Giving the Best Mat to Your Friend

11-19-2014 | Bob Sabath

Dear friends of Rolling Ridge:

I am so disappointed that I am not able to be with you on this important day in the life of the Rolling Ridge community. I'm in Albuquerque meeting with Richard Rohr and about 350 men from all over the world who are seeking to find ways to deepen the work of transformation in their own lives and in the lives of other men that they know. As many of you know, this search for inner transformation is a passion of mine – and sometimes has driven my best friends crazy. There is such a thing as "over search" – and I know that my intensity and seriousness and the search itself sometimes gets in the way of what I am trying to find.

It ironically turns out, that what I am seeking is already within me and all around me, in every unwanted moment that I so much want to push out of my life, in every dish waiting to be washed and every floor and toilet needing to be cleaned, in every face before me that can light up with a blaze with even the slightest cast of my conscious attention, in every blade of grass and each fallen leaf and every broken tree that I so casually walk by — if only I take notice. You get the idea.

At any rate, it's 4:30 am in the morning in the desert of New Mexico. I am looking at a mountain and the yellow cottonwood trees and a blazing full moon and a star filled sky. Such hardships, this work! I wanted to write that I am with you all in my heart, and wish I could be with you on this special day.

Jackie and I left land that we love, people that we love, and work that we love to follow another crazy "call" -- in this case literal iPhone calls from our young grandchildren and our children ringing us up in the middle of the night, "Grandpa, you coming to my soccer game tomorrow?" "Mom, got sick today and don't have childcare. Any way you can help out?"

When we moved to Rolling Ridge almost fifteen years ago, we had no grandchildren. As they kept coming, our longing to spend more time with our children and their children kept growing within us. At some point, a ninety minute drive became an eternity, and sixty miles felt like an ocean of separation from what our hearts were telling us: you need to be here now.

It was not an easy decision. I am still filled with sadness and grief. Some part of me felt like I was betraying my friends and the new young families that were coming. My work at Rolling Ridge did not seem finished. As my best friend and compassionate mirror, Jackie, will tell you: I don't really know who I am without my dreams and my projects. When I told Jackie, "Sweety, maybe I can make you my next project and you my next dream" – I knew from her cold stare that maybe it wasn't such a good idea. Who is Bob the "dreamer doer" when he no longer is dreaming big dreams that nobody else seems to quite want? I am floundering within myself, not quite knowing how to be or who I am without another big dream in the pipeline.

The last time we were out at Rolling Ridge with our grandchildren, I was taking a hike with our two oldest ones – Sebi and Levi. At the Friends tree house, we sat in a circle, and I said, "You remember the first time we camped out at Rolling Ridge – just the three of us, and we didn't have good mats, and you guys were fighting over who got the best and the thickest mattress?"

"Yes, grandpa, we remember that night," they both chimed.

"And I told you that one day you would want to give the best mat to your friend, and that when that happened, I wanted you to call me, right?"

"That's never going to happen, Grandpa, we're always going to want the best mat," both Sebi and Levi said laughing.

"No I guarantee you, there will be a time when you will really want to give your best mat away, and I need you to promise me that you will call me when that happens."

"But what if we don't know you phone number," Levi wondered.

"Your Dad knows my number, and you can ask him. Just promise me that you will call me," I said.

"What if it doesn't happen for a long time, and you're dead," they wondered. "How are we going to call you then?"

"Even if I'm dead," I said, "your Dad will know where I am buried, and I want you to come to that spot of ground, and stand on top of it, and tell me, ‘Grandpa, it's finally happened. I gave my best mat away.' Even if I am six feet under, I promise you that I will hear you."

The laughed. "OK, grandpa, you win. We promise," they said.

"You know I am not just talking about sleeping mats, right?"

"What am I talking about?"

They both thought a bit.

"You mean when someone else is more important than we are?"

"Yes," I said, "and you love them so much that you want to give everything you have and all that you are to them."

As we kept walking that day, we got to the Memorial Garden and stood by Paul and Ellen and Verle. "I want a second promise, that before you are in the ground, that you will will try to find out what you were born for, and the special work that only you can do. Promise me that you will hunt for that."

And at the Still Point pond, I asked for a third promise:

"Promise me that you will take care of each other, and your brothers and sisters, and that you will take care of this place and this land. And when you have your own kids, that you will bring them here, to this pond and this Memorial Garden, and this Tree House, and that you will ask them to keep the same promises."

Next day, at the Meditation Shelter, we lit some candles, and I said, "This is the place we remember our promises." We reminded each other of the promises we made. "Every year we are going to come back here, and light the same candles, and remember."

So I don't think Rolling Ridge has seen the last of Jackie or me or our noisy family. I hope for generations to come!

With much love,

This was written as a letter to the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community.