These days when I walk I encounter the red eft everywhere. On the macadam between pastures, on the old logging road, at the foot of the driveway where the rain pools. We call them salamanders which is incorrect from a biological perspective, but from the perspective of life, who cares? The name is the last thing that we need to know. That is the label. It is not the experience. I rename flowers all the time.
When I slow down and pay attention, my mind grows still. Stillness has space in it. There is some interior opening when one is still. It is like all the mental and emotional baggage of personality and physicality slips away and doesn’t rush back in. What are we when we are not these bodies at work and play in this world? A little contact with that energy can inspire one’s practice for years.
What is it about the eft? It is their color. That vibrant orange. It is not really native to New England – a land of greens and browns and grays and blacks. Any color is welcome. The cardinal, the blue jay. You see that high orange a little in the Fall, when the maple leaves turn. It depends on the right balance of rain and sun, what colors one sees in the foliage. I have seen brilliant oranges as the summer fades and the nights lengthen. But the efts – the salamanders – are reliable. Wherever they are, there is that orange. It stands out like the moon on a clear night. They are like little notes from God on the trail. Pay attention! Pay attention!
And the thing is, when attention is paid, it begins to give back. Very quickly it does this. It is no longer only the eft on which one’s mind rests. You become present to the forest. You become present to the stone walls that line the road. Whatever you encounter – a Hereford, a milk snake, a neighbor – is somehow enlivened. The light in them is visible, faintly perhaps but still there. You are lifted. You realize that our steps are not just our steps. One waits a long time for that realization.
Having it, gratitude becomes part of it. It sounds silly to say one is grateful for being grateful, but there it is. The efts pace deliberately over the path, splendidly vibrant, ignorant of all my worries and woes. It is a small thing but seeing it, it makes me happy. And then when I look up – at the clouds, at the rain drops scaling down the leaves of sumac and maple – the happiness enlarges. It falls in love with itself and the expansion reaches into eternity! You know that you are loved by something and that it wants you as badly as you want it. And it is there! In the eft, the trees, the rain, your companions. There is nothing left to find.
For many years, I wanted to live in a monastery. High on a mountain, far from the world. Me and Jesus in the hermitage, saying our prayers. But different decisions guided me. I don’t regret them – whatever grace I know is interwoven with the grace of being both husband and father. Yet the longing for solitude – the quiet, the intimacy – are ever there. I return to this idea over and over – that longing, what it meant then, what it means now. It is part of how I understand. It is part of the story that is being told. And the older I get – the little bits of wisdom that sneak in through the wordiness – the more I understand that the monastery is the world. There is nowhere to go to get closer to God. God is and all that is needed to know this – to be with this – is attention. It can happen anywhere. Are we ready?
A Course in Miracles teaches us that our holiness is assured by God. It can be forgotten but we are powerless to injure it. It is beyond compromise. What a comfort that is! And so we make contact with it in little ways, but that is all that’s needed. You can wake up – you can practice forgiveness – on the beautiful efts that share the way with you. Stop and look at something! If it moves you, be with it. Who cares if it’s a rose bush or a disco mirror ball or your own bare feet in the mud? Pay attention. You will quickly learn that you are only observing yourself and that the observation is not linear. The observed looks back. There is a merging, a shift into nonduality. Can you find those cracks in the ego’s facade? Those seams where light of Heaven – the light of understanding – streams through?
You are not lost. God waits patiently for us to learn the truth that is constantly being offered, without equivocation, without any conditions whatosever. The efts look up as I pass. They notice me. In that moment – no warning – it is enough.