On Focusing

In February 2007 I went on a Focusing Retreat at the Dhanakosa Retreat Centre in Scotland. The whole event was profound for me, and I hope this short essay expresses something of my experience.

Because it was Full Moon at 5.45 am on Friday 2nd February, the Focusing Retreat team said they would be on the lawn outside the house at 5.30 am for a 'very optional' walking meditation. I thought about it for a moment and decided I wasn't going to get up at 5.15 for a walking mediation on a cold February morning. I'd worked hard and thought I'd earned a break from what sounded like a decidedly uncomfortable option.

I woke in the dark of Friday morning. I wondered what the time was - surely not near 7am yet so still time to go back to sleep. It was 5.18 am. I had plenty of time to get dressed and meet the others on the lawn. Ugh! I turned over and huddled under the duvet. But I was wide-awake and realized with a groan that a part of me - a deeper, more fundamental part - had already decided to go into the moonlight. My conscious self protested: "I want to sleep. I decided not to go!" I had a strong sense of inner conflict, so took a moment to Focus. An image appeared of a red meditation shawl tied in a circle. I knew then that whatever my conscious self might have 'decided', I was going to the meditation.

As I got up and dressed, part of me continued to protest like a small child that doesn't want to go where his wiser parent is taking him. Even as I walked out of the front door I didn't know why I was there at this crazy time. And then I did. Oh, how I knew! The moon stood strong in the black sky as wisps of cloud hung around like gossamer. Tears came; tears of sheer joy at the awful beauty of that moment. I felt humbled then, not only by the power of the moon but also by the wisdom of my body that had led me here so unerringly. I bowed to the moon - a long, passionate bow. And then I turned to my shadow, a dark clear other self that was my body's echo, and bowed again, humble and thankful beyond words for my fleshy wisdom.

The walking mediation itself was a profound and exquisite joy. I felt faintly amazed that such a simple ritual could be one of the most powerful I have ever experienced. But isn't that so often the way?

As the singing bowl rang we walked slowly into the Shrine room and there was my red meditation shawl tied in a circle. A broad smile filled my tear-touched face, for I knew then more fully what that early morning image meant: The open circle is waiting for me. I sat and began my mediation on the breath.

Many moments of understanding came during that meditation. Some are not easily spoken of and I fear that trying to express them will freeze them dry. But I feel compelled to try. Some are easy to say but reverberate and echo into the past and my future. For one, I realized that I now truly knew what my PhD was all about: That glib phrase "The Wisdom of the Body" had become real for me, embodied, fully lived. Then the words 'Welcome home' came to me in the bliss of breaths. I am home - at home in my skin - safe, but with doors unbarred and windows open to the breeze. My deep body and my conscious self are like two brothers who had never really understood each other before, but now embraced and celebrated their blood bond.

Perhaps the most profound moment came as I grasped in fullness what my Paganism is. I suddenly held it, whole, massive, alive and laughing. Tears again, pouring out of the deep well of confusion and frustration that has watered my growth. In a quite fundamental sense, I don't need to try and express this path, for I know it. But I also hear the voices of others who draw on that well of confused frustration and perhaps I can give them a spark to light their path. What can I say of it then? My Paganism, which I call Eco-Paganism, follows the wisdom of the body. The body is, of course, more than the skin bag. It is Merleau-Ponty's flesh, entwined with the world around, dancing the steps of ancient instinct. So it is that my small self, the conscious voice, that tip of the iceberg of being, melts into the world. Thus we are made whole. This much of course is nothing new and every other voice speaking of our crisis will reiterate the mantra of Deep Ecology in some similar way. What is new for me - and might give others a feel of it, rather than the abstracting scribbles on a page or repeated stuff someone told someone, is Focusing. Focusing makes it real, makes it felt and opens self to other through flesh. By some mystery, Focusing does this in a way few - if any - ritual can, and with such elegant simplicity! No need then for gurus, ritual, and a life of meditation? Yes, because Focusing is so powerful and so broad in application, it needs the structure of gentle guidance, simple embodied ritual and the opening into Presence that meditation brings. The careful holding offered by these guides allows Focusing to open into Being, renewing the ancient bond wounded long ago by the illusion of our separateness.

Like a felt-shift, these words mark both an end and a beginning. I know, in a felt, embodied sense, that this is the path I've hungered for. Yet that eyes-wide gasp of realization places me at the start of a new path of wonder and adventure guided by the best teacher I've ever known, the one I was born with - myself.

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