Waiting at the frontier

There are occasions when we are frustrated by a person or an object – when someone or something won’t do what we want them, or it, to do!

Thinking about this I recall something that Barbara Hepworth, the sculptor, once said: how, when she was younger she broke quite a number of pieces of stone or marble in her frustration. ‘Now, however,’ she said to me with a smile, ‘whenever I have a problem I go to sleep for twenty or more minutes, and when I wake up the problem is usually solved.’ On other occasions she would put on some music and dance to it in her studio, and this, too, often solved the problem. In both instances she found that by letting go of the will, of the ego, the unconscious was free to find the answer for her. And this is something that the practice of meditation teaches us: not to impose our will, our ego, but to turn inward and LISTEN. As it says in the Psalms, ‘Then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.’

This reminds me of something that occurred in one of my ritual workshops.

Each Saturday a group, mainly of therapists, one of whom was a Catholic nun, would meet for the day. On this particular occasion we were doing an exercise which I called The Frontier (the exercise is described in my book, Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today.) At one end of the studio a length of rope marks the frontier. Those taking part in the journey to the frontier are invited to sit, stand or lie at the other end of the studio, contemplating the journey upon which they are about to embark, realising that for each of them the frontier will represent something different. And, on arrival at the frontier, they have to decide whether to cross or not.

On this occasion, as it was autumn, I had scattered autumn leaves on the floor. When Sister Mary (not her real name) set out on her journey she picked up one of the leaves and, holding it in her hand, crawled towards the frontier. When she got there she paused for a long time and, instead of crossing, curled up embryonically, holding the leaf in her hand, and ‘went to sleep’.

The following week she told us what had happened. The frontier represented a problem she had in her community which she didn’t know how to handle. When she reached the frontier she had decided that the only way of finding an answer was to sleep on it. In the days that followed she found the answer to her dilemma and the problem was resolved.

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One of my favourite images from Lao Tzu is the lesson of water. A stream, or a river, rushing onwards encounters a rock but, unlike us when we encounter an obstacle, instead of beating itself against the rock, flows round it, embracing it, and, as a result moves forward with even greater energy!

It is as Eckhart Tolle write in The Power of Now:

‘Such listening is a qualitatively different kind of waiting, one that requires your total alertness. Something could happen at any moment, and if you are not absolutely awake, absolutely still, you will miss it. In that state all your attention is in the Now.

There is none left for day-dreaming, thinking, remembering, anticipating. There is no tension in it, no fear, just alert presence. You are present with your whole Being, with every cell of your body.’

And so it is that we begin our meditation.

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