Sunday, September 27, 2009

Soulspace part three..... a summoning to prayer

If you're interested and haven't read the story I've been writing about a place named Soulspace which overlooked the Greenbelt Festival site?

Part one is here

Part two is here.....

I happily post this piece on the 4th anniversary of starting this blog. WOOO HOOO!

Soulspace part three: A Summoning to Prayer.

"The heart is the place where beauty arrives; here is where it can be felt, recognized and shared. If there was no heart, beauty could never reach us. Through the heart, beauty can pervade every cell of the body and fill us. To use a word that feels like it sounds: this is the thrill of beauty through us. Perhaps this is why we sometimes feel the absence of beauty in our lives; we have allowed the prism to become dull and darkened; though the light is near, it cannot enter to have its inlay of beauty diffused. Sometimes absence is merely arrested appearance. Compassion and attention keep the prism clear so that beauty may illuminate our life. Prayer of course is the supreme way we lift our limited selves towards the light, and ask it to shine into us. "
John O'Donohue,
Beauty, The Invisible Embrace.

Little by little, the books and articles I have been reading and the interviews I have listened to about faith, spirituality, and human behaviour over the past four years are being synthesized. Changes in my perspective on how I want to live my life have profoundly impacted the way I see outwardly and the manner with which I explore inwardly. Writing on concepts and ideas triggered by what I've read has helped this process considerably. Discussing them with people in my life, especially my husband whose knowledge of religion and history and his personal religious beliefs far exceeds my own, has helped me digest it beyond simple comprehension and has helped my confidence grow ... a confidence that propels me to seek out more, to step into new, to question it fully, to feed my excitement about walking into the wild where answers are open for interpretation.

Instead of having doubt stop me from exploring, it is now just a component of healthy perambulations into the world of believing in God. Doubt is needed, just as much as certainty, just as much as infinite curiosity.
Of the authors who have touched my ever hungry heart and head, John O'Donohue has been my chosen guide. His intricately woven poetic prose with all its layered meaning quenches, refreshes, surprises, acknowledges, teaches, affirms, blesses. Throughout my 4 days of attending the Greenbelt Festival, I truly felt his presence and I thought long and hard about the lessons I had learned from him. It both saddened me knowing I would have to wait to meet him beyond this world and made me smile knowing how profoundly he had emotionally and spiritually moved many people who were attending the same festival. In fact it was because of two very special people in my life whom I met through blogging who also encouraged me over the past two and a half years to join them at Greenbelt to drink all that it can offer, that I even learned about John O'Donohue in the first place. (I'm smiling now just thinking about them. I always smile thinking about them. Beautiful human beings they are, they are. :) )

Soulspace seemed perfectly constructed to deeply feel this Irishman's gifts. Perhaps this is why I was struck so quickly with a burst of emotions when I first entered the room set aside for contemplative quiet time. When I opened the door and stepped into Soulspace, the reason behind my "need" to attend Greenbelt flooded me extraordinarily. When I stood at the window and looked out at the tents, the people, the movement and the green rolling hills in the background, I was floored by its beauty, by a sense of the miraculous, by a feeling that Father O would've loved this Soulspace. His words filled me..... his descriptions I had read over and over (always deepening my own understanding of what Beauty is) were within reach. The possibility of "lifting my own limited self "was there at my fingertips.... all in the wanting.

Other guides who have reawakened me were there too in my thoughts. When I found myself sitting down to rest in that place called Soulspace, unsure of what to do next, I was pleasantly surprised that the words I had read on prayer written by Father Anthony de Mello spoke to me. It was de Mello's book Awareness which kickstarted this part of my journey in the first place, and gave this blog it's name and theme. He woke me up with his irreverent reverence. I've always thought O'Donohue and de Mello would've enjoyed each other's company. Their passion, their intelligence, and their desire to poke and prod, to interact with God with infinite curiosity and a confidence to be themselves seemed similar in many ways. Sadly, they both died suddenly and way too soon for those of us here on earth. Perhaps they have crossed paths in Heaven, eh? I'd like to think so......

Ok, where was I.....? Father de Mello had simplified prayer and de-mystified the process for me by suggesting that prayer was stillness and meditation. It was about learning to breathe calmly. It was about listening to everything around you, allowing it to blend into your own thoughts. It was about allowing your thoughts to come and go while you learned to think with your heart. Praying wasn't always about reciting rote words. It didn't have to happen sitting with your head bowed in a pew. Hands don't have to be clasped. Heads can be bowed or not. It could happen anywhere, and would be just as powerful if you take the time to stop, be still and breathe. In and out. In and out. In and out.

I followed his direction and did exactly that. I let my body find its natural resting place. Given how much it needed rest, it was easy to comply.... so much easier than in past attempts. When your body is unable to keep up the defensive shield....the mask, when you simply cannot help but feel vulnerable, the prism of self leaves openings for the light to get in. "There are cracks in everything, " Leonard Cohen sings..... "that's how the light gets in."

My eyes closed, my body slackened. I held the little heart shaped sandstone I had chosen before I entered Soulspace in my left hand and felt its presence. For some reason that stone held within its rough make up a connection to purpose. Somehow the little chosen touchstone represented me and all of my complications. As much as I was entering into a relaxed zone I had never gone emotionally, spiritually, physically, the stone reminded me of me. It lay in my hand, scratching my consciousness. I couldn't help but lose my focus on the summoning to prayer because of its scratchiness.

Another piece of absorbed learning however soon altered the path of my thinking, away from feeling that the sandstone would interfere with any attempt at prayer. I was rescued by Frederick Buechner, an American clergyman, whose thoughts and words on this subject have continued to reach me like finding a brightly coloured welcome mat in front of an open door to a place I want to enter and become familiar with. His thought-full and believable description of what a prayer is also filtered into my thoughts as I sat growing more and more comfortable in my own "soulspace." He wrote:

"Everybody prays whether [you think] of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their own way. These are all spoken not just to yourself but to something even more familiar than yourself and even more strange than the world."

I smiled to myself while revisiting this passage now internalized as a permission slip to go on with life knowing I was someone who prayed and that prayer was LIVING life emotionally and expressively. Prayer is a good thing and not a foreign mystery others employed on Sunday mornings in little white churches. It is not something to be in awe of, or to be afraid of. It is not something to be dismissed as a crazy ritual separated from the rest of living and doing. We don't have to behave like worshipping lemmings to receive its holy medicine. All we need to do is to be open to being awake and responsive to the world around us. All we need to do is open the door to our own heart.... aha.... aha ....

in and out
in and out
in and out
the door creaked opened
my shoulders and neck offered up its tension......
I entered into a thin air space

light, airy, refreshed with oxygenated insight
It happened ...... as naturally as inhaling air.....

I began to hear a choir softly singing a repetitive hymn. The alluring somewhat familiar sound seemed to come from the floor in front of me like a soothing spa I could fall into. A repetitive beat of drumming moved in to accompany the choir. At times the two forms of music seemed separate, like i was hearing it from different ears and at other times, it had blended into one like a flowing harmony.......quiet, soft, inviting me to enter into it. Strangely, I hadn't heard the music until I had silenced the noise inside me.

I thought of Father de Mello's be open to the sounds around you and to allow them to merge in with your breathing. For once, it seemed like a natural process. As my breathing became softer like I was falling asleep, my whole body stooped forward, my head tilted down. Currents of worries and tension, of stressful adrenaline and fatigue stopped circling inside me. The constrictions swimming through me which had caused my energy to feel depleted loosened its grip and I could literally feel the baggage I had been carrying around (some of it for a very long time) started to drop off me through my hands. The river water dropped out of my fingertips......

I pictured this letting go process as water coming from little tributaries flowing into a larger river of its own unfolding. The choir continued. The drumming accompanied. I was beginning to sit in the oneness of the sound on a raft going down a lazy river flow. In and out In and out In and out....
Unwelcome noises startled me a couple of times as I tried to stay on the raft. A little boy who was standing at the window overlooking the glorious vista down below and outward began asking his father questions in a loud voice. At first I was irritated. It felt like an invasion and I could sense my thoughts were being pulled into my irritation. Determined not to lose "the moment," I tried to block the noise. I tried to ignore it. When that didn't work I was reminded again of Father de Mello's suggestion and changed my thinking. Within seconds, I began to hear the little boy's voice as innocence and not as an irritant. Soon, his inquisitiveness filtered in, blending into hymnal choir. His voice became part of the drumming.

It was amazing! Once I realized how easy it was to fold the soul scratchy noises into my meditation, I was able to continue doing so. I had started with a feeling that I was being summoned to prayer, but some time during that experience, I had become empowered to do the summoning. The openness to it rather than the blocking of it had turned me into a relaxed compliant vessel.

Thoughts came to visit but only stayed for a short time and then moved on....down the river. Feelings came to visit but only stayed for a short time and then moved on.....down the river.....

in and out
in and out
in and out........
my breathing seemed lightly automatic and I stayed aware of it

Suddenly, my whole body quickened tight when I realized no one knew where I was. Not one important person in my life, both at home and at the festival knew where I was! Initially it left me fearfully vulnerable. I had lost touch. I was all alone. There was no where to hide. No one was coming to my rescue if I needed them to. I wasn't in a place either where I could be reached if they needed me. Isn't this how I had always defined myself? Isn't this the sustenance which fed my ego..... this sense of always being needed?? Surely someone must be looking for me. Someone must need me I thought. A strong pull to put a halt to this personal prayer moment gripped me.

Again, de Mello's advice soothed me..... let go of the thinking.... there is no urgency needing my attention and more importantly, let go of my ego... my sense of importance for once and just be. It helped to know that the two women I connected with at a talk on Empathy in a tent called Hebron earlier, who originally told me about Soulspace.... the same two women who serendiptously greeted me at the entrance to this sacred room just minutes before were most likely sitting where I had found them. They knew I was in here. They had embraced me like a sister and pointed me in the right direction.

I softened..... returning back to the sound of the choir, the beat of the drumming..... My learning was there too, visited by guides who had taught me through their own words, their own learning. God was there too. No, I didn't hear Him. No, I didn't see Him. I just knew because as quickly as my ego anxieties were alert, they left me floating on the raft. Safe.

work, life conflicts, uncertainties, tangled love, chaotic mishaps, self doubts..... toxic thoughts and complicated feelings which clog the tributaries of souls including my own began to loosen. Stillness arrived.......stillness like I have never felt before found me. Time slipped away from me. As I sat within the otherworld's timelessness, I seemed to find myself outside of the blur of everyday life. It lost meaning and my experience in the blended integration I felt meditating illuminated the boundaries around me. I no longer heard the noises, or felt the movement of others. The sound of the choir and the drumming wove in and out of my awareness. I found a comfort I had never touched upon before.

In the midst of this stillness, the slow shallow in and out of air, I was tapped with a realization that I had somehow opened my left hand, allowing the rough heartshaped sandstone drop to the floor. Given how symbolic it had become, this disturbed me enough to open my eyes. I looked down at my hand and saw that it was still closed and yet I couldn't feel the stone scratching the palm of my hand. It was the strangest feeling. I opened my hand to find it still there, and this realization that the feeling of the stone had also blended into me. It was all that I needed to travel beyond the threshold of visibility.

Don't ask me how long I sat there after that. I have no idea. Don't ask me what I thought, or how I felt. I don't know. It didn't matter. As much as my senses were clearly in tune, they had turned inward and became a guide to visiting my own holy soulspace.

in and out
shallow light breathing
in and out
beyond awareness

beyond loneliness

beyond difficult complications.

I stayed there in a bubble of timelessness.
My senses thrilled by the radiant opening of beauty.

Eventually, a new breath rhythm caught in my throat, which triggered me to open my eyes. My first sense was one of refreshed restfulness. It was like I had slept for a four hours. I looked around and no one looked familiar. There was a man sitting beside me quietly praying. He was inches away from touching me and I had never felt his presence. The bright green sweater was so starkly illuminating, it almost startled me.... how could I have not felt his presence when he was sitting so close glowing in GREEN?

As much as I was refreshed, I was also a little discombobulated. I didn't know what to do next. I knew I didn't feel like entering into the crowds down below. I felt raw like I had been cleansed and scrubbed too much .... I was too shiny or something. After gathering my balance again, I walked towards the exit and saw a pile of stones carefully placed by the human beings who visited before me, creating a cairn. I knew I wanted to place my little piece of sandstone somewhere on it. So, I squatted down and looked over the growing sculpture. There was a much larger rock which had been broken in half and left halfway up standing like a precipice ledge. I placed my stone on the ledge ........... not at the bottom of the cairn, and not at the very top.... halfway up. Perfect for me.

I opened the exit door and stepped out a different atmosphere. The two women, my new friends had moved on. This saddened me because I wanted to thank them... to tell them how meaningful Soulspace had been for me too. I wanted to describe to them how it had "filled my boots..." I wanted to describe how alive and refreshed and alert I was feeling. I wanted to connect with two people who would intimately understand the transformational feelings I was stunned by. But they had moved on. It forced me to figure out what had just happened on my own. In retrospect, this was what needed to happen. As difficult as it seemed, my aloneness was an important component to how the day continued to unfold.

There was no one to share my experience with.... to talk it out so as to understand it more fully. I felt lonely but determined to find a bench out of the way of the flow of people to jot down my initial thoughts and feelings in my journal. It was important to try to capture this transformational experience.

What had been clearly evident as soon as I had opened my eyes is that much of what I had allowed to drop out of my fingertips cleared the way to making a few personal decisions. I had known for a long time I had let go of a few conflicts that I had allowed to hover for far too long. Some of what I had resolved surprised me completely. Given that I had no conscious plans or intentions to address these personal issues, they found me as I sat blended into the middle of the sound of the choir and the drumming.......

I walked away from Soulspace, quickly found a bench away from the crowded pathway and began scribbling like a crazy woman. Thoughts, feelings, phrases, names, little details that would come in handy where captured in a spreeeeeeee....... I filled two pages in a matter of minutes as I remained quiet and contained., unwilling to break open to the "real world." It was at that point when I heard my name out loud for the first time since early that morning. It pulled me right out of a deeply focused tunnel, from the same place where I go when I'm in the writing zone.

Hi Dana....
Someone who knew me......???

I looked up to see the smiling face of an angel named Alison whom I was just getting to know through the friends I had gone to Greenbelt to meet. I had driven to the Greenbelt site with her from the hotel that morning, which seemed like years before and I hadn't seen her since then. Her timing was impeccable, like she had arrived by the guiding Hand of God when I needed someone to ground me again.

From the outside I'm sure I appeared to be the same, though I did have my head down scribbling away on a bench in the middle of nowhere! She asked me how I was, how my day had gone. As soon as I tried to open my mouth, the rush of emotion flurried through me as I stunningly had a smiling meltdown trying to explain to her what I had just experienced. I'm sure I made her uncomfortable. I mean how does one handle the erupting emotions of a 40 something woman who has just experienced something personally profound? I burbled and stammered and tried my best to find the words to describe how beautiful it was to have experienced meditative prayer, but it was a stumbling attempt at something I knew I needed more time to churn through. Alison the angel did exactly what I needed. She gave me a hug. She sat with me until I pulled myself together. She let me spill out in all directions. Thank you beautiful Alison. Your unconditional kindness was a blessing.

We spoke for a short while, as I gathered myself up for the next event. I thanked her for being at the right place at the right time. We wished each other well knowing we would both be back at the hotel later that night sitting by the bar debriefing with the others. Off she went to capture the festival through the lens of her camera. Off I went to take in the much anticipated talk by Pete Rollins whom I had met informally the night before, who had left me intrigued! Turned out, he was another Irishman filled with magnetic brilliance that shone out of him in thought provoking irreverent reverence. But, that's another story I'll save for another post.

It's been four weeks since my visit to Soulspace and I'm still processing what happened and how it impacted me. Some were automatic changes. For example, the confidence I had lost while trying to cope while working in a toxic environment for so long finally returned. I no longer feel the residuals of that experience and I can see this clearly in the way I am approaching my job as a counsellor at the Community College and as an Instructor teaching an evening course at the University. I'm juggling both jobs right now along with another counselling gig and I'm completely in my element. The second guessing is gone. My wings are fully open, in flight.

I have reshuffled the focus on a few commitments in my life... some I've let go of, some I've recommited to. As well, for the past year I had a strong desire to pursue a new career with the vision of becoming a Minister. Strangely, this seemingly transformative experience which you'd think would've reinforced this move had the opposite effect. I realized I have no interest in working within the bureaucratic confines of any formal religion. I've had more than my share of clipped wing functioning. These decisions, recommitments, changes were revealed to me as soon as I "returned" from the meditation and opened my eyes. Who knew that was going to happen???? It's all a big whopping relief.

More than a couple of spooky moments followed the Soulspace experience. It's like serendipity has been placed on Speed! One after another, after another!! The latest one happened last night as I was in the middle of trying to find the words for this piece to describe the choir and the drumming sounds. A friend sent me a link to a Youtube video of some music he had described to me earlier in the day. Beautiful haunting music. I listened to it, enjoying the feelings it provoked in me, and the thoughts it generated. When I finished listening, I looked at the Youtube sidebar to see if there was another song I could listen to. and chose the top selection. All of a sudden, the music filled my room with familiarity. For, unbeknownst to my friend, he had indirectly sent me the choir song I had focused on while I sat in the room called Soulspace. All of a sudden, I was reunited with a piece of music that had moved me into the thinness of time where beauty illuminates..... where God dwells. SPOOKY!

Coincidences don't exist.....

I never again saw the two women I had originally met in a tent called Hebron at a talk on Empathy. In fact, I don't even remember their names. It was like we power touched one another, walked a few important steps together and then moved on. I may never see them again ... this is most likely but who knows? Wilder things have happened in this global village. But, the impact on this pilgrim astounds me still. I wish them well.......... and send out a cosmic kiss across the starry sky to wherever they live.

Soulspace..... it truly did lift my limited self toward a beautiful light and taught me how to breathe in a new and profound way.

ps..... here is the link to the beautiful music which I finally heard when I was able to silence the noise inside me....


Sarah Brush said...

Still loving reading your reflections on GB.

Allegri's Miserere Mei - LOVE THIS ONE. Sang it in a choir once (not the exceedingly high bit!!) and it is as much a joy to sing as to hear.

Awareness said...

Thank you Sarah... :) It's a bit bloody long for a blog, so I'm pleased you have read the whole rambling. I can imagine standing in the middle of a choir singing it and how moving that would be. Though, I think I'd have to fake it and just hum away in my mind.....
Good to "see" you again....

Selma said...

Congratulations on 4 years. Wishing you many more.

I admire your spirituality. It is well-considered and intelligent. You inspire me towards a path of self-improvement.

Awareness said...

Selma....I decided to post this long missive because I had hoped the story would resonate with others, and to give an example that if I can find that wonderful soulspace inside me, anyone can find theirs too. Part of it is stepping out and taking a risk or two.... by getting to a point where you are ready to find that stillness and not fill it with distracting noise.

Writing has allowed me to delve into various thoughts and feelings and try to tie them with previous learning and reading. It has opened doors for me I didn't even know existed.... doors to new friends with ideas to share and compassion to offer.

The very thought of even tapping on the door where spirituality dwells was dismissed outrightly by myself not so long ago. I had walked away from it all. Little by little it unfolds and alights.... it's lifelong.... this crazy process of becoming human isn't it?

Thanks Selma....

Anonymous said...

Hey Lovley 'Edna'

I loved reading this. It isn't too long - the details allow me to go there with you, to feel the stone, to be irritated by the boy's voice and delighted at your successful integration of his voice into your experience - "this, too".

I've been listening to Tara Brach today. It is wonderful to find the commonalities between such different traditions.

Thank you, as always, for your spirit.

Hugs, Jenn

Awareness said...

Thanks Jenn.... Sometimes it is so difficult to gain perspective on what one creates eh? I think things are more common than we realize.

see you this weekend.