For me, Assisi was a conjunction of being “other”; being immersed in an inspiring landscape of light; and experiencing, daily, St Francis’ focus on compassion.
My question: How does being “other” enrich one’s capacity for knowing home?
That question came forcefully to my attention over and over. Not knowing Italian, I found myself taking IN my surroundings, as if inhaling them, listening with all ears/pores. I was hyper-noticing with curiosity: both my external circumstances AND my inner story. What I could connect with I made my own by matching to what I could recognise and then noticing what people did: the Latin roots of Italian, for instance. I noticed how people inhabit places such as the piazza, and how the piazzas affected the rhythm and comfort of my being IN Assisi itself. I noticed my sense of delight and my awake awareness IN the Assisi flow. I regarded my moments of confusion and alienation simply as my hiccups in trusting that flow. I noticed many impulses and acts of compassion: interpersonal as well as intrapersonal. In a sense, my awareness of “otherness”, engaged all my senses, sparked my creativity and enriched my entire experience of being “home”. I became more “whole”, in Barbara’s terms!
Reflecting now, I propose it is that conjunction that fuelled the Renaissance: Emigration, otherness, newness of place, culture, traditions; a physical environment built around “agoras” or piazzas that maximizes synchronistic connection; Assisi’s expansive prospect that opens to the sacred; the presence of caves and places to “go to ground”, to engage the mystery… And above all, light everywhere, in the rocks and stones, and in the air and space!
Thanks to Assisi, my personal “renaissance” has continued to evolve and strengthen during my entire journey: to the UK, to Paris and to Netherlands. Now I’m riding on a plane back to Seattle, reflecting on Assisi, and realising why this came to be so. In our contemporary world, wherever we live, we are invited into that “re-birth”–right NOW. In fact conditions force us to inhabit it. The extent to which we embrace the conjunction will be the extent to which “renaissance” for the human species happens.
By Anne Stadler, photography Andrea van Schie.