All you have to do, your sole responsibility, it to ensure that the person in front remains a couple of metres, give or take, away from you. That’s it.
We’re doing a ‘walking meditation’ at the silent retreat I attend twice a year, held at a Catholic conference centre up in the damp and lovely hills of the Yarra Valley. The retreats are run by the Australian Christian Meditation Community. We do a lot of meditating – most of it sitting, and once a day we do this walking thing.
I love it. We walk slowly, in a giant circle, experiencing the soft placement of each foot- heel then toe - observing the blades of grass we flatten as we go, the kookaburra flapping away on the periphery of our vision, the play of light and shadow as the clouds flit across the wide sky. We say our mantra, and as our minds wander, as they inevitably do, we bring them gently back: to our mantra, to the rhythm of our limbs and lungs, to the knowledge that God know us intimately and loves us completely.
To maintain the circle of walking prayer for the group, each one needs to make sure the person in front is about 6 feet away. It’s not your job to be checking the people up in front where there seems to be a bit of an obstruction, to be irritated at the person over the other side of the oval who obviously just doesn’t get it and is walking too fast, your job is not even to worry about the person behind you, who may be miles behind, or almost stepping on your heels. All you do, is say your mantra, watch the quiet grass and keep your place in the dance.
Later that day, our speaker for the weekend tells us of the recent time when, overcome by helpless grief in the face of the tragedy that is Syria, he called out in anguish to God: ‘It is so terrible and there is so much suffering, and I can do nothing and I don’t even know how to pray about this situation’.
What came to him clearly, he said, was a sense of God saying, ‘Be peace. All you have to do, is to be peace in your own life’. For him, he explained, this involved mending relationships and some costly reconciliation with a person from whom he had been estranged.
Sometimes we may be called to heroic and dramatic actions. More often, most of us are simply called to be peace in our own families, work places, social situations, wherever we find ourselves. At a time when we sing carols about ‘Peace on Earth’, knowing how elusive and rare this peace is, all we can do, and it’s by no means nothing is to start and to keep practising peace. To cease worrying about how well others keeping their place in the dance. To quietly keep our own.
This was published in The Age on Sunday 8 January 2017