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This is what it is like to yield:
to finally feel that place of tightness – your left shoulder,
the crick that has been in your neck for as long as you can remember,
the hard point between your eyes – soften, and all that is left is the
overwhelming desire to dance,
to stop resisting the endless and aching grief over a thousand
small losses, and the one great loss of your own deepest dreams,
to fall into that ocean of tears and
find yourself carried gently to shore,
to feel the soft and trembling belly of your aliveness
turn upward toward the wide sky
as a prayer of supplication
and an act of revelation,
to tumble down on a mossy meadow
blanketed with dandelions and clovers
and the golden evening sunlight
and know yourself at home,
to surrender the striving,
the grasping at what seems so important
in favor of what is
essential and true.
What would it mean to walk away from
all the “to do” lists
and commit to only one thing:
What would it feel like to yield your
own stubborn willfulness
which has brought you so far in
this world of achievement
and allow the things you could never have
planned for, to unfold?
I must end this poem now,
not with wise words for you to carry away
and ponder, but only this:
a reminder of that fierce and endless longing
for what is soft and supple beating in your own
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks and artists,
One of my favorite principles of the Monk Manifesto is Sabbath. It can also be so difficult to practice, this commitment to releasing the hold of responsibility on us, of letting go of all that claims our importance and busyness, to simply release and rest into the One who holds us all. I simultaneously long after its gifts and resist it at every turn.
I am on a time of sabbatical this summer, something I have found to be essential in my own rhythm, and especially in my ability to sustain the level of soul care needed in a community like the Abbey. I have to wrestle with my own internal voices that tell me I could be doing something productive with this time, and remember that Sabbath offers a different kind of productivity altogether. One that allows the soul to flourish and blossom forth in new ways, unbidden by our plans and agendas.
Left to my own devices, I find myself most drawn to gentle movement – each day brings morning yoga and a swim, an afternoon walk by the beautiful sea, and then the essential nap which sometimes extends for a couple of hours (this is sabbatical, after all).
My husband and I have also been practicing lectio divina together each morning, off and on since last Advent. It has become such a nourishing practice in our shared contemplative life together. These last few weeks we have been working through the Song of Songs together in the ancient practice of lectio continua, which is the commitment to reading one book of scripture slowly over time, just a couple of verses at each sitting. In this way, you immerse yourself in the context of the words, and the larger picture of the text. You move through them slowly, unhurried, attentive to the story unfolding before you. The Song of Songs was a central text for medieval monks, like Cistercian Abbott Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote extensive reflections breaking open the longing found in the text as a reflection of our deep desire for God. It is a wondrous text to pray with on a summer sabbatical, reminding me of the goodness of sensual delights, and the celebration of the holy wisdom found in embodied life.
Then there is time for journaling and reading without agenda. For writing poems, which seem to emerge of their own desire and accord, without my forcing them in a particular direction. There is time for dreaming and letting visions for the Abbey and for my own life unfold freely.
All of this for me is an embodied experience of yielding. Lately I have been very drawn to the word “yield” which inspired the poem above. I have been experimenting with what yielding feels like, deep in my bones and muscles. One of the gifts of a regular yoga practice – and especially the yin yoga I primarily engage in – is the way it opens me up to a physical experience of yielding. The idea in yin yoga is to move into a pose and stay there for 3-5 minutes, simply noticing, softening, becoming aware of places of holding and tightness, yielding into the moment. It can be profoundly challenging to stay with the uncomfortable edges I encounter there. And it can feel like so much physical grace to feel my body move to a place of deeper ease and openness.
I think “yielding” is at the heart of the monk in the world as well. Much like in my work with contemplative photography, where I invite readers of my book Eyes of the Heart to consider shifting their attention from “taking” a photo, to “receiving” one – a very subtle shift which can change how we see everything – we are called to yield in each moment to a greater presence at work in our lives. To surrender our egos and our willfulness for a larger wisdom to move through us.
Yielding is about allowing a holy pause and noticing where you are forcing something in your life and letting that go. It is about smiling gently at all the inner desires to take or seize or grasp, and with that compassionate gaze, allow each of them to dissolve into this endless embrace, yielding to the greater force at work within us.
What does yielding feel like in your body? Try this: pause now for just 2 minutes (I promise, the world won’t fall apart, and if it does, at least you will be present). Simply breathe and hold that word gently in your being: yield. Notice how the sound of it vibrates through you. What would it mean for you to yield your thoughts, your will, the places of tightness and holding in your body.
If you were to create a sabbatical time, what would be the essential components? Are there ways you can offer yourself a taste of this each week? Might you extend this to yourself for even an hour?
Listen for the longings that arise and then let me know.
With great and growing love. . .