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Monk in the World Guest Post: Diana Turner-Forte

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Diana Turner-Forte’s reflection Healing and Mercy.

The ordinariness of the elongated single story building belies everything that happens inside. The originally crafted sign in earth tones of green and tan ceramic tiles makes a bold statement: Monarch Gallery. . . where dreams take flight. The sign was designed by a young man who talks incessantly while punching the elements on his cell phone. Earle interrupts conversations and ignores most people, only conversing with a select few. He also creates pencil drawings in a few strokes (well many) from a photograph of your house. 

When available, the front door is opened by Dylon, a handsome young man with a quiet demeanor. With economy of movement, one hand on the door the other behind his back he resists eye contact. Even so, I smile as I say “Thank you,” and wait for his slow and articulate response: “You are welcome.”

Once inside the embrace of solidarity and gentleness of the human spirit envelops you. A subdued vitality permeates the building. It’s a kind of blessing, really. At the same time a celebratory attitude exudes with in-house decorations depending on the nearest holiday: Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day or Easter. If a visitor were to arrive around lunchtime, the intoxicating aroma from the kitchen might lead to an inquiry of the specialty dish for the day prepared by the cooking class and an invitation to join in the meal.

Hobbling toward me, Annie’s a woman in her 50s who inquires of my availability to observe a dance she’s been practicing. Previously, we had worked together on other dances she had created before an accident left her in physical therapy and using a walker for several weeks. Surprised to see her up and about, I encourage her to consider a chair dance and let her know I’ll eagerly await her next piece of choreography.

Sierra notices me and greets me with a nod of her head and curtsy. I respond in like manner. I have no idea where she learned the refined gestures. She displays them well. Anyway, that has been the extent of our connection. We’ve never talked or even officially met, but that doesn’t matter. She knows me as the dance/movement, stretching instructor and acknowledges my presence in her unique way interrupting my rushing mode and pulling me the present moment and into her presence without words. 

I’ve grown accustomed to the one word communications of Stewart. In spite of limited speech, this guy is a master of precision. He can finish 1000 piece puzzles in a few hours and keeps the studio clock in alignment with the twice a year time change. That I can count on! 

Always carrying a countenance of joy and cheer, Leila greets me with “Good to see you.” She has a part-time job at a local bakery. 

It would be hard for even a casual observer to ignore the art on the hall walls. Without knowledge of the complex backgrounds of the originators of the 4” x 6” art pieces, one might assume a budding van Gogh, Durer, Klee or perhaps O’Keeffe were in the building. Though mostly unnoticed, the creative spirit is alive and flourishing as displayed in the brilliantly colored and unusual works lining the walls.

Once I’ve deposited my dance bag at the studio door, I usually meander a little further toward the end of the hallway. In this tranquil space the art of pottery-making is conscientiously pursued. Clay is formed into mugs, vases, turned vessels as modeled by the master teacher who carefully observes his student’s works. His one of a kind masterpieces are displayed on shelves and throughout the building. After the original clay pieces are placed in the kiln and finished with a glaze, they are sold to the public in the Gallery. 

Properly initiated into my day I return to the dance studio. Opening the blinds natural light flows in to complement the pale green walls where peacefulness is affirmed. My work on any day is to invite a population not accustomed to exploratory movement—the people that Monarch serves— to a time of embodied discovery: bending, gentle stretching, and twisting. Some participants choose to sit in a chair and revel in the sound of classical music. 

Identifying ways to shift societal labels to possibilities through basic movement enlivens me. The unknowable history of each participant lends itself to limitless creativity. In most cases, just providing a safe space for the exploration of movement, no matter how limited, and to suggest potential where none was considered before is healing. Some participants learn to love their bodies regardless of the congenital condition. Uncomplicated goals, but a studious curiosity of the human form with bite-size gains even if only temporarily is encouraging. No seduction into grandiosity, here, but something much more refined — the unique movement potential of each participant. 

As a monk in the world encountering the community that Monarch serves I treasure the uniqueness that each shares. It is humility that sustains me and keeps me truthful in the work that I must do. Even after many years of entering the building, I’m awed by the grace I receive. I accept both the extravagance and utter simplicity of my days in this holy setting. And humbly receive the constant outpouring of love in its many manifestations. At the deepest level when hearts connect there are no differences.

Diana Turner-Forte is a Dancer/Teaching Artist and Writer. As a professional artist she performed throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico City. An injury led to studies in the healing arts: brain-body integration, core strengthening/Pilates-based, meditation, and prayer. She resides in North Carolina with her husband and four-legged creature, Pierre.

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