The Peaceable Kingdom, Part II: The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

Morning at Grace: the first bird sings at 6:15, just before sunrise, and the Hundred-Acre Wood behind the house rouses itself on this October morning. I am privileged to live alone in the ashram, and I feel the responsibility of my awakeness. I am awake with the bird. I feel the bird’s song inside my chest. The house was quiet and the world was calm.

In writing, there’s a literary term called the pathetic fallacy: the perception that the natural world reflects what is inside a character’s head or heart. Suspicion falls heavily on this device in the literary world. For instance, how could the clouds know what is in my heart? Mishandled, personification can feel false and contrived. But in life, it is something different for me. Yoga offers a larger understanding of the relationship between an organism and its environment. An organism does not exist without its environment; nor does the environment exist without the organism. For me, the world is always reflecting what is going on inside me, because I am part of the world. And the world is always vibrating inside or through me, because I am inseparable from it. This morning, the bird and I achieved yoga through vibration and awareness. I became the song; the song was me.

I am as responsible to the world as the world has been responsible to me.

We ate all sorts of flowers this summer, mostly from plants in the Grace garden. We discovered the variety of taste among the different colored nasturtiums. We ate fennel flowers and basil flowers and dill flowers and squash blossoms and lavender. We drank from pods of milkweed. Why? I want more than anything to become a vessel of innocence, of non-harm. I want to sweeten the cells of this body so I may become receptive and clear. I would like to become the flower; the flower to become me.

And what about the smell of a lotus? A rose? A lilac? What happens when we smell a flower? Everything that enters the body through the nose – atomized essential oils, oxygen, creams, inhalants – has the potential to permeate every cell in the body. Nicole suggested we purchase an atomizer for the sanctuary; now each morning lavender wafts through the practice space. The skin, too, is porous. Imagine a beautiful, diaphanous cloth hanging on the laundry line in a light breeze, sunlight splaying through it. Imagine you could breathe through your skin the way the breeze passes through that pure white cloth, bleached by Mother Sun. Imagine the cloth picking up the scent of the roses nearby, or the powerful and fragrant smoke from the applewood ablaze in the brazier.

What does all this mean?

I am not this body, I am not this mind. The mind and body are a container for Awareness. The body is a container for the “real” me – the Soul. The mind and body, then, become a beautiful means by which to ruminate on container. We have the skin, the breathable, porous skin; we have the superficial fascia – like another set of skin; we have the muscles, containing blood and wrapping bones; and the bones, containing marrow; and the marrow, containing blood cells…. We have the ribs, containing the lungs and heart; the lungs, containing mostly blood but also air, from outside the system; the skull, containing the brain; the brain, containing ribbons of memories of days lived inside this body, filled with lovers and vengeance and beauty and grief; we have the abdomen, containing bags of highly calibrated organs; organs, containing ducts and valves and food and waste….. It seems there is no end to the nesting of bags inside this body. How far inside the body does the world penetrate? How far inside the mind does the world penetrate? How far into the environment do my body and mind penetrate?


In the night, in the Hundred-Acre Wood, an owl hoo-hoos. I am halfway through the mala beads in my hand. My mother clasped these pearls around my neck when I turned 16. She was sick with cancer, and even in the moment I understood the bequeathing. Her own father had given them to her on her 16th birthday. The moment between us remains poignant and deep. When I began a mala practice two decades later, I counted 107 teeny pearls on her necklace and these became my first practice beads.

Now with the window open, I turn my devotional heart to the bird. I hoo-hoo in return. We keep it up together, the owl and I, and I test to be sure I’m the one he’s conversing with. I don’t know why this thrills me. I feel him in my chest, and I try to get the sound and rhythm right, so as not to disappoint him or send him away. He recognizes me as someone to respond to; if not a friend, at least I pose no risk. He meets my every vibration, each syllable. Oh, to be met by a wild one in the wood! To know he feels me through his feathers and skin the way I feel him now! The sound burrows inside this body, spreading a rich balm to every cell. Another kind of mantra, purifying, elating: Hoo-hoo.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
Wallace Stevens

Judy McClain