Words of Introduction – Unchain the Mind, a weekend writing retreat with Bobby Marie
Allowing thoughts to arise and flow, words on paper, creative ideas, powerful voices in a complex, contradictory, unjust and confusing world. And when we let them go, we discover deep inside, a quiet, a field in which new and authentic thoughts are free to sprout.
That we struggle to turn our thoughts into powerful and original writing, is not simply about our grasp of the rules of grammar or vocabulary. It is about the inner blocks and censors that have settled in our minds.
In this retreat we worked with writing and meditation within the natural and quiet beauty of Dharmagiri to see these inner blocks, oppressors and censors clearly, and to by-pass them in order to allow the flow of words on to the page with sincerity and honesty. This was not a traditional “writing skills workshop”. It was a space where we could explore the power of our own words in the form of writing.
Bobby offered us a space, some ideas and support to assist us to design own writing practice that would allow our thoughts to flow freely as words into writing. The retreat combined a process of meditation sitting, walking, or just being quiet, with writing – with filling blank pages with words.
The writing that emerged during the retreat follows in a compilation of our pieces put together by Bobby after the retreat together with a description of the processes that Bobby used to help us write freely and to offer each other our experiences as listeners when we read out some what we had written to each other.
The retreat was a fascinating journey into flowing with and through words with each other – learning of each others’ struggles – life struggles and writing struggles – reflecting on different viewpoints and how we navigate our way through these differences – sharing moments of pathos with each others’ suffering, moments of joy in playing with each others’ words, and moments of surprise as we discovered what others hear from us – at times quite different from what we imagined we were conveying!
It was also a wonderful exploration of the interplay between form and formlessness: between letting words flow out as thought forms into word forms on paper, and then allowing all the words to dissolve back into the silence of meditation – going beyond the words and forms to merge into the background awareness where we watch it all appear and disappear back into stillness again.
So we wanted to share the experience which for each of us was so very rich – and here it is!
Day Zero – Our Words on arrival
Arriving, I was already here. As always. Never different no matter where. Flowers, keys, program, setting up, waiting and wondering, on my own. Anticipation of writing the mystery. Gentle, soft arrivals feeling their way into the unknown. Comparisons, doubts, concerns, fleeting like wisps of mind dust in the wind. To finally settle in the welcoming candlelit warmth of the promise of a journey into flow.
Friday arrival at Dharmagiri was rather nervous as I had never attended a Retreat before and had no idea of what the Writing portion of the time was going to comprise. But I was determined to have an open mind and just let it happen, I have a tendency to get myself into a tizz over nothing and then feel silly afterwards. I was there before anyone else but C welcomed me and showed me my room, we knew each other as I had gone to the Monday meditation classes she guides though I hadn’t been for some time.
Stigma and preconceptions causes us to label certain groups of people as rude and unhelpful. But I arrived after yet another positive public transport experience. I realised I was tired when I could not follow the programme for the retreat in the dining room. Even positive days can be long and tiring. I think my host saw this and assured me there is another in my room that I can peruse at my leisure. There was chatter around the supper table, and we got to gain a small glimpse of each other. Some more talkative, and myself, surprisingly, also participating.
In the week before arriving, there were changes, thoughts that we should not go ahead with the retreat. All my plans (written in matrix formation) wobbled. I too. I’ve been to Dharmagiri, many times as a retreatant and I looked forward to it. But this was different. I was a “teacher”. Anxiety and doubt set it. So what was the plan. S advised. No plan. You have a few ideas, a few approaches, methods, pack it in your bag and keep walking. You will work out. So I arrived attentive, listening, the plan will emerge. On the evening I arrived, the road was hidden in mist the mountain was not to be seen. In this uncertainty, M who fetched at the bus stop, drove carefully but kept driving with intention. So we reached Dharmagiri to start the retreat.
Day One – Our Words start to flow
We walked on the mountain side in the midday sunshine. Using our little note books as baskets, we gathered words, objects as we saw and heard, and smelt the fragrances in the air, soil, the mountain, the sky itself. We associated each word we collected with thoughts and feelings that arose from somewhere within.
In the afternoon, in the meditation hall, we spread them on the floor like fresh spring flowers, we let them go. We invited each other to pick words that asked to be picked and make a little sentence of meaning or even no meaning. Then link them all together. This we did in communication with each other through our silences but the voice of our words.
It was a good first day in our retreat and our poem brought smiles into our quietness.
And then night set in, clouds built up around us and the wind begin to howl.
Here is the poem we wrote
Reflections of the Mad Rooster in the Mud Hut
The ominous future reminds me of another time
When rotting memories became dry and normal
Threatening the earth with xenophobia
I smelt decay
My generation walked past the young
The loss of rights and failed schooling
Left children caught in the awful
Mystery forest of sadness
Their call was heard only by the grass
And our future returned as a cloud
Smelling the rich night we called up to the sky
We were studying the rain on damp sticky fences.
Recognising the warm side
Took us to a time of blessing
And the primary beauty of the moist
Landscape without fences
This brought back a majestic smile
The mad rooster ran into the mud hut
It is me
Reflections on the day
The mad rooster exercise was a delight of fun and interest, surprise and play. Pulling words out of their context, muddling them up, and watching them reform into new meanings as other hands sentenced them out in multi-colours on the board. Struggling to allow words to lead the way into ideas instead of the other way around. And yet still each mind finds its own way to express its own concerns, history, humour – how intriguing is that.
The Mad Rooster got thrown into the mix and was the real but welcome “disrupter” of the whole writing story. I had to giggle because there we all were trying so hard to dig deep, be conscious of how words make a connection with our innermost secrets, introspect and haul out the deepest emotional thoughts even while we used everyone else’s mixed-up words, and suddenly there we had a Mad Rooster and a hut, like from the sublime to the ridiculous. Brought us all into the real world like a ray of sunshine.
I become a participant, adding, words to a mad poem. I feel it has helped bring us together.
I started off on the poem writing process with some doubts. Will this work? But such concerns and questions soon left my mind. The free writing process jumps all blocks. The poem writing process worked wonderfully. We laughed in (mostly) silence as the poem started to take shape. There was a giddiness in the room. I felt somewhat intimidated as Bobby read initial contributions, wondering if my inputs will measure up. One person commented that they could see from the nature of the words from whom they came. A person with a keen sense of awareness. The poem had a wonderful mystique to it. Serious and silly.
A Reflection on Words
We talked about words and their power. This discussion arose out of how randomly and how lightly we used the word “Mad”. Each of us came to this word differently. It was ok, we had created an environment where our differences enriched our perspectives. But what held us together, we did not conclude with agreement or disagreement?
Here is a reflection on our discussion:
words have power
Mad. Crazy. Insane.
Mental health is contested terrain. Stigma. Discrimination. Professional power yielding. Legal disempowerment of human beings.
Professional power. Label power. Word power.
What are the value of our words? What do our words signify? What are the implications of our words?
What is censorship? If a person uses a word to describe themselves does it give another person the right to use the same label to describe the first person or is this a right reserved to the in-group? If many out-group people use a label does it make it acceptable or is it a form of out-group power domination? Should certain words be off-limits to those not part of the group they describe or is that too politically correct?
What is political correctness? It has become a swear phrase. Does labelling labels as politically correct close debate or does it facilitate deeper discussion? Does it contribute to understanding or to indifference? Does the changing nature of labels mean it is a waste and that anything goes or is it an indication of striving for a better world?
Should we consider dignity? Should we consider empowerment? Do out-group people have any right to determine which labels we may use?
Words have power. Words can give dignity and words can take away dignity. Words can inspire and words can disempower. Words expose how we see the world. Words expose our deepest inner beings. Words influence our actions in the world. Words give meaning to shared worlds. Shared words can nurture understanding in shared worlds. Or our words can foster divisions in contested worlds.
Our words influence our actions. Our actions can contribute towards building a better world. Words have power in building a compassionate world. We should choose carefully when picking our words.
Day Two – Words and the snow fall softly
It is Sunday the second day of our writing retreat, the first week in September, the month, when the rich dark hills, break in fresh green shoots, first for the new year. It is our planting time, when the blanket of cold falls away and we stretch our limbs and prepare for endless sunshine that will last months on end.
But it snowed last night in Dharmagiri,
Gentle piles of fresh flakes covered the grounds, a feather light eiderdown. Will this make us warm, bring us together, as we learn new skills to difficult often insoluble questions of our lives. How mysteriously opposites combine.
We gathered again in the meditation hall. Began the special writing approach we learnt yesterday. Put your pen on the blank page, keep your hand moving, don’t stop, for correctness, the rules of grammar, just let your thoughts flow, spill over the page in create their own meaning or no meaning.
We broke for meals, sitting meditation, walking meditation and returned again to our writing. In the afternoon, we invited each other to read, if they wished, their thoughts on paper. We listened to the words, received the message, we felt the message as it appeared as pictures in our minds and touched our body.
Then we spoke each in turn
- What words stood out
- What message did you get
- What did you feel as you listened
- What pictures did you see in your mind as your listened
- Where in your body did it touch you.
This was our feedback gentle hands, caring hearts.
With this feedback we reflected our writing and adjusted if we wish.
Our thoughts , feelings , words on paper
Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri . We were given first signs early in the evening but never expected snow, the rain was freezing, a howling wind, curled around the mountain, and swept across the Underberg valley, turning water into ice. The morning awoke in a blanket of fresh snow, crickley crackely layers that so nicely carried the patterns of our shoes.
The excitement of snow, to one whose life and previous life was the sweltering heat of the tropical sun, where all is dry and brittle, wet and green. White? All this a cause for excitement, the novelty of an air that is crisp with frozen moisture, the recolouring of green and gold to white and black, surprising the senses. For a while as little children we danced in the fresh flakes but then the biting cold that we are not used to set in.
Today, I will begin the morning with a free write that would begin with a word or phrase from which to begin our walk with our words. What words should I suggest, I looked outside it was first light on the eastern hills blanketed with snow
“Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri….”
It snowed last night at Dharmagiri – no surprise to those of us who live locally, and experience it often, we could smell it coming. But there is always everything magical about waking to that hush, the ethereal light, and the loveliness of a wonderland of white. There is a sadness, and a profound spirituality, about a snowfall. I wonder if it is because of the transformation it brings – before the snow there is one landscape, and in the space of a few hours a completely different one, a pure, untouched, mystical, almost unrecognisable world. That touches us, makes us introspective, perhaps we hope that could happen to us, a transformation to something new in a few hours?
And there are happy memories for some of us, of a loved one rushing out into it playfully and excited like a big kid, building snow goblins, throwing snowballs, acting dilly. And it reawakens the long and difficult process of dealing with loss, of coming to terms with what “gone” means, and of how high a price we pay for love.
Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri. It was cold – it was super cold. I was not turning on my heater because I was worried that the power might trip. Comforting my girlfriend over the phone while bandaging up my finger, I thought “wow it’s my ring finger on my left hand – the marriage finger”. It seems somehow significant that I would hurt this finger so badly. That it would rot, and that my girlfriend put up with me all that time, yet I treated her so badly on this day. It seemed that in the moment that she forgave me after I had apologized, just then had the snow started to fall, almost as if the snowfall was a sign of my absolution.
Isn’t it up to the individual to ultimately collect him or her-self and find their own meaning in life? I wrestle and challenge myself with this question. Just when I think I have everything figured out, something hectic happens and rocks my world. Why can I not collect myself? Am I meant to fall apart all the time and rebuild myself – build myself back up again. E (my GF) started a 1000 piece puzzle to distract herself from the pain I had been putting her through with my silence that day (yesterday) she told me over the phone. She told me over the phone how much she loves puzzles, the only puzzle she didn’t like was mine. Am I a puzzle? A puzzle to others and a puzzle to myself? My book is titled An Indigo Puzzle. I feel blocked to write it but I know ultimately it is me who is blocking myself. Am I bound to make the same mistake over and over again?
This morning the snow outside was thick. I first observed it outside my window. Without electricity I would die… or would I? Sitting in a meditation posture could save me. My feet are always freezing, but tucked away in a half lotus they warm up. Is my body telling me to sit? It seems I have too many questions but no answers. Perhaps I should just sit and let go of the thoughts. Enjoy the present silence, that the white blanket outside blesses us with.
Last night it snowed at Dharmagiri. The mountain was covered in a magical coat by the time the sun slowly emerged from the east. Far removed from home. Flowers covered in white snow. Birds drinking sweet nectar. Where is home? Where am I going? How I am going to get there? I hear the chatter of the birds as they drink the nectar from the flowers covered in snow. Talking, we need to continuously talk. Through talking we create meaning. Through sharing we create understanding. The icy wind bites at my face. What does it mean to live in the present? Does it mean letting go of guilt? What does it mean for the future? The snow-covered landscape makes us see with new eyes. Listening to people makes us see our lives with new eyes. I’ve come this far, why is the doubt still there? The picture is so clear. When the sun goes down behind the mountain most of the snow has disappeared below. We see the land as we saw it yesterday. For a moment in time we lived in an exquisite white wonderland. Is that what living in the present is? We have a choice to do, knowing that it will disappear, or not doing, knowing that it will never be.
It snowed last night at Dharmagiri and well aware of it we were searching through the early evening first mushy snow in the dark for the missing cat. Looking with torches under bushes and in the sheltered spaces of doorways and passages finally coming face to face with her sheltering in the carport under a car. Blinded by torchlight, out of reach, and definitely not wanting to move. Hiding away and not wanting to be seen. Really? Or was she wanting to be found?
Images from a childhood movie of a family hiding from Nazi torches in the dark behind gravestones terrified of the toddler making a sound and giving them all away. Why do we ever need to hide? What is so terrifying? Why do I hide? What is this fear of being revealed? How strong and powerful and painful could it really be? Well, I know how it can be and don’t want it again. Or do we have to walk through it like breaking through a wall of fear?
Reminds me of walking down European canal streets at night trudging through dirty mushy snow under foot passing gleaming black metal poles slushing along and talking of revolution and change, organization, strategy and tactics, words now foreign to me, foreign and dead. How did I get so interested in all that? Walking beside a man pacing like a trapped lion, feeling his energy searching and searching, such striving, so much focus and concentration, me complaining but thinking it was good to be toughening up for the fight ahead. And all we were really doing is going to someone’s safe warm home for the night.
The mountain lays in front of me with blemished magnificence. Magnificence divided into fenced territories. Symbolised ownership. Dividing the land. Barriers built between your land and my land. Walls between you and me.
The African continent lies scarred with fences. Artificial boundaries imposed by people alien to the land. Foreign people intent on ownership and wealth accumulation. This is the legacy of my people.
The legacy continuous. Keeping some people at the margins. Children. Children born stateless with no access to being legally human. Children living within the fences of the land but banished to exist outside the fences of society. Denied schooling. Denied employment. Denied legal existence. Denied humanity. Denied hope.
Children called udoti by those who answered the calling of nurturing young human beings. Children accused of stealing if they dare eat of food provided because they have no legal existence in a database maintained by those who chose to take responsibility for ensuring the constitutional right to free basic education and the constitutional right to dignity. Failed leaders.
Children. Human beings whose parents and grand parents and great grandparents have lived inside the fences that divide the continent but discarded outside the fences of society. Children. Human beings whose children and grandchildren will grow up inside the fences of the country but who will not be allowed entry into society.
Living inside visible colonial fences but outside invisible colonial borders. Children caught up in fences not of their making. Children caught up in fences that they are not permitted to dismantle. Stigma and xenophobia infusing lives with hatred and pain. This is the legacy of my people. Fences that deny hope…
Reflections on the Day
The snowfall was like a gift from nature to bless us all, and it dominated a lot of what we did. It was a focal point for words and the reaching into ourselves for meaning and deep feelings. For me it raised quite deep feelings of sadness in missing my late husband, but also a light-hearted feeling of remembering his child-like joy as he enjoyed the snow. But for me there was suddenly quite strange feelings of not being quite sure who I really am as if the snow had cast doubts, made things uncertain, and wondering at my stage in life if I ever would know who I am, a bit disconcerting. Maybe that’s because as we discussed the snow completely alters the landscape.
Making words in the snow. I see someone writing outside with a stick in the snow literally making words in the snow. And didn’t I do that trying, for the first time, to form a little Buddha out of the snow on the table outside? A word, a form, a symbol. I thought it would be so easy but it was puzzlingly difficult. Falling apart, not sticking together, not yielding to my strokes – what?! Like trying to patch bits of meaning together into something that will stand. But it all just keeps breaking apart and falling out of shape.
The snow that fell overnight created a sense of excitement in all of us. Reading my writing to the group was uncomfortable. It was raw and personal and had not been polished for public consumption. Going in to the retreat my intention was not to write on personal issues. But listening and participating in feedback to others, it would have created a power imbalance not to also share. The feedback process worked very well. Hearing how others received it helped to add more polish to our stories. A different process would have created writing blockages in the future.
The snow fall was a surprise, a gift, beautiful in its quiet, a sense of sadness and loss. I’m not sure why , sunshine , happiness, dark clouds sadness , but it is.
Day Three – Searching for words that are not there
So the instructions for the day were: Take your little basket (your note book) , walk meditatively, be aware of what you see, but look around it, behind beyond, look at the one who is looking. Then pick a few thoughts, words, phrases that emerge and free write.
A good facilitator would check, is the instruction clear and give participants time to clarify. But the method that had evolved over the past two days was, whatever, however your thoughts come to you, that is where you must be. The instructions were simply because somehow we feel comfortable when there are instructions.
A few hours later, we returned with basketful of wonderful words, phrases, sentences and a story that we all agreed should be published.
Following the Sound of Running Water
I follow the sound of running water. A stream hidden behind the bushes. Crouch lower I slip underneath low branches. In front of me lies an empty, dry stream bed. I am puzzled. I hear the sound of running water. There is a pool of water higher up, and a pool of water down below. I hear the sound of running water. In front of me is a streambed filled with dry rocks.
How much of life is hidden below the surface. We are aware of things that have happened. We are aware of our behaviour. But the connection between the two is hidden.
I hear the sound of running water. Insects are pirouetting on the water surface of the pool above. They draw circles on the water’s surface that combine into intricate patterns. A ballet. The circles end where the dry, rocky streambed starts. Then some distance below the stream re-emerges. Do I need to know how the stream gets there? Do I really need to understand? What is the value of such understanding? Preoccupation with understanding the invisible stream causes me to miss some acts in the ballet being performed on the pool above. Is this what we do in life. Analyse. Over analyse. Analysis paralysis. Inaction. Missing acts in our own lives. Missing life.
I hear the chatter of the birds. I feel the soothing rays of the sun on my skin. What is the opposite of analysis? Of analysis paralysis? Doing? Just doing? Does doing mean not thinking? What lies underneath the surface?
Doing inevitably leads down paths not otherwise ventured. New worlds encountered. New people enriching life. Enriching our lives. With the richness also goes other experiences. Pain. Humbling. Awe. Learning. Understanding. Growth.
The insects continue their ballet. Drawing intricate circles on the water’s surface. The water flows to the pool below, following a path invisible to the eye.
But could we live without our stories?
Looking out to the mountain, fresh green leaf shoots pushing out into space, soft cool breeze vuvving around my ears blurring the sharp melodious chirps of birdsong and the dull background rumbling humming of the odd passing car.
Mountain monkey sitting and mountain man resting, both gazing out in opposite directions of the sky. What are they thinking? Are they spirits of the mountain? Maybe the mountain married the sky yesterday adorned in her sparkling white dress. Today she is green again with only a few jewels left glittering in the sunlight.
So different today she is. So different today I am. Tired out of a restless night the morning greeting me with strange signs of new fences, sprung up who knows when? Gone the flurrying excitement of yesterday’s snow leaving the moist dryness of winter grass exposed. The day-after effect following inevitably on some great movement of the heart, invariably besieging the soul.
Little things, little signs of change, flagrant and capricious, as an unexpected eddy swirling through my blood, sending a cold current tingling to my toes. Ominous change that dawns like darkness casting its shadow like a shroud over yesterday’s glorious mountain. Can we disarm our shadows I wonder, or are we condemned to live the illusion of a world without them?
Forever playing games with meanings in words and sentences, paragraphs and pages, commas and full stops, and still more words on and on and on forever. How long have we been telling each other stories? Do they ever really change? Is there a finite set of themes? And why do we eternally find them so fascinating? What is the point of going through it again and again and again throughout the millennia of the ages. Telling stories on and on and on.
But could we live without our stories? How might our lives be different? Can we even imagine that? Or do we need our stories to make our lives feel important, significant? Would it still be a search – this time for the meaning of meaninglessness, coming full circle but still caught in the same frustrating game. Or might it be that we would flow through time, moment by moment, awestruck by the exquisite beauty of the kaleidoscopic panorama of momentary fragments falling into new patterns; ephemeral as sea sprays blown away by the wind?
An atmosphere of grey, brown, pink and orange, blend like the natural peace of a setting sun at the end of busyness. Just sitting and watching. Soft flames reaching for the heavens of inner stillness. Searching for meaning among the dying embers of thoughts. Sinking softly into silence. Just being. Like looking into the eyes of an elephant and meeting with presence. No hurry. No agenda. No push or pull. How I would love to trust enough to play with the elephant, abandoning all fear of the powerful allure of the unknown, knowing that the elephant senses what I don’t know that I know about myself. And just how will he reveal it to me?
Dry bits of scattered broken grass lying on the earth. Reminder of Eliot’s Hollow Men and how it meant so much to me that poem about dry sterile brittle meaninglessness. Dry, broken, scorched and terrible earth; something happening beneath the surface. Mind can’t see, can’t feel, don’t know. Living in happy land and our eyes are blank like death seeing nothing but pretence of life, love, devotion. Why so poignant this expression of brokenness? Is it just a reflection of my own brokenness that I see in the eyes around me?
Flapping wings of birds in flight – flap, flap; flap, flap – so rapid like a drum beating rhythmically passing by just overhead. How beautiful are the birds. How deeply they touch the depths of longing for freedom, independence, movement, aliveness. We have lost so much of our intuitive ability in the maze of modern urban life. Who are we becoming? What are we turning into, destroying the earth and making such an ugly mess of our home? Do we believe ourselves to be so invincible as to be able to force the whole of nature to bend to our will? Unrelenting human hubris.
Musty, mossy, fungal smell of soaked wood on soaked earth. And I am back in Chithurst monastery in the forest, green so green in grey-brown sticky, gluey mud smelling moist of rotting leaves and crumbling wood. The bridge over the stream – that smell, full and rich in my nostrils – leading to the special soft secluded spot – shaded cool peace in the still silence.
Conversation with a Rock
So – our writing Teacher has sent us out in Walking Meditation, armed with our little notebooks, to look and find some special object, to concentrate on the negative spaces involved with that object, and discover something that will resonate in our personal journey, and spark some inner, reflective thought that may result in a piece of writing that may rock the world. I was making a very poor job of this effort, somehow my wellspring of deep and profound thought seemed to have dried up.
I did find a tiny plant that before the snowfall was looking very cheerful, and now was clearly frostbitten and tattered, but after consideration and a desperate search for some negative spaces, I decided that the theme of eventual triumph after struggle and adversity had been done to death by far more competent writers than myself.
Exasperated with my clear lack of insight and profundity, I leaned on a large convenient rock. The Rock harrumphed quietly, and I moved away. “I’m sorry”, I said, “I didn’t mean to disturb you, that was rude of me”. “Not at all” he said graciously, you are very welcome to lean. It’s just that so many people do that, but then they never stop to chat, just rush off looking scared, and that seems rather ill-mannered to me. “Well” I replied, a little uncertainly, “it is rather strange you know, really I don’t think I have ever had a conversation with a Rock before”? “Oh yes you have. When you were a small child you chatted to rocks and flowers and trees and even hairy caterpillars. But then the world got in the way, grown-ups you know. And the South African Education system has a lot to answer for. All that discipline and stifling of imagination. And the rubbish they teach children these days; really it shouldn’t be allowed. Then children forget all the good stuff, the important stuff, like being in touch with all of us natural people around here.
He paused, and as I was a little uncertain of how to continue this conversation, I said politely “It snowed at Dharmagiri last night, so it must have been pretty cold out here”. He snorted. Now that’s a thing you don’t forget quickly, a Rock snorting. It’s pretty impressive. “Don’t be daft, I’m used to that. And he paused again.
Then he said with a rush “I suppose you think it’s really boring stuff, being stuck around here for millions of years and not a lot going on. Let me tell you, life was not always so mundane. There was a time when my existence was full of drama, and turbulence and really scary stuff. Oh boy, there was a lot going on back in those days. It was pitch dark, and there was din and racket, and terrifying violent shaking, explosions and blast after humungous blast. Things were falling apart everywhere, the world heaving and groaning and roaring, with blood-red Magma and infernal rivers of blazing lava pouring in every direction, and it went on for many many years. I just tried to keep a low profile. It was hell I tell you. Then suddenly there was a particularly horrendous shudder and contraction, and the next thing I was ejected from the earth’s womb, and was flung miles and miles up into the air”.
“Well, that was really nice you know. Lovely feeling it was. It only ever happened to me the once, and it didn’t last long – but I do feel that I have something in common with the birds, though they just refuse to acknowledge that I can fly”. He sniffed. “They think they are so clever but there weren’t even any birds then, they came much later, even though they give themselves “airs” now”. And he giggled. A giggling Rock is very disconcerting, really it is.
He went on – “Then I landed here with a huge crash and a crunch and rolled for a bit, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m lucky you know, the wind, the rain, snow and ice are all my special friends, they love me, and they have shaped me over time as all proper friends should do. And all the local birds stop off for a chat from time to time. I ask them not to leave calling cards, but as you can see sometimes they forget. There are some birds any respectable Rock doesn’t bother about of course; the vultures are a really nasty stuck-up bunch, always circling about with no time for polite conversation. The only time we see them down here is when there is something very dead and smelly around”.
“I have my favourites of course, there’s a lovely little rock-jumper feller calls regularly, keeps me up to date with everything that is going on around here, in the village and on the farms. The only thing that troubles me is this lichen which grows all over me in spots, really I don’t think it’s aesthetically pleasing and I’m rather proud of the way I look, I’m a rather handsome Rock, aren’t I. But there is nothing I can do about that, the wind and rain have tried but it’s very stubborn. Never mind, it is what it is, and we are all called upon to accept our limitations”.
“Are you here on an escape”? he asked. “It’s called a retreat” I said. Alarmingly, he snorted again. “Same thing, if you ask me, but folk seem to find them useful and healing and I have to say it’s nice to have people back and forth, it’s a peaceful placed this. It’s been called all sorts of names since I arrived, but now it’s Dharmagiri”.
“Now – there’s your bell for your next Meditation. Off you go – C, bless her, does try to keep everything running to schedule, though sometimes it’s like herding cats around here – she’s lovely C isn’t she?” “Oh Yes” I replied she is lovely. “I’ve got to go Rock” .
“Bye then – pop back and see me before you leave, ok”? OK – Bye….
Reflections on the Day
The Mountain delivers the Stone and we look behind and beyond
What a day. To me it was like a sudden rebellion, a wish to no longer earnestly dig and strive for emotional stuff and find connecting words that linked to feelings and intellectual constructs, which is an exhausting business, and I felt I just couldn’t anymore, because my head was full of big-word stuff fighting for importance. And a simple story rose up in my mind like a spring, filled it up and came spilling out. I couldn’t write fast enough for my mind to translate the words into my fingers. It was cathartic, soothing. And I hope more of this happens I enjoyed it, it was so much fun.
The mountain, the river, the stones. We look behind and beyond. Going out and looking at the shapes of space – so strange – I never look at things like that. Unexpectedly difficult, but so interesting. Looking at the spaces between the leaves and branches of trees I could feel them pushing out into space. How amazing is space – so malleable – refusing nothing as Mandaza would say. Allowing everything and anything to move into it. No disturbance.
Urging us to look at things differently. It reminded me of something that I had observed on Saturday but did not think to write about. There was a wonderful story of a conversation with a rock. My piece again was personal and polishing it did not add enough shine.
Day Four – Words of Departing
Departing, but actually staying, although departing too. Sadness and breathing out. The kindness of common history in worlds so far apart. Tears that long to be shed. What? Where? When? How? Why? The classic journalistic impulse leaping towards shared perspectives. But we go our separate ways leaving bits of ourselves in each other’s hearts. A sunny day ending our exploration of the flow from the heart out into words all held in the space behind the words.
It was a good experience. Monday supper was very chatty, and it was interesting to hear people’s stories. The writing methods will definitely be of value in the future. Both personal and professional. It also felt good to be heading home. Determined to use flow of consciousness writing. Hopefully I will create opportunity to return to Dharmagiri in the near future.
We worked within the Dharmagiri structure of waking (to M’s 6.00 bell) siting, working, sharing in wonderful meals, sitting, resting and more siting. There was a writing process with guidelines, work that was built on over many years by so many people across the globe. But it was okay that we did we improvised as we went along. Perhaps what held us together more than the structure or the process was our intention. We had the intention to be there for each other with respect and love. And the intention to be there for ourselves. to free our minds, our hearts, a task to be done by none but ourselves.
Written By – all who attended the retreat
Photos By – Bobby Marie & Kobus Meyer
About Bobby Marie:
I am an activist as a way of living. I participate in struggles to bring about change now, to protect the freedom of all people, to promote a sharing of the earth’s wealth, as well as the poverty, to oppose all forms of oppression, economic inequality and domination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. I am an activist so that people would live in harmony with our planet and the larger universe.
I have been part of the rebellion against race rule in South Africa, the black student and community movement of the 1970s and the trade union movement of the 1980-90’s. I am currently involved in movements who support communities living near mines resist the destructive actions of mining corporations in Southern Africa.
I try to be a reflective activist, I have a personal practice of contemplation, of being quiet and learning to listen to self, to connect with the energy flows of other people and our planet. All of this so that my activism arises from love and not fear and that my intentions do not slip into being another form of the destructive will to power and survival of self.