Sing To The Sun

Image by N. Charneco

I am sitting in Leigh’s townhouse. From here I can see downtown Oakland, the Bay Bridge and now I can see downtown San Francisco; the city is just emerging from the morning fog, a cold grey silhouette. I knew it was there. For the past hour I’ve been sitting at the window, sipping coffee, waiting for the city to reappear. I wanted to see the moment. I wanted to be present when the city returned like Avalon from the mists of time.

Lora tells me that her mother used to stop what she was doing and go outside to watch the sun disappear beneath the horizon. Every evening of her adult life, for a few moments, she would step outside, feel the last rays of the days’ sun on her face and watch until the last hint of light dipped beneath the horizon. In my imagination she stepped out of her “to-do list” and for a few moments stood as a silent witness, present in the world.

These rituals of appearance and disappearance are much on my mind. There are cultures that face east in the dark predawn hours and sing so that the sun will rise. It took me years to understand that their song was not so much about invoking the sun to rise (a result) as much as it was about reaffirming their connection to the cycles of life (a relationship). While going through college I drove a bread truck to support myself. My route took me east so I saw the sun rise every morning. After several weeks of watching the sunrise something changed in me. I no longer watched sunrise as an event or a marker of time. The sun rising had little to do with time. It had everything to do with renewal and affirmation. The sun invoked a song in me and I sang with a kind of abandon I have not known since. It was an imperative. I had to participate in the reappearance of the sun.

My friends surprise me sometimes because they see my time in the bread truck as a hardship or as something beneath me. They say, “I don’t know how you did that.”  They do not understand; at that point in my life I had disappeared like San Francisco into the fog. I was in a liminal space, no longer what I was and not yet what I would become. I was like the body of the caterpillar gone to mush, unrecognizable with no hint of the butterfly yet apparent. I was lost and afraid. The bread truck was my cocoon. In the stillness of the predawn hours I regained the quiet of my mind. I lived simply. I delivered bread, I drank coffee, I ate hot baguettes, and each morning the sun raised from within me a song of renewal. In my bread truck I began to understand that my life would no longer be understood through results, lists, achievements, or outcomes. The meaning of my life would be defined by the quality of my relationships – and by that I mean my capacity to be present. Slowly, I appeared out of the fog.

Most of the people I coach are somewhere in the cycle of reappearing or disappearing. They are usually uncomfortable because they are still living under the expectation that their song must raise the sun (their focus is on the result). The things on their to-do list have overtaken the reason why they are doing them. We live in a society that has little awareness or appreciation of the cycles of life and sometimes I think my work is simply to give witness to the caterpillar as it reduces to mush. Disappearing is natural and necessary for the butterfly to emerge and the butterfly always emerges. The struggle is necessary. Resisting the change is like trying to keep the sun from going down.

Leigh is one of the world’s leading authorities on Rock Art (cave painting, petroglyphs, etc.) and his townhouse is a feast for someone like me. It is a treasure house of books and images from Rock Art sites – places where centuries ago humans scratched an image into rock or painted a picture on the wall of a cave. We don’t know why they made these images, we can only speculate about the figures and what they represent. I’m willing to bet that these people weren’t working for some effect or result. The images they created were less important than the relationships the image encouraged; the “doing” was in support of the “being” and happened in that space between disappearing and reappearing.

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