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Letter from Mirabai
Fall 2007

The NYTimes says that people everywhere are making Life Lists, a contract with oneself to do certain things with this one precious life before it is over: learn Spanish, live with gorillas in Uganda, get a tattoo. I tried to imagine a contemplative life list: start a journey of a thousand miles with a single step, see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, have no opinions, love all beings everywhere. Pretty hard to cross these off when completed, which is one of the things you are supposed to do. But it did make me think about what I really want to do before the end, and I kept returning to the idea of legacy, passing it on. I know it is the responsibility of the great teachers, the lineage holders, but it seems to me also a task for every one of us. Since I am about to enter a period of reflection (if we find a new Executive Director), I find this especially appealing.

The idea of ethical or spiritual legacy, as opposed to the material goods we leave behind, traces to the first book of the Jewish and Christian bibles, in which the dying Jacob gives his children what in Hebrew is called his tzava'ah, or "spiritual estate." Passing along the wisdom, advice, and blessings of elders is a familiar tradition in other cultures as well. Native American friends tell of grandparents teaching children about the traditional ways so they won’t be lost.

But what exactly is worth passing on? And how do you do it? I think the answer to both questions is the stories of our lives, each of our lives. It is the story of what is most important to you, and how you know that. Stories heal, they teach, and they are easy to remember. The great contemplatives have all used simple parables to teach complex and paradoxical truths. They are inherently non-adversarial and non-hierarchical. And each one is connected to a bigger story.

At the Center we have created spaces, from classrooms to retreat sites, in which probably thousands of people have told their stories. Contemplative practice seems to open people to the story that wants to tell itself. At a conference on contemplative education in San Francisco this year, after a short meditation one participant began her story this way: “I am from porches and grass and roast chicken and gravy smells and crickets and a green girl scout uniform.” In another circle of stories about what matters, one person told the story of a struggle and said, “Dear to my heart is this battle engaging Wal Mart, .but I am asking myself not what I am against but what I am for.” Fellow Marilyn Nelson began a program for post-deployment soldiers to tell their stories of what war is like. A faculty member at our Summer Session on Contemplative Curriculum told his story of growing up with two parents with mental disabilities and how that led him to study how contemplative practices can work for anybody, no matter what their capacities. I loved that he reframed “walking meditation” for a person in a wheelchair as “moving meditation.”

The contemplative life holds many surprises. One is the story of our lives. Pass it on in all the wild and profound ways in which it was lived. So, I’ll end here--I am going to meditate for a while and then write in my journal.

With loving kindness,

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