We are hiking at about 9,300 feet in elevation, witnessing the source of a creek that tumbles down the headwall of Big Indian Gorge, a glacially carved valley in Steens Mountain. Near one of the springs, a small fleck of obsidian bounces a glint of sunlight into my eyes. As I reach to pick it up, I immediately recognize it as a ‘worked’ piece. The conchoidal fractures probably came from the point of a deer antler skillfully employed by the hand of an indigenous person. The resulting arrowhead may have provided a meal hundreds of years ago.
This small shard of black volcanic glass could have seemed out of place were it not for the spring waters in the surrounding area. Here at the headwaters of Big Indian Creek there are signs of wildlife coming to drink, making it a good place to hunt. I feel the presence of this place as a source of physical sustenance and spiritual energy. It is the source of water, food, and the intangible blessing of earth spirits. Maybe it is the altitude speaking, but I swear I see the ghostly image of a Paiute hunter stopping for a drink.
The image is none other than my mind’s reflection in the sun. It is part illusion and part awareness of my lost indigenous nature. White privilege often casts a shadow over my natural link to earth wisdom, something I yearn to remember. I suppose it is why I choose both wilderness and meditation. Wilderness, because it reflects the source of uncontrived being, the seamless union of awareness and environment. Meditation, because it helps dissolve the illusory boundary I place between my mind and matter.
That boundary does not actually exist, a truth Buddha discovered in his awakening. He is said to have realized, according the the Heart Sutra, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Buddha then taught us to still the mind and remember the union of form and emptiness, matter and clear awareness. When we contact the source of our original nature, all boundaries are liberated into a sense of interconnection with all life. Here at the source of a creek, I experience the source of my true nature.