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The Living School • Day Four

30 seconds into walking meditation and I find myself on fully bended knees in the wet grass of a public park. Head bowed. Eyes closed. Arms outstretched in the turf on either side of me. Fingers spread and plunged in dirt. Praying, listening, hoping Mother Earth would reveal herself to me. Moments slide by. Nothing. I listen harder. Still, nothing. No revelation. No mystical moment. Just me in a public park with wet knees and dirty fingers. In GR, I could get arrested for this. I smile to myself, exhale and think, "Oh well! It was worth a try." Before opening my eyes, I hear a nearby yelp and slight scuffle.

Looking up, I see a little pooch, very similar to my Cooper, running off leash and making friends with the many Living School students practicing walking meditation. A huge grin spreads across my face. The mud colored little mutt bounces just out of reach of its owner, tail-a-wagging, giving off little yips of joy. Oh, my goodness! The beautiful, delightful, and naughty spontaneity of the moment. I imagine God dancing through this tiny furball, reflecting a love for us that is so contagious he can't contain himself as it's poured out on those of us willing to receive it.

The moment remains with me, even as it passes, and I resume my walk.

We're instructed to find something discarded by nature that calls our attention. As I stroll, I challenge myself to hug a tree. I've never really done this in my adult life (climbing a tree is easy, but hugging one? That's scary). So I do it. As I hug the tree, small pieces of bark fall off, like its shedding. Great, I think to myself. I picked a tree with some kind of weird dandruff or leprosy. Alrighty... well, Jesus and St. Francis worked with lepers, so I give it a little hug to let it know it's okay. Then, I look down. There are small piles of pieces of bark at its base and they're in all kinds of funky shapes. I pick one up that looks like Michigan's upper peninsula and gently carry it to the archway where I meet the group.

Jonathon, the walking guide dude I met on day two, has started a collective collage of items from each of us. I add my upper peninsula bark in silence. Others add theirs in silence. This contemplative community practice organically grows into a beautiful piece of improvised art of which we all contributed an item that somehow spoke to us. If this was all I did for the rest of the day, my soul would be satisfied.

The 9:00 a.m. session is with Rohr. He's covering the Levels of Consciousness and Levels of Development. Rohr says, while these appear to be relatively new, they're not. Look to St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and even Jesus himself, to find levels of consciousness (Jesus = four different kinds of seeds). Again, the point is made; we're reclaiming traditions lost to antiquity.

The foundational psychological principle for this work is found in the adage; we see the world as we are, not as it is. This may come as a shock, but you and I are NOT the center of ultimate reality. Doh! We understand the world based upon our own level of consciousness and development. Boom. Mic drop.

There are seven levels of consciousness and nine levels of development. Generally speaking, they're sequential, but you can get stuck at any level. The idea is, in being faithful to your contemplative practice, grace edges you on to the next stage. As you progress, you include what you learned from previous levels, while also transcending to deeper understanding. It's a transformational process of growth from order, to disorder, and finally reorder. From ego to spirit. From false self to true self. From separation to unity. From dualistic to non-dual. From control to surrender. Ultimately, as is always the case, (spoiler alert!) -- love wins.

photo credit: Kathleen Egan

The afternoon session is with Dr. James Finley. Finley is a clinical psychologist who spent five years in the sixties as a novice monk under the tutelage of the great Thomas Merton. He's also trained in Buddhist practice and methodology. His session is on Life Through Trinity.

As I've mentioned previously, it's very difficult to take notes on Finley's presentations. The flow is so fluid and the content so deep, it's like trying to catch jello with teflon gloves. He says, the ultimate reality of God is love giving itself away as love in the creation of all things; including you, including me. We are the manifestation of God, wholly dependent upon God, looking to find rest in God. It is the world as incarnate infinity, which is ceaseless knowing (see what I mean?!). Uncle James tells many stories to illuminate his points, here's one:

Imagine your spiritual path is one of being a pole vaulter. To reach unitive consciousness with the divine, you have to fling yourself over a bar that is set exceptionally high. You try and fail. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Through your many attempts, you're getting exhausted, but, in fidelity to the practice, in childlike sincerity, out of the deepest desires of your heart, you continue. God sees this. She shows up at the pole vault pit and moves the bar lower. In fact, God moves it so low, the bar is lying on the ground. God looks at you, smiles and says, go ahead, try it again. In your excitement to finally reach your greatest heart's desire, you trip over the bar! In doing so, you fall directly into the arms of the beloved, held in perfect love, sustaining you in every moment.

Wow. Pretty dang good stuff.

The last session of the day is our final in-person small group round up of the week. Sweet 16, as we're known, reflects upon and discusses some of the many impacts we've experienced as we start The Living School. We share insights and end with a beautiful chant led by our guide Agnes. We sing, "The will, will of our love be done," as we smile and nod into the eyes of this wonderful group that will become an intimate community of seekers the next two years. I feel blessed to have such a wonderful group to journey with. Note: special thanks to Kathleen Egan for the closeup picture of Finley.

The final sendoff ceremony is a gift of Native American drum and song. They invite us to stand and move to the music as they begin a song in salute to their nation's flag. It's raw, earthy, guttural music that feels ancient and primal. We sway in awe and respect of their gifts. The last song is a dance song, and we happily comply. Spontaneous groups form, dancing in circles throughout the large conference room. It's a beautiful way to end our first week of The Living School.

Omateo my friends!

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