Hopefulness & Clarity in a Broken World
VISITATION & OBSERVATION
REFLECTING ON THE ORIGINS OF STORYSHARDS, I observed a ladybug land on my computer. She swiftly traversed the backlit screen. Reaching the left bezel, the ladybug reversed. She cut a diagonal line to the upper right screen corner, then scuttled back across the edge of the lid. I caught up with her backside on the Apple glyph, and gentled the ladybug’s tiny red-and black-spotted body into the garden. A STORYSHARD, indeed, the British fable “Ladybug, Ladybug fly away home” is about hope for saving her children in a house on fire. While only Little Anne survives by creeping under a frying pan – rather than flying into the flames – the story is a relevant parable for today. It is a call to action – about the consequences of showing up late for service in our broken world ablaze.
STORYSHARDS AT UPAYA
THE FABLED LADYBUG’S AUSPICIOUS visitation to my computer screen served to focus attention – and my affirmation that the upcoming STORYSHARDS: Gathering for Women at the Upaya Zen Center, September 14th-16th, is a call to action. It is about how we show-up and engage in the world. Based on a vivid multimedia presentation, STORYSHARDS is a new fusion of Personal Story, Complexity Thinking, Engaged Creativity, and Spiritual Practice. The retreat experience – with its accompanying field-guide STORYSHARDS–THE DIG: Re-forming the Vessel of Your Life – provides an opportunity to take time-out to take-to-heart the inspirational memories and motivating themes of your life that form your service today in the world-at-large.
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WHAT’S A STORYSHARD? They are the succinct short-stories – scattered throughout our extended narratives, and punctuating our Story Lines. Often left in the dust of our fast-forward narratives, STORYSHARDS are sifted and collected from the under-stories, side-stories, and back-stories of our lives. STORYSHARDS are the Real Keepers: the lessons learned, the wisdom gathered – the pithy parables unearthed from the fields of our experience and wisdom. STORYSHARDS are the inspirational memories and motivating themes of our lives – integral to the whole vessel. Like an archaeological dig, it takes personal spadework to recognize, and brush off, the Real Keepers in the complexity of our fast-paced lives.
WILDERNESS & WEATHER
HOW ON EARTH DID I DIG THIS UP? Here is the context – the extended narrative from which my awareness of succinct STORYSHARDS originally arose. Shards from the diversity of cultures exist in all shapes and sizes – sometimes sharp-edged, or softened to the touch by time and attention. The the shard mnemonic emerged in my imagination many-moons-ago while on my first retreat with the Upaya Zen Center. It was a ten-day wilderness emersion guided by outdoor savvy Upaya’s Abbot Roshi Joan Halifax. For the four-day solo fast, I hauled gallons of water, and pitched-up on the banks of the Chama River with only a tarp between me and the weather.
WEATHER THERE WAS – MAINLY IN MY MIND. Not a bean to eat, coyotes yipped and quipped all night. As hunger pangs subsided, I morphed into Wily Coyote, trotting light-headed and empty-bellied on prolonged early morning and evening forays above the Christ in the Desert Monastery. Penetrating shady narrowing canyons and sinking deeper into arroyos, at first, I hallucinated big cats and rattlers – casting about a watchful eye.
SOON BECOMING RAMBUNCTIOUS, curious and clever, I was, at the same time, observing aspects of my mind-full-of-mischief that were turning me into a rabid coyote. Mind games and heroic strategies to parry off shard-like proliferations and the bits-and-pieces of extraneous thoughts were failing. As usual, coyote was chasing her mental and emotional “tales.” After a lifetime of ineffective mind- control strategies, I had deliberately entered the Chama wilds to observe directly the whatever of tiresome entrenched mental meanders – to see if there was any hope of groundedness and quietude on a wilderness plunge informed by Zen practice. I found out.
RAIZING THE GAZE
WITH A HEAD FULL OF COYOTE fabrications and constructs, I was habitually looking down at the ground. Kicking up a shard, I popped it in my pocket. But here’s the real Keeper Shard: As I raised my gaze out upon the boundless Northern New Mexican sage-scented vastness, with moody O’Keeffe clouds scudding above, I observed that my head cleared and my senses quickened. The coyotes yipping and quipping quit my head: I ceased, for a spell, telling-stories-about-the-story – no longer projecting me, myself and I. This glimpse of clarity was long and vivid enough to make a palpable shift in my mental weather. Walking slowly cross-country through the Rabbitbrush and dry skeletal junipers, I practiced this new-found open-presence.
STEP-BY-STEP ON THE ANIMAL PATHS around the Chama River, I never dared drop my gaze to the ground: I was sprung for a time from trickster-mindedness. I had a new view of possible liberation from my species of mental suffering. I vowed to surrendered self-conscious mental strategies born of psycho-spiritual concoctions and inflations. Hopeful, I entered the path as a student of Zen Buddhism. This Treasure Shard in my pocket was a keeper.
IN PREPARATION FOR MY wild-minded time on the Chama, I had read Roshi Joan Halifax’s THE FRUITFUL DARKNESS – A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Harper Collins, 2004), recently republished with a forward by Thich Nhat Hanh. The right wisdom for a wilderness fast back then, it is even more relevant in today’s alienating and broken world. Roshi Joan writes: “The sixth Inherent Condition is Wisdom, Natural Wisdom, the mind that is clear like a mirror, like space…I go to the wilderness to find the activity of Natural Wisdom…Everywhere in these worlds I find a ready mind, not stopped by conceptual knowledge, the mind that does not have to stumble over strategy as it responds directly to the world. There is no strategy in the wilderness. It is a place where Truth is experienced and expressed directly.”
VISIONS & VOWS
EACH ONE OF US HAVING DIRECTLY experienced our own particular truths, and all safely back at base camp, we Chama soloists entered a closing riverside ceremonial circle, sharing our visions and intentions. After the circle, I was gifted a real keeper. I received a succinct Wisdom Shard given to me by Wolfgang Brolley, a fellow retreatant, and future Mt. Kailash pilgrimage trekking buddy. The gift was not actually a shard, as such. Close: it was a tiny perfectly-shaped and preserved arrow head – he had turned up two. Wolf noted that the double-edged arrowhead is capable of cutting both ways – for good or ill. Wise man Wolf stated directly to me: “I must vow to be ever watchful as to how I engage my obvious edges, moving forward in life.” A Wisdom Shard – a keeper worthy of remembrance – a STORYSHARD to keep in my pocket, and see clearly.
SPECIES OF HOPE
WHILE STORYSHARDS AT UPAYA is a women’s retreat, by no means are the discriminating insights and wisdom of men not integral to our stories. Friend of the Upaya Zen Center, William deBuys, storyteller, naturalist, ecologist, environmental activist and author of award-winning books, including The Walk (Trinity University Press, 2007) www.williamdebuys.com. In a memoir of a life devoted to wilderness, he opens this book with an intimate observation of the wood grain on his pine desktop: “A species of hope resides in the possibility of seeing one thing – one phenomenon or essence – so clearly and fully that the light of its understanding illuminates the rest of life.”
Visual Artist – LISL DENNIS – Story Guide
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Contact Lisl Dennis @ 505-986-1106