Reflections After Garrison: Paradox and Practice
How is it that we sense and participate in the larger movements at work in the world? What is this paradigm shift and how are we moving with it? How are we that? I felt this at the heart of Cynthia’s most recent retreat: From Narrative Self to Witnessing Self: Crossing the Threshold, held at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson River Valley in New York State. It was in the hearts of the people gathered together, that was clear. It shone through Cynthia’s clarity and depth in presenting the practices of this Wisdom lineage in their essential and embodied form; centering prayer, welcoming practice, and sensation practice as elements of engaging life and new arisings. It radiated through Cynthia sharing her conviction that the Conscious Circle of Humanity is strong, alive and present to the world right now, populated with a growing number of the most powerful spiritual teachers of our time who continue their work after death with us.How do we participate in our lives with these forces and one another, through an event, or a moment? Through a glance, or a thought?
There was common thread for many who I have spoken with regarding the particular nature of this retreat. Some of the words heard repeatedly: new openings, turning point, coming full circle; re-commitment; remembering; deepening; practice; embodying; sensation; interspiritual connections and acknowledgment of Wisdom lineages. A sense of aliveness, on fire, grew during the gathering. A deeper sense of responsibility to practice, to the force of Wisdom in the world, to the strengthening of connections with people in our lives of all kinds and persuasions. Cynthia, as expert mason repointing the foundations of the Wisdom lineage, cleaned and strengthened the basis of a committed practice that leads inevitably, if freshly dedicated over and over, to that crossing between the narrative and witnessing self. The retreat culminated with a threshold teaching and Eucharist Sunday morning to close. There we were.
There was artistry at work, and it was coming from all the corners of the room. The evening questions and sharings from the group were electrifying. An impromtu evening chant gathering felt like an honest and delicate offering, straight from the heart. Thomas Keating’s memorial service, live streamed by the Center for Action and Contemplation, came mid-retreat and closed with the stunning film, “Thomas Keating: A Life Surrendered to Love.” At one point, Cynthia said, “like it or not, we have all been ratcheted up a notch.” A sense of the rapidly changing times, mounting tensions expressed worldwide, structures collapsing, and the earth in dire straits, all sounded the call to be present to our differences, to step further from the limitations of the narrative self and into the wider and deeper regions of the witnessing self, where the resonant heart becomes the center of our being and of our perception. The call to step into our sense of responsibility to all Being in these times, together, and each in our specific, native, way.
Today I added an exercise from the retreat to my prayer practice, as I have been doing each morning since Garrison. I am sure I am not alone in leaving the retreat looking to my practice. A natural commitment rose in me to attend to specific sensation practice directly following centering prayer daily. It is familiar, I have engaged the practice periodically for some years, so simply taking another step into it. Bringing my attention to each limb, aligning with the sensation and filling from within. Steeping in that, and then, as Cynthia directed us, into the area around the heart, being with the sensation in and around the heart. Returning to limbs whenever sensation there is lost and with it re-engaged, returning to the heart. I close with a simple version of the Jesus Prayer (thank you Matthew Wright and Sister Helena Marie) spoken first in the heart and then let go. Jesus, on the inbreath, Mercy, on the outbreath.
Leaving my practice cushion this morning to study for a bit before beginning the day, I sat myself down in my spot; a place where I have a comfortable enough chair that looks out a wide window. The top half of the treeline is visible, but it is mostly sky from this perch. This morning it was breathing winter colors, a soft arctic pink was growing at the edges of clouds. Pale blue on the horizon and between the soft gray and pink layers of moisture and cloud mist. It was all in motion, and within moments the pink was intensifying and the movements in the sky becoming faster and more layered, and just as quickly the whole sky and the light within it became diffuse. Settling in as if the rain, or snow, was already here. As if it had always been that way. Wintery mix. I was riveted.
Watching this glow and this moisture over all move and spread, the words “this is my body, this is my blood,” arose from within. It was like a swelling inside, and felt sense of being the body of earth breathing itself as changing morning. A body in transition, a body alive, functioning as a body does. Everything I could see became one thing, a living organism. It was me. But it wasn’t me becoming the sky, it was just that I was part of all that was transpiring, I shared in that body and blood of earth and sky.
I suddenly wanted to share that experience with people I love. I noticed that I went at once from the thought of sharing into sensation. In the experience, out of the experience, and back again. It was like coming home to be in the sensation. Letting go. In sensation was access to a felt-sense mutuality with earth-sky, in the pulse of this enormous life. I noticed no more desire; I might and I might not share the experience sometime. It let go. It came back up through the writing. Staying with the sensation in that moment was a gift. To feel being body and blood with those beautiful sky veins of color and the weaving densities of moisture, of earth lympth in motion, through the change of day.
I am grateful for the physiology of how these practices become second nature. How we grow and open. Move between and connect. Align. Be with. I will play with remembering to return to sensation, beginning in the limbs and into my heart, when I feel that desire to share the beauty or the gratitude I am experiencing. Not because it is a bad thing to share it, but to catch that leave-taking and come back to the experience itself in the sensation. And then let it go. I notice that these days, the sensation opens me to deeper feeling and ushers me into the comfort of the paradox that it is all God, whole.
Can we attend, in all three centers, and see what happens. I have been wondering about the moving center as our most unconscious mode of perception, and working with sensation as a study in daily life for some years now. Scratching the surface; I sense how vast the territory is. I find as I grow that along with my curiosity there is also an acceptance, and we are immediately in the field of paradox again. Paradox, and how we live into it. An underlying theme of the retreat.
We are…I believe I am seeing this all around me…experiencing the paradox in closer and closer proximity. It is showing up during the day, doing dishes, working, in practice, in conversation. It is part of life. I welcome it. It doesn’t make things easier per say. The unknown and the letting go, the surrender, are still demanding of my attention, my commitment. It can be scary, not to know.
The element that continues to grow is the comfort I find in the not knowing. More and more, the truth of being with paradox is grounding. Strengthening. It as a widening inside, a softening that extends, pulses with life. The overarching reality, no judgment, of being a speck of dust, a cell in the organism, and being a particular ray, specific brings up multiple life questions of letting go and taking responsibility, all in the same bundle. That then becomes the practice, the movement and the rest. Living with the paradox, noticing and following it, in simple and blessedly mundane day to day experience.
I am grateful that I was able to attend the retreat From Narrative Self to Witnessing Self: Crossing the Threshold at the Garrison Institute. I feel fortunate. Cynthia noted more pointedly than ever, the paradox of the retreat itself. In our fractured world these retreats are specialized, privileged, protected, separate from life in the world. On the other side, over one hundred people sitting in meditative prayer together…people from multiple Wisdom streams joining together in hope for the world, and open to the deeper relationship with the Conscious Circle of Humanity…that is a powerful force of truth and love. As this Wisdom lineage grows and emerges, it is calling for that deeper alignment in daily life, in our neighborhoods, and drawing us into the reciprocal nature of practice and action, the inseparable weaving of inner and outer life. That we may be more deeply rooted in the fruits of our lives and practice, and ever more of ourselves in service to the whole as part of all Being.
posted December 5, 2018 by Laura Ruth