Tuesday, April 29, 2008

do it afraid

Spirit First may be the bravest thing I ever do. It was three years ago on a Saturday afternoon in March that Spirit First Meditation Retreat Center came to me. In the course of my day’s chores I happened to run across an image of a labyrinth, a simple image of the outline of a single labyrinth, and in an instant I “saw” the labyrinth life sized in beautiful grasses and blooming shrubs with a meditation sanctuary nearby. I imagined walking trails and fragrant gardens and various sanctuaries for quiet and contemplation, a place where Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews find solace and healing. It was an immediate image and I knew if I ever created such a place, it would be a place that attends the needs of the spirit first.

That same day, just a few hours later, I read an expression for the first time that has become forever linked to the inspiration of building a meditation retreat center. The words I read were these: Never doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light. Somehow I knew there would be days of questioning what to do with my Spirit First inspiration and at the same time I was given my answer. Never doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.

An idea is a gift from the Universe, a treasure not to be neglected or taken lightly. An idea, even if chosen not to be pursued, deserves our greatest consideration and respect whether our response to it is yes or no. But Spirit First…could it be possible?

Spirit First grew inside me, like a baby growing bigger and stronger until it is healthy enough for birth. During the past year I had much contemplation and sifted through many questions. Can I do this? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough? Even if I am smart enough or strong enough, am I supposed to create this? Why was such an incredibly beautiful inspiration given to me and not to someone else? I would be happy to see someone else build this.

I sought answers to the question “What if I fail?” and it pulled me deeper into questions about failure. I wondered and I pondered. I began to realize failure is a human judgment. I came to understand that if an athlete spends his life training to become a gold medalist in the Olympics and never gets the gold (or even silver or bronze), he is not a failure—his realized success simply doesn’t fit the picture of success in his head. And Spirit First—she will become what she will become and I will consider my best attempts to be success. I will breathe life into her and help her grow.

Somehow for me building a sanctuary felt like an impossible task and from time to time I would go to a temple or sanctuary and sit next to it. I would sit and ponder the simplicity of building a thing...brick by brick. Don't create it in my head harder than it has to be. A thing is built brick by brick.

What I am doing is wonderful and rich and exciting but it also feels huge and scary. My beautiful friend Lora taught me an important lesson—as she raised her children and they faced seemingly impossible challenges, she would tell them, “Do it afraid.” She reminded me if we never do anything frightening, if we only ever do those things that feel safe and sure, we never grow and we limit our accomplishment. Courage is not defined by being without fear but rather by "doing it anyway."

And so, as I begin this wonderful journey of the creation of Spirit First, every step is an act of faith.

And I am willing to "do it afraid."
photography by permission

Monday, April 28, 2008

Something precious is lost if we rush headlong into the details of life without pausing for a moment to pay homage to the mystery of life and the gift of another day.
Kent Nerburn
photography by permission

Friday, April 04, 2008

in the beginning...

Spirit First is coming into her birthing, and on July 19, 2008, she will begin to be.

I have imagined an inclusive sanctuary that supports a place of meditation, a retreat for contemplation. I have dreamed of a place of peace and a place of healing with brilliant gardens and quiet walking trails, and I have envisioned in this same place a coming together of disciplines in shared refuge. When a Buddhist comes to Spirit First, she is at home. When a Hindu priest or a Christian minister is here, he is at home. Jewish music, Islamic poetry, Native American art...are at home here. Sufis dance. Yogis practice. A visitor walks the labyrinth.

It has become my vision to build such a place and I am now founding Spirit First Incorporated, a nonprofit organization in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The official launching of Spirit First is set for July 19, 2008. On that same day I will be hosting a fundraising celebration in Silver Spring, Maryland. Opening ceremonies will include prayers and blessings from several disciplines—monks and priests and nuns who are Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and Native American. Throughout the day we will have musicians playing and singing in classical, new-age, and spiritual genres. We will be serving Indian, Caribbean, Ethiopian, and American cuisines, which will also include vegetarian and vegan fare. Friends are beginning to plan to attend this event and we have guests coming from Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and, of course, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

You are welcome to join us. Please contact me for more information.

In the coming days and weeks I will keep you posted on the progress of our plans and the becoming of Spirit First.

art by permission

Thursday, April 03, 2008

moses and the shepherd

Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying,
"God, Where are you? I want to help you,
to fix your shoes and comb your hair.
I want to wash your clothes and pick the lice off.
I want to bring you milk,
to kiss your little hands and feet when it's time
for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room
and keep it neat.
God, my sheep and goats
are yours. All I can say, remembering you,
is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhh."

Moses could stand it no longer.
"Who are you talking to?"

"The one who made us,
and made the earth and the sky."

"Don't talk about shoes
and socks with God! And what's this with your little hands
and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like
you're chatting with your uncles.
Only something that grows
needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God!
Even if you meant God's human representatives,
as when God said, 'I was sick and you did not visit me,'
even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.
Use appropriate terms. Fatima is a fine name
for a woman, but if you call a man Fatima,
it's an insult. Body-and-birth language
are right for us on this side of the river,
but not for addressing the origin,
not for Allah."

The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed
and wandered into the desert.

A sudden revelation came then to Moses.
God's voice:
You have separated
me from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,
or to sever?
I have given each being a separate and unique way
of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge.
What seems wrong for you is right for him.
What is poisonous to one is honey to someone else.
Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to me.
I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.
Hindus do Hindu things.
the Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.

It's all praise, and it's all right.
It's not me that's glorified in acts of worship.
It's the worshipers! I don't hear the words
they say. I look inside at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, burning.
Be friends with your burning.
Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression!

Moses, those who pay attention to ways of behaving
and speaking are one sort.
Lovers who burn are another.
Don't impose a property tax
on a burned-out village. Don't scold the Lover.
The "wrong" way he talks is better than a hundred
"right" ways of others.

Inside the Kaaba
it doesn't matter which direction you point
your prayer rug!
The ocean diver doesn't need snowshoes!
The love-religion has not code or doctrine.
Only God.
So the ruby has nothing engraved on it!
It doesn't need markings."

God began speaking
deeper mysteries to Moses. Vision and words,
which cannot be recorded here, poured into
and through him. He left himself and came back.
He went to eternity and came back here.
Many times this happened.
It's foolish of me
to try and say this. If I did say it,
it would uproot human intelligences.
It would shatter all writing pens.

Moses ran after the shepherd.
He followed the bewildered footprints,
in one place moving straight like a castle
across a chessboard. In another, sideways,
like a bishop.
Now surging like a wave cresting,
now sliding down like a fish,
with always his feet
making geomancy symbols in the sand,
his wandering state.

Moses finally caught up with him.
"I was wrong. God has revealed to me
that there are no rules for worship.
Say whatever and however your loving tells you to.
Your sweet blasphemy
is the truest devotion.
Through you a whole world is freed.
Loosen your tongue and don't worry what comes out,
It's all the light of the spirit."

The shepherd replied, "Moses, Moses,
I've gone beyond even that.
You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped
on itself. The divine nature of my human nature
came together.
Bless your scolding hand and your arm.
I can't say what has happened.
What I'm saying now
is not my real condition. It can't be said."

The shepherd grew quiet.
When you look in a mirror,
you see yourself, not the state of the mirror.
The flute player puts breath into the flute,
and who makes the music? Not the flute,
The flute player!
Whenever you speak praise
or thanksgiving to God, it's always like
this dear shepherd's simplicity.
When you eventually see
through the veils to how things really are,
you will keep saying again and again,
"This is certanly not like we thought it was!"

~ Rumi