The few days following an intensive retreat—this writing follows my annual Summer Movement Monastery at Ravenrock—is an especially potent passage. Day to day consciousness is returning since I am not longer practicing 6 hours a day with the community. Yet all that has happened inside me during the previous two weeks is unfolding. I remember these periods following Sufi Camp as well.
Aftermath at Ravenrock
I sit on the Porch watching the thronging hummingbirds and, in the far distance, Hermit’s Peak. 7:30 my phone tells me. I could wear my watch as I did during retreat, but it now sits roundly on a high shelf serving as a tiny, barely visible clock while I begin to once again forget time. It is only a few days since everyone left. The sessions are suspended until we next meet. The Barn is empty of bodies yet full of the grace we all spun. In the aftermath, I read Rumi who makes graceful sense. I sit in the field of the One, the Most Subtle—clunky, futile word-gesture toward a condition or entity so ineffable. Today, I am open, at last. I am open to finding myself in the realm of Realms in my practice. I am open to letting my body and being be what they’ve always been—a cloud moved by wind. I have thought all along that I was being open or was open, but this morning I can see what was invisible before. Resistance hung like a cataract over my heart. This is ever the life of a seeker. Uncovering and uncovering until coming to being uncovered. Of the many pieces sticking my resistance together was dislike of the male Christian God. My dislike distracted me from opening to profound, quiet Subtlety. Maybe I was afraid of letting go and being captured and enslaved by Him. He was not my God though I knew somewhere I was being held and moved. This morning after retreat, on the Ravenrock Porch, that fear is gone because I am not in charge of anything. I can only receive. And in the receiving I realize that the God I feared, a personified male thing, will never threaten me. Seeing this is like being light years into the cosmos and looking back at a tiny speck while all stars dance me and dance in me.
I have, all my life, needed to be connected to something beyond. Now, as beloved people and body parts drop away, I am more in need of being accompanied in all things. I am in need of receiving rather than generating my practice, which has been returned to me after repairs to my hips. That sojourn in very different, difficult stillness was an external stillness riddled with internal frustration and pain and worry. That stillness was not the deep peaceful stillness that blossoms in me now. This internal shift is monumental, yet it sounds tiny. This is often the way or words.
I don’t recall with clarity what the months years ago following Sufi Camp felt like. I think the first weeks were filled with joy and fervor and an innocent certainty that I had accomplished something, arriving forever in a new polished place with myself and God. I felt that this place was permanent, like a PhD in spiritual physics with a plaque I could hang on my wall and a reliable body of wisdom within me. Not only did I know everything worth knowing but I was changed as well and would never again forget happiness and communion with the Divine. Yes, I would never forget! I chanted the names of God and felt quite friendly in a vague sort of way, with the chants’ meanings. I nestled into an unformulated yet unsullied divinity. It wasn’t chanting the Sistine Chapel God, or Zeus, or Jesus with his halo standing in for his father God. As I chanted the Sufi chants—a collective of the Divine’s attributes versus a personification—I felt a vibrant, pristine beneficence, a pantheistic ensconcement incomprehensibly in me, around me, there for me. I may not have so reflectively articulated this, but that was the gist. I went away from Sufi Camp light of heart.
The Gift Over and Over
This morning at Ravenrock, I don’t feel that bumptious. Less naive than before my recent tribulations, I’m not certain of blithe certainties, yet this doesn’t distress me. I know that all will end, we will grow frail, we will die. Knowing this in my body, through and through, changes everything. The sure world is slipping beneath my feet. This mountain today is not for me forever. It is here this morning and I am here with it this morning. These hips are strongly built and snuggly stitched inside my muscles, yet their presence is a reminder to savor my mobility which was nearly lost to me. I know an obeisance to temporality. In many moments throughout the day, the memory of my mother’s radiant smile blossoms then flickers away again and again. I feel the arriving and departing in every breath. In this obeisance, I receive peace. I receive now, as never before. Receiving means being given a gift. It is given to me, this life. This changes how I face into my practice and how I turn toward the remembrances of truly who and what I am—a given creature, a temporal creature, a tiny quick bit of a thing—that can be discovered in any breath. I’m not mired in the losing-ness. I am waking into the absolute miracle of receiving. Of each breath a gift. What a gift! Over and over, abundance, awakening, living. Not gone, but here, again and again.
Sunset—exquisite and brief. The sun lowers near the horizon and coats the junipers with thick honey. Yesterday evening, in a purpling sky stretched over the canyon, a rainbow arced high from north to south. In the western sky behind where Ric and I stood, misty clouds filled with ochre and coral, turquoise and rose. The entire firmament’s magnificence astonished and silenced us. Moment-by-moment the vision billowed and vibrated and dimmed, slowly swallowed by bluish glow as the sun dropped away. Twilight settled delicately around and between every darkening form until night’s ink swallowed them and cast stars overhead. The having and letting go. I feel this in my days and my moments being struck still and being moved, being crowned and being deposed, seeing and not seeing. The receiving of all existences and phenomena. The gift of Everything and of Nothing.
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