Writing up something about the retreat here on Blip, and having the benefit of your comments, I have become even more appreciative of the week’s design. I have purposely not gone back to read any journal entries made at the time (‘though there were few enough of them, and no dreams at all - been dreaming up a storm since I got back). Wanting rather to skim off what remains in surface memory, what I’m stirred to recall.
The period of silence ended and we got to talk again on the Thursday, the last full day before leaving. As you might imagine conversation came from a different and deeper place. More connected to our own selves. On the very first evening when a young man took the mike to speak, I had been transfixed by the beauty of his face and had the thought “Wherever did you get such a unique and lovely face?” Seeing his face had brought joy to my heart throughout the week.
In the shared Inquiry (in pairs or triads) one person gets to explore their immediate experience (usually for about fifteen minutes) whilst the others simply witness, staying present in their own bodies feeling what they feel. No prompting, questioning, nodding or generally being encouraging from the witnesses. Bare witness attention rather than social or therapeutic engagement. The Inquirer proceeds as they feel inclined - eyes closed or open, looking at both or either person etc it’s their time, their Inquiry. The first time I witnessed in this way I thought I might jump right out of my skin, so accustomed I was to actively indicating that people have my full and undivided attention. After a year and a half I’m a bit more relaxed with the practice.
By the Thursday night, working in pairs, I began to notice that there was more than one unique and lovely face in the room. Witnessing one young woman I had the urge to become a sculptor to capture the exquisite angles and shadows of her beautiful face, the fine arch of her eyebrow; or maybe a beautician so I could trace each contour with my fingertips. Witnessing another woman’s Inquiry she could not take her eyes from my face. She sat in silence for a full fifteen minutes, speaking only to describe the deep peace she was feeling, the beauty she was seeing, how deeply satisfying and restful it was to just sit in the truth of her experience. Inside I was squirming under this prolonged intimate, appreciative gaze; Tiny Mind was wishing her Inquiry would take a different course.
‘By chance’ the young man from the first evening sat beside me at dinner. I got to ask my week-old question - “Where did you get such a unique and lovely face?”. His face lit up even more. I didn't think that was even possible.
Here’s the thing. He told me that when he was introducing himself in his small group, staying in his body, speaking from his immediate experience he discovered that he was really enjoying having ten or so people gaze at him. That he was basking in the experience, that it might be connected to his parents having busy lives and rarely giving him their full attention when he was small. We wondered together if it was his pleasure in now being seen that had evoked my pleasure in looking at him, and the question that had arisen. We contrasted it with my own discomfort with different varieties of gaze. We wondered how these dynamics play out in portrait photography, how deeply the subject is seen, how intimate the portrait. Suddenly there was beauty everywhere. Miraculous how that happens. Mysterious how it can hide itself at times.
The venue had Christian-inspired artworks scattered around the buildings and gardens. There’s another in extras and a couple more over here, including the credit for the main image.
Edit: 27th May 2016 - check out this video on the power we all have in our gaze, in daring to connect. Xx
- Canon PowerShot SX40 HS