The Deepening & the Flowering: Retreat 2018
They are all gone.
After a busy morning of breaking down the last of camp—the Privy Tent and the Shower Tent—stashing garbage, washing final cups, after saying goodbyes to the airport crew who will bump down the mesa road in the pickup to load into a van to the airport and fly back into civilization, after goodbyes to the drivers with many hours of road ahead of them, I stop. I feel the stillness. Soon, everyone will be home to proper showers and baths and laundry and clean hair and wifi, eating what they want when they want, feeling things moving and fluttering inside them. It is too soon to assess the retreat, too soon to understand internal motion. I gather myself and move about on my own time, breathing as I scour the fridge, bin up dry goods. Even when everyone helps, hours of post-retreat clean up continue. It is gratifying to see everyone healthier, shinier, sleek and strong by the end. After two long weeks at the helm, I need to lie down and sleep.
The Deepening and the Flowering
In the Sufi lexicon, the terms for the oscillation of spiritual energy are ‘contraction’ and ‘expansion’. For years, I used those words translated from the Arabic as place holders. Curt, dusty, and histrionic like most Christian interpretations of Eastern spiritual traditions, the words were inadequate. They were inaccurate. They were not sensitive to the experience and some day I would find something better. The internal experience of deep meditative flow in retreat is intense but not discouraging. A far delve into the self sets waves in motion. This what I have chosen: The Deepening and the Flowering. Inside the Deepening is the sweetest sweet. Inside the Flowering, an unexpected unfolding.
In retreat’s early days, we open subtle internal channels neuroscience and medicine have not yet mapped. At the apex of retreat, somewhere past the middle but not too close to the end, efforts intensify. We go in, over and over, as far and for as long and with as much attention as we can muster. We are unrelenting. We are dogged. We dance for long stretches. As a sense of infinite energy grows, our devils whine more weakly at the perimeter. We burn off trivia. The familiar entertainments of self look tiny and childish. A wild tornado-like sonorousness roars in our scaffolding. We tremble. We are near to bursting. We weep. But so what? Those feelings are distant slipping sparks. Sprawled on a vast ocean floor in profound sleep, restless exhaustion roams our bones. Everything we do makes our skin feel tight, yet we walk with even steps to wash our hands at the pump and our meditation clothes rest elegantly on us. We have gotten used to one another, but not to this self. We are growing infants in the too-tight womb of self ready to be born. This is the Deepening.
In some moments at last, we breathe untorn. A long narrow footpath through thickets, sometimes steep, sometimes crumbling, sometimes vertiginous, sometimes monotonous has wound us to here and we are glad because we are free, circling Earth, looking in and out from its iron core, north and south, east and west spreading in our blood. Time uncoils. We could stay here forever. We have no qualms and no argument. This is the sweetest sweet, the Deepening.
Later…sometimes days or months later…we begin to flower. We are fresh, rinsed, washed in hard-to-reach spots. The prison door is open, or it is gone, and we can’t remember its suffocating color. For a while, what is true in us is not a muffled murmur but a clear aria singing through our day. This is the Flowering. Eventually, we might live here, and if not quite yet, at least we know it exists and we know how to go there.
The Day After
A delicious taste of autumn threads the breeze. I stand at the south doors of Ravernock’s Barn watching little seed combs of black gamma grasses wave above snake weed clumps conjuring forth bursts of yellow bloom. Tiptops of piñon and juniper dance beneath wispy white veils overspreading the blue. In the Wash Yard, the red pump stands still after two weeks of squeaking up water for campers. I cross the meadow. A fragment of distant rim peeks through a small aperture in the trees. Coming around to Hermit’s Porch, clouds hump above the Sangre de Cristo mountains, as if a sleeper had climbed out of bed leaving a rumpled duvet. I remember that last night a coyote close by—it seemed right outside the window—gave out a long, thin, ghostly howl that sank to a warble then the tiniest, single yip. A moment later came a distant response. The antiphon of wild things.
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