26 January 2011, Podere Conti, Dobbiano/Macerie/Pontremoli…Italy
The Universe is sly.
The monks’ arrival has brought in a fresh bellow of fire to peaceful Podere Conti, an awakening flame to usher out past lives and lingering karma, to sanctify the farm. Three women and a man from all parts of the world, robed in shades of reds and yellows, are a visual accompaniment to the burnishing atmosphere.
The introduction phase is never shy of wonderful, the unfolding of oneness seen in faces from all points of the planet. Lama Chodrak offered his hand and was pleased to know I am an American, his fondness for the country cultivated in biannual trips to healing retreats on the East Coast. Naturally, I asked him specifically where he retreats, to which he responded: “A tiny town near Woodstock, called Fleishmanns.” I was nearly flattened in awe. Here, nestled in the mountains of Lunigiana, Italy, a Lama of Tibetan Buddhism is speaking with the sincerest of love for a tiny downtrodden town of perhaps 1,000 citizens, where I happen to have lived for a spell on one of my many adventures. In fact, I was there visiting this past Thanksgiving weekend, only two months ago! Yes, the Universe is sly.
Later in the evening, Chodrak generously offered his healing work to my chronically ailing neck and shoulders, applying pressure at points and reading the body’s instructive messages. The session was profound indeed, his interpretation of where I am in this life astounding. The most brilliant part of the reading, however, was that his words did not resonate with me initially, a theme that would reveal itself over the course of the next 36 hours.
“You are sitting with a heaping plate in front of you, unsure of where to begin eating. You must assimilate and integrate. Assimilate. Integrate.”
These words made little sense to me, as I had been certain that I was walking clearly forward, my goals and path set in motion, partly by fate, partly by intention, and a great deal by my [sic] intellectual seniority. Of course, these are the assumptions we settle into, only to have them shaken into pieces the moment we get too sedentary in our ways.
“You are intellectualizing and not being in the moment. You must begin to assimilate and integrate. Be in the moment completely, and then do the analyzing afterwards.”
He advised that after such a healing, I was likely to feel a bit tired or sore in the day or two to follow, a concept I’ve known all too well in my life of spiritual journeying, with practitioners and colleagues in Reiki and other means. Physical manifestation of worldly blocks, body aches that serve as the town crier, body weight balancing emotional burden: par for the course, old hat if you will. But bewildered, I began to ponder his words, wondering how and where I could begin to chew on small bites on my plate, then take it from there. But I had always been one who really takes a big bite out of life, so I’d thought. But in the hours to follow I realized, not so much.
I woke up the next morning as if I’d woken from death. Not like birth, a newborn with wide eyes and a hunger to take in every new thing, to touch and to taste, but literally, from the deepest and most suffocating sleep of a lifetime, the sort that causes lungs lined with cotton pads that irritate the throat on the in breath and dense hanging steam beads to cluster on the out breath. Additionally, every muscle ached, and my head had a concrete-like density to it, as did my thoughts. In short, I felt dreadful. Every inch of my pried-open temple ached with cobwebs and antiquities, awakening to yet more change, and on a subtle yet powerful level. I passed on breakfast, body grounded like a gull in an oil slick, but slinked into exercise and meditation instruction with Chodrak with about as much energy as last week’s tagliatelle in today’s fridge.
Meditation was different than any other I’ve tried, the practice of mindfulness less restrictive of the monkey mind’s trappings. Allowing the monkey to do his thing without judging it somehow demystified its desires and steadied its wandering nature. Going back to a simple point, a stone on the table, eyes open, was a simpler discipline than that of the third eye and breath I’d struggled to master in the past. Of course, mastery is a fool’s game in and of itself. Mastery has been where my ego has taken over, my competitive and superior nature yearning so much to be on top, to be miles ahead, and to identify with greatness that comes from comparison, the very act that roots one deeply into mediocrity.
By late afternoon the body aches had overtaken me, worsened, in fact, by a long nap that resulted in even more throat discomfort and feet that would only throb. Part of me wanted to thrust myself at Chodrak and beg him to reverse the “spell,” but I trusted in the moment, a new practice I was determined to try out before filing it in the drawer marked “great for someone else.” I loaded the car with three little boys bound for judo class at the sport club and let gravity carry us down the mountain. About all I could manage was auto-pilot, and thankfully there was plenty of it in the three steep kilometers before asphalt would meet us below.
Cornelia was no longer with me to speak on my behalf, or to order things now on my list of to-do. I was on my own to integrate, assimilate, and it was after I settled into my seat alongside the judo mat that I noticed all the pain in my body had moved into my feet, freeing my body from bondage. I closed my eyes and repeated the words: assimilation and integration. Integration. Assimilation. It seemed my body was assimilating before I could intellectualize it, on par with Chodrak’s advice that I be in the moment and analyze it afterwards, for suddenly I was finding myself no longer an outsider looking in, but rather an integral part of a family’s life on this fine afternoon in a town in Italy not generally regarded as a tourist attraction.
There at judo, I began to ponder 41 years as a separatist, an observer with more interest in studying humanity than in actually joining it. Documenting events and learning about the human psyche has been my path, ever the observer with the keen eye, my own role in society defined within said parameters. From birth I have set myself aside from humanity, finding safety in intellectualizing, which is editorial judgment, rather than jumping in. More than one lover has chastised me for opting to hide behind a lens in a social situation, and the threat of opening myself to judgment even cost me the love of my former in-laws, the very judgment I’d resisted. The conflict of the soul’s yearning for belonging while sitting at the sidelines in observation, waiting for a safe environment to delve into has shifted in my body through healing hands. And now my head was pounding to the judo instructor’s “Uno, due, tre…”
Perhaps it is a gypsy’s challenge to actually assimilate, having chosen or adopted a freewheeling spirit to compensate for detachment. How to become integral, regardless of length of stay, to move from a “safe distance” to the safety of implementing a “way of life” safely would mean joining the scheme rather than merely recording it, reporting it, and repeating it. The yearning has been identified and now it is my task to satisfy it. But what a brilliant environment to do such work in! With the added challenge of language to boot! Yes, I’ve taken on an entire heaping plate indeed, and now even more has been piled on. I think I’ll need a bigger fork, thank you.
“Be in the moment. There is no past or future. Then analyze and intellectualize afterwards.” I mulled over Chodrak’s words and likened them to every process, particularly my writing. Closing my eyes, I felt them, remembering how I have struggled with letting go of agenda and simply diving in, a struggle I have written about in sheer anxiety as recently as a week ago. Yes, the Universe is sly. It answers the heart’s yearnings at the most subtle of levels, yet, much like a healer, leaves one to create the shifts for himself. When I opened my eyes, judo was ending and three hungry sweaty boys were at my side and anxious to go home. It was at that moment that I noticed the last bit of pain had left my feet and gone back into the Earth to ignite someone else’s process.
As I am finishing this essay, Luca, the eldest boy, has appeared at my door, two dogs and a cat in tow, looking to play with me, and my dachshund. This also includes asking to play with my new Macbook Pro and ask questions about the keyboard features. Of course, my separatist tendency is challenged so soon, mild irritation bubbling up in defense of my solitude. The struggle to integrate and assimilate is hitting me at the most fundamental level and I can see now that there is no way out of this one. Sly Universe, you.