Sunday, October 20, 2013

Four Days, Six Revelations, One Heart

The stunning meditation room at Maitripa Contemplation Centre

As you know I've been on retreat.

It was a couple of weeks ago now and with a new kinder term and a couple of colds under my belt I'm well and truly back in the "real world".  

I'm no longer living in that calm, zen-state that retreat induces.  A state in which my mind is easy and my movements mindful. A state in which I would like to reside more often, and continue to work to bring more and more into my everyday life.

Retreating is wonderful, a really nurturing thing to do for myself and of course a great gift for those around me too as they benefit from my calm and renewed demeanor on return.

In that silent, meditative environment the profundities of life emerge large and light and clear.  All the lessons that I struggle to untangle as I navigate my daily life loosen and unravel and at once seem obvious and simple.

Each retreat is a different and unique experience in which particularities show themselves.  They won't be the same next time, I'm sure of that.  And they certainly won't be the same for you if you decide to do something like this.  And you certainly should.

But for what it's worth, and in an effort to try and commit some of these ideas to heart here's what came up for me.

Nothing is okay and everything is okay

I think I read this, or something like it in Pema Chödrön's Start Where you Are. Sitting in meditation the most wonderful thing that happens for me - and this is not confined to the retreat experience - is a beautiful realisation that everything is alright, everything is in it's place, as it should be.  

There is a real peace in that.  

Even while nothing is okay, while the world is in chaos, while my life is not perfect, while I am not the person I want to be or thought I was - nothing is okay and it's all okay. 


When you enter into a silent retreat with a room full of strangers something remarkable happens. 

There is a sharing of energy that transcends talk and personalities and the stories that we tell each other about ourselves.  And beyond these nice-enough superficialities we can connect with each other and ourselves on a deep, human level.  

There is a true sense of oneness with everyone in the room.  And everyone beyond the room.  And across the seas and the animals, the birds and the trees.  For we are all connected.  Oneness.  

And along with this dissolution of boundaries comes the realisation that it is important work we do to break down these barriers and open up to the oneness of everything - because if we are part of it all then we have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to not deny this connection.

There is only now

Retreating into silence is a healthy reminder that now is the only thing that matters.  

Now, now, now.  Now when I am on retreat, and now when I am writing these words and now when I am interacting with my children.  

Aruna Giri (who guided my retreat) uses the somewhat confronting phrase "The past is a graveyard, the future a fantasy - there is only now" to keep us in the moment.  

This is sometimes more difficult to grasp than it seems - because the human brain is amazing and is capable of holding several realities at it's forefront at any given time.

Which is why any chance I get, at retreat or at home, to remind myself that there is only now is beneficial.

Fear + Mistrust = Control

In the past few years I have realised that I have a desire to control.  

And slowly I am learning that this desire is born of fear and mistrust.  

Not fear and mistrust of people specifically, but a fear and mistrust of the world around me to keep me (emotionally) safe.  I won't speculate right now as to why this might be.  But slowly I am learning how limiting this is. 

And slowly I am learning that control is not the answer.  In fact the answer is the opposite of control.  The answer is letting go, not holding on and cultivating a trust that everything will be (is) okay.

Be with discomfort

There is a degree of discomfort in lengthy stretches of sitting mediation.  

And this retreat is not remotely austere.  You can sit in a chair if you choose, you can even lie down (if you think you can do that without falling asleep - not me!)  There are cushions and blankets and heaters.

And yet still there is discomfort.  

The physical discomfort of the knees and ankles and shoulders (oh the shoulders!).  And the mental discomfort of my crazy-maker mind.  Honestly, it takes me a good three sessions to calm down this monkey-mind of mine and finally just SHHHH - be.  

But this discomfort it is a good thing.  

Because it shows me that discomfort (like everything) is okay.  I don't have to fight it, and I don't have to change it, and I don't have to immediately soothe it.  I can just sit with it.  

Discomfort is okay.  

This might not seem like a great revelation.  But it is extraordinarily liberating.  Particularly when I transpose it from the retreat and onto my workaday life.  

Because think about how much time is spent trying to get comfortable.  And I'm not talking about finding the perfect position on the couch for Homeland.  I'm talking about reacting every time things aren't going my way.  From the small stuff like "I need chocolate." to the bigger stuff like "My daughter is having a meltdown and it's really fricken inconvenient." or "What the hell happened to my career?"  

The discomfort I feel about these things can send me into a spiral of thought about how to remedy the ill-ease.  And sometimes this thought spiral can lead to action - like driving to the shops for a block of Club Almond, but mostly it just leads to frustration, and always it leads to it being all about me.  

What if the malaise was just okay.  Need chocolate?  What if I just note that desire and let it go.  Daughters meltdown?  Not actually about my inconvenience.  A feeling of desolation about my future job opportunities.  Just sit with that feeling.  

Get with the discomfort.  It's not pleasurable, but it doesn't need to lead to a spiral of thought that is way beyond the original acorn of discomfort.  

And the real revelation?  If I can truly be with a discomfort, no matter what it seems to be about, rather than thinking too much about it or trying to remedy it, if I can manage that then not only can I transcend it but I can sometimes get a glimpse into what it is really about.  And that is truly revelatory.


Okay, for me this one is the winner.  Openness.  Pema Chödrön also talks about the armour we put around our hearts to protect the truth of it's rawness and vulnerability.  And what I learnt while I was on this retreat is that there can be nothing but a fleeting connection with anybody or anything if this armour remains in tact.  

Silence and mediation and retreat allows me to see the possibilities of openess.  It gives me a brief, enlightening, inspiring but also terrifying glimpse of the awesome opportunity that presents itself.  

Which is completely daunting because there is so much work to be done on this one. And because it's kind of impossible to imagine the outcome - walking around in the heartless world like an open wound.  It just seems so impractical.  And yet sitting and opening as I do on retreat I see, I know that it is the only way to really live.

So.  Open.  Yep, this one's going to hurt like a bitch.

These are the six revelations of my four days on retreat.  

There is much work to be done.  Except that the seventh revelation is Do Nothing.

Meaning there is nothing to be done, except the sitting practice because everything is okay and there is only now.

What lessons are you trying to embed into your life right now?