Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Art of Allowing

I was talking recently to an organizer for a weekend retreat called The Art of Allowing. Her group describes itself as "a grassroots organization of conscious souls, raising awareness of the many dimensions of healing." Her name is Kim Grace, and she invited me to comment on their retreat theme, the "art of allowing." I don't know about you, but anyone with the last name of Grace who asks me to do something, I do it!

Generally, I profess to be in the Truth business. Sometimes I tell people my business is Happiness, Sales and Service. But you could just as well say that I'm in the Art and Science of Allowing business.

If I'm called to give the basic elevator speech regarding the Truth business, I might say that it involves the following basic way: see, know, live. Or to give it a little more detail, observe without judgment, connect with what is true and move accordingly. To do this well requires the commitment and focus of a scientist as well as the openness and spontaneity of an artist.

I can surely understand why the retreat organizers may have avoided using the word "science" in their retreat title. Nevertheless, I don't want to fail to mention the importance of focused, clear observation. Think about a naturalist, pursuing an exotic bird deep in the forest. There is an unwavering, one-pointed intention toward looking for the signs, the glimmers of the rare creature.  There is curiosity, and an exploration of a hypothesis with no demand for a particular result. Where will I find this bird? How will it appear? It takes a committed, patient, relaxed presence to not scare the bird into flight or hiding. Just so, in the exploration of truth, discovering a kind of organic discipline toward intentional, curious yet also relaxed observation of yourself and the world gives you the best chance for truth to unveil its' wisdom. In other words, the practice of meditation.

Then comes the art part, and it's this that really makes the truth business sing.  I have a painter friend who likes the term "seeing with artists' eyes." Along with the scientific focus and curiosity, in mindfulness one also cultivates flexibility, an openness and an accepting quality in this way of seeing and being. When you've worked with meditation as a practice, when you've inquired into the possibility of seeing life curiously, without judgment, then the art of the thing takes over. And this is the life of meditation. Now it's no longer a practice, but a way of being that is open, accepting, allowing. Every moment holds the possibility of, who knows what?! What a delicious question to explore!

Once, on a retreat I was on at Garrison Institute in New York, I had a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime moment that brought these elements together. When I practice silence for an extended period of time, such as during this retreat, I really get a chance to immerse myself in seeing what arises, in the conditions around me and in what that stimulates in me. The moment I'm thinking of was during a typical walk in the woods surrounding the beautiful monastery-turned-retreat center. By this time in the retreat, I had enjoyed a few days of setting aside the usual distractions of talking, socializing, attending to family and job, taking in the news and the neighbors.  From this kind of simplification often comes a deep inner quiet; such was the case on this day. It was mid-morning, and the sun was streaming in through the trees, strong in a few places but mostly dappled or shaded. I was strolling with no particular destination, no task to attend to, and knowing a bell would call me in for the next silent sitting, no particular sense of time passing. My senses were wide open, and relaxed. And I just happened to glance down and see the most spectacular rendition of Indra's Net I could imagine.

Indra's Net is an image from Indian scripture that describes a beautiful, infinitely large net with a jewel at each intersection of the net's strands. Enclosed in each jewel is the entirety of the cosmos, a sort of ancient hologram. This image speaks to the interpenetration of all beings and events across space and time. That's a very big idea for me to attempt to grasp intellectually.

Considering such a concept within the space of silence is an entirely different experience.

There must have been mention of Indra's net at some point during this retreat. As I strolled along, my glance happened down toward the forest floor, and there I saw a spherical spider web. This web was a complex three-dimensional orb. Drops of morning dew clung to each of the hundreds of intersections in this web. And as luck would have it, for just the minute or so that I happened by, there was enough moisture on the web and just the right angle of sunlight to present me with a thousand, thousand rainbows. I stood, taking in the web, and registering what it evoked in me. I was awestruck, then in tears for the beauty of this natural masterpiece, and the cosmic image it evoked for me. All the colors of the world were contained in each tiny drop, blazing out. I rocked back and forth gently, to see the play in the range of colors. This was more spectacular than any opera chandelier, just indescribable. What a show! In this moment, Indra's Net was perfectly clear and known.

It was only through open-hearted eyes cultivated through spacious, accepting attention that gave this gift to me. Being with exactly what presents itself, receiving sensation and understanding without resistance or judgment, and then moving in the direction toward which the heart is drawn. This is the art of allowing. And it can be consciously cultivated, through the practice of witnessing presence. Welcome to a life of meditation.


If you're interested, please learn more about the upcoming Art of Allowing retreat at :

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