I don’t actually remember where the idea came from. But, a while back, as I was pondering life, most likely while working in the garden, it came to me, what I would ‘give up’ for Lent.
Now, I’m not a big ‘give up something for Lent’ kind of person normally. But as I was pondering I realized that I could not remember the last time that I was in one place for any length of time. I do know that I happened to be in Mexico once for three weeks straight. That was back in November of 2008. Over two years ago. I remember it because it stood out as a record.
So I began to consider that for Lent I would ‘give up’ traveling. I realize, this might sound crazy to most normal people. “Poor you, you are giving up traveling for Lent.” But in my current fairly unpredictable and nomadic life, it actually seems like quite a challenge, staying in one place for 40 days (plus Sundays, which really makes it more like 45, but minus one mandatory presbytery meeting for which I will have to ‘travel’ to Southern California). Two years ago I traveled (literally) around the world during Lent, so I figured, this year, why not stay in one place?
(Ironically, as I am typing this, a road runner just flew onto the patio, directly outside the window. A quick search on roadrunners, or a bit of Saturday morning cartoon time will tell you that the roadrunner is symbolic of speed and movement…)
Last year during Lent I was in Thailand. One day, as I was doing some sightseeing, I happened into a Wat (Buddhist temple) that I had read taught free meditation classes. I walked in and was greeted by a monk, and saw a roomful of people wearing what looked like white scrubs, walking back and forth, very slowly, silently, in a very small space. My “what have I gotten myself into” radar went off immediately, but it was too late, I had already been spotted by the ‘greeter monk’ who was welcoming me to the temple.
“I want to learn meditation” I said. Duh. The very nice monk proceeded to teach me both walking and sitting meditation and then invited me to come back for the evening session. As it happened, all of the people in white were actually part of a multi-day retreat in meditation, so I was the only person there for the evening session.
This time the man who seemed like the senior monk lead me to a fluorescent-lit, downstairs basement with narrow windows along the edge of the ceiling and metal fans blowing at intervals to move around the hot air. He showed me again how to do the walking meditation, slowly, very slowly, putting one foot slightly in front of the other for about four feet, then methodically turning around, walking the same four feet, turn around, repeat. It was all very intentional, very slow. Did I mention that it was slow?
He looked up at the clock. It was around 6:15. “Don’t stay past 8pm–you should get back to your hotel before it’s too late,” he said, and left.
An hour and a half? I thought to myself. Really? You think I can just walk back and forth, painfully slowly, for that long and not run screaming for some pad thai? They don’t eat after the noon meal, and since I had been at the monastery since the afternoon, I too had not eaten since the noon meal, though I had every intention of doing so.
But I started walking. Back and forth. Slowly. Methodically. Intentionally.
Here’s the crazy thing–when I finally looked up at the clock it was 7:30. I’ve gotta leave in 15 minutes, I thought to myself. But I really want to keep walking. So I did. Until 7:44. Just one more, I said to myself, like a kid who doesn’t want to get out of the pool when it’s time to leave. I finally dragged myself out of there by 8pm.
It was amazing. There was something about the slowness and the repetition and the ‘not getting anywhere’ that was deeply centering. Once I had overcome the ‘are you kidding me’ stage, I really didn’t want to stop. What an incredible experience, I thought to myself on the cab ride back to the hotel.
But the other crazy thing? I haven’t done it again since.