I am in the Sonoran desert, standing beside a 30~foot saguaro. Its accordion~like skin, plumped a bit from recent rains, is gouged by age and desert woodpeckers looking for a safe place to raise their young. Nine arms rise from the solid trunk and are silhouetted against a clear, deep blue sky. As saguaros tend not to sprout such appendages until after their seventieth year, this cactus is an old soul indeed.
Without branches to sway in the light breeze, it stands absolutely still. This stillness, though, seems more than a simple lack of movement. It also does not seem confined to this one cactus. Stillness is woven through this place.
An informational plaque at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument says this about the desert: “The plants and animals here are almost always waiting. They wait for rain, wait for night, wait for transportation, wait for spring.” This is what I sense, an almost palpable sense of waiting. Time flows at a different speed here, slowed down, elongated. In comparison, my own movements seem frenzied, wasteful, silly.
The path we’re hiking has taken us to ridgeline. But for the occasional birdcall, all is quiet. I want to drink it in. I want to slow. I find a flat rock beneath a lovely palo verde tree~~ named for the distinctive greenish tinge of its bark~~and I sit.
My gaze travels down a hillside filled with the reaching arms of a community of saguaro and their organ pipe cousins. While prickly pear and barrel cactus have been in bloom since we arrived, the flashy, crimson flowers of the spiky ocotillo are new. Before the rain, this cactus seemed more a bundle of dead sticks than a living thing, biding its time.
I close my eyes. Though my breathing slows, this patient ever~waiting desert highlights the busyness of my mind. As if on cue, a memory more than 50 years old rises up.
I am holding Cindy, my younger brother’s hamster. She vibrates with energy, whiskers quivering, pink nose ceaselessly sniffing the air. I feel the wild racing of her tiny hamster heart beneath the soft, golden fur of her chest. Even when held securely in my hands, she is always searching, always busy, seldom at rest.
My awareness returns again to the desert. Held within this arid landscape, this place of waiting stillness, I am Cindy, heart beating rapidly, searching and sniffing endlessly. The image makes me smile.
We are each being held. Some feel themselves held by the hands of God. For others, the present moment~~this exquisitely unique one, right here and now~~does the holding. But held we are.
We can settle back into that holding, relax into it…as I do now amid the saguaro and organ pipe, the ocotillo and prickly pear. For this moment at least, my inner movements match my outer ones. I am still.
Knowing myself held, I let go into that holding. And it is good.