Down from the Mountain

I’m home from my first week of “Community Dharma Leader” training at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, and I’m very glad to be home.  The rainy, cool weather in New York right now is the perfect soft balm after some scorching heat–inside as well as outside.  Since the organizers of the program understandably asked us to honor the confidentiality of others, I’ll stick to my own experience (I always do anyway). 

It was surprisingly painful!  “Contact! contact!” wrote Henry David Thoreau in the concluding pages of The Maine Woods.  Dag Hammarskjöld was of the same kind of person, not content to just think about life, wishing to experience it in the body, heart and mind–wishing to live in the largest possible context.  So off I went, heart on my sleeve–and learned that before we can really make contact with reality we have to learn to pick our way through what the Buddha called the “thicket of views.”   I came away with such respect for someone like Dag Hammarskjold, who was capable of maintaining an inner silence and calm in the midst of the most heated conflicts.  I came away wishing to learn what it means to live within. 

The most profound experience I had last week came one morning after I climbed down from the top of a mountain on the Spirit Rock grounds.  I had a moment of being truly present, aligned inside body, heart, and mind, on a mountain top in California, surrounded by pine trees, feeling “I’m here! How amazing!” –and I made an offering of myself in return.  In exchange for the gift of being there I gave up all my stories and cherished heartache and allowed the light of a finer attention to pass through me. I was willing to be still and know there is an infinite.  Soon enough, this state of willingness and receptivity turned into wishing to always be like this, and you know the rest, thinking about it, etc.  I noticed the way mental phenomenon, feelings, life keeps moving along like water in the stream and flowed back into the meditation hall and took my seat.  The talking about differences resumed.  Just for a moment as I sat there a persona I happened to be facing seemed filled with that same light I had glimpsed on the mountain. Only they couldn’t see it or feel and I couldn’t convey it.  I felt like an angel in Wim Wenders’ lovely movie Wings of Desire.  I thought of that quote from Gurdjieff that you can’t fill a hungry man up with bread just by looking at them.  What can we do for one another?

I tried this way and that way, overcame my shyness and spoke in the big crowd, in little groups, etc. etc.  Through it all I really felt the need to cultivate a way “to live within” in midst of life.  It saw how easily I get knocked out of balance.  I’m really interested in that special kind of willingness and receptivity that comes to us when is in alignment inside.  It’s an ability to receive things in the light of awareness–imbued with a kind of grace.

I suspect it takes being willing to live a big life in the ordinary sense.  As Ric Ocasek of the Cars said:  “It doesn’t matter where you’ve been as long as it was deep.”

8 thoughts on “Down from the Mountain

  1. Tracy, it seems you had a wonderful experience there, perhaps in part because of your sacrifice in going there. It may help to know that some of us were together in Chicago with two from NY and one from California to try and ‘learn how to work together’. My experiences those two days was similiar to yours and thank goodness the questions came. Such as the one you ask “What can we do for one another?” At one point when we were ‘working in the moment’ I felt a deep sadness and did not know why. I was quiet and listened to others speak and then I spoke to say that I was now gratefull for the sadness because I knew what it was. It was conscience and remorse of conscience and I was gratefull for it. Conscience is so needed to guide us in our relations with others.

  2. Hello Tracy,

    This is such a wonderfully sincere post. I have similar feelings after “work periods” or “retreats,” whatever you call them. What I find particularly striking about them is the fact that I don’t know what to do with myself when they are over. There’s this blessing that lasts a day or two before my usual habitual patterns reassert themselves where all the things that I usually entertain myself with are no longer important. I’m stuck face to face with myself. I find it discomforting and liberating at the same time. I came across a poem shortly after I read this blog entry and it seemed to relate to your words, at least for me anyway:

    “In the morning I mused
    It won’t return, the magic of life
    it won’t return
    Suddenly in my house the sun
    became alive for me
    and the table with bread on it
    and the flower on the table
    and the glasses
    And what happened to the sadness
    In the sadness too, radiance.”

    — Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky

    It’s such a wonderful description of coming to oneself. There is this sadness, and yet there is something else present. Sometimes I find it very difficult to make efforts in a so-called spiritual direction. I am too noisy inside. What can sometimes help me is the idea that none of this is for me. If I can’t find my sincere wish, then I make an effort for the benefit of my friends who have shown up, so to speak. Honestly, I don’t know what that means, but it feels right. I think that is one of the main reasons why a sangha is so important, even though on the other side of the stick, it may be comfy and cozy.

    Anyway, welcome back.

    bows to you and keeping the Dharma Initiative alive in you,


    1. Thank you for this, Luke. And for your FB post about the pitfalls of needing/giving approval, which can be like putting a leash on a student.

  3. What a beautiful post. The two comments above are a beautiful response to it as well.

    I’m grateful for the people who visit this site, and for Tracy. All my life I’ve wondered why people don’t just connect more often – make eye contact, listen carefully, take the time to nurture someone. I know there are needy people out there who can become infinite sinks for our energy, and we often fear this. But so many of us benefit from one smile or one pair of twinkling eyes or one genuine greeting. These connections must be made in real life, in real time – not just in the abstract. Every relationship, from the encounter with a cashier to a parent/child bond, can lift us out of the stew of our small worries. I don’t have the opportunity at present to experience what Tracy is experiencing, but I appreciate being able to absorb some of it through what she so generously shares.

  4. Hi Tracy.

    Welcome back. You returned in one piece or at least with the experience of having been in one piece. :) You wrote as part of a very sincere and meaningful account:

    “I tried this way and that way, overcame my shyness and spoke in the big crowd, in little groups, etc. etc. Through it all I really felt the need to cultivate a way “to live within” in midst of life. It saw how easily I get knocked out of balance. I’m really interested in that special kind of willingness and receptivity that comes to us when is in alignment inside. It’s an ability to receive things in the light of awareness–imbued with a kind of grace.”

    Yesterday I sent an email to Parabola asking if they knew of an approprite institution in the NY area that would be open to a two part presentation on “The Search of Simone Weil.” You describe her search. How do we honor such people that live with complete dedication to “truth” at the expense of their fantasies and how can we profit from them at the expense of our fantasies?

    Simone Weil wrote from direct experience:

    “Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.”

    “Imagination is always the fabric of social life and the dynamic of history. The influence of real needs and compulsions, of real interests and materials, is indirect because the crowd is never conscious of it.”

    It seems this is normal as I becomes part of a process that inwardly comes down from the mountain and becomes me. Do I choose to glorify it or come to grips with this acquired tendency? Is there a need to choose?

    How do we honor those with the need to live without buffers for the sake of the “Pearl of Great Price”? Are they abnormal for seeking “truth” or are we abnormal for being such a captive of imagination?

  5. Hi Nick:

    I really appreciate your passion about Simone Weil, an extraordinary human being. Perhaps you could attempt an essay, tailored to an upcoming theme, like Suffering or Seeing.

    Or even a Tangent exploring a few of her books and/or a doc about her life.

    Good luck!

  6. Tracy

    If you didn’t see the email I sent to Parabola which included my presentation as an attachment, send me a note and I’ll send it to you.

    I participated in the American Weil Society’s recent colloquy held in Boston College. I described the relationship between Gurdjieff, Simone, and one of my great great grandfathers famous paintings describing human “Choice.” When art vivifies ideas, they are complimentary.

    Members of the Society were invited to read their articles. I am new but learned it is a yearly tradition. After I finished, two students that were listening in asked for the spellings of books I read excerpts from since they were very interested. They wanted to read both Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” and Jacob Needleman’s “Lost Christianity.” If I can inspire reading meaningful books, why not?

    Read my presentation and tell me if you believe it is something that could be built upon.

  7. Tracy, Simone could also be included for specific themes like suffering. For example she wrote:

    “If we are suffering illness, poverty, or misfortune, we think we shall be satisfied on the day it ceases. But there too, we know it is false; so soon as one has got used to not suffering one wants something else.”

    “Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing; it is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.”

    “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.”

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