Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Returning to the deep within

I spotted this tree, on the road just above the Japanese teahouse, as I was walking down to the retreat last Saturday, and one of the first things I did when we were sent off to contemplate was to go back to it with my camera.

At the time I was on a mission to visit the swans, so I took a quick couple of shots of the tree and headed off down the path to the pond without looking at what I'd gotten. So it wasn't until I got home and downloaded the day's photos into the computer that I realized I'd gotten some sunspots with this one.

Like most kids in my generation, I grew up watching the Wizard of Oz, so this image bore a strong resemblance -- for me, at least -- of that lovely bubble that brings the Good Witch to Dorothy whenever she is needed.

And, as I typed this, I happened to glance at my desk, and there's a postcard on it, with an image of Dorothy's feet in her ruby slippers, with the Good Witch's wand, and the words "There's No Place Like Home" announcing a going-away party. Such a curious coincidence!

The academic in me is contemplating all kinds of alternative analyses and possibilities in this. But if I just stick with what I know, what is here with me now, this morning, then perhaps I need to look at my prayer practice.

I'm supposed to be doing Centering Prayer, emptying my mind of thoughts. But I tend to go off on these tangents, visualizing things outside myself and focusing on them, creating and gathering images rather than going back to the center. And I realized just this morning that I've gotten hooked on yet another image that I need to release, a sort of maternal reaching out that happens from God.

Father Thomas Keating, the leading proponent of Centering Prayer, has strong feelings about this temptation to get distracted by our thoughts and images. "Even if you meet the Virgin Mary," he says, "you have to let her go."

I don't think I was meeting anything so noble as the Virgin Mary. I think I was reaching out to the Good Witch, hoping she would touch me with her magic wand and send me home, to that lovely clear space within. I've been forgetting -- again -- that I already have everything I need to get there; I just have to remember that being in that space is more important than any of the distractions and enchantments that tempt me.

I remember back in my 20's, after I stopped doing Transcendental Meditation and embarked on a more Buddhist path, learning that my thoughts were like bubbles; that I should stay as deep as possible and not get caught up in them, just watch them rise to the surface and let them go. This image seems like a perfect reminder: I've been too engrossed in the bubbles, and need to get back to the deep within.

Repeat after me:

There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.


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