Thursday, May 7, 2009

Developing 'golden retriever mind'

This past weekend, I participated in my first contemplative retreat at Mystic Trace, the home of my friends Tom and Kathryn Boone.

The weekend was certainly a learning experience for me. Contemplative practices have both scared and fascinated me, as they don't tend to be encouraged in my Baptist tradition. And having pure-O OCD certainly doesn't help with the quieting of the mind.

But I found the weekend enjoyable. Tom, who is essentially my spiritual director, is good at granting permission and reminding me that there really isn't a "wrong" way to be contemplative. There are no set guidelines to follow, and God isn't sitting somewhere pointing a long finger at me and grimacing because I didn't meditate correctly.

Over the course of the weekend, I read a lot about "beginner's mind," the idea of approaching life not as someone who has it all figured out, but as someone open and eager to learn.

After my recent Faith Lab post on an encounter with the Boones' dog Bob, someone suggested that "golden retriever mind" may be the way to go.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share another story from my weekend here. This is from my retreat journal:

Even here, isolated as I am, it is hard to allow myself to rest fully. I think about my apartment, miles away, and how I need to clean or do laundry when I get home. I think of the stories I need to finish for the next paper. I think about the fact that I am thinking about home and work. Learning to be is hard. I've so long equated being with doing that I don't quite know how to separate the two.

Pixie, the Boone's tiny, easily-excited dog, seems to have it figured out. She runs up to greet me, believing my purpose in being here is for her enjoyment. She then rushes over to my backack and shoes to sniff. When she is satisfied, she bounds into the bedroom — presumably to do the same with whatever she finds there. Out she runs again, pauses to look at me, and disappears down the stairs.

Pixie doesn't take the time to analyze what I think. She doesn't care. She knows who she is and lives in that reality: excited and all over the place.

Perhaps contemplative prayer is less about learning to be silent than it is learning to live excitedly and all over the moment we find ourselves in.