This particular universe is very silent. Even though there are 300 of us walking along the gorge in the dark, there are only two sounds. One is the crunching/swishing sound of 600 feet moving through the soft white sand of the dry river bed. The other is the hiss of the wind blowing through the canyon, through the bushes, through our bodies. Both sounds are almost pure white noise, sound composed of a jumble of all frequencies, in the same way that white light is a mixture of all colors. And just as white light can be made to reveal its component colors with filters, so the sounds of the desert night can be filtered with the mind to speak to you in long-dead languages. The wind and the swish of feet tell many stories to those who would listen.
But mainly it is pretty silent here tonight. Three hundred people in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night in the middle of some bizarre Independence Day ritual should theoretically not be so quiet. We walk quietly along the dry river bed, deeper and deeper into the gorge, deeper and deeper into silence. Oh yeah…there is occasionally one other sound in the night, the voice of our fearless leader telling us things that we will all forget by morning.
But his voice seems not so much to disturb the silence as to deepen it. His name is Rama, and the 300 of us following him into silence are his students. As I walk, I find myself thinking of the whole scene as rather ludicrous. I mean, here am I, a seemingly rational being who works with computers all week long, truckin' along in the desert in the middle of the night on the Fourth of July. I left my computer terminal behind, piled into my car with several friends of the same bizarre persuasion as myself, and drove for five hours or so out into the desert. Out to a gorge which is very, very, very old. And mystical. And full of energy tonight. And I'm walking along, following this guy dressed in hiking boots, shorts, and a football jersey with NIRVANA written on the back. Right. I find myself thinking that my parents were always right about me not being all there.
But then the word 'there' reminds me of the aforementioned silent sound of my teacher talking to us earlier in the evening, reminding us to try not to pay attention to any thoughts that are not about what is happening right here and now. And I am instantly transported back out of the disbelieving aspect of my self and back into silent motion, walking through the gorge, paying attention to the sound of feet swishing through sand and the wind playing in my hair. Only now I notice that the moonlight has transformed the scene somewhat, or Rama has shifted the gears of reality or has done whatever was necessary to move us into a quite different gorge. The sky is a different color now. Which color I really have no words for, but believe me, it is different. And the mountains to either side of the gorge are similar, but now instead of the normal silvery moonlight auras they have had all night, their auras seem to be dancing in colors.
But by far the most interesting transformation is that we are no longer walking on the white sand of a dry river bed. There is no doubt about it. The same sounds of wind and feet are there, but the stuff through which we are walking is now a living, surging river of white light. Light is flowing in a stream from some source far up the gorge, and the 300 of us are out for a midnight wade. It is ankle-deep, and tickles as it flows by, and the sound our feet make as we swish through it is the same white noise as the crunching of the sand. But make no mistake about it - we are walking on light.
For some reason that I have difficulty in fathoming, the fact that I have just had a direct perception of a Southern California desert canyon turning into quite a different reality doesn't seem to concern me much. I shrug, hitch up my backpack a little, and focus my gaze and my attention on fearless leader once more, trying to align my stride and my consciousness with his. He is walking in front of us, silence in motion, stillness moving through the night. He is so silent that the wind almost seems to flow through him as if he weren't really there. And tuning into him this way, trying to match my step with his, my thoughts with his non-thought, I merge with that silence myself. The river fades away. The gorge fades away. We continue to walk along in silence. Only silence is.