Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I am delighted to introduce the latest in the dancing monk icon series above of St. Francis of Assisi. (I will let you know when prints become available.) The same day that artist Marcy Hall sent me this newest addition, I also stumbled across the poem above in a book I had been asked to review. I was also in the midst of teaching yoga each morning at the Spiritual Directors International conference in Santa Fe, NM. It was one of those happy confluences of events where different passions of mine came together.
Following Santa Fe, I flew on to Tulsa, OK, where Betsey Beckman and I were teaching our Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive and I came down with a virus causing me to spend much of the week in bed with a high fever and coughing. I hadn't been sick in several months and I had been pacing myself at the conference, not attending everything and preparing myself for the week of teaching. But sometimes, no matter how many herbal teas we drink nor how much rest we seek, our bodies succumb to something and force us to release our attachments to everything. The first couple of days I resisted, I didn't want to disappoint others, I didn't want to admit just how sick I was feeling, until my body didn't let me resist anymore and I had to yield in a radical way.
I spent many hours in a horizontal position that week, laying in my cabin surrounded by the quiet of the forest. This perspective offered me a different window onto the world. It was a liminal space where everything was in between and uncertain, and yet somehow also luminous and radiant.
Our group was amazing as always, and Betsey did a fantastic job leading them through the week. This program is always marked by a deep sense of community and I was so moved by my experience of being held in prayer by others. Barbara, one of our wonderful helpers, would check on me and bring me small meals. I felt cared for and nurtured on many levels.
The wisdom of illness for me always seems to come with the slowing down and staying present. I don't believe these experiences come to teach us "lessons" as if God were some great schoolmarm in the sky. But out of our radical vulnerability arises an invitation to ever greater gentleness, to tenderness to the needs of our bodies. This is inner hospitality at its most intimate.
I returned back to Ireland after my fever abated and have spent the last few days continuing in this gentle space of quiet, silence has extraordinary powers to heal. I had to let go of some commitments and postponed some others to just allow a deep entering into the place of surrender. I am grateful to be home again. I am savoring this space of quiet and restoration.
The path of the monk in the world means yielding to the truth of this moment, especially when it is not as we would have it, and allowing generous space when needed.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Art by Marcy Hall of Rabbit Room Arts