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A Walk in the Ashram

Realizing the Empathic Self

be always humble

The image above is a signature of sorts. I’ve come to use it on all my stories and articles that pertain to my experiences with a monastic community that refers to itself as the New Order of Shama’an. This is one of those stories.

On my first extended session with Master Uzúl, one who would become a beloved teacher and friend, he started me off on a journey of self-realization, so that I could acknowledge the essentials of empathy and transcendence … and the basics of acceptance and patience, which I learned from a tree.

First Session with Master Uzúl

Some days after I had gone to live at the ashram, one morning after disciplines, I was invited to a walk in the meadows with Master Uzúl, a third generation temple priest. He was a short, wiry man, old enough to stoop over slightly but very animated with his use of a walking stick. He would point with it, tap with it, poke with it, wave it in the air... he could twirl it like a baton, toss it up in the air, and catch it still twirling.

He often used these skills to amuse and impress the younger initiates. There was something worthy of contemplation in the fact that possibly the oldest person in our community was most often in the mentorship of the youngest.

I always wondered of what nationality or race Master Uzúl might be, and I never found out. Of all the questions one might ask a master mystic or about a master mystic, this one seemed the least important.

I was accustomed to taking brisk walks, but now, the old man had taken my arm, pretending to need my support, and thereby having me walk with a more measured stroll. I knew he was pretending, because I had seen this same old man at other times, when he was in a hurry.

As we walked, he spoke softly, casually sharing his thoughts. And he gestured and pointed sprightfully with his walking stick at the subjects of his conversation. “Let me see, today we are looking at the clouds and the trees… listening to the birds and insects and other things around us… smelling the flowers, the earth, the moisture, and the other things around us… feeling the dryness or the moisture in the air with our skin, with our face… and tasting the things that we might observe other creatures eating… with some exceptions of course.” He glanced up at me over his sunglasses and grinned.

I chuckled. I was aware that this was a leading conversation, which I had heard him use with the groups of the younger initiates. There was something in Uzúl’s manner, in his attitude, in his very presence alone, that endeared him to anyone who came in contact with him.

I had become aware, after a few short meetings with him, that he had been wanting to share something with me, and he had just been waiting for the right time. Now, we were walking along a footpath when we came upon a patch of pasque flowers, and there the Master lingered, gazing lovingly upon the sight. “Does this place remind you of anything?” he asked softly.

The Sea of Blue

the sea of blue

I looked at him curiously. “Yes, Master,” I responded, “It reminds me of something that happened to me a long time ago, when I was back home, in Texas. It’s been so long ago now, I hadn’t thought about it for some time.”

“Really? Why don’t you tell me about it,” he said, and he dusted off a boulder and sat.

“Well, as I said, it was in Texas. I was out walking, much as we are now. And I came upon a place very much like this, except it was imbued with bluebonnets.” The memory came flooding back to me then. “I was very moved by the sheer presence of color and the way it moved in the wind, like waves on a lake. There were so many flowers… a whole field of them. And when I lowered my head and held it just right, my entire field of vision was filled with that color… alive in the light! It was just so intense and beautiful.”

He remained silent, gazing upon the delicate beauty before us. When he looked up at me, I continued, “I thought I heard something among them. But I saw nothing. The sound continued. It was very high-pitched, almost inaudible, and it had a metallic or glass-like quality about it… a faint playful tinkling. I focused my hearing on it, trying to see where it was coming from.

“I was imagining a little creature of some sort, someone’s little hamster or kitten, wearing a little bell… but then, it sounded like many little tiny bells, all over the place, down there among the flowers… and then it started sounding like voices.”

I paused and chuckled, “As you well know, Master, I was using drugs back then. I was high on LSD at the time.”

He looked at me, into my eyes, deeply and lovingly. “And are you high on drugs now?” he asked.

“No, of course not.”

“And do you hear the voices now?”

I looked back into his eyes in sheer wonder. What was he asking? For a brief moment, I saw a reflection of myself in their luster. And then I found a glint of white light in his pupils. It was like a tiny flake of something aloft in a little chamber of darkness. And as it moved forward, it began to look more like a scarf floating, unfurling… dancing…

“Yes, Master. They are chanting.”

He closed his eyes. “Aah. In English?”

I listened. “I can’t tell. It is so very faint… wait.” I drew back in disbelief. What I thought had been the sound in the flowers getting louder was actually Master Uzúl softly humming along. He opened his eyes widely and smiled at me, a smile so open and real, it seemed to reach out and touch me like a cool refreshing breeze.

“What a wonderful gift!” he exclaimed. And then, he asked me to sit and listen to the flowers while he ‘rambled on.’

The Empathic Embrace

the empathic embrace

He paced around in small steps and tapped and poked at the earth with his stick as he spoke. “The empath is one who feels what others feel, be it physical or emotional, be it pleasurable or painful, be it human, animal, or plant. One is born an empath but may not realize it for a very long time… perhaps never in one’s life, unless one is told.

“Most living things, other than man, are empathic. And there are many creatures who share symbio-empathic relationships with the plants they depend upon.

“The empathic disposition among the pack animals is to feel what the others feel. If one is injured, all the others sense it. Some will inspect the wound more closely, and others still will attempt to treat it. The feelings in one radiate outward, and those on the perimeter sense the mood of those in the inner circles.

“When there is a joyous occasion, like the birth of babies or a fresh supply of food, the emotional stream can become so compelling so as to cause some creatures to howl and dance… and different creatures howl and dance in different ways.

“A pack of wolves up the mountain can howl and dance up a celebration into the night. A lone coyote twenty miles away might hear the howling and sense the merriment in the ether. And even though he and the wolves are enemies, he will share in the howling, sensing only a wave of happiness among his own kind.

“When animals appear to sense the approach of a storm or some other environmental change, there is empathic communication that occurs between the different spirits of the natural world. Humans are not necessarily excluded from these discourses… most humans just choose to remain ignorant and aloof about them.

“The unaware human empath feels and senses all the random emotions, moods, and attitudes that radiate from all directions at any given time—fatigue and discontentment, joy and invigoration, panic, fear, jubilation. An empath senses the terror of animals in a forest fire miles away and can be overwhelmed by the horror and despair felt by the masses during a global catastrophe.

“The unaware human empath will often suffer the pains of others without understanding what is going on. There are many, many people who are diagnosed with depression, because they bear the emotional feelings and the physical sensations of others without knowing. One simply assumes that one is ill, because one suffers unexplainable pain or grief… or one is deemed perhaps maniacal or unsound because he or she is acting unexplainably giddy.

“You are understanding what I am saying, because you have experienced it.

“The empathic waves of a tree are low-toned, like the sounds of an elephant, which we cannot ‘hear’. Smaller plants have higher pitched empathic vibrations, like dog whistles, which we also cannot ‘hear’. You hear it, but it is not with your ears. There was a time when plants existed more in harmony with humans. Now, sadly, very few humans are attuned to those vibrations.

“Plants know their place. The spirit of the flora is 'one.' We identify and label them in the millions, but all the plants of the world are connected… and they share one consciousness. The mother spirit of the planet knows the one spirit of the flora—the ultimate model of humility and sacrifice, perpetually displaying and offering its best, with grace and beauty besides. The spirit of the flora gladdens our senses with visual affinity, with delicate smells, with delightful tastes. And the green spirit does not die… it just continues to shed of itself for the sake of the mother.

“A dog can sense the emotions or attitudes in people, and it is not unusual for people to sense feelings in their pets. But it is very, very unusual for the spirit of the flora to seek communion with humans. This is because it knows the qualities in humans, like greed and possessiveness, like cruelty and apathy. And it can sense perversion, and gluttony, wastefulness, and ignorance, as it all relates to nature.

“These are qualities that are not detected in animals, and they are qualities that bring fear to the plants. In the world of plants, the worst things that can be are waste and undue destruction. It is not a matter of right-and-wrong or transgression of some sort. It is simply a matter of what is taken from them, only to be wasted. 

"Imagine, for example, if someone stole food from someone else, and then instead of eating it, they threw it on the floor and trampled all over it. You see, one is a wrong, but the other… what is that?

"For plants, any plants, to reveal their consciousness to a human suggests that the person is endowed with their trust.”


the tree of transcendence

Master Uzúl stood there for a moment, leaning on his cane and staring down at the ground, lost in thought. And then he turned to me, saying, “You were born empathic. Knowing this now, you will seek to understand things from your troubled past. All those times of illness and melancholy, you will now begin to rethink and understand more clearly.

"It is your gift, and it is your curse. And knowing this now, you will learn to recognize it and realize it as another aspect of yourself.”

“Yes, Master.”

“I’m not done!” He turned away to look over the flowers, and I smiled to myself. Turning to me again, he continued, “You thought we brought you here to learn from us, and so we did. But we did not realize that there was more to you… more than an empath.

“You have seen Mescalito?” He wasn’t looking at me, but I nodded. “And you found him to be friendly?” I nodded again. He turned back to me, with a smile on his face. “Mescalito is an aspect of the spirit of the flora, rather mischievous but very beautiful.”

(Mescalito is the perceived individualized spirit of the peyote cactus, which is used by certain tribes of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. The character of a man was often determined by whether or not Mescalito liked him, which was in turn determined by the outcome of his hallucinogenic journey.)

I had to ask, “You have seen Mescalito, Master?”

“Of course! But I did not have to eat any cactus to see him. Anyway, the spirit of the flora appears to have found favor in you. It seeks communion with you. You’ve come here to learn from them… as well as from us.”

He swept his hand, so as to indicate the flowers before us. Then, he pointed to a large tree directly across the flower patch, perhaps fifty yards away. “I recommend that you spend some time with that old fellow over there. It’s been there a long, long time. And you will have to find a way over there that does not involve disturbing these flowers.”

I looked across the patch of flowers and glanced from side to side, and suddenly, I was seeing it in a very different way. On the left, the flowers appeared to reach into a thicket of brambles, and they grew up against and into the fissures of some rocks that stretched 40 to 50 feet upwards. On the right, there were no brambles, but the flowers touched up against more large rocks that formed high steep walls. I could see that I would have to do some difficult rock climbing, in order not to disturb them. On either side, it looked like the climb would lead away from the target, which was the tree, on the other side. I took in a deep breath, smiled to myself again, and nodded, “Yes, Master.”

He beamed at me stoically, sensing my unease with this undertaking. “You already know that spiritual entities come in their own time and can manifest themselves in many ways. The spirit of the flora has found trust in you. Now, you will seek to find that same trust in the spirit of the flora. You must recognize and realize this trust, because an important truth will be revealed to you. And you may not like what you will learn.”

He swept his hand over the flowers again, “Tomorrow, you will begin to learn to transcend.

“For now, you may remain here and listen to the flowers. You should appreciate that little song they are chanting… they are chanting it just for you.” He had a glint in his eyes and he let out a little chuckle, as he turned and walked away.

“Thank you, Master.” I closed my eyes and listened, and found myself distracted, trying to absorb everything he had just told me.

It was less than a minute, his voice sounded about 30 yards away, projected and irritated, “You there! You little varmint! You need to stay out of the garden! We have plans to relocate you! Come back here, you furry little…”

I did not look to see what had gotten Master Uzúl so excited. It was not uncommon. I allowed myself a smile, but I was listening to the chant, trying to remember it, to learn it. I would come to know in time that it was a chant intoned for Ganesha (aka the elephant god) during a time known as Chaturthi.

In the weeks that followed, I came to learn a new way to meditate, in the company of an old oak tree, sometimes in its shade and sometimes in its branches. I shared with it what it takes for a human to be still, and it shared with me what it takes for a tree to acquire tolerance, and forgiveness, and patience.

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