A few weeks ago, I was at the Garrison Institute for the Awakened Heart Project and Institute for Jewish Spirituality Jewish Mindfulness Teacher Training Program’s first retreat. After a week of teachings, practice, and silence, we were going to have a “talking breakfast.” We were told that another group was beginning a conference at the retreat center, not a meditation retreat, and we would all be in the dining hall together. It made sense that we would break our silence beforehand and not require the other group to have a silent breakfast.
I should tell you that during this retreat, one of the themes that kept popping up for me was integration. And, more specifically, how am I integrating all aspects of my life. Now, through Joshua Venture Group, I will be supported in directing the JMC, but I also will continue to work part-part-time as an urban planner. This career juxtaposition was on my mind, because I love my urban planning job, I want to finish my projects, and leading the JMC (and being supported financially to do so) is a total dream come true. How to do both and not burn out?
Back to breakfast. We all entered the dining hall. The other group was already there, talking, loudly. After a silent retreat, I always have a little bit of a hard time adjusting to not being in silence. My energy level spikes, and I feel kind of shaky. It’s a hard transition. Anyways, that happens. I take a few seconds to just notice it, and then a friend starts talking to me. I notice over his shoulder someone from the other group, sitting, eating breakfast. I recognize this person. I try not to ignore my friend, but I quickly realize that sitting before me is one of my urban planning heroes. I quoted him extensively in my Masters Thesis, cited his work constantly, and loved his recent book. Van Jones. Totally out of context. He was at the Garrison Institute for a conference on the “Green Economy.”
I looked back at my friend, and told him the situation. “Go talk to him!” And so I did. I walked over, interrupted his oatmeal, and said “Hi. You’re Van Jones!” He looked up and nodded. Said hello, politely, cautiously. “I’m Alison. I’m actually here for the meditation retreat, but I’m also an urban planner.” Now he smiled, got up, shook my hand. “I wanted to come over and say hello, because I’ve been so inspired by your work. Thank you.” He hugged me, we talked, and he said “Thank you. Thank you for going on meditation retreats. Thank you for taking care of your spiritual self so that you can do good work in the world.”
This seems to be the lesson I come back to over and over again. To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re a “good” meditator, or spiritual practitioner. Your practice on the cushion is going well- awesome, but that’s not that exciting to me. What interests me is how we take our practice into the world. How do you treat other people- strangers and loved ones and not-so-loved ones? How are we working to help others? Integrating our practices and our lives can be difficult, but when strange coincidences that open your heart and blow your mind start happening, I like thinking that means I’m going in the right direction. After talking with Van Jones, I floated back to my table and smiled over my oatmeal.