A large-ish bird, probably another infernal mockingbird, settled itself in a tree near my head way before dawn, stars still shining down, and launched proudly, brilliantly even, into his finest mating repertoire. There were chucks, beeps, trills, fabulous credenzas and arpeggios, inquiring whistles, and even complicated clicks and pops used to punctuate the whole complex concert.
Stupid fucking bird.
For two entire hours I stubbornly lay listening to him, resolutely half asleep, using my pillow to block out as much of the infernal racket as I could. Despite the darkness, the bullfrogs had gone silent, perhaps intimidated in the face of this riotous onslaught of noise. Finally, the bird moved off down the creek, where I could hear him relentlessly serenading the retreat guests overnighting in their wooden cabins.
As I drifted gratefully back into light sleep, what sounded like an army of unmuffled weed whackers to the north yanked me back to consciousness. After a further attempt at defiance, I decided to give up and looked at my little portable clock. I’d slept for 14 hours.
I had the whole day to myself, and looked forward to an ecstatic breathing session Daniel was offering in the art hall that evening. I puttered around organizing my things and took a hot shower in the bath house. I took my supplements and wandered over to the dining hall to make tea and have some breakfast. Looking out over the river and the wall of horizontally stacked red slabs just beyond it, I sat in the shade under a cottonwood tree and enjoyed not doing anything. Not packing, not moving, not driving, not worrying, not planning. Just looking and enjoying. My head had finally stopped spinning and there wasn’t much of anything going on in my mind.
The rest of the day was like that as well, and hours seemed to pass in a matter of minutes. I wrote in the breezy dining hall, tried out another vortex area and a new meditation Cara Marie had suggested, ran into Daniel in our meanderings and talked for a while (so good to see my old friend!), and read for a while in my tent. Deer picked their way through the woods. At last, I picked up the thrashed but much-loved digeridoo that had been passed down to me through two very skilled musician friends. One of them, my friend Bruce, had given me the mottled pink spray-painted PVC pipe no less than twice, insisting that I take it with me on my trip across the country although I’d refused it initially.
The first time I blew into it, it sounded like a large balloon deflating for about 5 seconds and I nearly passed out. But inspired by my talented friends and my son, whose discipline in practicing his tenor sax has earned him a scholarship at a prestigious jazz school in Manhattan, I persisted. With each breath, my rumbling note lasted a little longer. I remembered that Bruce said I’d find little places to store breath all over my body, so I let myself be aware of that as I continued to breathe and blow into the instrument. My lips vibrated crazily and my brain, eyeballs, and heart buzzed with the rich sound. After a few minutes, my notes were lasting about 20 seconds, and the bullfrogs had joined in with me even in the heat of the bright day! I laughed out loud.
On the heels of that success, I thought I might be brave enough to try some Om-ing. Known as “the sound of the Universe singing,” the vibration of Om is a powerful reminder to all sentient creatures to return home to themselves—to remember their divine origins. And it was the sound that was my arch nemesis, for some reason, when it came to my voice. I’d had several gigantic public fails with Om-ing. But here in the woods, with just the bullfrogs and deer for an audience, I wanted to give it a try.
Remembering to find all those hiding spaces for my breath, I took a deep inhale and slowly started to sing Om toward the creek. Unlike my usual warbly, tentative sound, this one came out firm, with authority and power. I felt my low abdomen contract to support it. Surprised, I tried it two more times, each sounding stronger than the last. Suddenly realizing that rather than indicating some flagrant spiritual defect, my weak om-ing just needed persistent practice and self acceptance, I felt some of the earlier trauma lift and dissipate and resolved to practice every day.
As evening fell, I helped Daniel set up for his class. People slowly filtered into the space, finding their way onto blankets and settling down for the event. Daniel played soft music as he explained what we’d be doing. This was my fourth ecstatic breathing event, and my second with Daniel. All had been uniformly fascinating experiences that I found profoundly useful and revitalizing. As I’ve told many of my own students over the years, oxygen is really the best and most sacred substance for realizing human potential. Most of us, including myself, walk around chronically hyperventilating and thus living with confusion, depression, anxiety, and even panic. Events like this remind me to reoccupy my body and remember how good it is to be alive.
Over the next two hours, Daniel led us all on a ride that was at times bumpy and exhilarating as we breathed into our bellies quickly and then peaceful and floating as our breathing slowed and relaxed. Through different kinds of music, he talked us through ideas like not being so afraid of death and opening ourselves to the bigger picture of what we’re meant to be in the world. People’s faces were soft and radiant as we shared our experiences, some filled with visions and angels, and others, like mine, blank, gentle, starless voids.
I walked back to my campsite in the dark, the light of the stars enough to show the way. The bullfrogs were already calling back and forth to each other as I read for a few minutes and fell asleep.