For almost two years, I lived at the Center for Mindful Learning, now located in Johnson, Vermont. It is true that, if given the choice, I would have never gone. But sometimes life is so gracious as to offer us this choiceless opportunity, to step into and out of something our conscious minds and our egos would very cleverly squirm, reason and doubt their way out of. The truth is I wanted healing, but I didn’t want to, or know how to, change the internal patterns that were wounding me.

What I learned through practice and life at CML is that you can only walk so far on the path without becoming the path. That separation, and the incredibly creative and masterful efforts we put into keeping life and our practice separate, is what wounds us.

Like many of us, I had ideas about what my life would be like. And often my practice informs these ideas, slowly changing them to be less and less about me and more an expression and manifestation of life. But even these ideas, “the good ones”, come up short.

As I leave the monastery, I find myself watching and asking with curiosity, “What is happening?” I see myself shaping ideas and incredible images of What I Will Do Now. And as soon as I gather up these delicious ideas and attempt to stand and move from them, suffering begins.

Once when I was really struggling, which I should add could be a prefix for most sentences about my time at CML, Soryu and I spoke after evening chanting. At this point in my training, I was fighting really hard, unwilling to give up an idea about the life I thought I should have. “I am an artist. I have this performance. It’s important. The world needs to see it. This is what I’m supposed to do and I can’t do it here!” Soryu never said anything about my clinging to the performance or to my identity as an artist. There’s no way I would have listened. But on this one night, months after my performance had come and gone, I’d grown so tired of holding onto this idea of who I was, that I let go… and decided, “He’s right. It’s not about the performance. It’s not about me being an artist. It’s about Walking Across the Country.”

He kindly listened to my newly discovered passion and conviction and said so gently, “Can you imagine how you would have reacted if I told you, back then, that it wasn’t about the performance?” We both laughed knowing I would have thrown a temper tantrum. And then he said, “and now I’m going to tell you, it’s not about walking across the country. It is far bigger than you can ever imagine.

Each next image of who I am, what my life should be or the direction I am going is only as useful as the breath that gets me there. I don’t know what I’m “going to do next” and yet I trust that I’m already doing it.

I trust this practice.
I trust that there is an effortlessness that comes when I allow the practice to live me.
And in that trusting, I may never need to choose again.
We become the choiceless choice,
and life begins to live us.

A community member who is writing a book about Soryu’s teachings and the residents at CML recently interviewed my dad about my time at the monastery. My dad said, “It’s not a path I would have chosen for her, but I trust her. I had to believe that she was seeking what was best for her…

It is true, I never would have chosen this path.
And I thank God that I don’t have to.

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Denise Casey

Denise is an artist and educator. She began teaching seven years ago, when the principal of a Jesuit school in Nepal handed her a science book and said, “teach this.” Since then her passion for experience-based learning has led her to a variety of classrooms, including outdoor education centers, yoga studios, yoga therapy and other body-based mindfulness practices.Denise is a former Program Director of the Modern Mindfulness for Schools program at the Center for Mindful Learning. Currently, she teaches mindfulness in Burlington, VT.

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