Actions Speak Louder Than Words

samantha cross stitch

The preamble: When I was much younger, I was the proud owner of Samantha . She was a doll of the Victorian era, and as such, the make-at-home activity that came with her was a cross-stitch sampler. After much struggle (and much help from my mom), I became the doubly proud owner of a small pillow emblazoned with tiny x’s reading: Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Which I promptly gifted to my mom that Christmas.  There began the fodder for her admonishment upon my various actions of teens and twenties “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” – often with a sad downturned shake of her head.  Brutal. I hated that pillow.  I was clumsy! I was absent minded! I was young! Believe my words! I couldn’t understand her insistence.

The relevance: After 8 days of silence in community with strangers, on the morning before we were to speak again, that pillow suddenly became so clear. I got it. After a week of silent full-on interactions with others, of coordinating manual labor, meals, bathroom sharing, common area use, and many tiny other daily activities – words suddenly seemed a bit, well, unnecessary.  I had whole relationship arcs including disputes, resolutions, space and reconciliation. I deeply cared for people. I finally understood the concept of the overlay of words, and how words can be anything – but actions imbued with that much intention aren’t.

The lesson: Returning from retreat, I quickly noticed how the return of words left me using my body body_language_by_moni158-d5a4gndin relation to others in a lazy way.  The juxtaposition made it clear just how much I forgot about my body, and interacted with others from the chin up.  Of course, there is body language going on all the time at varying levels of consciousness. How to move that from being so unconscious? How to move it beyond flirting, getting a job, or detecting lying? How to make it less lazy?

It can seem like words are all we have to connect us – in fact several well respected counselors will actually tell us this. But I’d like to put forward the theory of intentional action.  And that attempting this in our regular lives allows us to be more connected to ourselves and the moment. More able to feel our feet and breath in a day. Better able to respond to situations as we might be working towards. More grounded.

For a week – can you move through your day as if you had no verbal communication (sign language or otherwise)?

“A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have I found in silences that I may dispense with confidence?”

-Kahlil Gibran

Return from Retreat

Returning from retreat is a skill the meditator cultivates along with any other technique in their practice. As a current resident of New York City (Brooklyn to be precise) with a heart born in the country, this has been a particularly challenging skill for me.

826-new-yorkFor several years now I have taken solo retreats in upstate New York, and at first re-entry was tough. I would cross the George Washington Bridge, look out at the unnatural grey towers, and feel weighted down by the heavy frenetic energy of the city.  Turning around always seemed like the best possible option.  Leaving retreat was always and only sad.

What changed: I began to notice that when I returned from retreat the first couple days of classes would be amazing. They were rare special classes where there was less of me, and more of just passing along a space inside.  Connections with students, and my personal relationships alike held a deeper quality.  I realized that I had something pretty amazing to look forward to back in the city.  Sharing the nourishing, inspiring, beauty of the natural world I immersed myself in – while deep in my practices and studies – became this heartfelt private gift I would bring back to those waiting for me. I entered the city smiling.Basic CMYK

Last week I came back from my first 8-day silent meditation retreat with Michael Stone.  Coming home was once again buoyed by this heart filled gift I carried inside.

A few days after, I was sitting in Prospect Park, watching trees, listening to birds. Being in Brooklyn. Right in the middle of my regular life, there was a shift. A place I had only recently begun to touch on during this past retreat was suddenly there and alive.  A place I had worked to cultivate during the retreat, a place I had thought I would only know in meditation – a place meditation created. The next day, sitting at my desk, looking out past house plants to the sparse tree branches beyond the window, there the space was again.

“What is true zazen? When you become you! When you are you, then no matter what you do, that is zazen.” Shunryu Suzuki

“The message for us today is “Cultivate your own spirit.” Is means not to go seeking for something outside of yourself.” Shunryu Suzuki

il_fullxfull.338294012_originalThat place is not there because of meditation – it’s nowhere other than in me. Meditation and asana never make anything. They, like all the teachings, are arrows pointing back at us.  Our job is to let them pierce right where they need to, melt around it, let go, and trust.

And if you retreat: How are you generous with that internal space? What ideas of that space are you holding onto? Don’t go seeking for something outside yourself – let that be an arrow that sinks right into the marrow of your spirit – or turn it into a flower.