October 31, 2007
It's a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness. —Pema Chodron
Perhaps the best part of spending four days at a monastery is the experience of finding space and stillness. Of course, for me stillness doesn't necessarily mean sitting still. When I want to escape my own circling thoughts, I usually go outside for a walk. I need the rhythm of my muscles moving and the sound of my breathing to help me achieve that stillness, that spaciousness.
All around the monastery are miles of hiking trails that go up and down the hills, along the edges of sheep pastures and through the forest. The monks keep about 300 sheep so the pastures are pretty extensive. The fluffy white bodies of the sheep contrast with the brilliant fall foliage and still-green fields. The pastures are edged by woods, mostly on the steep hillsides, woods that smell of dead leaves and mud.
I kept my winter coat buttoned against the cold wind that rushed against my face, swept through my brain, and kept me awake and alert and very much in the present moment. From atop a hill, I looked down at the monastery, the white steeple just visible amongst the trees. How different things look when I am able to pull back and gaze at them from a different perspective. I walked until my fingers were numb with cold, and then I retreated to the chapel. Shivering, I pulled open the heavy wooden doors and stepped into the warm, musky air. That familiar smell of incense and melting wax is a scent that always makes me feel safe.
Inside the chapel, I climbed down the long stone staircase into a crypt, a dark room lit by natural light streaming though stained glass windows, set high on the walls, and the flickering light from the vigil candles that cover the low stone altar in the center. I sat in in my favourite spot, cross-legged on the floor on the stone floor, and gazed into the vigil candles, feeling pleasantly tired from my hike and entirely at peace.
Posted by jo(e)