Teach Us To Sit Still

I’m away from home without my children. I’m speaking German. I’m the only one with no previous association with the group: they all know at least some of the others and I feel ‘fremd’. The experience of the Technique is unsettlingly different to my own training (if more to my liking), and I am sharing a bedroom with someone I’ve never met before.

In other words, out of my comfort zone in a million ways.

And then on top of that – something totally new.

I’d been told classes would recommence at 2.45 and was ready and waiting. But almost no one came. Outside a small crowd was clearly involved in some group project. As I joined them the first few were heading off, but those who remained said they were going to the woods for a meditation, would I like to come? Sure. They offered me a bin bag to sit on.  I was regretting having accepted the invitation. Had I known I’d have to sit on the ground I might have said no, because I’m so vast and unfit I didn’t think I could get up again. But off we went. As we started, one of the women explained that we were going to stand for ten minutes. ‘I can do that!’ I said, cheerfully. ‘When we stand, we imagine we are trees. Then we sit for ten minutes and imagine we are Buddha’. “I am Buddha’ I confirmed, making light to distract myself from the worry I felt. ‘And then we lie for ten minutes and imagine we are the ground’. Shit, I thought.   ‘And’ she added ‘we do the whole thing in silence’. ‘Not sure I can do that!’ I quipped. Cos that’s what I do: I make wisecracks. I find silence in company difficult.  (I’ve noticed laughter always comes from my table.)

Uphill all the way, I was huffing and puffing in no time and contemplating turning back. The path made hairpin bends, always uphill. Silence but for footsteps (and my heavy breathing). Ahead I saw the last visible person turn off the path, and I followed. There were the others, standing dotted about the place, and all facing the same patch of sun. I stood also. Tried not to fidget. Tried to remember the book ‘Teach Us To Sit Still’. Time lagged. I transferred my weight from one leg to another. The others stood still.   I saw mainly their backs. Like all the Gormleys standing gazing out to sea.  Not menacing, not frozen. Just still. At repose. It was a peaceful sight. I didn’t feel part of it.

Ages passed before, silently, the first person sat, folding elegantly into a crosslegged position. Oh oh. I fell rather clumsily onto my bin bag, and sat there, legs akimbo, like a giant baby Buddha. Leaves rustled overhead, and in the sunlight the leaves of a few slim birches shimmered like Klimt’s.  The floor of the forest was soft and pillowy with a thick layer of pine needles. Above it quivered the green leaves of tiny saplings and delicate, airy ground cover. Before long the figures lay gently down, and I did too (less gently). The view above me was quite dramatic. Tall, straight tree trunks. Way, way up they went. They swayed with the breeze. Up to head height they were bare. Beyond that for ten or twenty feet the trunks were encircled by straight black spokes. The branches higher up still had their needles, like garlands of dull green tinsel. But between the charred looking spikes and the fluffy green, were one or two branches with a few sparse, bare twigs, twisting and turning, like hooks, all at more or less right angles to the others in an unlikely maze outlined against the sky. This little patch of black lines crosshatched awkwardly on the blue looked exactly like a painting by Klee and was so beautiful that I began to cry. Yes, tears were rolling down my face, out to the sides and into my hair as I lay there marvelling at the tracery. (Is this what it is like to be on drugs?) I felt I could lie there forever, and suddenly I could understand Yeong Hye, The Vegetarian, who wants to become a tree. Silently and with a disarming poise, people started to rise and walk through the forest in the direction of the Seminarraum to begin classes.







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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.

One thought on “Teach Us To Sit Still”

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