This morning we gathered, as we do, in front of the main rotunda of the monastery for walking meditation.

We began by listening to the bell, then singing, then hearing the instructions in Spanish and in English: walk slowly, mindfully. Listen to the sound of each breath, start with the left foot, then the right, inhaling on the first step and exhaling on the second. Be present, enjoy the earth below you and the sun above. All that was so familiar, I hardly gave it a second thought.

 

But then this instruction: “You could even hold someone’s hand if you wanted to.”

My mind instantly reacted; I might even say contracted. “No way,” I thought – or – “Maybe he means if you have a partner here with you,” – and also, – in part from the conditioning of some of the communities I am involved with – “That is too presumptuous. What if someone didn’t want their hand held? What if that was triggering to them? What if they didn’t or couldn’t consent?” All this as everyone around me began to take their mindful steps – left foot, right foot, inhale, exhale, enjoying presence, enjoying the earth below and the sun above. I walked alone, my bare feet both cautious and sure on the warm stones.

I was curious to see some of my dharma friends holding hands – Juan with his oversized sunglasses and his aged gait clasping hands with Téré, the young doctor and one of the translators. “Well that makes sense,” I thought, “Juan might have trouble walking and Téré is so sweet, of course she would help him.” There was also Salvatore and Diane. “Well, of course,” I thought, ‘I think they’re partners.”

Left, right, inhale, exhale, earth, sun.

Suddenly, Maria Luisa came up along my right side. “Do you want to hold my hand?” she asked, “I am afraid.” Afraid of what? I wondered if I had heard her right but I couldn’t ask as that could start an actual conversation and we were in silence. Afraid of walking? Afraid of asking? I didn’t know but it didn’t matter. I reached out my hand and took hers. We continued in silence.

Left, right, inhale, exhale, earth, sun.

In that moment of presence, I was taken back to an experience I had on my first trip to India.

Sasha and I were walking around a tiny village when a woman approached us with humility and curiosity. I remember the smile in her eyes as she abruptly said the word “operation” in a heavy accent then pointed to her back. She mimed a wince then said again, “operation,” holding my gaze. Suddenly she grabbed my hand, interlaced her fingers with mine and began walking. She held my hand and beamed up at me. “Walking!” she said, pointed to her back again, nodded her head and repeated, “Walking.” We then proceeded to walk the perimeter of the entire village side by side, holding hands, interlacing fingers, total strangers.

It was one of my favorite stories and favorite images when I came back from that first trip – it was so utterly unselfconscious and deeply connecting, flowing from her openness and vulnerability and my own willingness to be receptive to that energy. It was easy I’m sure – at least in part – because everything was so new and so different in India that I did not have to hold on to my usual defenses and conditionings. I experienced it at the time as a product of being in a different culture, not as a product of simply being human – wanting to reach out, wanting to connect, wanting to know we are protected, that we belong.

Left, right, inhale, exhale, earth, sun.

Maria Luisa’s hand in mine. “How long will we do this for? What if our hands get sweaty?” We kept walking, hand in hand, steps in sync. Our hands were getting a little sweaty for sure as we reached the top of the drive and looked out over the sweeping valley. The sun was warm and I could feel it soaking down into my bones. The cobblestones were cool under my feet. We began walking back down the hill, back to the rotunda where we had started. Someone had taken Maria Luisa’s hand on her right side and now we were walking three abreast. I felt the presence of all who had walked before me in protest and solidarity, connected and protected. Anuk was walking slowly alongside us on my left. “Do you want to hold my hand?” I asked her. She nodded and reached her hand toward mine. We walked together, in silent belonging all the way back.

Still in silence, we simply bowed and smiled to each other. Later, after our Mayan ritual to the elements Anuk came up to me and said, “Thank you for holding my hand, it really meant a lot and made the walking meditation so much more powerful.” I thought of my own initial reluctance and fear – the human body is too messy and unpredictable, what if our hands sweat? What if I am rejected or make someone feel uncomfortable? How will I know when to let go? What if I do the wrong thing?

There are so many ways that we limit ourselves from human connection, human touch, shared humanity itself, because we are so busy second guessing ourselves, afraid to ask, afraid of how we will be received. Afraid.

And yet it is so deeply nourishing when we transcend those fears and reach out with humility and curiosity, when we are receptive, connecting, showing each other our vulnerability and our courage, offering protection to one another, remembering and reminding that we belong.

Left, right, inhale, exhale, earth, sun.

How did the rose ever open its heart
And give to this world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
Otherwise we all remain too frightened.
~ Hafiz

We are all in this together.

With love and light,

molly

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