George L. Smith State Park contains a 412-acre lake, a significant portion of which is cypress swamp. There is something about cypress trees; perhaps it is the way they bridge earth, water, and sky in one reaching gesture, their power to transform open water into land through the slow gathering of silt. They are serious, those trees, and ancient, and a little uncanny. There is a Gothic cant to their broad roots, and the wind blowing through makes them shush and creak. Their bark is the same silver-gray as the Spanish moss hanging from their branches; the water stained by their presence is black. In this monochromatic scheme any color stands out: the brown and green of a duck’s feathers as it flies across your path (no doubt on important nesting business), the flash of blue sky mottled with clouds through the branches, the red of a woodpecker’s jaunty peak.
I wound my way thus through watery church, and turned eventually towards more open water. A river cooter sunning on a half-submerged log decided I was far too large and strange to be passing so close, and plonked underwater. Wind whuffed through the cypress and rippled the surface of the lake. The sun emerged from behind a cloud, bathing it all in the joyful warmth and brightness of spring. A feeling of numinous delight for which there is no real name wrapped around me, a kind of ecstasy of presence as feather-light and encompassing as the breeze which set the water all to shimmering. I breathed in this radiance in rhythm with my paddle-strokes, and sent a breath upward toward the shining blue. A heron flew over and out ahead of me. I followed.
We like to speak from time to time of the resemblance of Pagan practice to elements of Buddhism or other esoteric ideas, most especially the practice of mindfulness. But, one might well ask, mindfulness to what purpose? What does this have to do with magic?
Magic has practical goals as well as lofty ones; so does religion. Neither is necessarily more “important.” To be fully present in your own life is a worthwhile and foundational objective, and could take a lifetime to master; yet it is a path leading to a doorway which opens as well onto something else. That “something” is beyond the simply human although it includes us; it is the lived mystery of being.
When we practice presence in the ordinary routines of our lives, we make it possible to embrace fully those wild unlooked-for moments of ecstatic delight that come from outside ourselves like a kiss from our beloved. That numinous power whom we seek is embodied in the world, as we are embodied in it, in cathedral trees and black water, in sun and wind and cloud, in long-legged bird and retreating turtle. She is in the wildness.Tweet