It's 7 a.m. Wednesday morning. About fifty of us are standing in a circle on the edge of a public park. The sun is rising over the nearby mountain range and there are several hot air balloons in the bright blue sky.
Our walking meditation guide says, you were born for the power of the Earth to run through you; and for you to run through her as well. "We are bipeds!" was his sounding call; two-legged creatures meant to walk and keep going and going and going. He's what some would most definitely call a hipster. His name is Jonathon, a tall, lanky white dude with long curly hair, face stubble, hiking attire, a walking stick, and those rubber shoes that actually have individual toes. He's wearing a necklace he made from a fallen tree branch. Yes, he's actually very cool and he leads us on a 45-minute walking meditation through a nearby park. We're encouraged to walk barefoot (I don't) and hug a tree if we feel so inclined. After a few more tips, we're off like a slow moving band of bipeds to explore on our own this thing called walking meditation.
Can you let go of your ego enough to become one with nature? Can you quiet the mind, relax the gut, and fall into the heart space to "taste the moment?" Do you remember what it's like to be a kid? I've done enough of these types of crazy contemplative activities in my journey, so I was eager to try. The first step in walking meditation is easy: breathe. Step two: center yourself - be present. Step three: walk. Step four: repeat steps 1, 2 & 3. In all of this, remain open to whatever comes up with a childlike sincerity.
After a short while, I find myself in a tree. Yes, I said, IN a tree. It was a very cool tree with lots of curvy, low hanging branches that were very inviting. It was the kind of tree you had to climb as a kid. So I did. I felt its bark. I smelled its earthy branches. I whispered to it, "Thanks for the cool climb and place to sit. My name is Patrick and I'm from Michigan. What's your name?" Surprisingly, it answered. It told me its name was "Tree." Easy enough. Tree told me it was glad I heard it calling me to come play (I'm pretty sure Tree is a seven on the Enneagram). Fortunately, we were on the outskirts of our walk, far away from the folks who decided to do this optional activity. No one else heard Tree talk, but I'm glad I did. After a brief sit and sharing, I bowed to Tree, thanked it for calling me to come play with it, jumped down, and caught up to the group.
Our walk continued for a short while as we made our way back to the conference center. Breakfast was underway and I was glad to eat. You can't beat oatmeal, pecans, and raisins. Yum!
The morning contemplation was with Rohr. He shared pictures and the story of a woman and child who travelled 1,500 miles from Guatemala to the American border in order to escape violence in her hometown. The soldier turned her away. The agony and desperation in her face make me cry. There is a difference between human law and divine law, said Rohr. Can you feel it? Can you see it? Let your heart break. Let yourself be wounded in this suffering of the world. Later, we're told the soldier looked the other way as the mother and child sneak across the border. Human law broken. Divine law wins. A difficult one to hold in love.
Next, Rohr talked about woundedness. As the Buddha said, life is suffering. If there's one certainty of life it is; we will suffer, we will be wounded. Rohr says, how we work with our wounds is critical for our journey. If we don't learn to transform our wounds we become critical, bitter, and closed down. More to the point, if we don't learn to transform our wounds we most certainly transmit them to others, usually the ones we love most. In a mind blowing paradigm shift, Rohr says, this phenomena was the original meaning of the term original sin. It's the pattern of passing on our woundedness from generation to generation. Rohr encourages a turning of your wound into a sacred wound; one that teaches you to hold the suffering of the world and breaks you open to love. This is done in contemplative practice.
All of this before 9:00 a.m.
Here are some highlights from the rest of day two:
RR = Richard Rohr; JF = James Finley; CB = Cynthia Bourgeault
• CB: The first year of study will be a deep exploration into "Contemplative Epistemology," which is a fancy way of saying, how do you know what you know is true / authentic. Epistemology = a theory of knowledge. Contemplative Christianity = an ancient integral way of being in relationship with the divine. The contemplative path was lost about 800 years ago, but kept alive through the Benedictine monks, Franciscans, and other Christian mystics like St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, etc.
• RR: Divine language is always metaphor. Divine truth is different than rational fact. We must approach God with a different kind of knowing. Rational thinking is a wonderful gift, and should be used, but it will only get you so far. For example, how can the mind know love, death, eternity, suffering, and the like? It can't. The heart can know what the mind can't understand, but knows is true.
• JF: Told a story of painting a pig shed sky blue while at the monastery. Merton asked if he painted it sky blue in honor of the blessed mother. Finley laughed and said no, it was the only paint in the shed. Merton responds to Finley saying, your problem is you're too cynical (pause, considering this...) Finley says Merton's point was: We must approach this path with a childlike sincerity.
• CB: The original meaning of the word "suffer" is to allow, or as the Beatles made famous, let it be. :)
• During the next break I went into the garden and wrote a poem about my walking meditation
• JF: Jesus was a Jewish mystic who practice contemplative knowing. Before each miracle we hear of him going off by himself. If we listen to the early desert fathers and mothers, along with the early Christian mystics, we will find a path that leads to divine connectedness.
• JF: Meditation in the Christian tradition is a discursive process; an inner dialogue between God and us. In lectio divina you read the words of some sacred scripture, perhaps the words of Jesus, like, do not be afraid. As you read, you sit in a sustained receptivity to the text in childlike sincerity as it resonates with you. Then, you enter into a meditative dialogue with God about the text (JF demonstrates). This ultimately leads to prayer, bubbling up in a deep heartfelt state of desire to connect with the love of the divine, realizing it is only an echo of the vast expansive love God has for us.
• At 4:30 p.m. we enter a contemplative practice called "Centering the Margins." It's a practice intended to bring to light the suffering of those on the margins. One of the moderators says it's a model of what it means to be on the edge of mystery in faith. It's a two hour practice filled with stories from students of color. I sit in witness of it all.
• At 7:00 p.m. my new group of circle friends (#16) meet for a lovely dinner.
• At 9:30 p.m. I return back to my adobe abode, pour a glass of wine and find my guitar for a few meditative songs. Shortly thereafter, I crash like a 50-lb bag of corn feed being thrown onto a pallet for a long trip.