There is a moment, fruity and hazy-afternooned, just before the sun loses its heat and falls out of the marmalade-smeared sky, when I am stopped. Arms scratched and itching from the day’s garden toil. Tweaks of sharp discomfort here and there, yet still a sigh of deep contentment escapes.
I sit on my haunches, rabbit-like and watchful. The cat picks his way over broken soil and in one leap, alights to the bannister in a clear request for food. I oblige, seizing a stolen moment to boil the kettle for tea. In a short while, tools will be downed and I will tear Husband away from his newly-planted trees and towards the cosy evening. Lemon, orange and mandarin. Tangy grapefruit and dark, sweet plums. Into this timeless pause, the citrus-blossom scented future falls.
Today is a free day, meaning that our little group chose not to meet on the beach together, but to have an unscheduled day. It’s a well-known phenomenon that too much discipline makes us rebel, so it’s wise to build in some free time before the pressure builds. In Thich Nhat Hahn’s Plum Village, for instance, once a week they have a Lazy Day, where the community is encouraged to rest and focus on being, not doing. So how is it, after my ‘free’ day, that I feel less free?
The Buddha is clear that the only ‘freedom of mind’ is a worthwhile goal for our spiritual practice. Not ‘gain or honour or fame, nor the attainment of virtue, meditative concentration, knowledge or vision.’ (From the Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood – thanks to Ulla Koenig)
At the end of the day, other members of our group report that they have had an ‘off’ day, that they have missed the gathering of sangha, that the day has been ‘ordinary.’ On this, at least, we are in sync!
What does it take, then, to make our days extraordinary? What does an ‘on’ day feel like? And what is so special about the gathering of sangha? This is a question I will take into #nature… A question I will discuss with the group when we meet tomorrow… And a question in which I invite you to take part…
In November, I may feel a little lost. Can I remember, then, to reach inside and outside of myself for understanding, to turn to my sangha for answers, and to open to the wisdom of my tribe?
(See previous posts for more info about this practice of The Omen Days.)
“Make a list!” she says. It’s our nine-year-old teacher again, asking us to note what we love to do. Children seem connected to play in a way we adults forget. It’s the last day we will meet on the beach. Tomorrow is a rest day and on Sunday, we will complete The Omen Days together with a silent walk in the forest and a picnic. We discuss how to create a container for our practice. One which is connected to what we love to do. After all, if there is noy joy, what motivation will there be to meditate?
As work and life commitments gather pace, it’s easy for the ‘ordinary’ world to suck up all the attention. How can we make every day a ‘holy day’?
In October, I may need to reminded what it is I love to do, and how to integrate this into both my life and my meditation practice.
Surfers ride on the energy of water, but it is air that powers the waves – a wind out at sea that creates swell. Today I have watery energy, relaxed but needing some breeze beneath my wings. So it’s great when one of our group holds a short movement practice before we sit to meditate and for a while, I can let go the reins and be led by the momentum of another.
Taking some time to sit alone, I watch light fall over the scrubland beyond our home. Breath slows, stillness pooling, when from nowhere, a dragonfly appears, finely laced wings shining golden in the setting sun. Her lower jaw moves rhythmically as she chews on a freshly-caught insect and then suddenly, she takes flight, plucks another soul out of the emptiness and lands back in front of me, munching.
In the shamen world, dragonfly’s quick and graceful movements indicate freedom and creativity, while their transparent wings are a sign of clarity and clear knowing. That this one sits still, feeding, reminds me to eat wisely and efficiently, taking care with my energy.
In September, while my vision may be clear, I might be glad of some extra motivation with creative projects.
(See previous post for information about The Omen Days practice of divining for the year ahead.)
As we head towards the finish line, there can be a loss of concentration and we can lose the flow. Climbers are more likely to fall on the descent. Drivers more likely to have an accident near their destination. Creative practitioners make more mistakes as they reach the final stretch of a project. And today, we find our minds wandering off into the coming year, more planning than meditating. Along with some anxiety, tension creeps into my body and I have to concentrate harder to bring myself back to the resting place of presence.
There’s a chilly wind, though the sun is shining as it has been throughout The Omen Days. On the beach, we huddle together, a bigger group of us this morning, offering each other shelter from the harsher elements. Come August, will we be glad of the protection of community?
New year. Warm fire. Cold air. Cold sea. Warm sun. Elements balanced as we summit the midpoint of The Omen Days. It suddenly seems appropriate that New Year is the climax of the Twelve days of Christmas. That we begin on twenty-sixth of December and end on sixth of January. Today, this Celtic practice feels ancient.
Sustained practice brings results as insight emerges. The biologist experiencing oneness as he contemplates how the atoms and molecules of people and places are universally shared. How plant growth depends on both darkness and light – on soil and on sunshine.
Seeds planted now will likely be harvested in July, but we shouldn’t worry if they need a little more time. In my garden, I have chili peppers planted last January that are still fruiting!
Retreats are a wonderful time out of time, but daily meditation adds magic to ordinary life. Diving into wintry water, members of our community emerge joyful into bright sun. We are thankful for deep connection. To ourselves, to nature and to each other.
Here’s Shanti the cat, doing his impression of a panther stretched out on a jungle tree. Moments later, the cat is in my lap, purring, a picture of domestication. Cats never seem to lose that sense of wildness, whereas we, in the process of civilisation, have disconnected from our wild selves. Connecting to nature puts us back in touch with the animal in us, and perhaps, with the human. In the cycles of nature, we see the cycles in ourselves – the ebb and flow of inner moons and tides.
Does our wild nature show more in the shadow self? Primitive emotions like rage and fear would once have saved our lives, but in the absence of mortal danger, the emotions we feel often fail to find their place. One channel for the expression of darker emotions might be through creativity – writing, dancing or painting as a way to understanding.
In June, can I find space and time to give voice to the shadow self through creativity?
(Not sure what this is about? Click through to read more about The Omen Days series of posts – a Celtic tradition of using the twelve days of Christmas to make predictions for the coming year.)
“‘Ratty, please, I want to row, now!’ The Rat shook his head with a smile. ‘Not yet, my young friend,’ he said – ‘wait till you’ve had a few lessons. It’s not so easy as it looks.’ “
On the fifth day of Christmas, a nine-year old encourages our practice by reading from ‘The Wind in the Willows’, while a man in full wet suit and wearing headphones listens intently for sounds of treasure on the sea bed. Lessons come from anyone and anything, if I take time to hear them. There are so many ways to tune the attention.
Deepening into the retreat, dreams speak loudly and the world is alive with synchronicities, but also, the shadow self shows up in all her hurt and brokenness. Am I brave enough to draw close, so she can also be a teacher?
In May, I might need courage to stay open to learning from life in unexpected ways.
For more information about this thread, visit my post on The Omen Days.
“When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.”
Last night, awake with the stars and the moon, I was reminded of this Rumi poem about sleeplessness. Then this morning on the beach, a question arises in the group.
“Why is the sky blue?”
I’ve been told the answer many times, but fail to retain the information. The scientist amongst us tells me again, yet after descriptions of particles and light and wavelengths, still his words land on “just because.”
I like “just because”. I like the mystery of it. I don’t have to understand the is-ness of everything, but I do love to experience it. It pleases me, this falling off the edge of logic, into, I suppose, pysche. Falling off mind into soul.
The space that opens up in these inbetween days can be either scary or freeing, depending on view, current inclination and perhaps beliefs. In essence, Buddhists might call it emptiness, but it is anything but empty. The unknown is full of potential. Perhaps is it our lack of control that is troubling? Mystery demands that we surrender and, as Rumi points out, our ability to do this can be the difference between comfort and distress, between heaven and hell.
In April, in order to find comfort I may be asked to surrender deeper to the mystery.
The tree outside my window waits patiently for the dawn. It welcomes the rain, stands quiet while the snow falls. Today, I want to be this tree, calmly accepting what comes. It is the third day of retreat and time to turn even more inward.
As we head to the beach to meet with our small group, I’ve forgotten what day it is, something familiar to many people during this time out of time. Together, we ponder the nature of time – described beautifully by Satish Kumar as the clock time we adhere to in order to make our appointment, and the dream time we can sink into once we arrive. These holy days are an opportunity to explore more deeply the dream time.
I stand waist high in the sea, legs slowly numbing to the cold, face turned up to the sun. Gesturing to the shore, I call, “take a picture!” In my mind’s eye, there’s an image of calm water and human forebearance, but the photo that intrigues me most is of a fishing boat, backlit against a clear horizon. I don’t eat fish, but somehow this small vessel tells of the same endurance as the tree as it waits, nets outstretched, open to the elements.
March 2019 will have the watch words patience, endurance and forebearance, but inspiration may come from unexpected places.