"Deer candy!" shouted an African American woman as she walked through the organic garden at the Omega Institute in New York. She was walking with a friend. "I hate them. Hate the deer."
I was sitting in an adirondack chair drinking coffee and journaling. It was my last day at Omega. I'd been teaching a week long workshop on Writing Begins with the Breath. It had been a glorious week, although temperatures in the early part of the week hit 100 degrees, with the full on shower of humidity I had forgotten about from 25 years in the desert. I laughed and caught their gaze.
"I want to know where the deer fence is," she went on. "There's too many deer in New York. Why aren't any of them in Omega? Why aren't they eating the vegetables?" This woman had obviously been wounded deeply by deer, but she had a point. Where were the deer?
Omega is a fantasy. It's a place with no smoking, no cell phones, no pagers. A place where everyone composts and recycles, takes their shoes off before entering a building, and eats organic vegetarian food three meals a day. It's a place with no deer, but woodchucks, bumblebees, squirrels, wasps, ants, mosquitoes, mice, chipmunks, and birds that are not (who knew?) brown. At Omega, it's OK to eat in silence. It's OK to avoid conversation and small talk. It's OK to just sit in the sun. It's delicious. But it's a bubble. A model, perhaps, of what the outside world could be, if you just took out that pesky human nature component. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful fantasy and I loved every minute of it. Twenty year old guys with beautiful long locks and guitars made the food or picked the veggies or served the most amazing ice cream in the cafe. What's not to like? They even (I kid you not) congregated on the porch of the cafe at night and played folk songs from the 1960s.
It's very helpful for us, in this extremely fast world, to take the time to go to a place like Omega to quiet down and calm the mind. It takes people a few days to unplug from New York City, or Boston, or from wherever they came. Often when they hear themselves (from the inside not the outside) for the first time, they cry. They feel empty, raw. This is good, and Omega is a wonderful cradle for them to crack open and feel, truly feel, what it's like to connect with their deepest selves. But most of us can't afford to live in a place like this (those twenty-year old guys would get expensive after awhile!) and we need to come back to the world of deer. And many people could never afford to come to a place like Omega in the first place.
My students taught me how much they need permission to feel. They taught me how important it is to hold the silence for them, so they can surrender into it. They taught me how to open up into place of discomfort with them, so they can move into it, breathe it in, and then breathe it out. My practice of yoga and qi gong gave me a center. It continued to hold me through their resistances and emotional curves. It continued to bring me back to stillness so I could witness their motion. And by Friday, they had moved mountains. It was an honor to be with them in this bubble of a place.
Now, when they are back out in the world of deer, back with their deadlines and their voice mails and their work demands, maybe there will be a physical memory of what it felt like when they sat for twenty minutes in silence and counted their breaths. Maybe there will be a visceral remembrance of how the handwriting shifted in their notebooks when the voice became the real thing. This is my deepest hope for them, for all of us. The world of deer cannot sway you if your center is rooted and calm. As the Taoists say, "If a house falls on your head, be yourself!"
As the 21st century comes crashing down on all of us, use each moment to model acceptance. Don't resist what is in front of you. Each moment is a teaching, an opportunity to grow, even if it's ugly and hurts. It grows uglier if you hold onto it. Breathe it in, breathe it out. Breathe it in, breathe it out. In a sanctuary like Omega, we have a chance to get a glimpse of our true selves. The veils of roles and expectations fall away -- from the 98% humidity, the vegetarian diet, or the unrelenting discipline of growth.
You don't need to go to the mountains to find God. You don't need to fly 3000 miles across the country. You don't need to eat vegetarian food or sit in lotus position for six hours. These places and behaviors are just vehicles that can help make it easier, but these places are not God, are not anything but another facet of reality. You need go no further than your own breath and body to touch the work of God. You need go no further than your own fingertips to find divine possibilities. The journey isn't out, it's in. Writing doesn't take you out into the world, it pulls you deeper into your world so that your words can help another find a way.
No matter where you live, no matter how you live, bow deeply with awe and gratitude to all that is around you.
You'll find what you're looking for in the eyes of the deer.