Starting several weeks prior, after completing intake paperwork not all that different from that of a first-time visit to a new doctor, but including as well several writing exercises intended to explore the reasons for seeking treatment, possible factors that contributed to current mental health struggles, and a detailed description of intentions and goals for the forest medicine journey I was preparing to take, Sarah and I had two hour-long prep sessions via Skype to discuss and focus in on my goals, and to orient me as to what to possibly expect during the experience, though with a caveat: everyone is different, bringing different life stories to the process, and therefore, as a result, in many ways, it is impossible to know all that much about what will happen.
- To grieve without restraint, to drain out as much of the sorrow as possible related to all that I’d already lost to ALS, as well as those losses yet to come.
- To face the fear, not of death, but of the long decline toward death, until it becomes evident that fear is nothing more than a mental construct, that like other thoughts or things, suffering arises from the act of clinging to them, insisting that they hold real value, or that they are real at all.
- Then, via #1 and #2, to be able to more regularly take refuge in the present moment.
Sarah and I processed all of this, and that night, as my wife and I slipped into bed, turned out the lights, and quieted down, through the window, which we always keep ajar year round for fresh air, came an unmistakable sound — Hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo. Hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo – the Barred Owl’s call, that repeating pattern, an altogether mysterious sound, neither urgent nor shrill, and not at all pretty, like so many other bird songs. No, it was something more like habit, but not entirely mechanical, for there seemed to be a hint of loneliness in it, a Morse code transmitting the owl’s solitude.
We could not recall having heard the owl in quite a while, not since those few nights during the remodel, but now, as of the day I’d defined my intentions for my forest medicine journey, we started hearing it every night for the following two weeks, getting seemingly closer each night, right up until the night before I was to drive across the border into British Columbia, Canada, to meet Sarah in person for the first time, to hand myself over to her and her shamanic skills for the day.
But that last night, as I lay in bed listening to the owl, I recalled the notion of non-dualism, obviously anticipating the next day’s opportunity to experience it first hand, and the thought occurred to me that according to non-dualism, the owl and I and everything else for that matter are all one, all connected and interdependent, and my last thought before drifting off to sleep was that perhaps, when I die, I will embody that Barred Owl, reside on that property, in those woods, where I might watch over my family.
That night, I had an amazing dream.
I dreamt I was in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, 1967, specifically the Victorian boarding house at 710 Ashbury Street, where the Grateful Dead lived for a time, until the media frenzy around the hippie scene drove the band north, across the bay in Marin County.
It was the middle of the day, but you wouldn’t know it. With all the people in the house, and judging by the activity you’d think it was a party for some occasion or another. But, as legend has it, it was nearly always like this in those days: people were hanging out, standing, or sitting anywhere they could, which in the living room meant mostly on the floor, as it was sparsely furnished. Joints and whiskey bottles were being passed around, and more than a few folks were animated by LSD as well.
The members of the band were scattered about the house, but Jerry Garcia was sitting near me in the living room, acoustic guitar in hand, noodling around practicing scales while also deeply engaged in a philosophical discussion. He always said that he hated being seen as some kind of guru, and sure enough, he wasn’t lecturing like some spiritual teacher at an ashram. Rather, he listened as much, if not more than, he talked. As Jerry would have said, with a smile and a giggle if you had asked: It’s just conversation, man!
The dream was more impressionistic than realistic. When I woke up I couldn’t recall most of what people were saying. But, right before I did wake, the conversation in the living room had reached a kind of peak, and Jerry looked directly at me and said:
We’re multidimensional beings!