Here we go! We started out the week getting to know this beautiful city and some of the history that surrounds us.
Our hotels are in the very center of the old city – Hotel Dei Priori and Hotel Alexander – so we just need to walk out of the lobby to be surrounded by ancient beauty. An as an aside, these hotels have truly become our home here in Assisi. Year after year, they support this Assisi journey and do everything they can to take care of us. The staff is on call 24 hours for us and helping us feel comfortable and cared for. When I apologized to the manager, Simone, for a mistake I made the other day, said, “No, no. Don’t apologize. You are family. You should feel like you are at home here.” We feel at home!
So, from our Assisi home, we headed out with our guide Margherita Sensi. Her family has a tradition of being guides in Assisi, so she really knows some precious details. She took us out through the town center, Piazza Commune, which was an ancient Roman piazza and has been the town center for thousands of years.
After that, we headed over to the church of Santa Chiara (St. Clare), which is a later church, built after her death in the 1200s. I finally got to ask my question about the choices of St. Clare. As I mentioned before, St. Francis and his brothers would go into the world sharing a message of peace, but Clare and her order lived a cloistered life. Why was that? Was it a reflection of the culture or of ideas that St. Francis had about the way of women in his community?
A little story about this woman St. Clare – I promised I would share the history of St. Clare to whom this town is dedicated. According to our guide, Clare, herself dictated rules of her own order. When Clare saw the work of Francis and his brothers (she was the only woman to join them), she saw that something was missing. He and the men went out into the world to talk with people. Someone had to stay put and “talk with God” (in the words of our guide). Her choice of cloistered life, a a life of pure meditation, was hers. She was the first woman, recognized by a major religion, to start her own order, separate from a man’s. Today, there are about 40 women cloistered in the church of Santa Chiara – they do not see any other people aside from the other sisters (though there is a liaison of some sort, obviously) In fact, recently, one of the sisters was taken ill. As they took her to the hospital, the church was closed, and curtains were set up so no one could even see her going to the ambulance, and at the hospital, she had a room away from others. As a result of this rather extreme choice of a seriously dedicated spiritual path, the women who join this order as usually older than the typical nuns when they take their vows.
Santa Chiara, herself, lived in a different church than the one where her body rests today. It is a small church called San Damiano, and she and her women spent their lives there. Chiara wrote the rules for her own order and upon her death bed, demanded that the Pope himself come with his signature agreeing to her terms (she was a smart woman).
So, back to Assisi, We wandered the street with our guide learning about the places important to the story of this town and its two Saints. She didn’t even seem to mind the many questions about the details of the spiritual journey of the saints (as opposed to just the historical facts). It is a Yoga retreat after all, so it is nice to see how two powerful people made difficult choices to take the spiritual path that they felt called to follow. We ended with the Basilica of St. Francis and the amazing frescos by Giotto adorning the walls.
As one walks out of the Basilica, there is a big lawn with a hedge cut into the words “PAX” and a Tau symbol; this is the symbol Francis chose to represent peace in his order. Mirka reminded us of the idea of “Pace e Bene” shared as a greeting by Francis and his followers.
Jentry found a couple of amazing trees, just oozing love as we walked through the town……
So, after a lovely lunch back at Hotel Dei Priori and a bit of a rest, we joined all together in the practice space, St. George’s chapel. Finally, coming together on the mat!!! Connecting with the breath, coming together as a Sangha, finding the space to be open to this moment.
Mirka guided us into a deep practice moving towards a mantra – “Pace Bene” – with simple hand movements, awakening some energy for mudras that are coming in the week. This is a big group of people with such a huge range of experience with Yoga (some practicing for over 20 years and some have never been to a class), so Mirka did the magic that she does bringing everyone together with that beautiful adaptivity of the Viniyoga tradition. We have awoken the Yoga temple and are ready for the week of exploration there.
As we begin to connect with the history and stories of this ancient town, we are moving together towards opening and awaken internal energies. Mirka began our practice with gentle, supportive Asana (Yoga postures) that focused on core strengthening. Then we moved the attention more closely to the breath and began connecting with the first three chakras before sitting in the quiet space of peace that a wonderful Yoga practice supports.