December 21, 2015

So a Jewish Girl Walks into This Monastery...

Meditation, silence, and simplicity cultivate mindfulness. 
Now, mindfulness is a concept that pervades our zeitgeist as deeply as oxygen permeates the atmosphere. Its very ubiquity makes it easy to be cynical.  However, in the uncomplicated space of retreat,you ultimately discover that, like oxygen, the stuff really works.

Our teachers thankfully broke their silence each evening to share teachings about courage. A word that, in Hebrew, actually translates into two words that mean "heart strength." 
I've been trying to capture their words for you. So I've spent most of this day in a cycle of inspired typing, followed by demoralized deleting (interrupted by intermittent attempts to rescue the chili that I started cooking before realizing that I actually have no fresh, canned, or dried chilis anywhere).
So what did I experience at the feet of these masters in Jewish text and tradition, seasoned by deeply refined and precise Buddhist tools, inside the stone walls of this once Catholic monastery?

It only makes sense to let a German poet stirred by Russian Orthodoxy explain.
 From Rilke's Book of Hours, translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your belonging.
 Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows that I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.


  1. When you first mentioned trying to find the courage to undertake this pilgrimage, I wrote that you had all of the trail markers to find your sacred self. Now I wasn't speaking of a manifestation of holy or of an out of body experience, I was speaking of the courage to simply be, to experience time away from the norm, to seek whatever would come. One of the things I hope you found was what you have always had in you, what I referred to as your sacred self and I was so moved to see it defined so clearly in Hebrew as "heart-strength" something I have always felt you had in abundance but perhaps you needed to find this for yourself on this pilgrimage.

    1. The core of the Chanukah story, the reason it is called the Festival of Lights, is about what happens when Temple Management goes back into the building after the Greeks desecrated it. There clearly wasn't enough oil and yet, when they poured it into the candleabra and lit it, it lasted for 8 days. Rabbi Sheila turned me on to the idea that it takes courage to let let go of having enough oil, to walk forward even when it appears there will not be enough. In some way or another, there will be enough. And that is what came, what you speak of. I feel so touched that you feel this in me.

  2. such a sense of peace & tranquility in this place

    1. And with everyone silent, it felt like it looked.

  3. Oh golly. I love the Rilke poem, and I love what your retreat has stirred in you. I also love the ecumenical quality of the experience. Religion has so often fostered duality and emphasized tribalism. It is great to feel the transcendence that is possible when openness is valued.

    1. The Rilke book is called "Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God," and it is overwhelmingly beautiful in this translation. Like Rumi, for Westerners. From this retreat, I see religion (any of them) as tools to achieve openness and from that, compassion and love.

  4. so...i looked to find was just yesterday that this posted. It feels like longer. When i first read and looked, my eyes stung with tears, how it is for me, i didn't weep, but there was weeping inside of me, just stinging tears on the Out...i wept inside of me because of the Beauty here, of the Place itself that was offered for this retreat, for the ones who sat the one who needed to lie on the floor, the room, the old stone creation and it's reflection...all of it and to place you IN this like i might place that paper figure of mine on my altar, to place you, "my" Julie, in it just was incredibly joyfull. I can put a lot of words here, but they would be words. You went. You stayed. You Felt and Brought Home. I love you so much for this.

    1. I feel the same for what you share.

      Funny about that person lying on the floor. You know how there's always one in every crowd? If we were sitting, she layed down. If we did yoga, she sat. If we walked, she did yoga. I remember once keeping myself separate from others like that.