Three white teenagers rode their bikes down to the creek about 60 meters downstream. The older two looked like they were still in junior high school, about 14. The youngest boy was no more than 12. The leader waved when I did, but you could tell they were up to no good.
The youngest one didn’t take his helmet off. He kept looking at me, not out of curiosity, but fearing disapproval. I considered walking down and talking to them without judgment, but it didn’t seem fitting. They became part of the field of awareness in meditation.
I could sense their deep confusion. Sure enough, when another boy rode by unseen on the asphalt bike path paralleling the creek 100 meters away, they erupted in gang talk.
“What you starin’ at?” the leader yelled aggressively. “What? You talkin’ shit? You want some?” He started up the path. “You better keep ridin.’” It was all bluster, but still ugly, and sad.
A few minutes later, puffs of smoke wafted skyward from where the boys stood, hidden behind the streamside brush. I couldn’t smell it, but it I’m sure it wasn’t from a cigarette. Fourteen and twelve years old!
What does pot do for them, and to them? Were their fathers in their lives? I doubted it. Maybe every other weekend.
I didn’t feel judgment, just sorrow for them and anger toward adults in this culture. Perhaps sensing that I was about to walk down and talk with them, they hurriedly headed back up to the paved bike path.
I would have asked them if they knew what meditation is. How one sits and listens to everything outside and in, until the chatter of the mind ends.
I would have told them about the big rattlesnake I saw the other day, right where they stood, the first I’d seen in the quickly developing area in years.
I recalled how wild this place was when I moved to town 20 years ago. When I had time during the day, I would walk and sit along this little creek that runs for half the year (less now during the drought in California).
One day, I heard something coming toward me through the grass. I waited. When it got within a few feet I saw that it was a rattlesnake—a big one, fat and long with many rattles. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, my legs and arms instantly became springs and I shot upright, jumping clear off the ground.
Fear was instantaneous, without a single thought, and the right response. But the snake was not threatening, though I have no idea why it came toward me, since they have such a good sense of smell and a human is too big for prey. Looking at the whole situation, I did a strange thing. I sat back down, also without thinking about it.
The snake moved closer, quite within an arm’s length. Every cell in the brain and body was alert, ready to act if the rattler coiled. But it didn’t. It just stretched out to its full length next to me. I sat there for 45 minutes, watching everything, the beautiful reptile in its habitat, as well as my fear, both primal and conditioned. It was intense, and fascinating.
When I arose, the rattler still stretched out, it felt like I had been in the wilderness for a week alone, though I was only a few hundred meters from the man-made world. The mind was completely quiet, and everything was completely new.
Just after the boys left, a kite falcon appeared and flew in tight circles over my head. It didn’t flutter in place however, looking for prey, or tuck its wings and gently parachute to the ground, in its distinctive flight and attack pattern.
As has happened an unremembered number of times before, the kite, the most gentle and graceful of birds of prey, unexpectedly opened a portal into the timeless. The place was suddenly new, filled with beauty and mystery. Something unknowable suffused the land and sky, and one. The slender falcon had brought the benediction.
The sun fully reemerged. A swallow skipped twice off the glassy water of the stream, and flew toward the foothills. I saw a quail, and heard a pheasant. A mourning dove replayed its dirge-like note again and again.
Ending time, there is love. Ending time, the benediction comes. It can only come when the movement of time—entirely a human construct— has ended in attention to what is.
Psychological thought is time. With respect to inward development, every thought except a functional one is an impediment to seeing and feeling essence.
Could I have conveyed a hint of this to those boys, so that they might see that they don’t have to grow up to become deadheads like so many adults?
On my way out, I stopped at the spot where they stood down by the creek. The stream has already become a trickle in the drought. Soon it would be a series of stagnant puddles, before drying up completely until the rainy season comes at the end of the year, if it comes this year.
Right where I’d seen the rattlesnake pass by the other day, on a large flat stone at the edge of the water, they had scrawled gang graffiti. They wouldn’t have appreciated my questions and story, but they need to hear them anyway, as do millions of other lost boys.
I turned the stone over and left.