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We humans are story-telling creatures, and we are also storied—we have levels of stories and insights inside us. And here is a secret: we open to the most profound truths when we relax and let go and dwell peacefully in these bodies on the earth. “What are we really working with?” asks the martial arts master Peter Ralston, in the soon-to-be-everywhere “Power” issue of Parabola (http://www.parabola.org/) “Regarding the body, we must begin with the most obvious and simple description of what is there: an object in space resting on the ground.”
A group of us did just that yesterday in the beautiful cool space that is the New York Insight Meditation Center (http://nyimc.org/). We started our day sitting in silence, abiding peacefully in the body. After, we allowed the stories to come. There were stories of loss and love and search, rendered in rich sensory details. Some of these stories carried the sense of being in a body on the earth. We return to the body and the earth in moments of great shock, moments when great human stories are forged.
In Moments of Being, Virginia Woolf describes a few instances in childhood of “sudden violent shock” –a moment of suddenly remembering that she was in a body alive on the earth. “I was looking at a flower bed by the front door; ‘That is the whole, I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plan that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; ad that was the real flower; part earth; part flower. It was a thought I put away as being likely to be very useful to me later.”
Yesterday, we experienced the way these moments live in us like time-release capsules of living truth. Very useful.
“All you’ve got to do is to stay where you are,” taught the author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton to a group of novices. “You don’t have to get out of this ‘base, earthly being’ which you are and climb Jacob’s ladder and get way up in heaven where God is, because if you do that, you’ll never pray. You couldn’t pray.”
Yesterday, I remembered that writing can be a way of praying, a way of opening to what is unknown, allowing it to appear…or not. Transcribed and collected in a work called Hidden in the Same Mystery, Thomas Merton’s teachings remind us that whether it is prayer or writing, there is really only one place to start: “You have to start where you are and stay with it, because God is in you as you are, and doesn’t expect you to be any other than you are….”