Posted on October 27, 2022 by Jenn Zatopek
In mid-summer, I attended an online Zen meditation retreat touching the fire of peace inside and quickly discovered how it blazed a sacred fire in my immediate family.
This particular Zen retreat focused on feeling unconditionally supported by all that is, right here and now. On one of the hottest days of summer, I sat on my comfortable chair and breathed deeply with hundreds of other humans who long for more stillness and silence too. Relaxing into the moment rather than strategizing about what needs to happen next helped reshape the primitive parts of my autonomic nervous system, which were formed on the faulty foundations of trauma, stress, and overwhelm from my earlier years.
While I identify as Christian, I have boldly journeyed into other religions to find spiritual practices that help me grow more sane as the world tilts into greater uncertainty and warlike behavior. As I was guided by Zen Master Henry Shukman at Mountain Cloud Center in Santa Fe, I experienced meditation as prayer, trusting that God and I really are one (John 10:30), rediscovering that this inner sanctuary of peace is within me at all times. Though it is widely overlooked, ancient Christianity was built upon the rock of an indigenous people who practiced silence (among other things) as a way to commune with The Holy.
At the end of our first day, one of the retreat leaders asked us to link our peaceful experience with a word and sacred object to remind us that lasting support is available to us at all times. I linked the infinite with the stately pin oak tree that lives in our front yard because I love this tree like an old friend. My chest expanded widely and joy buoyed my heart as I reflected on the infinite nature of support from this tree, how it produces oxygen for me and you to breathe and its sprawling branches and bright green leaves shade us all from the blistering summer sun. Breathing deeply, I was reminded of the Creator who has supported me all my life, calling out to me to come home to myself and dance in this beautiful and hard life I have been gifted with.
After the retreat, I savored the feelings of goodwill for a while, relishing in the deep peace that comes from long periods of stillness. But the Divine must have been up to something because I shifted into prayers for my next encounter, time with a relative whom I struggle to love. As I changed into my bathing suit at their house, I quickly looked upwards to the heavens and cried out imperatively “Listen here, I need you to help me just love them exactly as they are. I mean it this time.” The next hour was remarkable and rare: my prayer was answered in full.
We swam in the cool waters outside, their backyard pool shaded by enormous red oak trees as the afternoon sun filtered through the waving green branches. The family member spoke about their life and I turned my attention fully towards them. As I listened to their hopes and concerns, I felt a spacious sort of calm while I focused on being present to them, accepting them as they are, expecting nothing in return. This peace of God, which transcends all understanding, saturated the encounter, and at dinner, this relative sat next to me and smiled encouragingly at me, something that hasn’t happened in a very long time.
As I walked with my partner to our car, I thought about the miracle that had just occurred: for a brief span of an hour, I was able to be around one of the most toxic members of my family and send them love with no expectations they would show interest in me. Five hours of meditative silence bought me an hour of spaciousness, giving them the gift of my time, presence, and memory. And like most miracles, its effects were fleeting. But I caught a glimpse of what is possible for me and you, if we stop giving to dry empty wells and expecting to be restored.
We seek silence to nourish ourselves and give only when we are filled to the brim. That realization I embodied and touched through this reflection is the real miracle of the whole experience.