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I attended my first one week silent retreat at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico two years ago. The format of the retreat was complete silence, periods of meditation (zazen), slow walking (kinhin), and writing practice. We attended mindfully to our own care, ate meals quietly and made no eye contact with each other. After three days of conducting silent practices, we had an afternoon off with only one assignment. At some point in the afternoon we had to slow walk to downtown Taos. It is a short walk from Mabel Dodge to the Plaza - maybe ten minutes when you're walking at a normal pace. Who knows how long it would take to slow walk to the same location. We were to visit shops and art galleries mindfully and not speak except when it was functionally necessary like when you had to say, "One ticket please" to the elderly woman at the Harwood Museum welcome desk. We were to keep movement minimal (no wild waving of arms) and not let our eyes dash about this way and that. We were told to take in form - to just notice art forms for the sake of noticing them versus from passing judgement on whether we liked it, hated it, or loved it. When we stood at red lights, we were to do standing practice. When it turned green, walking practice resumed.
After lunch and a short nap I decided to head out. I was curious about this afternoon. I felt vulnerable walking about town so slowly and yet, I was strangely strong and grounded at the same time. I was exceedingly aware of my full body from back to front. I was aware of the bottom of my feet as I took steps. I took in sights slowly not letting my eyes be pulled in all directions. I have never noticed how much there is to see, hear, smell in walking down the street. And I became aware of one thing that deeply impacted me: a compassionate desire to not disrupt the world more than my physical presence and functional language was already doing.
I realized that I move through the world with language and activity and a certain level of playful disruption that I thought was a great way to contribute. I always chat with the waiter or waitress that serves me in a restaurant. I am funny and playful and, being Canadian, of course, I am very polite! See, there it is. Added playful words in this writing that are not really necessary. As I moved through the few hours on that Wednesday afternoon, I found out something quite amazing: when I am aware of my full presence and I connect to people from this place, they are impacted and I am saying much less.
I wanted an ice cream cone so I mindfully walked into Café Tazza and looked at the ice cream varieties in the display case. When I was clear, I slowly looked up. The waitress was standing there so still. I smiled and ordered my chocolate mint ice cream in a sugar cone. Simple. Clear. And all of me was actually there. My full presence, my complete attention on her as she approached with my cone, my stillness, my demeanour, the way I spoke, I think it impacted her. I could see her relax and move slowly; our interaction was gentle and full. "Thank you" and "You're welcome" had never been so fully felt by me before that warm afternoon.
I am not trying to point to a better or worse way to be with people who are bringing you your food! Not at all. It was a single moment in time that offered a perspective that I had not seen before. I witnessed a different way of being that was not about humour or play or engaging others in conversation. And this way of being impacted me as well. I left the Café feeling more at peace, more contented, less agitated, and more spacious. What is the contribution of this less agitated state on the world that I move about in? How would it impact how I drive my car or how I would be as I walked in my front door when I got home? What if I lived more often in this kinhin way of moving about? What would be the nature of the contribution if I traversed my life with this mindfulness?
Since then I have been exploring the notion of what I have started calling Compassionate Disruption. I am not quite sure why, but this topic matters a great deal to me. To disturb minimally but to do it with great clarity. I think this is what happens in Integral Coaching® work. There is disruption of course; it goes hand in hand with bringing about change and growth. But I also think it is very important to be aware of the amount of activity that is needed while on that path.
Less arm waving. More stillness.
A practice of just enough perturbation.
© Joanne Hunt