I love this quote by Rumi – “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there” --- I am always interested in places of commonality. When I was asked to attend the “Hands Head Heart” retreat in Banyan Grove
recently on “Being with the Other” – I thought, is “other” the right side or the wrong? And, how does the field in between hold the “others?” Is it a mutually agreed up space? Is it one that is built over time as in a bridge? I am not sure but I am interested in the questions and especially happy to be invited to this particular exploration.
Saying YES to the invite was an easy decision. Of course truth be told, I am pretty much unable to say NO to any requests of Audrey
or any of his family for that matter. When someone gives so lovingly and unconditionally as they do, it is a privilege and joy to be able to give back somehow. I have never regretted saying yes to any of them. Still, even though I have been to quite a few retreats in the past, I can’t help but feel a little nervous. Voices in my head telling me I don’t belong, another saying I do. I am the field and the “others” are within.
I take a deep breath and quiet the voices while making an agreement with myself to trust that I am enough and have nothing to prove. Easier said than done sometimes. Well, as luck would have it, I was asked if I might drive a visiting friend to the retreat - Meghna
, the kind of person so full with love humility compassion, one can’t help but feel “enough.” With her, my nerves eased and my heart beat steadied; an hour ½ drive with her felt like half that and my worries went away. Getting to drive her to the retreat was such a gift.
Beyond the gift of the drive, Chris and I open the first vocal activity of the retreat – a circle of sharing with the question around meaningful experiences with an “other.” Chris was actually one of the first people I met when I first started coming to the Wednesday Awakin circle
in Santa Clara about 7 years ago so I was happy to know that he and I would be partnering. We spoke on the phone to start and then spent time talking out our thoughts in person Saturday evening prior to the retreat. What a joy it was to prepare with him. He has a brilliant and thoughtful mind and there was no ego in our conversations only a curiosity and deep listening – it felt we could stay in the question for days; so much around our definitions of “other” and so many ways to approach it. It was exciting to think of all the different perspectives that would come from others.
Meghna and I drove in together a day early to help with preparations for the Sunday day retreat. She has been hosting Awakin Circles
as well as volunteering with Moved By Love retreats in Ahmedabad
for years and years tirelessly and with deep joy. When we got to Banyan Grove, others including Chris, were already there preparing. Meghna immediately got to work knowing intuitively what needed to be done. With so many competent hands already busy, I found myself standing at the edge of a counter and asking questions – the room was filled with laughter and listening. It was such a treat to have everyone share so openly and honestly stories from their hearts. Great preparation for the day to come.
Sunday morning, I woke about 7:00am. Early for me and yet, most of the others had been up by 6 or earlier! Manju and Ashima
made the chai; while Hiromi
and Maho prepared a fancy breakfast and prepped for an even fancier lunch. The air smelled of love, home-baked with touches of joy.
Heading into the Zendo, cushions were waiting topped with sweet hand painted notebooks and a pen to help fill the pages throughout the day. We each came in quietly, sat down and closed our eyes. I love the peace of this time but often struggle to calm my mind. Some days are better than others of course. In this space, with good intention, it wasn’t long before a sort of quiet came. And, then, before I knew it, a soft gong permeated the space. I wait for the last ripple of sound wave to fade before bringing my hands together in gratitude and a bow- for the space, the peace, the people. When I open my eyes, it is as always a slow refocus – in this case, first I see shapes and then the beautiful faces of those I will get to spend the day with – I did not know who would be coming beforehand, I only knew that whoever was here was welcome. And, that it would be a good day. Self-fulfilling prophecy. The good kind.
A musical prayer entered into the room courtesy of our accomplished Anand, somehow knowing exactly when to turn the volume up or down and what music sound or video to play. I know there is preparation but I like sometimes to think with my 4-year old mind where everything is mystery and magic.
Audrey began the morning with a kind welcome that included a favorite parable
about 5 blind men meeting an elephant for the first time, each holding on to a different part of the majestic creature – so many stories as to what an elephant is, so many different perspectives … it was the perfect analogy for a circle of sharing. She then passed the mic to me. Often when I am handed a mic, I have a slight worry that I may not find the words I need but something was different today – there was no need to prove anything, we were having a conversation with friends, some newer than others but friends all the same. I shared that my partner John had left the day before for the 41st annual California American Indian Movement Spiritual Marathon Relay run
and that Monday, the team would start the day off running together in silence. They begin and end with the saying “aho mitakuye oyasin
,” which is a phrase from the Lakota peoples basically meaning, “We are all Related
” and it includes not only the 2-legged but the 4-legged, the creepy crawlers, the winged creatures, the finned ones, all life basically. And, here we ALL were sharing space and time. And, this particular configuration most likely will never be recreated again. Amazing when you think about it.
Next, Chris offered context and frame of reference to help the circle move through the question of other. He spoke of distinct and concrete as a way of wholeness and fragmentation/separation as otherness. Ashima
offered a most vulnerable true story that led to a sort of healing. Such a powerful opening that seemed to empower others to share as vulnerably - authentic and brave. Now, as the stories of other within AND outside of us came so did inquiry….including, how do we meet
the other? Of course, this led perfectly into the topic of “building bridges” …
, led the way for our lunch conversations to come by sharing some of the challenges and successes in bridge building they experienced in their work lives. I was taken by the joy and grace of both these women – one closer to the beginning of her career and the other, on the other end of hers – both unstoppable and driven by something bigger then themselves. I was surprised when Marit spoke of bridges being built as well as breaking bridges. But this is reality, isn’t it? Sometimes a bridge isn’t strong enough for the weight to come; perhaps a new improved bridge would replace those broken. We learn as we go. Nirupa spoke of the process of building bridges. I was struck by the fact that often “building” started with listening, building a relationship was first priority, coming in without ideas of the whats or the when, allowing the process to unfold towards connection where other meets other and then there is one – no rushing of course. Nature’s way is slow to medium; it is the pace of wisdom.
We ended our morning session with a video of the Living Bridges of Meghalaya
– I looked up Meghalaya and found it was a state in northeastern India and that the name means "the abode of clouds" in Sanskrit. I like the image of bridges in the sky. I have heard and use the saying, we are the bridge between heaven and earth – a vertical bridge that allows us to create horizontal bridge ways. It was such a beautiful video – one that I had seen years ago and was so happy to see again. It was good to be reminded of what can be accomplished when there is a bigger picture vision, when we go beyond our own needs and think of others too – so much “me me me” and instant gratification in this society and here was a tribe who have been creating these living bridges for 300 years, each individual doing his/her part and yet the fruits of their labor, they will never see – what a powerful way to live.
After a collective sigh for what we had just witnessed from the video and each other over the morning, we headed to the main house where Hiromi and Maho had prepared a most spectacular lunch for us…organic thoughtful alive foods, flavors that were steeped in love…nuanced flavors that didn’t compete but complimented one another, from the fresh young corn soup that took me back to a midsummer in Iowa to the berry cake that was so light and fresh I wondered when they had the chance to hand pick the berries.
Once we got our dishes, we sat together for lunch and conversation around the topic of bridge building. Some sat together on the porch, another group on the couches and two groups of us outside at the tables. I was asked to help facilitate one of the groups and felt a lovely sense of ease around this “responsibility” – it wasn’t about me, it was a collaboration in fact. Many hands make for easy work. I sat outside with a group of all women – not purposely just ended up that way. So many beautiful shares, deep listening and respect for the other. Looking around, I saw faces engaged and people leaning in – bridges emerging before my eyes – a beautiful sight. I loved the group I was in but I have a feeling I would have felt comfortable in any of the groups. Collectively, we had begun our time together that morning in soft silence and then shared with trust from our hearts where we were met with kind ears and deep listening; so, it is no wonder we would enter these other spaces with authenticity and respect for each other.
Next we were to work with our hands – Some of us chose to wash dishes, others chose to sweep or pull weeds and even others had the opportunity to write to someone. One woman wrote to her parents a letter saying things she had never said before. I walked around in a circle before choosing an activity; Seeing dishes at the sink and no one yet there, kitchen duty aka washing dishes seemed most suited for me in that moment. We all worked with our hands in silence like a beautiful dance of sorts, our movements making up the music – everyone involved somehow. Nipun and I became a washing rinsing team – he allowing me to make up the rules of washing as if he was new to the fun, though I know it isn’t his first time at the rodeo. Vijay dried the dishes in such a humble light way, it was as if he was floating, blessing us from the ground and above.
When we were finished with our work that felt more like play, we came together in circle and collectively honored each individual including and especially our volunteer chefs Hiromi and Maho – who created for us the most beautiful dishes that they would not be eating. Like the bridge builders of Meghalaya, their offering was not for themselves but for others, some of us they had only met for the first time on this day.
Back in the Zendo, we took time to share the seeds and blossoms of our luncheon conversations. It seemed a long time ago since we had sat together that way so it was good to be reminded of the dialogue gems that had come to each group.
Next, as preparation for a silent and sacred walk of prayer, humility, pause and a bow, we watched the KarmaTube video of Amazing Grace
– one of the most watched of all the KarmaTube videos. Watching the video again on the big wall, I realize why I am mesmerized by it and ultimately, teary-eyed. I can’t explain exactly but I find myself quite moved.
Our final experience of the retreat was now to move through 3 steps and a pause or bow. I have had the honor of doing this short walk a few times now. I cannot help but think of Rev Heng Sure and Heng Ch’au’s bowing pilgrimage from 1977 to 1979
– three steps and a bow across California through thick and thin, hot and cold, peace and unrest. I think of my stiff back and call upon their strength and compassion. I always wish I could go back in time to meet them on the road and offer some kind of comfort, water, a hot or cold towel, food, a smile…I am grateful for the chance to walk again here on this day. Happy too that there is an option to pause. My older body and back is very grateful. It was a beautiful sight to see the others in front of me walking so peacefully and thoughtfully; the air felt different this way, beyond cool or breezy; every step a prayer, peace in every step. I feel connected to and grateful for the others, their presence. We are on a journey together; we have our own rhythm but we are not other, we are one.
A final sitting circle where we share our lingering thoughts with eyes closed; it is a very interesting thing to speak while looking inside and directing thoughts outwards simultaneously – like speaking from a dream place but with a succinct clarity and candor that is rooted in the earth. Each voice seems to hold the bearer’s heart in it’s center. When we open our eyes again, I am taken back to the morning when I saw the group for the first time; And, now, I am reminded of TS Eliot’s Little Gidding
, where he writes:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
May we always stay curious; may there always be safe places for exploration and discovery as we had for this retreat; I don’t take it for granted especially in a world where not all places are safe; may we who participated be a bridge where it is possible and have the wisdom and grace to know when not to force it; let our patient listening magnetic dynamic selves lead. With Love. In Peace.