I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Anne Marie Walsh’s reflection, “Deep Within.”
Silent retreats, generally considered “time apart”, also point a way for me to be contemplative in the world moment to moment. Sometimes I arrive in exhaustion, feeling there is no time even for this retreat, what was I thinking, how on earth is this going to help? But allowing the sure footedness of the decision to come, now after many such retreats, I know it is a great gift to enter silence so intentionally in a space that honours and prepares for such a way of being together. I trust it and what might be quietly leading me.
Silence seems to open into a space of erasure: even if I bring them, I usually abandon books, screens, speech, plans, projects, even contemplative possibilities like knitting or painting while at the retreat. Especially at the beginning, I find myself walking slowly outside, often stopping, or sitting quietly, in many ways “doing nothing”. One director guided us before the silence, to attend to what is already being offered: to listen for it, to expect to gently, quietly be led to the gift that is already prepared for you in this time apart.
In retreat (but also at home in daily walks, or in sitting in stillness) it means, for me, attending with a kind of soft alertness, letting go of any tendency to control or “work at” composing the time. Slow walking (this is not exercise or fitness), frequent stopping, allows a meditative reception of what is given. The senses are open. Sounds, even of tiny leaf movements, are present to me. My eyes perceive the delicacy of forms, letting them be as they are, no thought, no judgement, no science, no art: just lingering with these manifest things. The scaly bark of trees and shelves of unexpected fungi; the curved crux of black branches; dark hidden spaces and strewn shafts of light down a steep cedar slope; the insect-eaten oak leaf, a skeletal lace. All in their own silence somehow seem to reveal to my silence their infinite variety and fecundity, the hand of great Artistry.
And that shared silence in itself is healing. The slow being-with “things” as they are, softens me, lets me feel the depth of my own being IN the same world, also one of the million forms, alive at the same time, part of some infinite extension of mystery. For what can we say about all of this? What is given exceeds us. It is unsayable and yet we walk in its midst, breathe the same air, unfold into the spacious openness which is always with us, yet so often veiled by our busy preoccupations and cares.
Sometimes a tree (or a flower or a fox) will reveal itself as mystery. The tree can stand, powerful, towering, yet silent and majestic, through hundreds of years, through harsh winters, the dark cold nights, the scorch of long summers. Standing near such a created being, I find my own desire to join the tree, to find a way to be its kin: steadfast, strong, quiet, yielding, beautiful, and patient in slow growth from a deep heart- certainty, true to my given nature. If Nature be our first Scripture, then this hearkening to our deep nature, whether tree or person, is reflected, I think, in our second, written Scripture: “Deep within, I will plant my law. Not on stone, but in your heart.” Deep within , we are already seeded with the life of Life, with our own wild and precious desires which are rooted in the divine urging us into ever more fullness of life.
How can we say what silence and quiet attention reveal to us?
In every moment, we are presented with arrays of some assorted light,
too complicated to name or fully notice.
Yet in an instant we can rest upon a small pointe vierge
and there be born anew,
able to glimpse how we are always raised to some infinity,
We can regard the vastness of our world in a single upside-down reflected sky
in the puddle of a rainy deck’s dark wood.
We are so small, so brief.
The majesty and terror of creation is far beyond our ability to contain.
Yet we are made in such a way that the Infinite dwells in us;
Brief and small, we are made vast
inscribed by the in-dwelling Holy Mystery.
Love, the Heart of All, holds us
even in destruction.
We will say: we did not know what we were doing.
But held, we are held
every leaf proclaims the love in which we are held.
Anne Marie lives north of Toronto, Ontario in Canada. A painter and writer, she has recently retired from teaching and working within the helping professions. In recent years, silent retreats have sheltered and guided her in accompanying her long-time companion as he experienced the difficult descent into Alzheimer’s disease.