by Brenda Brisch, Retreat Leader
We were meditating at Santa Maria Majore, the place where St. Francis took off his earthly robes to demonstrate that his inner wealth was far greater than any of the objects of this world.
As we were meditating on the theme of what it means to be truly naked or innocent, a perturbing incident arose in my mind: a few weeks prior back at home, my new and very expensive bicycle had been stolen. But here, inside my heart, I heard these words: “Someone can supposedly take what you have, but NOBODY can ever take what you ARE.”
I felt the reality of my eternal beingness, my true wealth, that is always available for me, no matter what circumstances may transpire on the outside.
As we contemplate the many stories and incidents of the saint’s life, we are brought closer and closer to the same rich heart that Francis shared with all.
LINK: Here is the Giotto Fresco of Francis disrobing in front of Santa Maria Majore
by Brenda Brisch
We were meditating at the impressive and yet stark tomb of St. Frances. It can only be entered by going down, down, down, descending all the 3 levels of the grand basilica. The narrow medieval stone staircase beckons all into the dimly lit crypt. I felt like I was being lowered down into the innermost depths of the cave of my heart.
The energy here at the ‘tomba’ is so palpable and strong. The presence of St. Francis and his 4 closest brothers who are also there, invite us to effortlessly plunge into the spacious quietude inside.
As I was listening to the continual river of pilgrims whispering prayers, gently shuffling their feet as they circumnavigate the immovable crypt , I had a beautiful experience: these gentle outer sounds were mirroring the soothing inner sounds of thoughts and sensations that were around or above my heart, but were not all all affecting the deep silence radiating there.
Everywhere we stop and meditate in Assisi, whether it be in a basilica, garden, convent or in an olive grove, our rich contemplations always bring us home to the heart. The vibrant beauty and the lives of Francis and Claire that walked everywhere we go, make this retreat so unique and special.
by Rob Stucky
There are a few things I have found consistently and inescapably helpful in dealing with the “big issues” of life. One is a firm conviction that there is a higher truth greater than our human egos, a consciousness or energy, by whatever name we choose to call it, that keeps this complex universe moving along with astonishing precision and harmony- the deliberate embrace and acceptance of which results in tangible improvement of our quality of life. The other is doing some basic practices that come under the rubric of paying attention and living consciously, that significantly increase our ability to embrace that higher truth and reap its benefits.
Breathing fully, using the anchoring rhythm, sound, or even remembrance of a mantra, sacred name, or an uplifting thought, continually contemplated, to keep us on an even keel during our daily activities; being selective about keeping positive company- both physically and mentally; eating healthy food; taking reasonable care of our bodies- all these are tools for living more fruitfully, and for confronting life’s difficulties more effectively. They constitute the essence of spiritual practice. There is nothing inherently mystical or mysterious about them- they are the basic curriculum of the “School of What Works”, the practical, “applied spirituality” available to anyone who chooses to learn them.
Being conscious may sound like a dumb goal, because we assume we already are. But how aware are we really- from moment to moment- of all that is going on, both around and within us? Take a step outside, stop what you’re doing, and pay attention: just see how many things your can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. I can guarantee that you’ll suddenly become conscious of just how unconscious you were five minutes ago!
But do you really want to be fully conscious of everything all the time? Isn’t that a sort of exhausting, circuit-breaking sensory overload that would just become overwhelming? Perhaps. But even becoming briefly aware of the sensorial wealth within and around us can make us appreciate life, and shake us out of our mental habit of finding ourselves, our relationships, or our world disappointingly lacking. With practice, that awareness incrementally shifts from brief glimpse to habitual state.
by Rob Stucky
Many people have preconceptions about spiritual retreats, but they may not be accurate. Let’s face it, what we think of as “spiritual” may be colored, positively or negatively, by our experience of a related, but decidedly not synonymous term, “religion” - and what we understand “retreat” to mean could be anything from getting away for a change of pace, to admitting defeat in battle. So let’s be clear:
Some deliberate exposure to silence is a key component in our retreats. I realize that promoting “silence” itself may be an intimidating idea for some. As creatures of habit, in our hectic world, full of constant chatter, living life in perpetual high-gear, we often don’t even recognize how noisy our minds have become. For many people, this chatter is a sort of familiar, almost comforting background noise, a constant hum that let’s us know we’re still alive.
Even if our mental hyperactivity bothers us, it is surprising to many that when we do try to stop all that, we discover that our minds still keep running at full speed, impelled by the momentum of sheer habit, and the noise of that, made all too apparent by unfamiliar silence, can feel deafening, maddening, or even terrifying! Silence brings it all into high relief, and doesn’t feel silent at all, at least, not at first!
The reality is, of course, that given time, the right circumstances, and some very simple practices, the mind’s momentum will gradually slow down, simply by removing some of its habitual distractions and redirecting it’s focus. Taking advantage of some outer silence can lead us to an inner silence that is, paradoxically, rich and eloquent. Touching that experience, even briefly, can bring us a sense of renewal and gentle clarity that empowers us to return to our “ordinary” lives with fresh perspective and greater peace and joy. Our intention is that our retreats create optimal opportunities and provide some basic tools for that to happen.
Assisi is one of those places, deemed a sacred, planetary power spot by the aficionados of metaphysical lore, but easily experienced as simply a uniquely lovely and peaceful place by even the most worldly. It is the milieu in which two of Christianity’s greatest mystics lived, taught, died, and are buried, and as such, it is uniquely conducive to moving beyond tourism to take an inner journey. The symbiotic relationship between the beauty of Assisi and the beautiful teachings of Saints Francis and Claire is palpable to anyone who cares to explore it. By joining us on retreat, we invite you to learn how not to feel defeated by the busyness of your life. With the shining examples of Francis and Claire to inspire us, and the sheer beauty of the environment to aide us, discovering our inner realms, and making friends with all they can teach us, can be one of life’s greatest adventures!
Peace and Blessings, Rob
Assisi is the world's home of peace.... by Ruth Davis
This presence in Assisi is a gift beyond words.
St Francis and St Clare opened to this presence and taught others how to know it as well. They would teach to simply let go of our outward focus, not be influenced by daily life adversities but rather be aware of and embrace the presence of beauty in nature, in each other, in our own hearts. By doing this we can feel direct contact to God.
In their great surrender to the heart of life, Francis and Clare were reaching for the same love that is found in the essence of all philosophies and religions. No one is excluded. Buddhists find this beauty in the recognition of pure awareness. Hindu's find this beauty in their meditation on the direct experience of the "I" that is the source of the infinite and eternal. Christians recognize the Christ in everyone and all things.
When we begin to notice the deepest presence that is around us and in us, the pure and constant gentleness, we are recognizing what is our true nature. We are the peace, the wordless awareness, the infinite.... Together we are this love and our being naturally radiates this like sunshine.
In Assisi, as we walk in the footsteps of Francis, we discover our own footsteps finding a calm presence that is constantly flowing and giving.