Before our annual weeklong retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Ranch, I spent a week of personal retreat in the tiny octagonal Hermitage nestled nearby in the Carson National Forest. It’s simple and rustic (has its own little outhouse, no running water or electricity) with big windows overlooking the daisy-filled meadow and Ponderosa pines above the Vallecitos river.
When I first moved to LA, I lamented the light night skies and wondered, why are “Star Maps” sold in a city where nighttime isn’t dark enough for us to see many stars, let alone whole constellations? Each year I forget how beautiful the night sky looks with no electric light anywhere within miles. The Milky Way is a path of glowing moondust strewn across the sparkling velvety night sky among countless shining stars, planets, galaxies. From time to time, I catch sight of a star falling silently through the universe, a sudden streak of light through deep black space, born then vanishing, flashing into existence — just like us.
It takes a couple days to overcome my ancient fear of the outdoors at night. As I fall asleep, I practice lovingkindness. After just three days alone in the tiny cabin, the darkness becomes a mysterious friend, welcoming a time of deepening stillness and rest. How quickly our minds change!
In the “Finger-snap Sutra,” the Buddha says, “I see no single thing that is so quick to change as the mind…” And he assures us that even for a moment of a finger-snap, we associate with, cultivate, and pay attention to a thought of friendliness, warmth and love (metta), our meditation is not in vain. How much more so if we do it often.
Lovingkindness, metta, is an antidote to the fears we carry — fear of night, of the unknown, of flashing out of existence. When we’re sitting in the dark night of our loneliness or sorrow, metta can be a guiding star to the vast mystery of our inner night sky.
Since our minds and hearts are “quick to change,” with a snap of a finger, moment by moment, wherever we are, we can practice mindfulness and metta, training our hearts to turn towards loving awareness.
Image Credit: T. Goodman