“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Recent early morning chest pains soared my blood pressure to boiling, and landed me hooked up to an emergency room EKG machine. This inadvertently kickstarted my self-imposed 30 Mindful Days project.
I had planned a small gathering of friends for the evening prior to my “official” 30 days. Instead, I spent the evening propped up on my sofa with strict orders to remain supine, rest, and keep anti-inflammatories in my blood following this faux-heart attack. In layman’s terms, I had an inflamed chest cavity that was likely caused by my insistence that I can lift any heavy thing that I want. And the day prior to this ER escapade, I had awkwardly lifted several heavy items so that I would not further injure an already injured knee.
So there you have it. The old mare ain’t what she used to be.
With a minimum 48-hour prescription of doing nothing but rest, I completed reading one of the three books I intended to consume during my mindfulness project.
Now concluded, the 30 days of mindfulness was imperfect. Or was it?
I participated in a Deepak Chopra webinar, learned more about subtle activism, met with and wrote about two ocean activists, concentrated on a Dalai Lama project called A Force for Good, and wrote copious lists of ways that I can self-improve.
My agenda included less interruptive noise, news, and nuisances.
Each of the three books I picked to read addressed three elements of my quest: spirituality, nature, and creativity. This is where the 30 days succeeded — not masterfully, but adequately when considering that my goal for less noise, news and nuisances was not that successful.
If I could add another 30 or even 60 days to my mindfulness project, perhaps I could grab complete control over the distracting beeps, bleeps and burps. Maybe. Maybe not. The calendar and life-responsibilities, however, won’t give me those extra 30 to 60 days.
So I decided to wrap the final days with a contemplative retreat at a nearby monastery where retreatants vow to not speak during their stay.
The Roman Catholic Camadolese Monks live a contemplative life at this hermitage (a remote place for retreat). Retreatants, like myself, lodge in one of nine rooms, or in small houses for rent. It is open to all people of all faiths. But the one thing that each retreatant must agree to is to complete silence. This means you do not speak and you do not play any audio gizmo.
The hermitage does not offer massage, yoga or hot tubs. But it does offer magnificent (and silent) views of the Pacific Ocean from the top of a mountain where each room has a private, ocean view garden. Three vegetarian meals a day are available. You bring each meal to your room and eat in silence.
The monks spend much of their time in prayer and song. Guests are invited to participate, but it is not mandatory. Unstructured meditations take place in the chapel’s rotunda several times daily. The monks also offer spiritual consultations for retreatrants.
Spiritual consultation? Yes. This I sought. It was time to sort out my inner journey, concerns, and questions with an objective voice. And I wanted to learn more about speaking truth to power, and my roll in that challenge.
The morning before I left for my silent retreat, I participated in a worldwide synchronized 10-15 minute meditation for peace in Syria. It was a miserable meditation that left me stressed and with a raging headache. The organizers’ report explained how exploding bombs and firing guns echoed below where the organizers, which included representatives from the three Abrahamic faiths, sat in prayer and mediation above the battleground. Maybe I linked into the battle and not the meditation.
From my sparse room at the hermitage, I watched the sun slip into the Pacific Ocean horizon. It turned the sky gold, and spread what I call “God Rays” into the air. The headache faded with the sunset. I stood in the middle of the room with no idea what to do next. I brought my books and a note book with plenty of purple-ink pens for writing. Instead I flipped through the literature the monk handed me at check-in. And there it was— one of my reasons for this 30 Mindful Days project. The monastery’s newsletter headline read, “Speaking the Truth to Power.”
To say that our current rash of hateful and bloviating politicians, fear-mongering and divisive pundits, and a new class of persons who believe weapons made for war are appropriate to carry on the street, in restaurants, schools and churches, makes me want to rip off my clothes, strap on a skunk tail, don my rabbit ears and run up the street screaming to the top of my voice. Furthermore, when these same persons state that men and women of peace and compassion are weak-kneed, misguided, and probably communists, all in the same breath of recitation of some religious passage, well, this does no good for my blood pressure. Compound these behaviors with an absolute denial of truth, which includes the fact that our planet is seriously compromised, and that a bogeyman lurks on every corner, I as a communicator, wish to speak truth to power.
But the above paragraph is in itself, divisive language that ultimately insults the very persons to which I speak.
Yet at the same time, based on my parochial education and an ongoing quest for what is good (God), I fully understand the meaning of speaking truth to power. At a time when “The vast and growing gap between rich and poor has been laid bare in a new Oxfam report showing that the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population,” according a recent report in The Guardian, the inequality on a worldwide level is breathtaking. And as we see with the current laudatory rise of a billionaire in our race for president, and the others candidates supported by a small group of uber-wealthy persons, do not for a minute believe these few have any interest in the underserved, especially if that means less power and wealth for the 1% who own more wealth than the rest of us combined. This statement does not, by any means, express my support of any candidate currently running for office. My concern, however, and the concern of those who speak truth to power, such as Pope Francis, and even Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is not from a socialist or marxist point of view. It is a truth to the condition of every being on Planet Earth.
So when I read and hear everyday people like me post or shout xenophobic, racist and misogynist commentary, all rooted in fear and misinformation leaked from those who wish to remain in power and control —and for their own good and none other — I am fueled to speak truth to power.
When good people wish to deny that our planet is tipping into deep doo-doo because of our rape, extraction, and misuse of every planetary element, I fully realize the power that twists science and facts into fear and misinformation. This fuels me to speak truth to power.
But I am an unremarkable nobody. I am a teeny-tiny voice that is barely heard in a world of shouting powerhouses. How can I possibly speak truth to power?
Yes, I could use some spiritual consultation.
I arrived for my 10 a.m. consultation early. I took a seat inside the hermitage’s chapel. Liturgical incense lingered in the air. On pillows in the rotunda, to the left of where I sat, a group of mostly younger persons sat silent in mediation. That sight, compounded by the previous day’s sunrise candlelight procession and vigils, through the evening’s vespers followed by a half-hour mediation, emotionally impacted me. There are good people who care.
My counselor, in his cream-colored hooded robe of a Camaldolese monk greeted me and gently grasped my hands. I crumbled into tears and began to shake. My guess is that he expected me to seek counsel for some horrible life event or experience.
“Let me explain my emotions,” I began as I wiped the tears and tried to regain my dignity. “My life is good with a healthy family and a pleasant life. I’m not spiritually conflicted. But I am deeply concerned about our world. I don’t know how to apply my only talent to help make a difference and be a true force for good.”
We sat face to face where one could see truth in the other’s eyes.
I watched this priest’s face relax in that I was not there to find my way through an awful marriage, nor was I facing a life-threatening disease, etc. I gave him a full resume of what I have done with life, what I do now, and a detailed recap of what I wrote above.
He seemed to rejoice in discussing the state of our world, spirituality, creativity, and our place in the universe.
He took the professorial position with explanation of both world and ecclesiastical history, and he became the wise and objective voice of a spiritual counselor.
“Charmaine, keep true to hope and don’t despair when speaking truth to power,” he said. ‘And go beyond the division.”
His eyes sparkled with this advice: “And when you feel despair, ask yourself, ‘How do ants empty a silo?’ One ant at a time.”
The 76 year-old scholar and monk suggested that I change nothing of what I do. “But at the same time,” he interjected, ”prepare your soul. Tragedy will happen in this changing world, but do not despair.”
As we neared the end an hour’s conversation, he added, that even though many find false comfort in believing that there is no such thing as climate change, and should calamity come down, as predicted and already indicated, “be sure to never use the I told you so retort.”
When I left the hermitage and ended my 30 Mindful Days I was liberated and no longer burdened with my directional choice in life.
A few new possibilities exposed themselves during these 30 days. Should these new options become reality, you will be the first to know. I learned in this brief moment of time, that even interrupted mindfulness opens doors, clears one’s path of stumbling stones, and helps each of us to come into full blossom.