Today I finished “Drawing Down the Moon“, again. It has been around ten years or so since I first read this book, and I found myself laughing hysterically at some portions of it, and placing it against my chest as I thought silently to myself during other portions of it.
I was ready to come to Iraq and I was prepared to leave my love, Eliza, behind in Oregon. My last night with her I was pretty choked up and emotional. For so long I’ve wanted a love in my life such as hers, and here she was and I was risking my life (and a future with her) to go over to Iraq. All of this I thought of and anticipated.
One thing that I did not anticipate nor plan for was my need for solitude and subjective reflection. I now find myself unable to go anyplace without having to arm myself and be watchful of attack. There is absolutely no place where I can do a nude moonlit circle. I don’t do that many, but there has been occaision in the past, what, twelve years of on and off paganism (I had a stint as an existentialist gnostic beatnik) I’ve had the occaisioinal urge to blur the edge between my Self and Nature around/within me. But here on a patrol base in downtown Baghdad I find it hard to get time alone at all, much less to do any sort of moon gazing in a pagan sort of way.
My daily life is different every day, yet it is the same. I can’t get too specific about what I do. I live in a room with three other guys and many radios on different freqs, and sometimes sleep is hard to come by. I am also, by nature, a solitary person and I like my space. What is more is I like to read and have time to ponder and reflect. I haven’t had as much time to do that as I would like.
Today the mission of the day afforded me nine hours of sitting in one spot. I finished reading my book and had time to reflect, all while drinking a cup of Starbucks coffee that I brewed in the morning (thanks to Eliza for sending it to me).
Standing in the parking area of a bunker I was looking out over a wall. I could not see the buildings beyond the wall (most buildings in Baghdad are two story) but I was looking into the sky. The sky was over a hostile area, generally speaking, but what hadcaught my attention was two flocks of birds. The sky was grey and the sun was to my back, and these birds were the most brilliant of white, at times seeming a shining silver, absolutley stunning with their shining intensity. And I watched these birds, two flocks of them, fly around in circles and up and down, sometimes one flock, sometimes moving into a cylinder formation, breaking in the middle, and becoming two flocks. And as the birds moved around and would turn at just a right angle, they would disappear from sight completely. They were gone, totally and completely gone. They were no more than a hundred meters away and when they turned and blinked out of sight it occured for all the birds in the flock, all twenty-five to fifty of them (whether they were two flocks or one) at the same time. It as as though the birds were all on the same switch for becoming invisible. They would remain invisible for a second or two, until they rounded whatever airborne corner they rounded, and they would blink back into sight, every single bird, in the exact same instant, and they would be the most brilliant and shining of whites as to be almost metallic in color.
I was in awe. I walked through the parking area, humvees and soldiers around me in lounging positions (we were on standby for hours) and past all concerns, forward toward the wall, my gaze captured by the sight before me. I could not look away, it was amazing. The flock of birds contnued their circular flight pattern in the sky, up and down, round and round, brilliant and shining, with occaisonal blinking into invisibility. When they were invisible, they were invisibile, there was no site of them. They blended in so perfectly with the dark sky behind them (pollution and smoke from many fires in the distance, like an amped up L.A. smoggy day) that I could not make out any forms whatsoever. And when I doubted that they were there, they would pop back into view, brilliant and shining, white and metallic, gleaming sunshine back at me.
It wasn’t a moonlit grove of trees in the Cascades, but it was a moment where I was a bit more connected with the Earth than I’ve been in weeks and weeks. There is beauty behind me, there is beauty before me, even here in Baghdad.
Later, while reading and reflecting on ecological and political ideas within the pagan community, and walking in oval shapes while I read, I paused on some dirt and gravel mix and absorbed the words, allowing my mind to debate and answer questions that the reading had posed. Slowly, however, I began to awaken to the fact that I was standing on dirt. Not concrete, though concrete was all around me, but dirt. There were oil stains, paint stains, blood (?) stains, trash, something burnt, water, and other stuff around, but it was still dirt. I moved my foot around the dirt, plowing it, looking down into it. Was there something here? Was I picking up on something dormant within myself?
I looked around and I noticed that there were palm trees on the other side of the high wall. There was a tank gun on the roof of the bunker. I noticed the street lights outside the wall as well. Not just notice them.. but they seemed to make a more definite imprint on that part of my brain that registers three dimensional space. I seemed to sense where I was in relation to everything around me. Not only that but I now felt a balance to my feet, a more surety in my ankles and my step. I believe that Aikido would say that this was the feeling of being grounded, as opposed to just being balanced (you can be balanced but not grounded) and I felt it keenly now.
I had often thought of climbing up on the rooftop of the area that I sleep at and meditate, or simply welcome the moon and sun and stars. Yet I admit that I’ve not done so because I have not been doing it. It may sound strange but I don’t want the joes to think that all of the sudden I turned into a meditating sort of guy, when I haven’t been anything of the sort since I’ve been here. Yet I am a meditative sort of guy, particularly walking meditations in the wild, yet I’ve not had the opportunity. Yet over the past weeks I’ve grown more and more uneasy with myself, with my cognitions, with my mental habits, with my verbage, with my lack of pause. I’ve lost my grounding, my center.
Perhaps this New Moon I will quietly climb upon the roof and invoke the Goddess, thank her for being with me, and thank her for all that I am blessed with, Eliza being in my life, my health, her health are but a few to mention. But perhaps too I’ll begin now, even in this unlikely environment, to approach the Gods on a regular basis in a quiet way, open and honest, to allow myself to hear what they so often have for me. The world is filled with wisdom if I am only able to quiet my mind and cease my frentic activity long enough to notice.