What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. T.S. Eliot
Almond blossom in January marks the beginning of Spring in Catalunya and today it shows itself, just as we come to the end of The Omen Days. Looking ahead to December, we see the cycle of the year laid out, beginning and ending catching the tail of one another in a cosmic spiral.
And so it is with our little sangha as we end this time-out-of-time together, but not exactly as we planned. Our nine-year old teacher is in bed with flu, so we set up an online meeting, some gathered in one place, some in another. This ending, successfully and joyfully executed, proves to be a way forward. A way to keep supporting each other during the coming year and a way to bring in other sangha friends, both near and far. Perhaps one day you will join us…
In December, may we look back on the year gone by and appreciate the cycle of life, the spiral of spiritual process and the strength of community.
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.)
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?
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.
A Full Cold Moon on Solstice Eve. Warm fires, friends and inspiration. A little too much mulled wine…hic! After the merriment, it’s nice to settle in, cat purring soft in my lap. Christmas Eve marks the beginning of a period of real rest.
Last year, I discovered the Celtic tradition of using the days between Christmas and January 6th for divining signs and portents for the year ahead and enjoyed it so much that we are doing it again, taking this time for retreat and renewal. Caitlin Matthews tells us how “the Twelve Days of Christmas, which mark the intercalary days of the year, are called ‘the Omen Days,’ and they have a special purpose. ‘Intercalary days’ are the days left over from reckoning up the solar year and, in calendars throughout the world and at different times, they are special because they are considered to be ‘the days out of time.’