“Connection — A Book of 48 Natural Contemplations,” is a 17,500 word spiritual/ecology/meditation work with photos by Charmaine Coimbra
Samples from “Connection” are posted below. This work and photographs are a copyrighted project created and designed by Charmaine Coimbra. For further information email firstname.lastname@example.org
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ― Albert Einstein
Table of Contents
By the Sea — Life
I Am Like the Sea
Among the Trees — Strength
Out on a Limb
Desert Expanses —Vision
Kingdom of the Sun
Rabbits, Hares & Whales
Home — Compassion
Come to the Table
Addendum — The Challenges
Final Thoughts —Connecting
More Awe, Less Uh
“Solitude is not Separation”
When I informed the radiologist who would treat me post breast cancer-surgery that I would spend several weeks at the beach, he said, “It’s a good place to heal. We have a primordial connection to the sea. So, go sit, go heal and don’t get a sunburn!” he prescribed.
I stood on the bluffs of a wild coastline. Elephant seals whinnied and barked. A pair of back-floating otters cracked the shells of crabs. In V-formation, brown pelicans soared above a migrating gray whale that swam north with her calf. Waves blasted against the monolithic off shore rocks. Like a blessing, the briny sea spray anointed my face. The electric power of the sea surged through my flesh and touched the marrow of my bones. I faced the sky and let the ocean’s strength cover me like a blanket. Anima Mundi made itself present. The earth’s soul pulsated through the sea’s motion and bounced off the warm sunlight captured on the rocky hills behind me. A young tree bowed to the earth as a breeze swept through its limbs. Life affirmed itself both within and outside of my body.
This was the source of my personal healing after a tumultuous life and a battle with cancer. The sea spoke to me. Its rhythm settled my soul — like a meditation.
We can’t always be by the sea. We can find healing and wisdom most anywhere in nature. This collection of reflective thoughts takes you to the sea (life), encourages you to be among the trees (strength), asks you to seek the wide expanses of the desert (vision), and offers thoughts to live in light at home (compassion). Life, strength, vision and compassion are four elements in one’s life that can make a positive impact within. They are all connected.
Silent moments of contemplation and meditation are majestic prayers that allows us to lift above the storm and calm the air we breath.
Contemplation, according to Thomas Merton, “… is the highest expression of our intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant source.”
There is no attempt in this work to assume that each offered contemplation will bring about a mystic experience. Instead, it is my hope that each section will speak to you at the moment and bring about reflection and thoughtfulness which may open the door to true contemplation.
Meditation is a hike into the heart, the mind, the soul. It is a door that opens the windows to understanding and quietude.
“A significant shift occurs after we integrate the internal and external worlds: we move beyond polarity and duality and learn to see both worlds at once … This more accepting and expansive way of thinking increases our tolerance for ambiguity, which is the function of wisdom. … wisdom always looks for the most elegant solution, the one that will create a genuine win-win and serves the greater good of the majority of people,” wrote the late Angeles Arrien in “The Second Half of Life.”
“Connected” offers the reader 48 moments of contemplation and meditation derived from factual evidence of the condition of our world and our inner selves. This work is not meant to be religious. It is meant to help us to collectively walk in peace and respect as we awaken to the perfect plan given us — regardless of one’s faith or belief system. Merton best explains the process, “Genuine contemplation is incompatible with complacency and with smug acceptance of prejudiced opinions.”
I’ve connected what I know about our seas, our trees, our deserts and our homes, and I encourage the reader to find quiet moments of thought and discover inner peace, wisdom and health.
Turn off and unplug noisy distractions. Find a comfortable and safe place to sit. You can sit in the classic meditation pose, or sit on a seat. Comfortably place your hands on your legs. Turn to the page that speaks to you at this moment. Take in the thought on that page, then rhythmically breathe in and out calming your mind with each breath. Contemplate.
Let nature help you find your peaceful center. Connect with anima mundi, the earth’s living soul.
By the Sea
My love affair with the sea began as a child during a dark moment in my personal life. Rescued from my family’s dysfunction, a kind relative included me in a two-week seaside vacation.
Energized by the sound of the sea and the lapping waves not far from the oceanfront getaway, each morning I gulped my breakfast cereal, scurried barefoot down the wooden stairs and charged through the sand toward the surf. By 9 a.m. I bobbed where the waves began their incoming swell. The swells lifted me from the sandy bottom and I flattened my body into a dead man’s float. My nightmare childhood dissolved as I transformed into an unnamed mammal that healed in the seas.
Boys rode the surf while I bobbed. Not to be outdone, I searched for the next swell. The teal water rose like fast-rising bread, dwarfing me like a bread crumb. This is a good one, I thought. I worked my best strokes so that I could ride this wave like warm butter on bread into the shore. Instead, it lifted me high above the shore and I watched the boys get a free ride.
“Here comes one,” a nearby sunburned and water-logged kid yelled my way.
This wave was mine. I kicked hard and stretched my arms almost beyond my reach for the best stroke that matched the incoming wave. My heart pounded in anticipation. The water surged. I took a deep breath and swam with the pitch. I owned it. My arms formed a V. The ocean propelled me past timid swimmers testing the waters. The wave crested and fell like a bride’s veil of white netting. Now the ocean cradled me and gently released me with a smooth landing into the sand. I was Neptune’s beloved maiden of the sea.
I often use this memory to fuel my meditations.
As a child might have held a sea shell to her ear and believed that no matter how far from the beach she might be, that shell held magic — the magic of the ocean’s rhythmic sound regardless of where that child stood.
For a moment, place a sea shell or cup your hand to your ear. Become that smiling child delighted by the magical sound of rolling waves touching the sand on the beach.
Inhale deeply and let this breath expand your torso. Hold for a second or two, and exhale. Repeat as if to mimic the incoming waves on a calm summer morning.
Close your eyes. Let your breathing follow the waves you can hear from inside that shell. Become like a swollen wave aimed to touch the sand. As your breath crests, so does the wave. Your exhale pairs with the topaz water that glows white as it falls like a fountain to the sparkling sand. Before your closed eyes white foam stretches to kiss your forehead and light surrounds your being.
As you breathe you give gratitude to the sea for this air, for it is the sea that produces the oxygen in every other breath you take.
Billions upon billion of tiny ocean plants — phytoplankton — feed vital oxygen into our air. As you contemplate the wizardry of photosynthesis and let the sun’s light bloom your awareness, you become like phytoplankton that floats near the water’s surface. The water gently rocks your weightless body as you breathe in, breathe out and let the light warm you.
It was the biologist John Zachary Young who wrote: “In order to know life — what it is, what it has been, and what it will be — we must look beyond the details of individual lives and try to find rules governing all … The composition of the ocean is of special interest to biologists since life first became possible because of conditions in the sea.”
When I allow myself to float in the cosmic sea, I am captured by a warm current of water that sweeps me to understanding the Mother of Life — our sea.
Among the Trees
At age 21, I sat on the deck of a northern California home that overlooked a redwood, oak and madrone forest. The morning fog slowly revealed a magnificent beauty, and my own awakening. Honey-scented Scotch broom sweetened the air.
I was caustic and deeply hurt by an unexpected rejection by the religious faith that I was born into. I pondered an Allen Watt’s quote, “If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” Like Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” lyrics, ”And the sun poured in like butterscotch, And stuck to all my senses,” my baptized faith no longer offered me answers. What I sought was right in front of me–nature in its most glorious beauty, and it stuck to all my senses
Not only are trees essential for life, but as the longest living species on earth, they give us a link between the past, present and future.
Historical references to the sacredness of trees fills volumes of poetic works. Taliesin, a 6th century Celtic bard used what some academics claim as the secret language of trees to express and exchange ideas with those with need to know, “without anyone there being any the wiser.”
Los Angeles’s Tree People (treepeople.org) lists the “Top 22 Benefits of Trees” to include:
- In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
- Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.
- Whether as houses for children or creative and spiritual inspiration for adults, trees have provided the space for human retreat throughout the ages.
- Will we lose this connection as deforestation continues destroying an estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest a year?
- Throughout history trees represent wisdom and strength. Each time we linger among the trees we are offered their gift of strength.
Inhale deeply and let this breath expand your upper body. Hold for a second or two. Exhale. Repeat as if to mimic a rhythmic breeze wafting through a thick forest of trees on a warm fall afternoon.
Close your eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. As your breathing strengthens and comforts so does your vision. Each breath exhaled lets the golden, yet weary leaves of the forested trees depart from their source to grace the soil below. Shedding is the first step to renewal.
As you breathe you give gratitude to the trees for this air, for it is the trees that give you the oxygen in every other breath you take.
In the midst of a forest I sat beneath a massive 8-prong oak — a tree of courage and strength.
Encircled by pines and oaks, a grass-covered mound rose behind this bench. The mound was once inhabited by indigenous people. Their ghosts gave rhythm to the forest song.
Jays squabbled. Like a drummer in the wild, a woodpecker hammered into a tree. A grey squirrel jettisoned straight up an 80-foot pine. Tiny birds, backlit by the morning sun, fluttered in the oak’s high branches. The gobble of wild turkeys echoed in the forest. The woodsy incense of forest-life and debris invigorated my senses.
Life seemed abundant in this rare forest — one of three Monterey pine forests in the world. But it dies a bit more with each blink of my eyes. Pines with green needles last week, are now tinged in burnt-sienna — the first sign of a tree’s fight for life.
Drought. Disease. Age. People. Earth. Wind. Fire. Water. A planetary juxtaposition of elements.
Still, I reveled in the peace among the trees.
I can’t physically be in nature at this moment, but with my eyes at rest I let my imagination see an acorn in my hand. I caress this seed with love and watch it sprout forth with life. As it reaches toward the sky and into the light, nature’s peace spreads through my body like the leaves of this young oak tree that I hold in my hand.
Each new leaf is another element of the peace that grows within me I give gratitude to the trees for giving oxygen to breath. I silently sit and let nature’s song among the trees sooth my soul.
“Of all (the desert’s) inhabitants it has the least concern for man.” —Mary Austin,
“The Land of Little Rain.”
“When we touch the Earth, we take refuge in it. We receive its solid and inclusive energy. The Earth embraces us and helps us transform our ignorance, suffering, and despair. Wherever we are, we can bow down to receive its energy of stability and fearlessness.” —
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Mojave Desert was home for much of my life. I howled like a desert coyote in my bristled, dry, and motherless youth growing up in the desert. My one goal was to escape this pit of endless heat and wind. But it was the sunrise, the crystal nighttime sky, the miles of endless vision and possibility that tempered my hungry coyote song. Light, more than anything, dominates the desert. For that, I have returned to the desert to expand my vision and heart.
“The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation, are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love. You think that strange perhaps? Well, the beauty of the ugly was sometime a paradox, but today people admit its truth; and the grandeur of the desolate is just paradoxical, yet the desert gives it proof.”
John C. Van Dyke, The Desert
Deserts are another one of nature’s metaphors to human life. Most deserts were once lush and fertile environments. But as the planet ages, so have those once lush forests that now seem sterile and vacant of life. Lifeforms, however, adapted in North Africa’s Sahara Desert, South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, Australia’s Great Victoria Desert, China’s Gobi Desert, Western Asia’s Arabian Deserts, and North America’s greater deserts that include the Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and the Great Basin Deserts.
Deserts are home for ancient Biblical texts, and indigenous creation stories from America’s Southwest.
Deserts represent the extreme with vast vistas that can bring peace or even death.
It was in the Baja California Desert where I personally encountered my first whale. Connectedness reigns and vision expands.
Inhale deeply and let this breath expand your torso. Hold for a second or two, and exhale. Repeat as if to mimic each moment of the rising sun as it peeks into the endless sky. Let one solar ray at a time bring color and life to your breath.
Close your eyes. Let your breathing become like the sun’s rise to glory. As your breath crests, so does the light within you. Your exhale gives room to your expanded vision. The vastness of possibility and opportunity gleams before you like the great plains of the desert.
As you breathe you give gratitude to the desert expanses and its means to sustain life in the most unusual ways.
Kingdom of the Sun
The desert is, as John C. Van Dyke wrote in his 1901 book, The Desert, the kingdom of the sun. Light is the dominant force in these lands of little rain. It’s inescapable. The light is so prevalent that it forces one to seek shade beneath sparse-leafed trees and shrubs or rocky caves.
In these kingdoms of the sun that sparkle on every continent, the blinding light becomes inhospitable to all but those creatures and plants that have adapted to this environment. Yet, the desert attracts seekers, isolationists, artists, thinkers, and the curious.
At sunrise, the light begins with a symphony conducted by the weather at the moment. Some mornings the rising light conducts an orchestrated parade of a tangerine, yellow and teal horizon. On other mornings from the deepest indigo sky, a sliver of pink outlines the horizon and silhouettes of desert plants peek out from the darkness.
But it is sunset that captures the imagination. Perhaps it is the knowledge that a respite from the intensity of the light is ahead. Perhaps it is the light that brings out the secret colors of rocky mounds seen only as the sun sets: rust, turquoise, magenta, and jade.
Van Dyke wrote, “The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love.”
Like a desert sunrise, the light rises in me and overcomes the darkest part of my day. I carry this light within and commit that I will be a knight in the kingdom of the sun.
“If humanity is to survive, happiness and inner balance are crucial. Otherwise the lives of our children and their children are more likely to be unhappy, desperate and short. Material development certainly contributes to happiness – to some extent – and a comfortable way of life. But this is not sufficient. To achieve a deeper level of happiness we cannot neglect our inner development.” The Monk in the Lab
Gifted with shelter, gratitude exudes from my pores. My heart aches for those who live without shelter. The imbalance of those with and without shelter parallels the human impact on the earth’s environs. I understand that all the challenges we face here on earth cannot be met by me alone. And this is why I write and plea for finding a home for compassion in our hearts. That is one step we can take to finding solutions.
Home begins with our life here on earth. It is sacred, requires care and love. “Do we not know that it is all an interconnected whole, that the state of our planet and our loss of the sacred is one story told in different ways? Is it not time to listen to this story, to find its meaning, and to recognize finally that this story belongs to each of us —it is our own story as well as the story of the whole world,” wrote Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, PhD, in his rather dim perspective “Darkening of the Light.” Vaughan-Lee’s books call out to its readers to grow in mindfulness of our planetary home and to become diligent in spiritual responsibility and accountability.
This is what we can do within our private space to rise above what seems at this time in history a darkening of an era.
Yes, there are volumes written in the theme of survival of the fittest. There is fitness and strength of the body, but more importantly we can seek fitness and strength of the spirit, for this is something that almost everyone can achieve.
It begins within the home of our very being — which by nature, is compassionate. Humans are a caring species and humans are more dependent upon caring, from the moment of birth, than most other species.
Dacher Keltner wrote: “Our babies are the most vulnerable offspring on the face of the Earth. And that simple fact changed everything. It rearranged our social structures, building cooperative networks of care-taking, and it rearranged our nervous systems. We became the super-caregiving species, to the point where acts of care improve our physical health and lengthen our lives. We are born to be good to each other.”
“Compassion is what fuels empathy. Kindness is the expression of that compassion through helping, a basic form of altruism. Compassion is what makes it possible for our empathetic reaction to manifest in kindness,” Thupten Jinpa explained in his book A Fearless Heart.
Compassion begins at home.
Inhale deeply and let this breath expand your torso. Hold for a second or two, and exhale. Repeat and let thoughts of loving kindness begin.
Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness:
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
What ever living beings there may be;
whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Come to the table
Come to the table and let’s share a meal, talk and listen without judgement. Imagine that!
How can we return to rational discussion of issues — even issues that inflate our passions? Can we begin to understand that while one person on the other side of the table may have a complete dislike of peas and finds it disagreeable that the person across the table loves peas, while the pea-lover believes the pea-hater is missing out on the greatest food ever, and that the pea-hater must be an idiot, but that when it comes to life and death issues, they would join hands in agreement and agree that the issue of peas is frivolous in the real world?
Grow this conversation to different belief-systems that explode into rage and war. It’s war’s consequences that bring us to join hands in agreement — life and death.
Difficult people do come into our lives, but once we all come to the table, we can discover that we wish for the same things in life — to be happy, loved, and without pain.
I wish to open my mind and heart to better understand the sameness of self and others. I wish to cultivate an open table where kindness and humanity are generously served.