It’s near the end of a busy day, and I’m writing this at sunset on the beach near where I live in Santa Monica…I often come here at this time, to meditate, chant or to just be still and be part of something larger than myself… The sky has just turned this incredible combination of rose and azure blue…a warm breeze is blowing gently in from the desert,and in this moment all is peaceful in my world…

It’s definitely the turn of the seasons here in California…we have seasons at different times than in the rest of the country.  Most of the Summer we have fog and marine layer for at least part of the day, but now after Labor Day the skies clear up, the weather continues to be warm and sunny, the sunsets are spectacular and you can swim in the ocean all the way until the end of October–clearly my favorite time of year!

It’s also the time when kids go back to school and everyone starts back to work after whatever vacation they’ve been able to wrest away from their busy schedules… hoping that their vacation time can sustain them through the hectic months ahead…

This Summer was a busy one for me… I just returned from a month of travel that included four courses, four musical events in different locations and a lot of travel…

What sustained me through it all was the time this Summer I got to spend at home… not home here where I live now  in Santa Monica, but home where I grew up, and where a part of my spirit still abides on a beautiful crystal clear lake in upstate NY.

The lake’s name, Skaneateles, says it all.

In the native Iroquois language, it means the place where the pure water flows…

These days I travel for a living and am never in the same place for very long, but every year, come what may, in July or August, I aim my compass for home… or more exactly to a family cottage ten miles down the lake from the village where I was raised…

Skaneateles is much more than a quaint and scenic town and lake for me and for everyone who lives there…it’s more like its own state of consciousness.

Whenever I bring friends to visit, sooner or later they always remark in some astonishment, “This place is so beautiful…and so peaceful! What is it about this place?”

The village was settled on the north end of the lake right after the Revolutionary war and in some ways hasn’t changed much in appearance in the past 100 years…

My roots here go deep… my grandfather courted my grandmother on a steamer that took excursions up and down the lake almost 100 years ago, and my own immediate family has lived here year round or in the Summer for over 50 years…

My parents always thought that raising us here was one of the greatest gifts that they were able to give us, and although they are no longer around, I still come back every year for rest and to reconnect with myself in a deep way…

Something happens to me in that first moment I hit the water after a long time away… I am not only refreshed and renewed but I am returned to an earlier and simpler way of being.

My childhood in this place was in many ways idyllic…hours every day in the water, swimming, sailing, canoeing, water skiing, or just floating on an inner tube that provided a kind of stillness that inevitably dropped me into myself…

The lake was for me a huge reservoir of silence and peace that nourished and sustained me all through my childhood. It gave me in its own way, a clear glimpse of  something greater than myself at a very early age…

When I got older one of the reasons I learned to meditate was the memory of some of those early times at the lake and wanting to return to that feeling that I knew was still somewhere deep inside me …

Often when I return, it’s for a family reunion with my brother and sister and their families, but this year I had the cottage all to myself, so I invited a couple of friends who were, as it turned out, up for some adventure… we swam, kayaked, water skied, hiked up a waterfall, cooked outrageous meals and at night swam out to a raft and lay there watching the moon rise and counting shooting stars… one of my guests wrote a poem about his experience on that raft:

A boy sits in darkness on a raft alone

Wondering how long he has sat, just watching

Unsure of whether it is still night or now almost morning….

The moonlight, a reflected silver streak lighting up his world

He gazes across the lake

Sensing the air above and water below

Two elements in balance…

Their union changing as small waves come and go…

The wind moves the water

The water leaps up to meet the air

playing off each other…

Air and water …becoming each other…

He stares across the open water

Hearing something he has never heard before…

He hears nothing

amidst the cool stillness of the lake

The boy is afloat, on that bobbing raft, resting easy

Still shivering from his swim,

He holds his knees tight, feeling the lake slowly rocking him close to itself

He peers down into the dark lake

The lake peers back at him

Overseen by moon and stars

A reflection rippling in and out of view

The lake wonders, when will he jump in?

The boy wonders, how did I come to be here?

That’s what the lake seems to do for almost everyone who experiences it… you never leave it in the same place you were in when you arrived…

When I was little I thought a wonderful Being lived in the lake because every time I dove in I emerged happier, more awake and more peaceful than I’d been the minute before.  Evidently others shared my view, because from its early days people claimed its waters had healing powers, and not far from our cottage are the ruins of a sanatorium that included “taking the waters” as part of its treatment.  Today that building is long gone but the lake remains a strong and unchanging touchstone for me… I always leave after a week or so filled up not just with that fresh and alive energy that the lake offers but with a stronger connection to who I really am deep inside…that changeless part of me out of which everything else in my life pours at every moment…

By the end of my stay I am filled up for another year–a year of travel, teaching and staying in other people’s homes… but always with a part of me that remains there close to the lake, always listening for it…

William Butler Yeats had his own lake and his own strong connection to it, and he wrote about that connection in one of my favorite poems, Lake Isle Innisfree

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day… I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore… While standing in the roadway or in the pavement grey, I hear it… in the deep parts core…”

                                       Sunset at Santa Monica Beach

I am grateful tonight on this beach for many things; for the beauty that I live in, and the work that I have that I love to do, for the love of the friends and family that surrounds and nourishes me, but most of all, tonight, for a home that I get to return to year after year, a mirror reminding me, as the years roll by, of a part of me that has never changed.  That waits there for me still…

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