I woke at 4:30am and felt an instinctive pull to get out of bed and go outside. A flash of thought, “It is nearing mid-summer and there are only a few more minutes when the moon and stars will be visible,” launched me out of bed.
I put on my thick terrycloth bathrobe and my outdoor clogs and turned off the outside light. Stepping onto the porch, I let my eyes adjust to the pale light in the sky. Then, one by one, the last of the nighttime stars glistened into view. I love these moments, when all is still, just before the first birds begin to twitter and sing to the new day.
After a few minutes of drinking in the beauty and singing greetings to the moon, I went back inside. It was time for the morning rituals of washing my face, brushing my teeth and putting on outdoor clothes against the chill of the morning. This always wakes me up and lets my senses open to the wonders that surround me. But this morning felt different. There was a stirring along my spine that usually alerts me to watch for something new.
Walking toward my chair at the top of the meadow, I looked up at the ridge of hills that rise just a mile away. There, silhouetted against the first pale light of dawn, were a row of women in long shirts. I recognized them as The Women of the Open Sky. They are Elders from the distant past, who come to teach me the ancient wisdom that helps hold the world together. The sight of them always makes my heart leap with joy.
I bypassed the chair and headed straight to nearest hill. I had already passed that beautiful vale between “real life and the unseen mystery,” so it only took me a dozen steps to climb to the ridge. The woman who greeted me this morning was from one of the early North American tribes. She reminded me of the Hopi women I met when I lived in Arizona.
“We want you to see why we come here every morning to greet the new day and to celebrate the openness of the sky,” she told me. Her dark eyes were filled with playfulness and delight. I was about to be let in on a secret, and I could hardly wait.
“Just watch and see what we experience as we chant. We will only use the sound of spaciousness this morning. It will be enough,” she said, turning to face the East and the approaching light of the sun.
I heard them sing “Ahh” in a full rich alto pitch. They would breathe in together, and then release this one syllable in a long, gentle flow. Their chant was full and strong, its vibration riding the wind for miles.
At first, I didn’t notice anything but the beautiful sound of their voices. It was like hearing the ringing of an ancient temple bell and feeling the waves of sound moving outward to encircle the Earth and flow out into the Universe.
Then, as I watched, the scene before me began to shift. I noticed it first in the pine trees and oaks that fill the downhill slope to the east of the hill. They were always vague in outline in the early light, but today, every needle, every leaf and every tree seemed to drift away from one another. My attention flew to the space between the solid forms, and I was captivated by the vast openings appearing in what I had always seen as a dense forest.
I heard the women’s voices again, and watched the tone moving on the wind like waves. This rippling movement was filling the spaces around all of the rocks and trees, plants and animals to reveal a wide open plain, right there within the forest.
Then their pitch shifted a bit. I stopped being able to see distinctive leaves or needles, even on the trees closest to me. It was like taking off my glasses and having the outlines blur into soft shapes, with each form also looked bigger than it had been.
Each time the women repeated this tone, this process of growing larger and more subtle in outline continued. Then, my breath caught in my throat as my mind explained what I was seeing. Every cell and molecule within these trees were relaxing their hold on one another and drifting apart. Molecules of water and those of matter continued to hover near one another, revealing the truth that they never truly touch.
Each time the women sang “Ahh,” there was a small expanding of the spaces both within and around each element of the forest. When the women inhaled to prepare to repeat the tone, there was a minute contraction in those spaces. I held my breath, in fear that the whole forest could be scattered by a human sneeze.
“These nature beings are held in perfect balance and relationship as they always have been,” my guide reassured me. “They enjoy revealing how much space there is within and around every bit of matter and every cell of being in this beautiful world.”
“What is that tree showing you?” she asked, pointing to a venerable Ponderosa Pine. At first I saw what I was used to seeing, its upper branches waving freely and its powerful trunk and deep roots holding it firm. “Soften your eyes,” she encouraged.
As I did, the tree revealed all of its inner spaces. I could see the wind moving not only among its needles, but within them. I held my breath for a moment to focus, and then as I inhaled, the molecules of needles drew inward. When I exhaled, they relaxed out away from one another. They never fully touched, but continued to expand and contract with each breath I took. The tree was drawing in what I was breathing out. Then it offered me the air it released for my next in breath.
When I turned my focus to the Women of the Open Sky, I saw that they were all breathing with the trees. But it was broader than that. The rocks and birds, grasses and wildflowers were all dancing with this same rhythm of air, inhaling and exhaling. Everything as far as I could see was moving in this basic dance.
“We all breathe together,” my guide explained. “This is the Earth breathing us all as one.”
For a long time I remained transfixed on the unity of nature breathing in harmony. Giving and receiving, floating apart and then joining in unity, all the atoms of matter looking the same and yet hinting at specific forms.
Then I felt the surge of breeze that comes when the warm air that has blanketed the Earth is released, and the chill of morning rushes in. Would this break the magic of shared breath?
The limbs of the trees did lift in their usual dance, as the wind became part of the day. The outlines undulated, but held. The deep unity of each of these nature beings was stronger than the vibration of voice or wind. Each molecule knew their inter-being with all the others in their environment. It was not that cells of a leaf were less part of the nearby rock, it was just that the relationship was slightly different. All live here in an intricate dance that helps all to thrive.
It was not until the sun emerged from the slope of the mountain that the spell was broken. The strong rays of the new day called each being of the forest back to its usual form. Leaves and needles coalesced and took on their specific outlines. Bits of dust hung in the air, and then landed on the surface of a stone. Colors and textures that I had barely noticed, came to life throughout the landscape. The day had begun.
As we walked down the hill, my guide explained:
This is our celebration of the inter-being of all living things. Seeing clearly that we are all made of the same stardust/earth soil, air, water, energy and spirit, we remember our place within nature. Breathing with the Earth and the web of life, we are renewed in our intimate connections to one another. Seeing this Ultimate and Intimate mystery of life is our service to the people.
As we sing, each morning, we envision every human being as you saw the trees this morning.
First, the space appears around and among them. Within our community there is balance and trust. The unique gifts and insights of an individual gain full expression as each one is acknowledged for what they add to the people. The solid individual boundaries can ease as each person is given room to grow. The personal outlines and identities are less sharp-edged, because they are invited to keep learning, discovering and experiencing life.
Like the needles of the pine, the unique being of each person is visible in the affinity that their molecules and life energy have for one another. We are not the solid individuals we seems to be. We are the dance of matter and energy with the empty space of that fills and surrounds us. At our most basic level, we are the same stardust and breath of life as every other being within the web of life. But there is some unique, undying essence which keeps our thoughts, emotions, creativity and physical expression interwoven, even as we evolve throughout our life. Openness allows for the constant changes of life to blow through without breaking the inner harmony.
We teach our young people how to breathe with the Earth. Inhaling, they receive love, joy, and nourishment from all of nature. Exhaling, they give love, joy and nourishment back to the Earth. In time, they learn to feel their whole body/mind/energy expanding and contracting as they are inhaled and exhaled by the Earth. This is the point when they sense in their bones that they are at home here, within the web of life. There is no separation, only unity.
It is our task, as Women of the Open Sky to live these realities, as much as we can, in our thinking, speaking and acting in the world. We renew our connection with this Ultimate reality every morning. Then we bring it back to our community and keep it visible until everyone discovers it within themselves.
As I walked along the path, I saw a new vitality and vibrancy in the trees and flowers, the birds and boulders. Each one becoming a beloved friend now that we shared the secret of breathing as one. I began wondering if it is the Earth Herself breathing us, or if we breath one another, or if something beyond us all does the breathing. As I began trying to figure this out, I noticed a shift. My guide was gone. I had stepped back through the vale, into my meadow.
I turned, looked up toward the glorious sunrise, and bowed in deep gratitude for the gifts of this new day. Tomorrow, I would wake early, go outside and sing to the spaciousness of the open sky.