08 November 2010

Being in the World

This weekend just past - a writers' retreat just outside of Louisville, but with a feeling of remoteness from the city and its rapid pace. And then there was the retreat aspect - time to sit on a bench in the chill, under a maple still half possessed of its orange leaves - time for early morning walks with no deadline, no clock telling me it is time to shower and get in the car.
Jeeze - listen to me - you'd think I worked full-time and led a hectic life! But seriously, there is a deepening of joy to be found in time taken in nature, and around people who create. For of course the most affecting aspect of the weekend was being around poets - who are often nit picky about more than just the right word or whether or not a comma works in a certain spot - and who always strive for clarity and for that gem-like object we call a poem.
The juiciness of the smallest piece of experience seems to drip in my sight and smell and hearing when I'm around these people, whose passion is to create, and who willingly, even eagerly, put in the hours and use up the paper to get the result we call poem.
Returning to the world from these retreats always seems like returning from Oz - like I used to flying back from California after school weekends. I have to remind myself to be careful on the drive, to watch vigilantly - because, emotionally for sure, I am still on retreat.
Then today - observing a sand mandala construction at the Festival of Faiths here in town. Though observing is incorrect, the wrong verb. But what is the right one for this experience?
This is my third mandala. And with each one the same gestalt is re-made, re-entered, and yet somehow experienced as for the first time. Different populations don't seem to affect the experience, nor do variants in the location or the time of day I am able to attend. I guess the verb I was needing to use instead of observing was experiencing.
If you've never had the opportunity to experience a mandala construction, take the next one you get. It's actually rather indescribable - but I can put a bit of it into words.
First is the rare physical sensation of calm - peace if you like - that moves from the mandala, out through the monks, and into the entirety of the space. It comes over me in the same way, or nearly so, as the grains of colored sand are placed in position - through the slightest of motions and the clearest of intentions that weren't even evident before settling into the space from which I watch. There is an obvious, but always unexpected, feel of heart at rest, of the blood's motion proceeding at its natural pace - both too often lacking in the daily round we call life.
Then come the images, the memories of sound and smell and hearing that somehow don't seem to be personal. The closest I can come to defining them is that they are what Jung called collective unconscious - some connective memory that we - individually - haven't experienced, but know, nevertheless.
Usually, and today was no exception, I discover - when I first find my body needing to move - that I've sat or stood for over an hour without awareness of time passing. Or maybe I've fallen into time in a whole new way - I don't know. What I do know is that when the monks are ready to stop I always feel as if I'm supposed to either go with them or stay in the space where this experience lives. But the world outside has not gone away - and I must re-enter it after all.
I try to do so carefully - in the same way I leave retreat - in the same way I used to leave school weekends. I also find that I see this world outside differently than before I went in. People's faces seem so angry to me, their movements so unsure. There appears to be more, and noisier, traffic than ever. Most interesting of all is that I seem able to observe all of this and not feel anger or sadness about it. Nor can I join back into this hard-edged world with much energy or any will to change it.
The more of these experiences I have, the greater my appreciation of the incredibly rich gifts I am graced with. Yes, me, myself, Mary Jo - who has often bemoaned so much of what life has presented her with - is learning, gradually, to see herself as the Being in the World she was meant to be - always was.

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