Day 2 – Smile like Ecstasy is your Breakfast!
In case I forgot to mention, all of the titles of the posts this week are quotes from Mirka – I call them “Mirkaisms.” She has a way of expressing ideas in unique and colorful ways so that they stay in the mind. This particular one came to light on La Rocca, a medieval fortress on the top of Assisi.
Day 2 was a wonderful day. We headed up the hill to La Rocca after breakfast and gathered next to the walls, which offered some protection from the wind. We did a nice chi gong exercise led by one of the participants, Marcia, who has known and practiced with Mirka for many, many years. As we were standing in a circle getting some guidance from Marcia, the latest (and one of the greatest in my opinion) Mirkaisms popped out as she helped us connect with smiling to release tension – “Smile like ecstasy is your breakfast!” It has made me smile ever since, and kind of makes me giggle still. I guess her choice of words were effective; I am smiling.
After our short practice and Sangha circle where we were given the opportunity to really connect with one another on a deep level through a ritual that involved, among other things, looking into the eyes of another person for a few seconds to make a deep connection. I will return to this ritual below as it became a tool to support to the end of the day. After our chi gong and closing circle, Mirka invited anyone to visit La Rocca and enjoy the amazing view. A few of us did that and a few of us stayed below to enjoy the space we created in the practice.
I had the pleasure of accompanying the oldest member of our Sangha down to the town. Connie is over eighty, and she is here with her daughter to share the experience. She is enjoying and inspiring everyone with her energy and will. If you put stairs in front of her that she can’t walk up, she will put her hands on the steps and crawl up them to get to where she wants to go!
In the afternoon, we gathered to connect in our lovely church. We are loving this wonderful space with its amazing acoustics. Our ‘key-master’ Carlo sets us up each afternoon and makes us laugh a lot. He is an old friend of Mirka’s home town and is helping to take good care of everyone.
We were treated to some traditional Vedic chanting by Gabriella, one of the group who is proficient at chanting (though she refuses to call herself an expert). Mirka guided us through a lovely practice focusing on cultivating the space after exhale using a beautiful Mantra to support our focus. After coming out of the quiet space of that practice, she introduced us to a visitor.
Padre Gianmaria Polidoro is a Franciscan who has made a big impact in the world over the past few decades, though his name may not be too familiar to many of us. He was called to reach out to President Reagan and Gorbachev in the 80’s to encourage them to start a dialogue toward peace. I found this image of him at that time. He has written a wonderful book about peace, but it is not yet in English. In the mean time, some of us will be taking home a book he wrote on Assisi and the life of Francis that was can read in English.
He shared with us a beautiful message of peace. Most importantly, he reminded us to recognize the divinity of ALL things. He said that when you look into the eyes of your brothers and sisters, you are offering them the gift of seeing a piece of your own divinity. He also reminded us that nature is a gift of God, and that even when nature brings suffering, it is still our friend.
I found it particularly touching when he expressed sadness for the people of Syria who are killing each other now, and in a few years, these same people will be friends again. If they could recognize the common divinity they all share now, they wouldn’t have to cause such massive suffering today. He said that if a man prays and then goes out and kills another, that man does not understand God.
One cannot learn anything from the Gospel if the mind is not ready (which is something I had never heard a priest say). As I understood him, seeing the Divine in your fellow man is how you prepare your mind. You cannot find God outside of you if you don’t understand that He resides in the hearts of all.
Hearing the words of peace from a true peace maker, that is food for the Yogic mind.
As he left us, Mirka asked us to gather for a closing circle, and we again touched on the ritual from the morning that involved looking into the eyes of another. I can only share my own experience in this, but I found that the ritual became more powerful for me. Rather than looking into the eyes of another, I was, instead, offering them the gift of witnessing the Divine within me.
After that long, moving day, we still had more to experience. I offered the group and evening with “The Mind of a scientist and the Voice of a Mystic” (another Mirkaism). I am formerly a professional astronomer and remain very much a scientist. So some of us gathered on the roof of Hotel Alexander to talk about space, unity, light and divinity! In the romantic evening air, we had some great conversations about understanding how we are truly, at our most fundamental atomic levels, part of the Universe.
Connie, the older member of our group, got herself up the last few precarious steps to the roof to be there, and the youngest member of the group, Jennie, took a great photo to remember the evening. The creativity and power of this Assisi Sangha is truly an inspiration and blessing.