This past weekend, we had our first ever Montana Open Way Sanghas leadership and OI retreat (OI = order of interbeing, in the Plum Village Buddhist tradition). We also tried out a new retreat facility in Great Falls, Montana: the large and lovely Urseline Center, built in 1912.
Catholic in practice, the Urseline Center welcomes a variety of groups and programs into its space. We were very well taken care of. And what a treat to be surrounded by such history and craftsmanship. It was a treat to stay there and incredibly well-taken care of.
Here are a couple of things I penned in my journal early Saturday morning:
The quality of silence inside this elder building, is a sound I dearly savor and admire. Still, at 4:50am, a songbird’s morning trill penetrates the thick walls of brick and stone and reached with grace my countenance. Every bit of this place has been touched by someone’s faith or expression of God. And we, who dwell here for just a short sliver of time, are the ultimate and shining example.
If you listen carefully,
with full attention and full presence
and full breath,
the harmonious choir of religious views
can be heard, resounding
in the hearts of the people.
I walked slow, steady, and singing
around the pews of a 1912 Chapel.
In the third row,
I folded down the padded kneeling bench,
kneeled and joined my palms.
I connected with the church of my youth
I prayed to an energy
I neither understand or personally resonate
yet still find great and lovely movement in,
through those seeking guidance
on how to live well, with great kindness.
It was here, on my knees,
that I heard the ancient sound:
the harmonizing choir of all religious views,
lending their voices together
I’m entering a topic where when I searched online for images to accompany a post pertaining to it, I was accosted with pictures of the earth engulfed in violent flames, sad looking arctic animals stranded on frozen chunks of ice bobbing in the sea, and giant smoke stacks belching out plumes of exhaust. But amid all of the alarming and heart-wrenching images, I found this one, shown above, which I greatly prefer. I also think this image has the capacity to possibly motivate and support people, rather than just scare the crap out of them, which is a bonus.
I’ve purposefully avoided this topic, much like one would avoid the plague. Anything having to do with the word “activism” scares me. Right or wrong, and probably a bit of both, when I think of activism, centered around any topic, I immediately think of angry-ridden crowds, shouting and shaking their rock-fists in the air at some invisible collective entity that they’ve obsessively devoted their lives to hating passionately, and short-shortsightedly. This does not appeal to me in the slightest. Now, of course, there are those who would consider themselves an activist who are not filled with a boiling surge of rancor and enmity. I just happen to leave out this demographic of folks when conjuring up my idea of what an activist would look like. It’s similar to when I clean the house without wearing my glasses (I have very poor vision without them) – I do a half-ass job in addressing the art of cleanliness because I’m only taking the time to look at a fraction of the task at hand. In my defense, the house looks super clean after I’m finished, glasses-less of course.
When I think of the topic of global warming part of me shuts down. I start tuning out right away because I’m not interested in engaging in someone’s endless tirade about the accredited science, either for or against it, or how we should all be throwing ourselves in front of the freight trains hauling long trails of coal-filled containers through our mountain town of Missoula, Montana. And in all honesty, I’m not convinced there’s a whole lot that we can really do to stop the process of global warming. This is because that is, as a common Buddhist teaching puts it. Perhaps we’re simply not meant to continue on the way we’ve been and perhaps that means we can make a global shift in thinking and acting and perhaps it means the end of our particular way of life. Who knows?