Mario Thanavaro, Mirka and Tammy
Mario Thanavaro, Mirka and Tammy – enjoying a stoop

We had a special guest this morning, Mario Thanavaro, an amazing teacher of meditation from Rome.  In honor of Mario’s arrival, we did our practice in the Yoga chapel in the morning, and Mario guided us into meditation after the Asana practice with Mirka.

For full disclosure, my body decided today that I need some silence and stillness, so in a wave of nausea and general ick, I headed back to my room after breakfast and stayed there until the afternoon… a bit of forced reflection.  So as our Sangha returns to their home locations, I will see if someone will share their experiences from the morning with Mario.  In the mean time, he shared some of his writing, which he gave us because it is so important to share this message:

“Once upon a time, long ago, people walked about barefoot.  One day, the queen, walking across a rock field, cut her foot on a sharp stone.  Annoyed, she called together her ministers and ordered the Queendom carpeted with leather.  One wise minister stepped forward and suggested an easier way.  ‘rather than covering the entire realm, let’s cover the soles of everyones’ feet.’ The queen agreed and that was the origin of shoes.

Cover the world or cover your feet?
Cover the world or cover your feet?

It seems silly to cover a kingdom with leather to protect out feet.  In the same way, some of our strategies for living are attempts to cover our world.  A much more effective way of living is to learn to take out point of direct contact with the world.  In the teachings of the Buddha, mindfulness is what brings us to the point of contact.  Mindfulness entails knowing what is happening in the present moment while it is happening.  It is a training in how not to be lost in our thoughts, opinions, and reactivity.  It is also a training in how to see things as they are, as opposed to seeing them through the often distorted lens of pre-concieved ideas and interpretation.”

He also shared the more personal story of his journey from a Buddist monk for 18 years to a layman living in Rome and continuing his teaching.  One thing he shared that really resonates in my mind is that we have the ‘choice to die in each moment and to be reborn.’  In that we are free to let go of the past and our former ideas and be completely free in each moment to move forward in a better, clearer way.  It doesn’t mean we need to be happy or strong or ANYTHING, but we have the freedom to be open to what we are in this moment.

Basilica of St. Francis (3 churches in 1) - location of the tomb
Basilica of St. Francis (3 churches in 1) – location of the tomb

After lunch (for everyone who didn’t feel ill), there was time to rest before an excursion over the the Basilica of St. Francis and into the tomb.  The tomb of St. Francis is a dark, cool, stone covered space where the body of St. Francis and a few others have been laid to rest.  There are small areas to the sides of the tomb where people may sit.  Our group settled themselves and prepared to do some silent meditation.   Normally, there is a lot of shuffling and mumbling as tourists and pilgrims move along in droves.  But, as the meditation group settled themselves into silence, the entire room became quiet.  Our actions do have effects!

After a short meditation in the dark cool space, the group moved back up the hill (a lot of hill climbing this week) and back to the main piazza to visit Assisi Pax International and Padre GianMaria Polidoro.

Gianmaria with a less than famous historical figure (your author)
Padre Gianmaria with a less than famous historical figure (your author)

Padre GianMaria was chosen by the Vatican, back in the early ’80s, to bring the US and USSR into peace talks.  He and two of his colleagues organized five peace talks and laid the foundation to end the cold war.  He violated sanctions in Iran because he had the opportunity to speak there about peace.  He has visited Mommar Gadhafi in a tent to speak of peace!  To say that I am in awe of his life’s work is an understatement, but now, he is a humble Franciscan, sitting in Assisi PAX International, the meeting place for peace, and continuing his work to help cultivate peace on a global level.  He spoke to us of the need for forgiveness and compassion as necessary for peace to prevail – when he speaks of peace, it is wise to listen.

He shared some inspiration from his favorite source, the gospel, in addition to the lessons he has learned from experience.  He asked Mario Thanavaro to help translate the passage into English from the gospel.  So Mario, a former Buddhist monk, in the heart of Assisi, read to us from the book of Matthew, chapter 5.  In particular, Padre Gianmaria drew our attention to the passage “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely.”  He reminded us that the blessing comes because it is better to be persecuted than to be the one persecuting.

To illustrate his meaning, he shared the details of a current tragedy in Italy where a small child was killed.  After a big DNA search, it was found that a neighbor may have committed the act.  When this news was released, the family of the victim asked that everyone pray for the family of the accused because, whether guilty or innocent, his family is suffering.  He used this as an example to break out habit of reacting to violence with more violence.  It is this cycle that dooms us over and over. Only with practice of this process of breaking the cycle of violence can we begin to realize this mission of peace, which has been his life’s work and is the fundamental message of St. Francis.

The doorway to a peace movement
The doorway to a peace movement

Assisi Pax is “is for anyone who feels the need to be personally involved in working for Peace”  If you are interested in supporting Assisi Pax International, please visit their website or Facebook page.  If you happen to be in Assisi, please stop by the office, just off the main piazza, and take the rare opportunity to listen to someone who has dedicated his life to peace (and buy some of the books!  They are fantastic, and proceeds go to a great cause!)

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