Day 4 – Life is not telling you to Fall in Love; it is telling you to Stand Up in Love!
On this very precious day, we were joined by Mario Thanavaro (his website is only in Italian at the moment but will eventually have English as well). He was a buddhist monk for 18 years before returning to lay life in order to take the message of Buddhism out into the world. He has written many books on the subject and taught at retreats around the world,. He is now based in Rome and continues to lead retreats throughout Italy. He joined us for breakfast before we headed out, and I will always remember one of his first words to me as I took this photo – “Say, ‘Jesus!’ ”
Our quest for the day was to go to the Eremo delle Carceri, which is a monastery in the mountains where Francis and his brothers would retreat for deep reflection and meditation on God. The main structure on the grounds was built up around a cave where Francis would retreat. This is one description of the place that I fould particularly interesting in its description of the power of retreating for times of deep spiritual connection:
“On the outskirts of the city there was a cave… Francis entered… and full of a new unusual fervour, prayed the Father in secret (Matt. 6,6). He didn’t want anybody to know what happened inside there and… burned interiorly with a divine fire, and wasn’t able to conceal the fervour of his soul. One day finally, after having implored the divine mercy with all his heart, the Lord revealed to him how he should live. And he was so full of joy that he couldn’t contain it and, though he didn’t want to, he couldn’t help but let something of it transpire in front of men.” 1 Celano 6-7
We gathered in front of the entrance so Mirka cold give some guidance on where we were going. Silence is encouraged throughout the grounds, so as we entered, we stayed quiet. Some of us chose to remove our shoes as we walked along the gravel path in homage to Francis and his exercises in discipline. This experience is quite visceral when you feel it pressing into the bottoms of your feet with each step. Did you know that smooth flat stones can feel like silk when you step onto them after a journey on gravel?
We passed an alter in the stones on the way to a small chapel where our Buddhist friend had some thoughts to share. As we passed the alter, Mirka laid out simple necklaces with the Tau symbol, made by the Franciscan brothers and sisters in Assisi. There were enough for each of us, and she left them there as we walked on. She wanted to give each of us one on the way back this path.
At the chapel:
We all gathered at a small chapel at the end of the gravel road. Here, Mario shared some thoughts and insights on attachment, suffering and living. I cannot capture the depth of his narrative completely, but I can give you a feel for what he shared by giving you a few beautiful jewels that I managed to write down as he spoke them:
“Angels are not up in the sky; they are our ability to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and care for them.”
“Actions, guided by fear and lacking awareness, will never bring the solution to our problems; in fact they may create more problems.”
“The most important quality for parents to give their children is generosity (i.e. sharing)”
“Attachment is good when it is functional (nourishing like the mother’s milk). Attachments are given as a lesson to take us further down the road of awareness. When the time comes, you must let them go. Welcome all of the suffering that comes from attachment.”
“Meditation is not Asana or Pranayama; it is living life, fully”
He spoke of the dance of attachment and non-attachment for quite a while. He used the analogy of a mother nursing her child and of the parent-child relationship in general (since we are all so familiar with this kind of attachment). As long as the attachment is functional, it nourishes us like the mother’s milk. But, at some point, it is time to let go.
The relationship for a child and parent is like the relationship between a bow and arrow. There is a time when the two must come together or the system doesn’t work. The bow must have the right amount of tension, and the archer holds them together strongly. At some point, the arrow has to fly on it’s own. The bow must use the right amount of tension to launch it properly – too little tension and it will not fly but too much tension and it can go astray.
He also talked about how we can learn from nature. ‘Watch the spider’ is what he recommended. It sits in the middle of it’s web with the silken thread detects when an insect hits it. The vibration calls the spider to the place of the action, where it enjoys a meal. Then, it returns to the center. Our mind is like the spider. Our senses observe things that draw our mind to them – sounds, smells, tastes, etc. Our mind goes to theses sensory stimuli. If we let them, these actions can pull our mind from the center and keep it there. With practice, we can learn to bring our mind back to the center and not let it be controlled by distraction of the senses.
The purpose of life, he told us is to put together all of the separate pieces.
After sharing his thoughts, he initiated us into a practice of walking meditation. Mirka was placed at the front of us as the guide, and we, literally, followed in her footsteps back to the alter. He said that if we chose to walk barefoot, the meditation would be ‘easier’ as it is hard not to pay attention when you walk across stones without your shoes on (he was right, I never forgot that I was walking!)
At the alter:
As we gathered to receive the Tau symbol from Mirka, a friar passed by. Mirka asked him if he would bless the crosses for us before she gave them. He said, “That is difficult.” (and I thought he was going to refuse!). He continued as he approached the alter, “It is difficult to bless the cross because it becomes blessed as we accept them.” Then he raised his hand to the alter in blessing. What a profound message! The crosses we are offered become scared as we accept them into our hearts. Mirka was moved beyond words for a moment.
She later explained to me the significance of that interaction with the Friar. When he said it is difficult to bless the crosses, his meaning was that the cross is a symbol of the challenges of life or carrying of our own Tapas/Karma. So when he said that the crosses are blessed as we accept them, it was a revelation of the gift of accepting our own personal struggles. To breathe with them, be with them, without escaping, without wanting what is not – in the presence of the Holy spirit, opening to NOW. “Our lives crosses indeed are Blessed, ……..in the embrace of Isvara” This is the teaching of Kriya Yoga that Mirka is sharing with us this week, and it came through the voice of the friar who happened to be passing as we gathered. What a miracle and beautiful reminder of the unity of faith.
After she shared some precious words of gratitude and love for this amazing group of people, she presented each of us with a Tau. I have worn mine since then, and I will be wearing it often to help me reconnect when I start to forget the miracle of this week.
In the Room:
In the afternoon, we gathered again for our Yoga practice. Mario joined us, and after preparation using Asana, breath and sound, Mirka handed the floor over to Mario who led us through meditation.
We returned to the walking meditation, this time in a circle. I think I will forever think of this as the meditation of Traffic. Each of us walked, consciously with the connection and realization of the person in front of you. He asked us to notice what our minds did in this situation.
I can only speak for my crazy mind (and this was observed by at least one other in the group), but it reminded me a lot of being in a long line of traffic and trying to pace with the car in front of you so that you can minimize the amount of times you have to brake of change gears! So, wanting to go faster, my mind would start to wonder “who is slowing us down!? Why doesn’t she take a step! I am going to fall over” Ok, maybe everyone else had a very serene experience – I found it very challenging and interesting.
As we sat for meditation, Mario reminded us over and over of our innate internal light and helped us find tools to connect with it. He reminded us “You are That (light)” and reiterated through Mantra – Sat-cit-ānanda (Sanskrit: सच्चिदानन्द, meaning “Truth, Consciousness and Bliss.”). This Mantra “describes the experience of ultimate reality: the blissful experience of the boundless, pure consciousness.”
Before he ended, he felt called to share a prayer. He said as soon as he walked into our practice space, he felt the need to share it. He presented it to us syllable by syllable.
A…….VE MA ………….. (H)RI … A
A…….VE MA ………….. (H)RI … A
Ave Maria! – We salute you, Mother, your heart is full of universal compassion
I have never heard this prayer presented sound by sound. It really resonated with me as it had the quality of sound that I find in my own practices when I use mantra. Plus, the sound “ma” sung by 30 people in an antique church really stirred up emotions, possibly because of the two little people in my life who chant ‘ma’ at me all day.
Throughout the day, many of us had a little one-on-one time with Mario. He gave some guidance and insight to support us in a profoundly simple and loving way. I asked our friend Liran to share some of the process he has been going through this week and how a little phrase from Mario helped something click for him.
Thoughts of Surrender from Liran:
Our friend Liran has been struggling to develop a deeper understanding of the idea of surrender. This topic has come up many times in the past few weeks.
He said that a lot of teachers, particularly in the spiritual traditions, speak of the necessity of surrender. What does that mean? It’s a nice title whose content was hidden for him by a lack of deeper understanding. It reminded him of the image of disciples surrendering to an alter,and that did not resonate with his secular mindset.
He asked Mario to help him understand what it means to surrender, and Mario told him that it means to “be with the moment.” Liran admits that he didn’t understand how that answered his question. But something clicked when he went to sleep that night because he had a deeper understanding in the morning.
What clicked is that ‘surrender’ seemed to him like an active process of offering something to an external object (God, the Divine, etc). Really, to surrender means to relax into the moment. It is the opposite of an active process but rather a process of non-acting.
In meditation, sometimes, you feel like you are in a fight. All you are really doing is sitting in and trying to focus, but there is a constant internal struggle. Letting go of the effort, Stopping the fight, Let go of the active effort of ego, declaring peace are all ways of relaxing into the moment. It is an absolute cessation of all ‘I’ things. THIS is surrender.