Closer to the ground than I’d expected and burrowed deep in the trunk of the body, the heart centre was revealed to me slowly over the course of the two week Boundless Embrace retreat with Bonni Ross. Beginning to work with this space was challenging for me at first; the words ‘strained’ and ‘constricted’ came up. It turns out I was more tightly closed than I thought. Who knew?
And that was the first gift of Boundless Embrace: beginner’s mind. This was a process of recognising and allowing all the tightness in my being, the result of seeds planted (mostly) well before this little life began. Here I was invited to sit with sensation at the centre – my newly found heart – and get friendly. A big ask! But as I reconciled myself to the instruction, I began relaxing into the beautiful sangha and multi-layered support of the whenua beneath. I started at the start and I didn’t cut corners. I let the newness of each sit be real. And I found that no matter what arose, however uncomfortable, the ground stayed there. Returning to the relationship between body and ground over and over and over, each time as if it was my first discovery of it, enabled me to sit alongside the pain and greet it like a new friend. Employing friendliness, I watched pain change into new and interesting sensations. I expressed the sensations using colour and form, and started again. Sometimes I felt very shy about doing this, but ultimately I had the feeling that underneath the flux of sensation was someone worth getting to know.
Some of the pain in my heart has to do with an upwelling of great loss at the degradation of peoples, animals and ecosystems through the relentless pillaging of the planet. Another gift from the retreat was experiencing my own relation to this pillaging attitude – the way greed, hatred and delusion live through me – in an embodied way. This doesn’t sound like a great gift, but I actually found it liberating to see the pattern playing out clearly inside my own being. Getting still enough to watch this occur internally allowed me to look at external processes with greater understanding. Since returning from retreat I’ve noticed this understanding manifest in different ways: I am more patient with the world (it starts inside!) and much more willing to look beyond what’s obvious to see the roots of confusion that drive so many of the moving parts in the tangle of our culture.
The question of ‘culture’ thrummed through my being during retreat, as I felt into the ways I’ve been shaped by the visible and invisible elements of my environment. I may be a child of the Wangapeka, but I am also a child of MTV, of institutional racism, The Spice Girls, infomercials, barbie dolls, rape culture, the Bush administration, tall poppy syndrome, binge drinking, student loans, credit cards, internet culture and climate crisis. I’m affected in ways I can’t trace by my own whakapapa and the whakapapa of my cultural miliu. It is not only the visible that I inherit and carry forward, but all the unseen stories and ideas that deeply shape the way I relate to my home, the earth. While walking softly outside the whare one warm evening, I had a glimpse of knowing that I am the earth (what John Seed calls “thinking like a mountain”), a taste of my own belonging (what Mary Oliver calls my “place in the family of things”). And with that I sensed that earth is not separate from culture; how I relate to the earth is how I relate to ideas; the visible and invisible meet in the breath and are made manifest in body, speech and mind. The final gift of Boundless Embrace is still coursing through me. It’s got something to do with integrating parts of the boundlessness which had previously seemed un-mixable or intellectually unlikely. Through metta practice I’ve touched something of my own capacity for creating space, and with this comes a new kind of seeing / listening / sensing. It’s clear that to meet the crises of our time we need immeasurable compassion, which begins with a big view, and continues with a willingness to see the love that already abounds, if we can be open enough to see it.