Well, there they were...
The Fourth of July and all that... We actually had a wonderful view of the spectacle, from the balcony of our friends' house overlooking the bay from the hillside just a few blocks back. We were invited for an early dinner, and afterwards took a long walk back through that area in the Laguna canyon where dozens of small, mostly rustic dwellings crowd together in intimate community, and where the streets--not even streets, these are narrow lanes--are lined on either side by a wealth of shrubbery and gardens.
A long walk, then, from daylight into dusk, when we returned to our hosts' home and settled down on the balcony for dessert and fireworks. Three fireworks displays, in fact: dead ahead, the closest, was the annual Laguna Beach extravaganza, and slightly to the north what we took to be Emerald Bay's and, further north still, what must have been either Corona's or Newport's. Dazzling. A half hour of spectacular light and bombast, the roar and thud of exploding rockets and the crackle of their glittering descent...
"Rockets bursting in air..." Which brings me nicely to the new meditation I worked on this morning, out on the deck in the barely perceptible fall of dew from a heavy marine layer of mist. A good place to contemplate the Six Elements. In fact, the meditation was not entirely new to me. I had learned something quite similar years ago from Ken McCleod at Unfettered Mind, whose book "Wake Up to Your Life" had profoundly impressed me. I rediscovered yesterday it through an article in the current Tricycle by Bodhipaksa (sorry, folks, no direct link to the article: the magazine doesn't seem to allow it. But check it out anyway.) Here's the thumbnail version:
Start, as always, with metta--the lovingkindness practice, starting with myself and working slowly outward to encompass, first, those close and, finally, all living beings. Then work slowly through a contemplation of the six elements: earth, water, fire, air, space, and consciousness. First, earth (I find it useful, breathwise, to associate it with the lowest chakra, where the body connects with the earth): awareness of the earth element within--the "solid" part, organs, limbs, the skeletal structure--expanding to awareness of the earth element without, earth itself, rocks, mountains, deserts, and leading to the recognition, "This is not me, not mine, I am not this."
On to the element of water (I choose the sternum): water within in the form of bodily liquids, saliva, urine, sweat, blood, etc. and expanding to water without--rain, rivers, oceans, lakes... The continuity between the inner and the outer. This is not me, not mine, I am not this. Fire (for me, the heart): the body's internal heating system, metabolism, the cool air entering with the breath and leaving the body warmed by the natural energy, the hot spots in the body, the passions that come and go, (anger, anyone?) and moving on out to the element without, from the small fire in the hearth to the raging forest fire and the unimaginable intensity of the sun. Then the contintuity, again, between the inner and the outer and finally, "Not me, not mine, I am not this."
Next air, the throat, the passage of air as it enters and leaves the body, the lungs, the oxygenation of every part of the body, from the torso to the fingertips; and outside, the ambient air, the cool breeze, the gusting winds that drive the clouds, leading to the awareness of the continuity between inner and outer and that familiar conclusion. Space, the third eye. In the body, the internal spaces, the natural orifices, the spaces in between the organs, even the minimal space between the joints; outside, the expanding space that surrounds our bodies, our planet, our neighbor planets, the solar system... Leading to the experience of awareness of the identity of inner and the outer and the recognition that the element of space, too, is "not me, not mine, not what I am."
Then, in the words of the Buddha, "there remains only consciousness, bright and purified." I choose to experience this element by directing my breath--and my attention--to the topmost chakra, the crown of the head and sensing the light of the universe pouring through the body and transforming it into light. Sound fanciful? Well, try it. "In this stage of the process," Bodhipaksa writes, "we notice--and reflect upon--the way in which sensations, thoughts, images, emotions, the habitual patterns come into being, persist for a while, and then vanish into emptiness. None of them is permanent, and all are simply passing through us in the same way that the earth, water, fire, air, and space elements are flowing through our physical form. So these 'elements of consciousness' are not intrinsic to us, are not a fixed part of us, and are not us. Just as there is nothing we can grasp, there is no one, ultimately, to do the grasping."
Please understand, as I'm sure you do: this is just a very sketchy thumbnail. It's important to read, and reread the article in Tricycle, or to find some other source of more detailed information. But if a display of fireworks can dazzle the eye, think what this simple meditation can do for the mind! For a few moments, bliss!