Whenever two or more of us...
No matter what our religious and spiritual beliefs and inclinations (including the inclination against anything called religion or spirituality) there is something deep for us humans around being together with others with a shared intention.
Last night in the final class of a 5-week series for medical providers one of the participants noted something important. She said, "Even though we've only talked to each other a little, I feel so supported by everyone here. It's like we've done something together that's bigger than I could have done on my own."
There's a kind of "special power" to being in a group of people with a shared intention, isn't there? This is something that I am regularly amazed by and just as regularly forget all about.
As I packed up the car to go teach that class, for example, I was feeling uneasy. I felt unprepared and uncertain. I knew this wasn't particularly rational - I've taught this class many times and it always seems to go fine - and yet there was that feeling. So I tried to be mindful that there was an uneasy feeling here but I didn't have to get too worried about it. Uncomfortable to be sure, but it need not be debilitating.
When the participant offered that reflection on the power of our shared experience together I realized that the root of my dis-ease was that old persistent idea that it's all on me. That I alone have to make the class happen. I was forgetting that it was a group enterprise supported by everyone who came.
In a very different context just the day before I'd had a similar experience. Twenty-four members of my family were gathered on a boat off the coast of San Diego. We were there to scatter the ashes of my beloved grandmother, Fran, a central figure in that branch of the family for decades.
Because of my background as a Zen Buddhist priest (an unlikely thing to me, even now) the family had invited me to officiate and organize a set of celebrations, remembrances and, finally, the moment of letting go and saying goodbye.
I've performed many rituals with many different groups in the overtly religious mode of Zen Buddhism with my robes on, inhabiting that role, and also simple rituals in the guise of a mindfulness teacher - standing in a circle to appreciate each other or a moment at the end of a class or a retreat for example.
And this seemed, on the face of it, different. I was there both as a member of the family, and a mourner, and a leader. And I'd never officiated at a burial at sea before. The captain of the boat - they do this regularly for families - asked me some helpful questions about how long I would speak, who would scatter the ashes and so on which gave me some clue and her obvious respect and caring helped me relax. I didn't have a clear plan beyond a poem in mind to share with the family.
As we were bobbing in the slight swell off Point Loma, I realized that simple was the way forward. We gathered on the wide bow of the boat and I shared a poem on the mystery of death and life (see below) and then we went quietly to the stern. There, Fran's children and grandchildren in turn went down to the water's edge to release the ashes.
The crew had guided me in preparing the ashes for release. We covered each basket with rose petals. This made for an amazing visual: the ashes sinking into the depths and the rose petals floating on the surface. By the end the wind and waves had somehow arranged the floating petals all around the boat. We stood in silence together - no need for me to be the "officiant" and suggest this - and watched the petals floating as the captain rang the ship's bell. It was a moment together. A moment with shared intention - although it might be each of us would have used different words to describe that moment - and yet it was not a separate moment for each of us, but a shared moment.
Motoring back to the harbor with the wind in our faces somehow Fran's spirit or memory or maybe just the feeling emerging from that rich moment in time was deeply with us.
May we all remember the importance of sharing moments with others. Whether they are dear (and at times complicated) family members, or colleagues, or just other human beings we've never met before, there is always something so important about these gatherings. And every meeting can be such a gathering whether it seems extraordinary, like releasing cremated remains at sea, or ordinary, like a staff meeting. Every moment we are meeting. And the meeting can open us to a bigger vision of what this is.
Wishing us all happiness and peace,
Tim Burnett, Executive Director