On the last day of a retreat I recently hosted with my lovely friend, Nan Seymour, in Santa Fe, I shared an invitation from writer and teacher Mark Nepo, from his gorgeous book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen. On our last morning, after a 25-minute sitting meditation, we each went for a 30-minute silent walk, eyes alert for something that captured our full attention. We were invited to approach the object, describe it, ask it for a teaching; write down what we discovered, and wait 3 days to read it. A busy week and a half later, I just read mine and I’m inspired to share it.
An aside: I’ve recently been contemplating this quote from Tara Brach, which has been stewing in my consciousness.
“While the bodies of young children are usually relaxed and flexible, if experiences of fear are continuous over the years, chronic tightening happens. Our shoulders may become permanently knotted and raised, our head thrust forward, our back hunched, our chest sunken. Rather than a temporary reaction to danger, we develop a permanent suit of armor. We become, as Chogyam Trungpa puts it, “a bundle of tense muscles defending our existence.” We often don’t even recognize this armor because it feels like such a familiar part of who we are. But we can see it in others. And when we are meditating, we can feel it in ourselves—the tightness, the areas where we feel nothing.” – Tara Brach
Working with embodiment and movement practices with countless clients and students over the past two decades, I’ve witnessed people (including myself) coming into intimate contact with our armor. Tight, defended places in our bodies and minds that end up feeling painful and which often have a hard time letting go. Frequently I see people getting frustrated with their “armor” and just wanting to get rid of it already. I remind them that we developed this armor for good reason. It may have saved us when we had few other options.
Tonight, I was so touched to read the piece I wrote on that silent walk in Santa Fe, with a fresh, compassionate, and even honorific view of armor.
Here is the object which captured my attention and became my teacher that morning:
A suit of Samurai armor, dated 19th century, which I gazed at through a thick glass gallery window. The suit was situated to stand upright and had a powerful energy emanating from it. It contained 2,600 gold lacquered scales, laced with orange-dyed silk braid. The sign beside it read, “The samurai who commissioned this wished to pay homage to his gallant antecedents of the era of the tale of Genji. Made of iron, leather, lacquer, copper, wood, gilt, silk, and animal fur.”
Here is what I wrote:
Armor has its usefulness.
It can save lives.
Notice how my armor is elegant and fierce, even centuries later. It was mindfully crafted, with precise attention to detail.
A dragon rides on my head.
From my mask, you cannot tell whether I am laughing or roaring.
I am empty inside. Once, what was underneath was warm, even sweaty, strong, and perhaps wise. Certainly wise enough to wear the armor, and wise enough to remove it when no longer needed.
Can you see? Armor is beautiful.
It emanates the courage of the one who wore it.
Take this glimpse of my empty armor and its expression of vast courage as a gift.
You may need a suit of armor, in the past or in the future.
Make it mindful and elegant.
And know this:
The presence of armor does not diminish the courage nor the wisdom of the one who wore it. It honors them.