We gathered at Pembroke Arch at 3:45 in the morning. I watched as groups of students materialized out of the mist, carrying just a single bag. We had 24 hours of travel in front of us, two bus rides, two plane rides.
We are now tucked away just below Chion-in in Kyoto. Dinner was at a small Japanese place, leave your shoes at the door, sit on a cushion on the tatami. Then it was a quick walk back, and a chance to try a Japanese bath. Now we are all looking forward to sleeping horizontally, and (at least some of us) then getting up at dawn again to walk up for a morning ceremony on the temple up the hill. Konbawa!
What does it mean to be mindful, and can we measure it? In Psychology of Mindfulness, we took the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ – an online version can be found here) this week. The five facets are: observing, describing, non-judging of one’s inner experiences, non-reactivity, and awareness.
Along the same lines in the class on contemplation in the West, we are considering what constitutes elected silence. Is silence a necessary pre-condition for contemplation? We have been reading the 4th desert fathers and mothers, including Abba Moses who tells a supplicant “sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything;” while Amma Syncletica suggests exterior location isn’t the issue, but the interior landscape is: “It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd; and it is possible for those who are solitaries to live in the crowd of their own thoughts.”
We are off to mindfully explore silence at the Jesuit Center, a retreat center located about 60 miles northwest of Bryn Mawr, on the grounds of an old Jesuit novitiate. We will spend parts of each day in silence, seeing if we can grasp what is so alluring about silence that for centuries people have left everything behind to seek it. When we return, we will be reading some narratives of silence.
This week in the course on contemplation in the Western tradition we are reading excerpts from Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. What is the connection between the spaces we inhabit and our minds? our souls? How can we read what a space has to tell us? Do spaces have memories? Subtexts? Bachelard is developing a frame for thinking about such questions.
Class moved outside, testing the ways in which the space shaped our conversation. This outdoor space was bounded subtly by rugs and chairs, no hard edges.
Later this week, we are off to read a quite different space, a silent monastic experience.