"Now I see clearly that the mind is the mountains, the riversand the great Earth; the sun, the moon, and the stars." (Dogen) Nine women came together last summer to walk a remote portion of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. We walked in meditation with no place to go and no place to arrive: just this step, then the next step. The first two days, we walked mostly in silence, tied together by the occasional ring of the bell of mindfulness, calling us back to the present moment We listened as we walked to the gentle sounds of rushing water and the rustling wind through the canopy above. It was a pilgrimage in honor of ourselves, the mountains, the waters, rocks, trees, and birds.
"The one moon is reflected in water everywhere. All water moons are one with the one moon." (Hsuan-chua) The group was made up of women from many backgrounds and different practices, including students of Thay, Japanese Zen, and Vipassana. One evening during a campfire discussion, people expressed a need to get to know each other better, to have more talking, less formal practice. The next morning, we awoke to a heavy downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. We meditated, huddled together under a blue tarp by a rain-swollen river. After breakfast, we sat out the storm telling our stories. The afternoon was spent drying our clothes and soaking up the sun on large boulders along the river. By evening, the rain was pelting down again as we crouched in a circle around candles and flashlights, talking long into the dark night. On that wet day, a true sangha was formed. We walked for several days in companionship. We sat at dawn and before bed, and had a Dharma talk in the mid-morning. A natural form of practice emerged that was comfortable for all of us, and we carried our practice lightly.
"Green mountains.. .forever remain settled and they forever walk." (Dogen) We walked through valleys of rough-barked maple and elephantine beech. We climbed hills of slate, large slabs of square stone, and stood on granite outcroppings viewing mountains rolling away into the distance. Every evening, we camped by a new river, each one providing us a place to soak sore muscles and rinse off the day's sweat.
"The mountains and waters of the immediate present are the manifestation of the path of the ancient Buddhas." (Dogen) After six days of hiking, we left the trail calm and at peace, strengthened to face what awaited us at the end of the trail. Two of our cars were vandalized. Nothing valuable was stolen, but the windshields were smashed, a headlight kicked out, and a license plate stolen. We stood together, saddened and angered by the senselessness of the act. And yet, it was for this that we had hiked—not to escape the world, but to practice openness and clear-thinking in face of whatever the present moment brings.
Eileen Kiera Deming, Washington