We visited the Eremo delle Carceri today. This site is my personal favorite site of the week! It is a hermitage in the mountains a few kilometers from Assisi. There is a small collection of buildings including a small structure where Francis spent time living in isolation, but mostly, it is a beautiful wooded hilltop. The entire area is considered sacred space, so silence is respected, generally.
We didn’t do much of a guided journey, we just headed towards the end of one of the paths at our own pace, having our own experiences. One of the group had a wonderful experience of being so ‘mindful’ that he completely missed the fact that he had seated himself in an area where many, many people had made little crosses out of sticks and leaves all around him! He looked down and noticed one, and then suddenly, his eyes saw what was all around him. He laughed at his ‘mindfulness’ of what was happening inside his head but his ‘mindlessness’ at the reality of his surroundings.
A practice that Mirka has supported in this space since the 2010 retreat is walking meditation. This tradition began when her son, Matteo, and I removed our shoes at the entrance to the hermitage after hearing a story of how Francis would often go around barefoot. It turned out to be a great lesson for us both! The paths at the Eremo are gravel, and our tender feet were not used to it. By walking barefoot, one had immediate awareness of the present moment and the mind could not wander. Once in a while, we would walk through a small pile of fallen leaves and they felt, literally, like SILK! The first time we went through a pile, we both stopped and said, “ahh” and laughed at the simple pleasure and how important is had become.
Six months after that ritual in 2010, I was in labor with my second child, and while walking in circles in the delivery room barefoot, between contractions, I was walking at the Eremo (one of the most powerful visualization exercises I’ve ever done). The pauses between contractions were like the beautiful piles of fallen leaves that we found to give our feet a moment to rest. When we returned to Assisi in 2012, Mirka asked Mario to initiate us into walking meditation on those same, beautiful gravel paths. Now, the barefoot tradition is becoming part of our Assisi journey. If you ever find yourself in the Eremo, try taking off you shoes – it will rock your world!
After meeting as a group to sit with the breath and meditation, some of us gathered near a stone alter where we shared some of our experiences and received a small token of our time here together. As we were sharing (and let’s admit it, there was some tears involved), one of the people from our group noticed two strangers who were completely taken into to the moment we were sharing. So, our little circle became a bit bigger and these two women joined us. I don’t know why, but that moment really touched me. They didn’t know us or what we were sharing in the week, but they were right there with us in gratitude for life! Ladies, if you are reading this, it was so lovely to have you!
Our friend Bill, our good ol’ Texas man, shared a poem that expressed some of his feelings from the week. Here is what our great Yogi friend shared:
“If” by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
I think I’ll end there…………I could write more about the beautiful practice on the mat in the chapel in the afternoon, but as the moments in the week blend together, there is no separation between ‘on the mat’ and ‘off the mat’ Yoga. It is really all a graceful dance of being here, paying attention to the moments of life that unfold for us. Walking, breathing, being, sharing, core strengthening, mantra, krama exhale…….. all, one amazing Yoga practice – ALL DAY LONG.