Indra’s Web

May 11, 2011
Community. If there is one buzzword I’ve heard and read for the last few years, it is Community.

Community.  If there is one buzzword I’ve heard and read for the last few years, it is Community. A friend tells me of listening to a speaker at a writing conference exhort her listeners to build community. Columnists and bloggers throughout the more compassionate realms of journalism tell us that only through community can we begin to address the mess our species is making of our Greater Community. I think of community and feel both warm--then edgy.

I’m a recluse, a hermit, a grouch who finds the company of most humans difficult. My work requires solitude, not just as I write but in the nerve-wracking hours or days during which a piece seems to gather itself, then nag my fingers into bringing it out. Too often the work of community seems too great an effort--and a disruption.  

Writing for (and with) the Land Trust has dragged me kicking and yelping into community. I’ve sat in board meetings, met with landowners, written poems with a new friend, felt my breath catch in amazement when a sky-eyed woman said--ah, but that’s for later. I’ve wrapped my arms around perhaps a third of a huge ponderosa and listened as a man with laughter in his eyes told Amanda Egertson and me about Grandmother Beaver and how her life was spared. 

This week I made fruit salad--me, a woman who doesn’t cook and whose tiny house has no room for dinner guests. The sky-eyed woman and I took lunch to Land Trust tour guide and poet, Norma Funai and her husband, Arnold (another man with laughter in his eyes).  We talked, ate and sat on the deck to watch birds. I drifted in and out of the conversation. I was already writing this post in my head. Norma pointed out the hummingbird feeder and told us the hummers were Calliopes. I thought of their jewel-bright feathers and for an instant, I knew I was in Indra’s Web, a huge net of connections, gems glittering at every intersection.

Indras web
Indras web
Indras web
Indra’s Web. No less experts than Wikipedia and the Zen writer and scholar, Alan Watts, describe this sparkling net:
Indra's net (also called Indra's jewels or Indra's pearls) is a metaphor used to illustrate the concepts of emptiness, dependent origination and interpenetration in Buddhist philosophy. The metaphor of Indra's net was developed by the Mahayana Buddhist school in the 3rd century scriptures of the Avatamsaka Sutra, and later by the Chinese Huayan school between the 6th and 8th century.

Buddhist concepts of interpenetration hold that all phenomena are intimately connected; for the Huayan school, Indra's net symbolizes a universe where infinitely repeated mutual relations exist between all members of the universe.

"Imagine a multidimensional spider's web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image."
       ---Alan Watts
The sky-eyed woman and the Funais marveled at evening grosbeaks and pesky cowbirds alike. We swapped stories of visits from bears and ravens. I watched the sky-eyed woman’s eyes catch sunlight and was reminded of sapphires, her gaze part of the huge web we were part of. I remembered what were nearly her first words to me when we met: “You’re from Arizona. I lived in Arizona once. In Peach Springs and Parker.”  

She had gestured me to a couch. I didn’t sit. I stared at her. “You lived in Peach Springs? Most people don’t know Peach Springs. I worked with the Hualapai there in Sacred Land work for the holy mountains near Flagstaff.”

Two hours later we were still talking. We hadn’t moved from her living-room despite my intention to tour her land. We discovered Hualapai and Havasupai family names. I told her stories of the children, nephews and nieces of people she had come to know. I found her company as easy as being alone--my favorite compliment for another human. I suspect she felt the same. When I drove home, I knew we would meet again.

The sun gleamed on the gold grasses of Indian Ford meadow. It was hard to believe (after a long chill Central Oregon winter) that it had become a little too warm on the deck. Norma, Arnold, the sky-eyed woman and I moved indoors. I prepared to leave. We spoke promises to be together again. I climbed in my car and drove toward home. 

This writing was swirling in me, taking me into the moment when I set my hands on the keyboard keys. I was anywhere but in the real web of car, road and hands on the wheel. A doe stepped into my lane barely braking distance ahead. I slammed my foot on the pedal and stopped within inches of her. Her great dark eye gleamed and she was gone. Indra’s Web held us for that instant. Then time carried us apart. Into the next shining intersection.