Wang-sensei had posted the above on facebook this morning. And, I think how lately, my dreams seem to loom larger than my waking life.... Like my dream of Saint Francis from last year. It still really lingers. It was one of those kinds of dreams that just stained the entire next day with its mood; one of those dreams that you just cannot shake from your mind.
I was in a beautiful forest that only could have been in Japan around this time of year. I say that because I have never seen quite the same shade of green anywhere else. Of course, I have not been to Ireland, nor have I seen my man Borges' lush green northern forests either. However, I am guessing that even there, I would still think the mossy green color one sees in Japan would stand apart as unique. In a universe where books and reality overlap, Señor Borges is a busy man, but I'll ask him what he thinks about the color green next time he shows up for work in the library.
Anyway, in my dream, I was in a mossy green, malachite color forest. I was all alone and was suffering there from two terrible wounds-- one on each hand. Dead center in the palms of my hands. They were excrutiatingly painful and in my dream, I couldn't stop staring at them in disbelief. They were so perfectly round and looked like burns, but were more like gashes and I realized (in my dream) that they were just like the stigmata wounds you see in paintings of St Francis of Assisi-- perfectly round, in that same place in the middle of the hands. But instead of blood or what was said to be a "heavenly fragrance of perfume" coming from the wounds, my wounds were rotting black with tiny worms crawling in them.
Isn't that awful? It was such disturbing dream, really. For months afterward, I kept repeatedly checking my palms to make sure the wounds were really gone. I could not help but feel the dream was somehow telling me to take my wedding ring off too.
Strangely, too, I was transported in time and space-- back very vividly into my memories of ten magical days I spent a lifetime ago in Saint Francis' town of Assisi (where I had first seen art depicting the stigmata). My companion and I had a lovely room in the center of town. It was in an old house that was reached by walking down a long, narrow alley-- like this. There were flower boxes full of geraniums outside the house. However, it was the inner courtyard garden which was so like a garden that it felt like paradise-- well, if you like geraniums, that is. It was as if geraniums had-- at last-- taken over the earth.
Assisi was one of the last towns we spent time in on a trip which had taken us to a dozen cities: Amman, Delhi, Chadigarh, Srinigar, Leh, Simla, Vienna, Venice, Athens, Florence, Siena, Prague. I think we both just really fell in love with the city. However, for me, more than anything, Assisi overwhelmingly reminded me of Leh, in Ladakh (see, a "shining city upon a hill").
A Medieval City on a hilltop-- instead of up in the breahless heights of the Himalayan plateau-- the town was situated on a gentle hilltop. Still-- like in Leh-- mountains and valleys dominated. Another medieval cobblestone city with stone walls and two castles, countless churches and surrounded by stunning scenery-- more than anything it was the spirituality of Saint Francis which so impressed me. Just like the temple bells and squeeky prayer wheels turning in Leh-- churchbells rang constantly and Saint Francis was as central to life in Assisi as the Dalai Lama was to the Tibetan temples of Leh.
A city upon a hill. From the Gospel of Matthew
"you are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."
And, if we say that Hong Kong is all about money (and falling in love: Hong Kong, bring it on).... then what about places like Assisi or Leh, Lhasa or Varanasi, Mecca-- the ancient pilrimmage cities of the world which exist as tremendous magnets-- drawing people toward them. This was also so of the great Puritan experiment, of course. However, whereas the Puritan project was one of creating, becoming-- a beacon of light projecting into the future, pilgrimage places are somewhat quite different, aren't they?
For while Assisi calls, there is no real "becoming;" as place is inward-looking, preservative, it soothes and calms, nurtures, cultivates since there is no where it is trying to go; nothing it is trying to become. Time faces the past.
My man Borges texted me from his ipod the other night-- en route by boat on a secret mission for the empire; he tells me about the feeling of exhiliration he feels arriving in a new city. He also feels this same way before departing a place he has grown used to as well:
All my senses are on fire and everything I have grown accustomed to seems new again. I can view the world around me, that I am about to depart, as if I had only just arrived. This kind of extended sensory sensitivity continues for several days after my arrival in the new (or, as is often the case, old) place as I try to settle into new circumstances. I feel almost as if this the only time I really see and feel a feeling of belonging to any place, and it is only fleeting as I'm drawn to the next place.
I have all my life felt just like him.
Assisi was different though.
Only in Assisi-- I think it was perhaps the only place I ever felt that I had arrived.
We were only there for ten days-- it seems so short, and until my dream I had practically forgotten it.
It was summer. Hot and dry. We bought several books about the city's prodigal son, and reading in the mornings, we visited all the churches and took long walks along paths that wove through the hillsides. Olive, grapevines, the smell of herbs and wildflowers; Fiery sunsets sinking behind dry oregano hills, the countryside outside the town was surprisingly green and shady. And, the dream brought back the most vivid memory of an octopus salad that we would buy in the market with bread and bring it back to the guesthouse and eat on the patio, reading and chatting. My travel companion had been brought up in part in the Greek Orthodox Church, and the churches in Assisi-- the words of Saint Francis, the art... it all somehow seemed to touch him very deeply as well, and he was surprisingly talkative-- almost as if he too felt he had really arrived somewhere.
Saint Francis. As a young man, he dreams he is in a great castle where he wanders from room to room looking at a large quantity of weapons-- spears, shields; each piece marked with a cross. He whispers, "Am I then to go to war?" And, it is within his dream that he first heard the voice of his lord. Years later, he and his companions, walking in the oregano hills outside town had happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions, "wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds".The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:
My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you... you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore... always seek to praise God.
Saint Francis' sermon to the birds. I wish you could hear the incredibly beautiful birdsong outside my window here in Los Angeles, in Tochigi.