September 25, 2013
This is a very personal entry. I know not everyone will “get” it. As alluded to in the title, this is my form of processing a retreat at Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry.
You can read about the Center and founder, Toni Packer, here: http://springwatercenter.org/ It is helpful to read a little here to understand the origins of Springwater and who Toni was.
Springwater Center is nestled in the rolling hills of the Genesee Valley in New York state. It is located on 200 acres of beautiful land that acts like a buffer not only from the active, busy world of our life, but from the noise…..even internal noise. The retreat is a silent one. The majority of the day is spent in silence and focused on awareness…being present. There is often a short “talk” in the morning and an hour group meeting where talking is permitted. The rest of the day is silent. In the spirit of being aware and present in the moment, there is no writing, reading, listening to music, computing, drawing or painting except in the privacy of your own room. Even that possibility to gently challenged. “What would it be like for you if you chose not to do those things?”
There is a short work time in the morning to prepare food for the day, help with basic housekeeping jobs, but that’s it. Then there is the silence. There are “sitting” times, meditation, if you want to participate. There is no “teaching” of how to sit or meditate.
This was my second visit to Springwater. On my first visit I felt a little lost, struggled a little to figure out what the place was about.
This visit was profoundly different. And here is where this post may become murky for others. This is a reflection of MY experience. Something that happened to me, inside of me, through me, with me.
During one of the talks, Richard Witteman (http://springwatercenter.org/teachers/witteman/) said two things that literally sprang into my brain and attached themselves there. The first was a quote by Toni: “The less you know, the more fresh things become.” Ahhhhhh!!!
The second item affected me in a very profound way, and I know out of context it will sound unusual, maybe upsetting, or even confusing……but for me it was as if a door opened. I became so full of the words I don’t know if this was a quote from Toni, or from Richard, or from someone else. And it doesn’t matter. It was:
“Not knowing is okay.”
Nothing about “what” we don’t know, but that NOT knowing is okay. It’s ok.
“Knowing” is something that is so important for so many of us. Knowing tomorrow will come. Knowing the alarm will go off so we can get up in the morning. Knowing we have our trip planned, reservations made. Knowing the doctor said we are OK. Knowing our parents loved us. Knowing we have money or a car that works. Knowing we have friends. Knowing we are liked or respected by others. Knowing we can have fun. Knowing what’s coming next. Knowing we experience pain. Knowing we experience joy. Knowing provides comfort, certainty. Knowing takes away the “what ifs”. Knowing. Knowing, knowing……knowing……
But now, NOT KNOWING IS OKAY. I felt a tether break away. I felt euphoric. I floated off my chair. Fear, anxiety, control, worry, anticipation, doubt, confusion….it all melted.
I know that sounds crazy, but I am going to let that story rest now.
The next experience came forth as a result of different thoughts, ideas, observations coming together.
Each day as I sat for meditation I looked out of four tall windows. Usually I had my eyes closed and the view was irrelevant. But when my eyes were open I was aware of the view. The grass, the trees, the clouds, the deer, the wind. I noticed how the windows framed my view. The windows highlighted beautiful aspects of the outdoors. But the windows, and the walls that held them, also obstructed the whole view. There were parts of the scene I was not aware of. I became mindful that when the windows were open I could sense more of the outdoors…I could hear the bird song more clearly. I could smell the freshness of the air. I could feel the coolness of the air or the light touch of the wind.
The sunlight would fall across the floor creating shadows…shadows of real things that no longer held their real shapes or image. The images were blurred or stretched. The image created hinted at what was there, but it was softer, less defined.
At night the windows turned dark. The beautiful lights hanging from the ceiling glowed softly. They were reflected in the window. But the reflection was distorted. For every one actual light, there were three reflected in the window.
I got to thinking….inside anywhere, looking out through any window I experience a sense of comfort and security. I know that here inside I am sheltered from the weather. I know what the things around me are for: a couch for sitting on, a stove to cook on, a bed were I can sleep. I know what is in the next room. I know where things are. I know.
I can look out the window and “see”. But the view is incomplete. The view is chopped up. Parts of the outside are hidden from view. The sensation of the aliveness of the outside is filtered through the window, the screen. Sometimes something is reflected, but even the reflection is a distortion.
For me this was a moment of awareness, of being present. I knew that until I opened the (metaphoric) door next to the window (in my life), and stepped OUT (into reality?) I could never experience life fully. I would always be living a life looking out and not a life EXPERIENCING fully. And in stepping out of the door I had to trust that it is okay to not know what is around the bend in the path, over the hill, across the stream, up in the sky, under the water. It was and had to be OK not to know. Because, in the false comfort of believing we “know”, we “believe” we have control. And we don’t really. We have no more control over the events of our day, our emotional responses to others, or other people reactions to us, than we do to controlling the weather. We may think we do, but we don’t. That is scary. And freeing.
Finally, Richard also read something attributed to Buddha: “Seeking but not finding the house builder, I traveled through the round of countless births. Oh, painful is birth ever and again! House builder you have now been seen. You shall not build the house again. Your rafters have been broken down; your ridge-pole is demolished too. My mind has now attained the unformed nibbana and reached the end of every kind of craving.” (Dh. 153-54.)
I felt as if my (limited!) “understanding” and being able to open the door and walk out was my “house” being broken down…the rafters falling. Oh, I know this only the beginning of some sort of journey and I will most likely get lost along the way. Hopefully though I will be okay with the not knowing what comes next.
Thank you for reading this experience of mine. I’d love to hear from you.
September 1, 2013
I read an article ( http://zencomprehensible.com/zen-on-the-yellow-brick-road/ ) about “the Yellow Brick Road” from The Wizard of Oz. It doesn’t take much for my mind to go off on a tangent. This time however, I don’t think I have strayed too far.
Many of us remember The Wizard of Oz with joy or with a pinch of uneasiness. Those Flying Monkeys have haunted some of us for quite a while. They personified a kind of fear. Watch out or the flying monkey will get you!!
The Wizard of Oz is chalk full of imagery, symbolism, meaning. The author L.Frank Baum was a Theosophist.( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophy ) Theosophical symbolism is everywhere in this story.
So here are my thoughts.
The first article reminds us we are all on a road of some kind. When we are walking towards our fears and uncertainties we always come upon obstacles, road blocks. Along the way we pick up things that provide us support–things or people who encourage us to keep going, to not give up. Sometimes we have to face, head on, our deepest fears to get to the truth behind the curtain. And the truth that is ultimately always within us. Glinda tells Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to go home.” Sometimes we just aren’t aware of, or don’t trust in what is right in front of us.
Does Kansas represent for Dorothy, for us, our physical world as it is right now? The place where we are materially and spiritually? One day Dorothy sings:“Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Where troubles melt like lemon drops,”
Is she searching for something? Is she ready to begin a spiritual journey?
Then, WHAM! Something drastic happens, a tornado of twirling energy (karma?), flashing bits of her life in front of her. This twisting, powerful force that lurches Dorothy forward—–distancing her from all that is familiar, comforting, predictable. She finds herself looking around in wonder at a new and breath-taking world and while exhaling announces “Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore.”
Remember the slippers? Originally the Ruby Red Slippers were supposed to be silver. In some schools of thought, the idea of a “silver thread” represents the connection between the physical and the spiritual. The shoes were changed to red because they showed up better on the film.
Once Dorothy has the magic shoes she is led to the Yellow Brick Road. In Buddhism, the road to Enlightenment is call the “Golden Path”. And how does the yellow Brick Road begin? In a spiral, yet another symbol of the evolving self. Aren’t there times when we feel we are caught in a spiral of some kind: “Spiraling out of control”, “caught in a downward spiral”, “spiraling upwards”?
On her journey Dorothy encounters soon to be friends and companions who are seeking “a brain”/wisdom, “courage”, “a heart”/purity/love. All the qualities for a successful spiritual awakening. Who else does Dorothy talk to? Toto. Toto is Dorothy’s inner voice, the one who sees things for who and what they really are (thinking ahead to pulling back the curtain and revealing “Oz” for what he really is.)
Surmounting obstacles and challenges, Dorothy makes it to Oz. The Great and Powerful Oz may represent our spiritual/religious beliefs. The authority that tells us how to be “worthy”. She is given a “task”, get the broom stick from the Wicked Witch of the East. This accomplished Dorothy now returns to claim her rewards: to return home for herself, a brain for the Scarecrow, courage for the Lion and a heart for the Tin Man. Sadly, she learns the “Great and Powerful Oz” is not so great or so powerful. (What does this say about organized religion?) The Wizard, now a professor, bestows wisdom, courage and love/purity to Dorothy’s three companions while revealing they always possessed the traits and had only to believe in them. For Dorothy, getting home would require trusting Oz, now a mere man, and embarking on the trip home in “a hot air” balloon. At the last minute, Toto, her intuitive self, runs away forcing Dorothy to follow. She misses the launch and is left behind. Glinda swoops in and lovingly tells Dorothy she herself has the power to go home, and she has always had it. All she needs to do is close her eyes and say the magic words.
Back in Kansas, Dorothy has a hard time getting her loved ones to believe she was really in another “place”, but now, seemingly more at peace with herself, and perhaps better balanced between the physical and spiritual, she is comforted by understanding “the is no place like home”
We are all on a journey of some kind. For some of us it is a journey of healing or forgiving. For other it is spiritual. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences. We all have different names for what we are searching for. Whether we know it or not, we are all on The Yellow Brick Road. In some way or another we want to know what is behind the curtain. To face and overcome our fears. To know what is the truth/real. And for many of us we will come to see that we already possess great strength and wisdom in ourselves. We only have to come to this understanding.