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Life Interrupted

Finding solace in times of change . . .

“You’ll be kicked out of the convent,” my boss said as I prepared to leave for a 10-day silent retreat on the outskirts of Santa Fe.  Her words ran through my head again as the van pulled through the wrought iron gate and stopped in front of a row of adobe buildings.

It was a February afternoon in the year 2000 and the New Mexico sun warmed my face.  I had a few hours to rest, explore the grounds, and settle in before our welcome dinner.  After that, our 10 days of silence would begin. 

I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually drained.  My need for rest prompted me to reserve a single room.  On my patio rested a statue of Buddha adorned with rocks, twigs, dried flowers, and coins left by previous pilgrims.  After a nap, I went outside and walked the track that would become my solace during the last meditation of each day.

Diving in Head First

Prior to this retreat, my meditation practice consisted of fairly brief periods of candle gazing, daily prayers, and attendance at a visiting teacher’s dharma talks.  Looking at the retreat schedule, it was clear that I was now attempting to enter the sphere of serious meditation – five one-hour periods of seated meditation daily, periodic morning dharma talks, and silence 24 hours a day.

The big surprise came at the opening dinner when I learned that in addition to observing silence, I had also signed up to refrain from eye contact for 10 days.  My visual nature cringed. My palms began to sweat.  

Never before had I heard the full measure of a strawberry’s snap . . .

Quiet Hours, Quiet Days

The stillness I’ve experienced during this year’s global pandemic resurrected memories of those ten transformative days more than twenty years ago.  The handful of photos I took in the silence have disappeared leaving only memories in their wake.

  • The vibrant snap of a strawberry at breakfast.   
  • The way my restlessness affected the people around me. 
  • The star-filled sky above the track I walked round and round during the final evening meditation. 
  • A pre-dawn gathering of my blankets and the wonder of lying beside the lake as the geese made a watery landing. 
  • Peaceful 2 a.m. visits to the hot tub. 
  • My surprise at feeling rested and alert after just four hours of sleep.
  • An unforgettable sense of being bathed in Divine light and love.   
A recent photo illustrates the rocky beauty of the path.

On the Path to a Brighter, Lighter Future

The final dharma talk addressed preparing for re-entry into the world.  Listening I wondered, “Would it really be so hard?”  During our final lunch together, the floodgates of conversation opened for seemingly everyone but me.  Much to my surprise, I was not eager to share or to listen.  I felt as though I was still “coming down” from an expanded space. 

Fortunately, several of us left for the airport together, which seemed dizzily confusing.  Seated in the middle seat of a full flight, claustrophobia set in for the first time. 

I returned home to a weekend-long dance competition with our daughters. “Mom!!!” one shouted as I unwittingly drove over a curb on the way.  Seated in the last row wearing ear plugs, sunglasses and a hat, I quietly cheered the dancers on – relieved when we could go home.

Like this time of sheltering in, I left for Santa Fe intending to resume life as I knew it.  I returned to life and work and gradually stepped up the pace.  Yet, something was different.  There was no “going back.”  I knew what a different, more soothing, way felt like.  Life around me wasn’t different, I was.  And, that changed everything.     

Creating a Welcoming World

Making her first trip to Omaha

Later this month, a group of us will welcome Ravina to Omaha for her first visit. We’re excited to spend time with this bright, determined student from Maher Ashram in India, who realized her dream of attending a U.S. college and possesses a passion for Classical Indian and Bollywood dance.

Hospitality Opens Borders & Hearts

Ravina’s visit also offers me the chance to practice my welcoming skills.   In India, the guest is sacred.  If we do our welcoming well, it’s my hope that Ravina will feel as loved and at home as we did at Maher recently.  Our task of welcoming is considerably easier.  We aren’t hosting a mass and four 20th Anniversary celebrations attended by friends and well-wishers from around the world, a former Indian President and a renowned Buddhist monk at the same time we are welcoming Ravina.

Maher’s Daily Greeting

The Nature of Welcome

During 9 ½ months of visits to Maher, I’ve watched the women, children, men and staff welcome a seemingly endless parade of international visitors from Singapore to Lichtenstein, a steady stream of local friends celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and families, friends, and neighbors arriving for one of the 90+ weddings or other events.  Each time, the community sets aside what must feel like pressing duties, exhaustion, and cricket or studying, to welcome, celebrate, or uplift someone or something.  And, each time, the community members offer their hearts with joy, smiles, and grace.

Welcoming neighbors, friends and visitors from near and far.

Sometimes the spirit of welcome seems most apparent in small gestures, as when Maher Founder and Director Sr. Lucy Kurien stopped by to school us on sari wear after spending more than ten hours celebrating with thousands of guests.  Her attention and care spoke volumes.

Learning One Person, One Organization at a Time

This way of welcoming is a skill I seek to master.  I want it to become second nature.  This hospitality that uplifts the person being welcomed and doing the welcoming—whether the guest is staying for 5 minutes, 5 days or 5 months.

After all, there’s a world out there to welcome into our hearts and homes.

In the Spirit of Love

Maher Anniversary Image

Wa-hoo!!! Today marks Maher’s 18th Anniversary!!!  The theme for the year is “Clean Self. Clean Maher. Clean Village.  Clean India.”  

Sr. Lucy and all the dear people who founded Maher embody the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Sr. Lucy Kurien

Eighteen years ago, they could not have known that Maher would grow to:

  • 34 homes in 3 Indian states,
  • provide care & shelter 1,100 children, women & men on any given day,
  • make it possible for so many children to be the first in their families to attend and complete primary and secondary school,
  • support 530 self-help groups of 10 to 20 members in surrounding villages,
  • inspire people around the world with their commitment to love, interspiritual harmony, & justice.

Maher Sports Day

According to the World Bank, 33% of the world’s economic poverty is in India.  India has more economic poverty than any other country.  Maher is a shining example of Margaret Mead’s famous quotation, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

shoes

On this special day and throughout the month, please pray for and/or send positive thoughts and intentions to Maher.  www.maherashram.org  I also ask that you consider a financial gift to affirm Maher’s bold work in our world.  No gift is too small.  The cost of a flavored coffee drink in the U.S. provides food and shelter for a woman or child for more than two days.  Tax- deductible donations can be made online at:  www.the howleyfoundation.org or by check to The Howley Foundation, 36 Kinsington St., South Burlington, VT, USA 05403.  Sr. Lucy, in concert with the Board, directs the use of all funds based on Maher’s needs.

May your February be filled with peace and beauty.

Love & gratitude,

Sherry