Thirty of us circle the large room, July’s east coast heat an enveloping blanket. Six facilitators sit among us, the 5:1 ratio perfect for our purpose.
I have come for additional professional training in emotional release techniques, such as those used in this aptly named Opening the Heart workshop. But there will be no lectures or note~taking here. No, this weekend will be entirely experiential, a learning by doing sort of thing.
Peter Watson, one of the facilitators, places a Tibetan singing bowl on the floor in front of him. Inside lies a long coiled scarf. Peter strikes the bowl with a mallet, producing a muted, somewhat muffled sound. He then removes the cloth and strikes the bowl again. Its pure tone, unencumbered now, resonates throughout the room.
As the sound fades, Peter explains that our own bowls become filled with the busyness of our days and unexpressed emotional pain. The weekend’s activities are designed to empty us of whatever might be blocking our own unique sound, preventing it from ringing out in its purest form.
Emptiness is a concept woven throughout Eastern spirituality, one that can be challenging for westerners to grasp. In Grace Unfolding, authors Johanson and Kurtz write that this emptiness is, “more like “everything” than it is like “nothing.’” According to Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, what we become empty of in meditation practice is the sense of a separate self, one independent and disconnected from the rest of creation.
For this weekend, then, we devote ourselves to emptying all that feeds the illusion of separateness and those things that distort our true tone. Some of us do so quietly. Others scream and cry and rage. But empty we do. And just like the singing bowl, we are blessed with a greater spaciousness and clarity as a result.
Fast forward now to last weekend. My husband and I are camping in the national forest. While our time here has been glorious, we’ve had a challenging night with the lights and noise and generators of a couple of our campground neighbors.
Now, after a busy morning packing up to return home, my bowl feels full once again. I’m surprised to discover that I’m a bit worried I won’t find that peace again. But I’ve seen this movie before. I know that the emptiness that is filled with exquisite vibrancy is always there, ever available. We need only drop down into its waiting arms.
And so, I do. I walk to the creek and sit, bare skin touching moist earth. Snowmelt flows over and around river rocks, and sunlight kindles various shades of green, growing things. Beside me, delicate white flowers on slender stalks sway in the soft breeze.
My angst dissipates as I breathe in the cool mountain air. Distinctions dissolve, leaving only the beauty and the peace of this place. Like river rock into a welcoming streambed, I settle. I am home once again.
For more on Opening the Heart, click here.