Uncovering Your Soul

We’ve just finished our last art/culture trip. We’ve sold the business after 15 years. The last 13 of the 15 we married a variety of art courses to the inspiration of Italian life. It has been transformative.

When we began we knew only that the way Italians lived and the intimacy and beauty of Orvieto’s streets, piazzas and buildings touched a cord in us. Over time we discovered that this pairing of art and place reconnected people to their souls. It has been beautiful. Humbling. Evocative. Renewing. Affirming. Yes, transformative.

Changing times and particularly the way technology erodes the ability to be in the moment have had an impact. But even through this very last trip art, Orvieto, and staying in one place absorbing for a week resulted in many people recounting to us how life changing the experience was.

It is a struggle for people to stay connected to their souls, to that inner compass always there to guide us, to stay true to who we individually are. What we have been so privileged to witness is how a week here with us in Orvieto reconnects people to themselves. We have received countless letters, postcards and emails telling us how the trip was a blessing, a milestone, a life changer. It’s not us. It’s this place and way of fulling engaging life, interpreted through a creative medium that opens eyes to truly see.

It touched Kristi and me early. Four years in we returned to the U.S. and knew we had to make a change. After four years of biannual visits where we were deeply connected to people and life we could no longer live an anonymous, American, suburban life. We began the search. Two years later our house went on the market and we moved to to a connected, soulful, rich life in a small town.

We are lucky. The people who traveled with us are lucky. We’ve all found – or more accurately – uncovered our soul – for it has always been there waiting patiently. For this we have Orvieto, her people, her way of life, and the creative pursuits that helped see it better to thank. There is no way to adequately say thank you. The many soulful lives growing out of the experiences here however, bear testimony to what a great gift this place has given.

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The First Moments of Meditating

Are my favorite. They are unlike any other time during meditation, at least for me. Nothing profound or deep. They are moments of great peace, of feeling completely in myself, of feeling safe, of all being right with the world. In those first few moments I feel called to sit, to be quiet, to just be there, to surrender. And I answer the call completely, wholeheartedly, without reservation, with relish. It is the most sublime of feelings and sublime of times.

Why? I have no idea. It is like I am falling into myself, into the perfectness that is me – for me. John O’Donohue said,

“Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul . . . “

Morning Dove or pigeon flying in front of a smoke-hazed morning sun

And perhaps that is a bit of what those first few moments are. A settling in to the inner temple of the soul. No judging, no evaluating, no processing, no considering, no planning, no looking forward or back. Just sitting with myself.

I love meditating and all that takes place when I do it. But I can’t say that it is calm or quiet, or easy. It is all kinds of different things, but it is nothing like those first few moments of absolute bliss. I can’t hold onto those moments. They don’t last long. But they are the best.

Trulli Houses of Alberobello, Italy

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Just Being

We in the West are doers. We are predisposed culturally to always be doing. We are raised to not have idle hands – the work of the devil. It is an unbelievable curse, for there is so much to be gained in simply being.

I am probably more content than most to just be. Seven summers spent canoeing the Maine wilderness gave me so many opportunities to be. Sitting, watching the sunset or moon rise at the end of a day, getting in a rhythm of paddling across a broad lake, where I was doing but also just being, hours in front of a mesmerizing campfire led me to appreciate and relish doing nothing, to feeling the contentment that comes from just being. No doubt, my mind was whirling most of the time. But I do believe there were plenty of moments where it was quiet.

Sunset at Darrow Wilderness Camp in Maine

It is harder to do today, but I am moving back to being more comfortable with it. When I have nothing to do I now try to tell myself to accept it and not look for something to fill the time. It takes effort. It takes conscious effort, for our default is action. Christophe André puts it like this in Looking at Mindfulness:

“Taking action, directing, influencing – we are itching to do all these things and soothed by doing them. This is both the great strength of human beings and our great weakness.”

I think my meditating is helping me just be more often. At times while meditating I glimpse infinity and eternity. And when I make a conscious effort while not meditating to just be I again get those moments of experiencing the infinite. It is quite beautiful and something I am increasingly grateful for.

Just Being at Homer Cottage, Southwest Harbor, ME

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Generational Horizons

A few years ago OnBeing interviewed two of its regular contributors – Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin. At the time Palmer was in his 70’s, Courtney 35 – 40 years younger. Palmer said something interesting. He said the younger generation could see farther over the horizon because of their vantage point. And that it was important for the generations to talk with each other because what they can see, and we can’t, is coming our way. They help us.

I think this is one reason I do love interacting with younger generations. Not only do they have a really good take on the world and its possibilities, they see and accept what is coming more than we.

Molas Pass, San Juan County, Colorado

I’ve just finished 6 private lessons with my yoga teacher who is 40 years my junior and a full 10 years younger than my eldest child. Here is this woman of immense wisdom helping me as I delve into meditation and the broader aspects of yoga. She is stewarding her time infinitely better than my generation ever did. Now she is talking to me about doing her teaching, counseling, and guiding online, with downloadable lessons and online classes. Yes, this is being done a lot these days. But this would be a first for me. She is looking over the horizon I can not see, bringing it to me.

I have to say, however, that I can see over the horizon in the other direction, which she cannot see. And, there is a bit of wisdom to be gained looking over that horizon. Some of the young people I have the joy of interacting with are interested in my side of the horizon. We aren’t going back there, but there are some things to take away that will be of value for those looking over the horizons I can’t see!

Drum Tower, Weishan, China

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How Hard it is to Meditate

Learning to meditate is truly tough – in large part because of our expectations about what it is and the consequent lack of success in doing it. These expectations are born due primarily to what little we know about meditation, all the hype it receives, and the glowing long list of its benefits. The truth is it is much simpler and, at the same time, much more difficult than most of what you read. So I am always pleased to read things that truly explain what it is to meditate. The following is from my current favorite read Looking at Mindfulness by Cristophe André.

“In reality, what we call thinking or reflecting is not producing thoughts (that work is beyond our will or intervention), but sorting and organizing them, putting them into a hierarchy, trying to focus on some and develop them, while trying to banish others. This is why it is pointless to hope meditation will lead us quickly, and to order, to a kind of mental silence or absence of thoughts. This does sometimes happen, but only for a moment now and then. Then the chatter starts up again. . . . .”

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Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

“. . . . Mindfulness work on thoughts simply means being aware of the irrepressible chatter of the mind and its power to draw us in. A moment comes when we are no longer observing our thoughts, but in them, carried away. We must then return calmly to our breathing, and then to observing our thoughts. Gradually the difference between ‘thinking something’ and ‘noticing that we are thinking something’ becomes clear.”

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Live oaks and Spanish Moss on Hilton Head Island

André is delightfully honest and poetic in his descriptions. The “irrepressible chatter” is such an apt way to put it. No questions what he is talking about and it certainly lowers your expectations.

I am just a newbie at this so maybe it gets easier to avoid drifting into thought. But if you go in expecting a blank mind, you will quickly be disappointed and frustrated. And if my experience is “normal”, getting to a calm mind will be a long time coming.

If you can stay with it there is something quite compelling about it. I am having physical sensations I’ve not had before, there are periods of intense focus, my attention does get absorbed at times. (And then there’s all the chatter!) It is hard to describe the benefits and the whys for me other than to say I enjoy it, find it worthwhile, particularly at this stage of life where life is an exploration with no boundaries. Too, I just feel a call to do it. I am also the beneficiary of my extraordinary teacher who has been guiding me as I go along. Having her support has been invaluable.

It is, for me, both being and becoming. In meditating I am attempting to be. And it is a new form of becoming – post career. Kind of fun.

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Planning the day of adventure in Melbourne, Australia

 

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Words

I love new perspectives. So often they are such a surprise and a wonderfully new way of seeing the world. Here’s one I just read on words and sound in Looking at Mindfulness by Christophe Andre.

As soon as we produce words, we tend to leave the experience of our senses behind. We are no longer in the world of sound; we have left it for our mental world. . . . As with all our mind’s automatic reflexes, it is important to realize what’s happening inside us. It is important too to make a regular effort to free ourselves of these reflexes, and to return to listening to life neutrally and receptively: Listening with mindfulness, which sometimes gives us access to something unheard-of. Something we have never heard, because we were never really listening. . . .

Southwest Harbor, Maine

It is so true that when we hear a sound our mind goes into action. Occasionally, say when we are at the ocean or beside a stream listening to waves and running water, we are drawn into reverie out of thinking. Typically, however, a sound generates mental activity. What a novel idea to just listen and hear without reaction of any kind, without interpreting, without judging whether we like it or not, just hearing it.

And to have the prospect that we will hear something we’ve never heard before! Love it.

Buonconvento in Tuscany, Italy

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The Body-Mind Connection

Surprisingly, mindfulness and meditation are very much about the body. As usual I wasn’t making the connection until it was pointed out to be in Looking at Mindfulness. As I read the chapter “Inhabit Your Body” I realized how connected the two are. Yet we mostly don’t think about it or unaware of it.

“Body and mind are totally inseparable; neither ever lets go of the other. Calmness in one affects the other, and so does excitement.” True, no?

Oranges in the Orvieto market

One of the intriguing things about meditating is that I do focus a good deal on the body. I feel sensations in it and in a vast array of different ways. Until I read this chapter I wasn’t making the connection on the duality of the mind-body relationship while meditating – my mind focusing on my body and its sensations.

Author Christophe Andre says “Body and mind are neither one and the same nor two separate things. They are two different but very closely connected realities. Being aware of the connections between them can teach us a great deal. This is what it means to experience your body.”

And about meditating he says, “Sometimes, when we allow our body to exist for our mind, we feel strange sensations, as though we were leaving our body behind and it was floating, or very heavy, or changing shape.” I’ve experienced this meditating. For whatever reason it is one of the reasons I enjoy it.

The physical practice of yoga on the yoga mat presents opportunities to look at the mind-body connection as well. I have a hard time doing it, but it is becoming increasingly intriguing to me to try to be aware of the connection. When I am being pushed, my body shaking with the effort, what is my mind doing? How can I simply “be” with the feeling watching it. It requires incredible discipline and fortitude. My teacher is guiding me in this and offering the opportunity to practice in class. The first thing she says is to breathe. Then I need to relax. Relax! Dang. But if I can, it helps. Then feel it. Not a problem there. But going forward to watch how I am reacting and simply allow it to be there is really, really tough. Maybe this is why I like it. It is a whole new kind of challenge.

New/Old in Sydney, Australia

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