Friday, May 22, 2015

A Taste of Oneness – A Weekend In Togetherness on Lopez Island

A Taste of Oneness – A Weekend In Togetherness on Lopez Island
By Bev Byrnes

[Dear friend and a natural Artist, Bev Byrnes is soft spoken and pleasant to be with. She wears an infectious smile ever on her lips. She was born in Ohio and had a typical American upbringing, including Sunday school. She was still at that innocent age of 14, when an accident took away her elder brother. A shock it was to the young mind. Grieving apart, the unexpected event led her to a deep search for truth. She even undertook several philosophy courses during her Collegiate studies and investigated into all manner of religious and spiritual ideologies. She felt an inner sense of connection to a certain ‘knowingness.’ As she grew older the inner knowing gained strength and she came to rely more on a sense of resonance and less on intellectual pursuit. Spiritual searching took a back seat for a time while she raised a family and took to the study of various artistic avocations. Once her children were grown, her hunger for deep truth returned. This time it landed her with a Sufi teacher who introduced her to Non-duality. Eventually her searching ended. She and her family now live in Seattle where she maintains a studio for the study and practice of painting and tea. Her website is here.

I am deeply indebted to Bev for readily agreeing to prepare this write up for posting at our Blog -- ramesam.]

A Taste of Oneness – A Weekend In Togetherness on Lopez Island
By Bev Byrnes

*** Take 7 friends, all well-ripened in Non-duality. Place in a quiet home by the sea for three days. Add perfect weather and good food. Mix in liberal amounts of video and audio clips by a favorite teacher along with lively discussion, spontaneous periods of silence and a few outdoor nature walks (spice it up with a handful of deer and one tenacious mink). Warm for a time under a full moon while stirring in good conversation, great music and a hefty dose of tear-filled laughter. Steep extensively in the deep, knowing stillness of Presence-Awareness. ***

There were few expectations when I left for our little group retreat. Though we’d managed to cobble together a loose agenda it was really just a back-up plan, in case the hope that things would unfold in the moment backfired and we all ended up staring at each other, wondering what to do. But as we departed the ferry, SFAITH,  and made our way to the house, the reality of “island time” made its presence known; a place where going-with-the-flow is a palpable side effect, it seems, of just breathing the air.
For the past year now I’ve been meeting with a small group of friends who share a mutual interest in Non-duality. Though I happen to be the newest member, the group has been meeting almost weekly for many years now. We all speak ‘fluent Non-duality’, having read innumerable books together with countless hours of discussion on the topic. There is no designated teacher among us, a fact that is valued and even guarded by the members. We come as we are, speak from what we know (and don’t know) in this particular moment, and learn and grow in a heart-centered and equanimous environment.
No ego dominates the conversation, everyone participates from an awareness of flow that transcends individual agenda. As Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing. Once in a while the members gather for a weekend together, a chance to spend an extended time focused on contemplating "This." A few weeks ago we gathered at a friend’s house on Lopez Island, in the beautiful San Juan Archipelago of Washington State.

Buddha Purnima, May 2015
As it happened (and unbeknownst to us until later), our chosen retreat dates coincided with the auspicious Vesak or Buddha Day, the holy Full Moon day commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, but (perhaps fittingly) this fact was nowhere in mind when we gathered outside one night to marvel at the beauty of the full moon. I was requested to make a record of our weekend together, but how to describe what went on? Description can be a tricky matter, the topic of which we debated on at one point during our stay. What are we trying to describe, ultimately? And who is it that’s doing the describing? If you’ve been schooled that The Absolute (to use a few descriptive words) is absolutely indescribable, then it follows that any description of it is Not It.

But I won’t go into that. Arguments and discussions abound across the interwebs. It’s an exhaustive and exhausting debate. The curious will not be stopped in their seeking. But the debate did one thing, for sure. It revealed itself as yet more seeking, subtly (or maybe not so subtly) disguised as key knowledge held as somehow crucial for realizing one’s true nature.

Silly rabbit.

Once the rabbit chasing was over the business of spending time together, diving, exploring and steeping in the stillness of Presence-Awareness flowed once again, quenching that most ultimate of thirsts. It’s a blessing—truly—to do this sort of thing in a group. Spending time with others, sinking deeply in the true nature of reality, somehow opens the floodgates, and doing it with a group of friends, particularly this group of friends, amplified it even more.
And what did we ‘do’ exactly? Well, after beginning the retreat with some welcome laughter from this video on exactly that topic, the day’s activities unfolded with little effort. Lately the group has been digging into Rupert Spira’s teachings, so we spent considerable time watching videos and listening to audio recordings, stopping often to share and discuss the implications and findings. There were guided meditations, too (a’la Spira), which served to further solidify and embody the teachings.  But while the videos, audios and discussions were all an important part of the unfolding, there was something deeper going on, and here is where descriptive words will surely fail. A little help from Longchenpa might be useful:

“Even if you intellectually understand what things are in themselves, if they linger on as objects of inspection there is no benefit in such understanding. In order to acquaint your intellect with what intrinsically matters, you must go into the wild wood of inner calm.”  – Longchenpa

It was just this wild wood of inner calm that quietly grew and forested in between discussions and meditations, imperceptibly taking root in the most unassuming and mundane of places and circumstances…seamlessly settling over the dining table, stretching out across the water, padding the quiet footsteps of early morning and late-to-bed. Even at times of laughter and fun it was there, like the immense, imperturbable stillness of the ocean, present not just beneath but within the lively waves and froth. There was no need, indeed not even an attempt, to try to feel it or make oneself aware of it. But there was a noticing of it; a precognitive, instinctual noticing. Even ‘noticing’ is too strong a word, too doing-related. It was more simply the presence of Awareness itself.
One morning I found myself awake in the early dawn. The horizon was just beginning to lighten and so I made my way down to the rocky, driftwood-strewn shore. As I sat watching the sky and water a furry, sleek brown mink made its way toward me, ducking in and out of the pockets of driftwood. It seems I had placed myself right in the path of its daily dawn patrol. My presence, rather than being something fearful, was merely a bother, an obstacle in its way. Its single-minded tenacity would not be shaken. Our meeting brought to mind a favorite short story by Annie Dillard. In it she writes about a chance encounter with a weasel and muses about living wild:

“I could very calmly go wild… where the mind is single. Down is out, out of your ever-loving mind and back to your careless senses... Time and events are merely poured, unremarked, and ingested directly, like blood pulsed into my gut through a jugular vein.”  (excerpted from “Living Like Weasels” in “Teaching a Stone to Talk”).

This wild wood of inner calm, the immense oceanic stillness of awareness itself, is similarly gut-ingested and irreducibly integral. It flows and lives as the very stuff of life itself. There is no ‘doing’ or ‘locating’ it. The mental activity of pinning it down and describing it is merely an obstacle in the path – nothing to bother too much with and ultimately undeterring to That Which Is. There is no space or place It is not, yet Its nowhere to be found. It’s the mink, the seer, the chilly dawn patrol, so perfectly everywhere, in everything, It goes mostly completely unnoticed. But there it was this weekend, in the company of dear friends... there in the midst of seeking, in the bleary-eyed shuffle for morning coffee, in the tear-streaked giddiness of uncontrolled laughter… the always-present, utter-allness of This, in which all of life moves and breathes and has its very being.  

Bowl with Mandarins, 2015 by Bev Byrnes

No comments: