they overlap and create something larger than either one alone. Each individual remains a distinct entity and ‘circle of being’. Partners in a conscious relating comprehend that their primary responsibility and relationship remains with the Self, for only when we fully attend to our own process and growth—facing our Shadow, heeding Eros, exploring our creative nature, expanding through senses and heart, nourishing the body and soul—can we fully love and share our most authentic being with another.
Gentle reader, here’s hoping that whether you are currently in an intimate relating with a human beloved or not, may you realize that the gift of conscious relationship is one of transformation and enlargement. And love, of course—love as a spiritual practice in celebrating the expansiveness, soulful beauty, and deep mystery of the other.
Seemingly standing alone or firmly planted closely alongside another, your life task is to root down into the rich, dark fecundity of earth and soul while reaching towards the heavens, and to offer what only you can bring to the ‘other-than-human’ world.
Grow, my friend.