A tiny Vietnamese woman, dressed in the plain brown robes of her lineage, leads us through gentle stretches as our numbers steadily swell. At the appointed time, she stops, places palms together, bows to us; we bow in return. She moves slowly through the throng we have become, and is joined by several other brown-clad monks and nuns.
We fall in behind them, matching our pace to their slow one. Inhale with one paired step~~right and left. Exhale with the next. Inhale. Exhale. Step by slow step.
And so begins this morning’s walking meditation. My friend and I have journeyed north to attend this 5~day meditation retreat. This is our first morning.
We traverse the adjoining parking lot. The only sounds are shoes brushing blacktop, the calls of a few just~waking birds, an occasional cough. We cross the narrow drive, merge onto the footpath that circumnavigates the large field. Sky gradually lightens as we walk. Stars recede, and mountainsides gain depth and texture.
Those in front, far ahead now given the narrowing of the path, come to a standstill. It takes several steps, however, before this stillness passes as a wave through our slender line. Finally, we stop, too. I look up, see the sun’s light touching the craggy tors surrounding us. And then I turn and look behind.
A silent line of folks stretches far back into the dim light, most having not yet left the parking lot. I didn’t realize there were so many of us! What is it about this long slender cord of humanity~~walking peacefully, silently, and with full awareness~~that brings tears to my eyes? I don’t fully understand it, know only that wonder fills me.
Our slow progression begins anew. We round the far end of the field and tears spring again. Another graceful line walks slowly, mindfully, silently toward us. Remembering only now that another group was to begin at a different location, I realize that I had only seen half our total before.
There must be nearly a thousand of us! Yet, I realize now that it is not the sheer number of participants that touches me so. It is our coming together, this gentle walking in harmony and in gratitude, that brings me awe.
We meet at the center of the field. Our two separate lines spontaneously dissolve, individual streams flowing into a common sea. We sit.
Outer stillness moves ever more deeply inside. Mountain air fills our lungs, flows out. A bell chimes. We breathe. Sunlight creeps down mountainside. Breathe. Birdsong rises. Breathe. A fresh morning breeze stirs hair, brushes skin. Breathe.
A small bird dips suddenly, darts here and there among us just two feet above the ground, flies off again. And still, we breathe.
In the experience of this morning, we are not separate beings. Belief in individual drops of water and distinct streams gives way. We recognize that we are, in truth, one sea.
The bell chimes again. We rise and bow~~to one another, to the beauty of the world surrounding us, to the sea itself that both buoys and suffuses us. Our slow pace resumes as we move toward the meditation hall. Inhale with one paired step, exhale with the next. Inhale. Exhale. Step by slow step.
Our day has begun.