I walk. And relatively, a lot. Daily, it amounts to an average of anywhere between 3 and 5 miles. I guess that makes it an average of 4 miles per day.
I walk my kids to, and sometimes from, school. The distance is only around .5 miles, but can take anywhere from between 10 minutes, if I’m carrying my youngest of three sons, Lucas (3), to around 20 minutes, if I’m allowing the boys to mozy, explore, and romp-doing my best to re-direct them from picking up cigarette butts, eating food off the the ground or stepping in dog shit, all the while corralling them away from the street.
My walking has increased since the reception of our six-month-old Spanish water dog Flor (meaning flower), a few weeks ago. Having lived in ‘el campo’ for her first five months, city life has been quite a shock. Passerby cruise past on scooters, as do bikes, those-stand-up-handle less-Segway-things, not to mention dogs and people walking at various speeds; some cane-assisted, others sticky-fingered, small, and squealing. Oh, the noise!
Oh. All. The. Noise.
In October, I participated in a mostly silent retreat. Our days were occupied in a varied rhythm of chant, meditation, teaching, dialogue, mindful work, shared meals and time alone to explore the Silence. The retreat took place on the beautiful grounds of the Othona West Dorset Retreat on the southwest coast of England. Along with our facilitators, the group embarked on the task of building a collective body-working mostly with the tools of the Christian and Sufi Wisdom Traditions.
To my great delight, the most meaningful experiences for me came in sharing meals, and engaging in simple, mindful work.
Steeped in Silence, the smacking food, knocking glasses, and chiming cutlery, all began to sound like a simple, yet elegant, symphony of the profound privilege of human participation; in contrast, of course to their sometimes-irritating edges, or their unconscious relegation to being the background noise for daily existence.
In this heightened awareness, the thought dropped down into my heart in the form of the following words:
“It’s taken the Silence for you to hear the beauty of the noise that’s always surrounding you. And it’s always, surrounding you.”
A couple of days ago, on a Tuesday, Flor was spooked by another dog to the point that she pissed herself. Since then, she has regressed in her potty training; peeing and pooping only inside the house, despite her ‘cinco salidas al dia.’
The monastic practice of the divine office-rhythmically stopping to “remember…that the work we’re doing is not who we are and is not as important as we think it is_”[i]-is a practice, albeit in an adapted version, that I’ve decided to take on in the daily walks I take with Flor. And it has begun to open up more space to receive the reminder of those “little interior glances,” inside other routine activity.
Gerald May, devotes an entire chapter to exploring the interior glance in his book, The Awakened Heart; a simple, yet subtle, practice taken on and taught by a 17th century French chef, named Brother Lawerence.
“The Interior Glance…is a contemplative look Godward. It does not necessarily mean looking inward; it simply happens interiorly. It is an attitude of the heart leaning toward the truth of God’s presence, or a flash of the mind opening to the remembrance of being in love. It might involve a thought about God here and there during the day, feeling our desire for love now and then, performing small consecrated actions, leaving little reminders for ourselves, or anything else that can help pull us our of our forgetfulness for a moment. Little interior glances are simple things: unadorned remembrances and noticings happening within the ordinary activities of our daily lives. They come and go. They are not meant to be held onto.”
After consecutive walks with Flor not relieving herself outside, my practice began to reveal itself as wanting. Rather than leading to the experience of surrender I found myself clinging to my need for her to take care of business. Genuine intentions coupled with their common companion of mixed motivations-the fraudulence of my false-self struggling for its survival.
But then, came a thought, in the form of a question.
When you cease having projects to do and there’s no more problems to fix, what’s the place for spirituality in your life?
One of the tasks we were given on retreat was to pay attention to our automatic and unconscious ways of performing common tasks; noticing when we had left the moment and then gently returning to our task with mindful presence. After these periods of mindful work, we were encouraged to return to our rooms and write-down any observations.
In the course of following that encouragement…I returned to my room one morning after having spent time washing cars.
The half-turn stairway leading up to my room, ran into an old window hanging just over the stairway landing. The window overlooked a winding asphalt driveway. The driveway was set underneath an elevated gravel parking lot surrounded by shrubs, with trees lining the back of the lot. Several cars sat atop the lot, most of which belonged to fellow retreatants. Looking out, just below the window, I noticed the cars I had spent time helping clean, cringing, then smiling to myself, as I noticed some missed spots. Walking up, I turned left once reaching the top of the stairs. My door was the first on the right-hand side of the hallway. Jangling the keys from my rain jacket pocket, I unlocked the door, and slowly stepped through the threshold.
The room partially mirrored itself. Twin beds faced one another alongside opposite walls. One bed lay just to the left-hand side after entering through the door. The other sit underneath the far wall beneath a large rectangular window that looked out over an old, simple building, purposed as an art studio. A chest of drawers sat in between the heads of the beds, and a dormant, stone, fire place rested in the corner just right of the window. Upon entering the room, a fairly large wardrobe lined the wall to the right. The floors were carpeted with an industrial, Berber like material. And a wastepaper basket sat lined with a white plastic trash bag just in front of the fire place. My grey house slippers sat atop the stone skirt of the fireplace.
Taking off my jacket, then me shoes, I slid into my slippers, easing onto the bed, while glancing out the window.
I picked up my black journal, from off the chest of drawers and began recording what I had noticed during the that morning’s mindful work. It was around 12:30pm and the clouds had opened up to provide for a beautifully sunny day.
I took in one more slow glance, admiring the green grassy slope below the art studio, still glistening from the early morning rain.
Anticipating a stream of consciousness dump of new insights, I began writing.
I jotted down several lines of observations, in hopes not to miss the experience’s meaning – “We had the experience but missed the meaning,” writes T.S. Eliot. But after those first several lines my sense of being able to reflect on anything disappeared.
I held my pen off of the page, sinking deeper into the experience. The sunlight, the furniture in the room, my body, were all there, in harmony somehow, I sensed. A bit of time passed before I wrote down these words.
This is the third time now where I have stumbled into seeing something more clearly and it seems significant. I fell into a field of knowing which leaves me with only my naked Being in Love. No more words or processing are necessary at this point.
I was left knowing a presence, knowing me. Subject to subject -mouth to mouth with the moment.
T.S. Eliot’s words call our attention to the importance of reflecting on our experiences. Yet, often we don’t have the experience to begin with. And sometimes when we do actually have it, we discover there’s no higher meaning than that-that is, truly having the experience.
In these gaps between self-reflection, we are invited to turn and see, discovering that we ourselves are already, always, being found in the Holiness of the Now.
Sometimes it just takes enough of the Silence to notice those spaces, allowing our self-reflective mind to drop into the nakedness of our Heart.
This morning, Flor finally pooped outside.
It’s still got me wondering though…
When you cease having projects to do and there’s no more problems to fix, what’s the place for spirituality? What becomes possible in the surrender of outcomes?
[i] Cynthia Bourgeault in Singing the Psalms: How to Chant in the Christian Contemplative Traditon