For some reason I woke before dawn. The first faint drops of rain after months of dry sky were barely discernible indoors. I stepped out my back door, and sure enough it was sprinkling.
Within a few minutes there was a soft, steady rain. It only lasted minutes, but the birds were singing and you could feel the land rejoicing. Or was one rejoicing? Connected to the earth, perhaps there is no difference.
I went back to sleep and woke shortly after sunrise. Around 9 it began to rain again, this time harder and longer. I stood in the backyard with my arms out and face to the sky like the escape scene in “Shawshank Redemption.”
Within a couple of hours the skies were blue again, but the earth had been transformed. Along the creek in the quarter-mile wide Bidwell Park that runs through Chico, the smells are, for the most part, incredibly sweet (dogland defecations notwithstanding).
Suddenly, overnight, yellow leaves are everywhere, especially the big, heart-shaped leaves of the vine trees that overhand the stream. At the footbridge crossroads, there’s a steady trickle of walkers, runners and baby pushers. People pass by on the pedestrian roads with renewed vigor, many with happier looks on their faces.
It’s surprisingly quiet and immensely beautiful even in the middle of the park at Cedar Grove. After an hour’s passive observation without goal (simply taking in the sensory delights), attention gathers and acts unseen, quieting the mind and cleansing the heart.
Life is a frinctionless flow when the observer is not operating. As the saying goes, “There is no your way or my way of meditation; there is only meditation.”
People locally often say, with a note of pride, “Chico is a vortex.” When I point out that a vortex is a whirlpool sucking you in and down, they reply, “I mean it in a good way.” Which means, they don’t know what they’re saying.
So what is a vortex? I’ve used that same word since moving here nearly 25 years ago, but in the opposite sense. As beautiful as this town and its environs are, there’s been a palpable social darkness here ever since a college girl was strangled at a kegger outside of town in the late 1970’s. (I also lived here for a couple of years at that time.)
Chico has grown from about 25,000, including around 10,000 Chico State college students, to over 100,000 excluding the approximately 15,000 students at present. In doing so, it has lost much of its distinct character and charm, as people from LA or the San Francisco Bay Area have moved here to escape the sprawl and congestion they then bring with them.
I’ve spoken before the City Council, pointing out that many long-time residents aren’t against growth, just stupid, unplanned growth. Voices of people like me are ignored in this county and country, overwhelmed by greed in the name of growth.
So the vortex that opened up when Chico was still a sleepy hippy town has become a maw sucking nearly every soul into it, like America itself. The question is, can the vortices of darkness be reversed, and become cyclones of genuine inward and community growth?
To mix two metaphors (or three, including the actuality of the first rain), can insight ignite here, and at the same time elsewhere, not only throughout the barren land of America, but across the eroding soil of planet earth?
Given what man is doing to the earth and to humanity, what is urgently needed is a revolutionary mind. And a revolutionary mind is one that is aflame with insight.
One may have to strike ten thousand matches, but each one is a complete insight in itself, and every meditative state contributes to what a new friend calls, “the flame of blue radiance.”
The same friend gave me a new, subtle insight: “The more people resist transformation, the more they assist transmutation.”
So the vortices of darkness, which have become so common in North America, Australia and Europe, do not have to suck us into a bottomless black hole in human consciousness. For the dark matter of human consciousness is the material that insight can and will ignite.