“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a 1977 film, written and directed by Steven Spielberg.  The title is derived from classification of close encounters in which the third kind denotes human observations of “animate beings.”  Wikipedia

With some trepidation, I signed up for a weekend meditation retreat in Vermont.  I doubted I would have the stamina or interest to sustain me over three days and I made sure to park my car in a good position for an easy get away.

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The setting for the retreat was idyllic.  A very rich man who was an admirer of the Buddist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, had donated part of his private preserve—untold acres of groomed woods and hills with stunning views—to the retreat center.  He had built a classic Japanese tea house which overlooked a pond that had been carved into lower ground.  Statues stood on shaved lawns and sheltered behind tall grasses.  A standing stone circle had been built to invite contemplation.  A red curved-back  bridge, graceful and delicate as a ballet dancer, spanned a small stream.  A studied and steady peace pervaded everything and the man-made harmony of the grounds married with the surrounding forests and hills, each reflecting its own separate beauty back to the other.

On the first afternoon—I had given up all thoughts of leaving early—I took a short walk during a pause in the program.  And, looking down the path, I noticed a woman standing quite still and holding out her open palm.  She remained motionless, and after a moment, a small bird swooped down and carefully took a seed from her hand.  I was enchanted.  This of course could never happen to me, I thought.  This woman obviously had something special; she knew exactly what to do.

Later that day, I saw a few other people in the same pose, with the same results.  Still I thought, this could never work for me.  But the next day, I decided to try.  The dining hall had a bag of bird seed and I dipped into it.  I made my way down the path and stopped when I saw a flock of birds perched on the bare branches of the trees.

Slowly, I reached out my hand, opened my palm and waited.  And suddenly a tiny bird swooped down and landed on my fingertips.  It felt as light as a whisper.  It curved its neck down and gently picked a seed up and flew off.  And then another bird came and went, and another and another. My fingers felt kissed by their extraordinary touch.  And my heart sang—really sang—with joy.  It had happened to me.

Joan Jaffe           March 2016


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