I had never before seen a religious person so radiant. The nun exuded joy and love, indicating to me true spirituality. One morning I exclaimed to her my appreciation of how joyful she seemed to be. Ah, she responded with an even deeper smile, I just came from praying. All love, no force. That’s what we say. I was amazed. That’s exactly what we teach! I told her.
The scene was a beautiful convent and retreat center in Italy where my husband, Franklyn Sills, and I taught a post graduate seminar last week in Craniosacral Biodynamics. Not far from where we landed in Bologna, we had driven up a winding road through a tiny village to emerge at this remarkable center. A joyful, heartful priest greeted us with his bits of English. The nun arrived soon after. I was immediately taken by her playfulness, as she smiled at us and hugged the priest. Each day, she greeted me with hugs and kisses. I may have never felt so loved and welcomed in my life!
Awakening the Heart
This seemed like the perfect context for our seminar, entitled Awakening the Heart. As I witnessed the clerics each day, I had no doubt that they lived with awakened hearts! The nun had expressed to me the essence of this practice. All love, never any force. I discovered this wise advice came from the teachings of St Francis de Sales, a mystical monk in the 1500s.
Love seems to me to be primarily about being with what is. Mindfulness is a practice of love. The nun reminded me of another nun I had befriended years earlier through month-long Vipassana courses, where we would sit in silence for thirty days at a time. The intention in these courses was to be present with whatever our experience was, directly observing the arising and passing away of thoughts, sensations, and feelings. Through this extended observation, I came to understand within my body, not just as a concept, the transitory nature of all things. My attachments became less important as their objects shifted in and out of reach.
Ooma was a companion in this observation. A petite nun originally from Cambodia, she donned tiny children’s thongs on her feet that were too small for adult shoes. I laughed to see the colorful Daffy Duck image peeking out from under her Buddhist robes. Ooma didn’t speak much English, but somehow we communicated through our hearts, laced with a bit of French. We seemed to recognize each other and felt a closeness on our shared path. Like the Italian nun, Ooma oozed of joy. Her heart was open to the passing of life. Her love was tangible.
The Deepest Prayer
In Italy, I was reminded of the place where I believe all religions meet. Those committed to deep spiritual practice, whether it be observation of sensations or praying to the Madonna, begin to loosen their hold on the everyday identity of personality, expanding into wholeness, oneness and truly loving being. This is a state we also aim for in Biodynamics. Can we be present with ourselves, our clients and whatever arises between us, opening to the guidance of the source we call the Breath of Life? This is a term coined by William Sutherland, founder of cranial osteopathy, whose work became more being and less doing in nature in the later part of his life. In his book, Teachings in the Science of Osteopathy, Sutherland declared:
“Visualize a potency, an intelligent potency, that is more intelligent than your own human mentality … You will have observed its potency and also its Intelligence, spelled with a capital I. It is something you can depend upon to do the work for you. In other words, don’t try to drive the mechanism through any external force. Rely upon the Tide”
In our Biodynamic seminars, we guide our students in settling their thoughts and nervous system, intending to deepen and widen their awareness beyond everyday personality. In this less personal state, we can meet and hold our clients within a welcoming, accepting relational field. We practice being aware of our own reactions to what arises with an intention to be present in a supportive and compassionate way, rather than in a way we may think we are supposed to be. In short, we practice love. There are times when we sense our hearts cast open as we simply be with our client in the presence of the mystery of life.
Perhaps not surprisingly in the context of a seminar on the heart within a heart-centered spiritual community, I experienced this casting open last week. I was demonstrating a session in front of the class. As I put my hands on the demo client’s head, I suddenly felt such intense joy I found myself laughing out loud! Explaining my giggle to the client, she acknowledged also feeling a burst of joy as her heart opened in synchrony with mine. Many others in the room were also touched by this apparent wave of the Breath of Life caressing our hearts.
This transformation did not happen through any effort or force on my part. I simply settled into my heart with an awareness of me, client, and class being held and suspended within much larger, wider energetic fields. A similar heart opening tends to happen in Continuum classes and practice. After making a few sounds, breaths, and movements, I often sense my heart softening and expanding. It begins to feel as if it spans the entire length of my trunk, which is bathed in delicious indescribable sensations.
I have heard Continuum movers comment that their experience is better than making love. Perhaps, it is making love! Making love to ourselves and the planet, all at once. We are, as founder of Continuum, Emilie Conrad, noted, extensions of a planetary process. What we do with our own bodies both expresses and contributes to the planet. As we slow down, we resonate with subtle planetary rhythms. If we make love to ourselves, we must similarly be making love with the planet. If making love is really about being present with, accepting, welcoming and being with, Continuum, Biodynamics, and mindfulness are all about making love! Mama Earth may benefit from our practices, for how could we demolish her when we are in love? And could she be replenished with our loving care, her dead forests coming back to life, like paralyzed tissues in Continuum, or potency held within inertial conditional fulcrums in Biodynamics? There is a saying that love heals all.
When we arrived at the center in Italy, we were told there was a painting there of the Madonna that people came to for healing. Sitting with this powerful painting, and a beautiful sculpture of the Madonna outside, my heart opened again. I sensed exquisite radiance beaming through my body, igniting my heart, dissolving my personality. As I beheld the image of the miraculous mother, I realized I was taking in a powerful symbol of birth and rebirth, the mystery of the creative forces of life and love. The religious context became less important than the deeper symbolism.
I was reminded of Emilie Conrad’s teachings on the importance of being able to die, to shed our old skins like a molting snake, to let go of who we think we are in order to truly embody fluidity. Whenever we hold on, there is an element of rigidity. Letting go, we melt into what the next moment offers. Embracing the miracle of each moment, we equally welcome the arising of old traumas or other unresolved history, or the bubbling up of joy and laughter. All love, no force. Being without expectation. Welcoming what is. The mystery stretches its wings, emerges from its shell, and flies directly into our hearts.