“The great gift of a spiritual path is coming to trust that you can find a way to true refuge. You realize that you can start right where you are, in the midst of your life, and find peace in any circumstance. Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”
This is the practice of mindfulness, we learn to trust that we can find a different way of relating to life, one where we learn to meet our moment to moment experience, with kindness, compassion, joy and wisdom. This is what we explored this past weekend, during our first 5 day Mindfulness Retreat of the year. The theme of the retreat was the four limitless qualities of the heart and how they help us stay present for our moment to moment experience meeting what arises in a wise and compassionate way. As Tara Brach states, “Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you—when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever—you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are.”
During retreat, there were challenging times for all of us, the benefit of being in the container of the retreat space is that we explored how to sit through the challenges, learning to hold them with patience, kindness and compassion. And the gift was doing this in the presence of a warm, supportive environment. As Ram Dass says, ” we are all walking just walking each other home.”
Moving out of the trance of separation…
Retreats offer us the opportunity to break out of what Tara Brach calls the trance of separation. We open to the reality that we are all interconnected, we’re wired for connection and need each other; not just to survive but to thrive. Throughout the retreat, we (the facilitators and support team) kept inviting participants to slow down, be present, become aware of the mind; notice what it’s like to be present, inhabiting the body, mind and heart, Notice what it’s like when mind wanders off into thinking, planning, judging, worrying or some other state of mind. When the mind drifts off, the invitation was to come back over and over again. And this advice wasn’t just for the participants, it was a kind reminder to all of us!
The first few days, were about slowing down the frenetic pace at which we move through life. An important part of this process, was the recognition that shifting from auto pilot to embodied awareness takes time, patience and a lot of kindness. So, the main instruction, was to meet whatever arose in the body, mind or heart with curiosity, kindness and compassion. This was a pivotal shift,; it was/is a movement away from reacting towards responding to life.
Meditation tames the reactive mind….
Retreat is a safe container in which to train the mind. As facilitators, there is much love and planning that goes into creating a
safe and stable environment, in which to sit with the reactive mind and heart. It is also a commitment, where we set aside all distractions and dedicate time to being with this distracted, reactive and complex mind/heart. We connect with the aliveness that is right here; contained within this body, mind and heart. This is a courageous and fearless act of love and one that takes a healthy dose of patience; coming back to the breath over and over again.
As Pema Chodron states, “The pith instruction is, Stay. . . stay. . . just stay. Learning to stay with ourselves in meditation is like training a dog. If we train a dog by beating it, we’ll end up with an obedient but very inflexible and rather terrified dog. The dog may obey when we say “Stay!” “Come!” “Roll over!” and “Sit up!” but he will also be neurotic and confused.”
When things become challenging, uncomfortable or painful, our tendency is to resist. This resistance is what creates suffering. The judgment, the self blame or blaming others and a whole host of other ways we react, are habitual patterned ways of trying to protect ourselves. The pattern is not who we are; it’s a way of trying to avoid pain, and that same avoidance often creates intense stress and strife. On retreat, we get to step out of this pattern and to see how the mind creates stories of that take us away from the present moment; we get to see the habitual patterned ways we have of disconnecting from our aliveness; from presence, kindness and compassion.
Attend and befriend what’s here…
Meditation is a training in learning how to stay present; whether things are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. As Tara Brach, says, “we learn to attend and befriend the fear that keeps us in perpetual reactivity; running away from what’s unpleasant, seeking what is pleasant and tuning out when nothing is happening.” This move towards the suffering is the first step towards freedom of mind and heart. And again, it requires that we meet what arises with kindness and compassion.
Training with Kindness…
“Sitting meditation cultivates loving-kindness and compassion…. We move closer to our thoughts and emotions and get in touch with our bodies. It is a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward ourselves and for parting the curtain of indifference that distances us from the suffering of others. It is our vehicle for learning to be a truly loving person.” Pema Chodron
At the beginning of retreat, we addressed this need to cultivate compassion, kindness and patience as we sat with our moment to moment experience. We spoke about and explored the need to stay with our direct experience, even when everything in our body and mind was saying the opposite. And how the most important companion we needed on this journey was/is kindness. As Pema says, “…training with kindness results in someone who is flexible and confident, who doesn’t become upset when situations are unpredictable and insecure. Whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! What am I doing here? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay! That is how to cultivate steadfastness.”
This ability to cultivate steadfastness, is what allows us to stay connected to life; to connect in a way that is both wise and compassionate. When we do this, we get to experience life, in all it’s joys and sorrows. We remember that we are interconnected; we aren’t apart from nature, we are part of nature.
With much appreciation to all who made this retreat a heartfelt experience; the attendees, teachers and support staff. Thank you for making this a safe, compassionate and joyful space!
Our next retreat takes place at the Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, Fl. and is a 5 day Mindfulness retreat. This is a space limited event, so register soon to reserve your spot. Register at Eventbrite-August 23rd-27th Mindfulness Retreat or enroll in our 3 month installment plan here.
Until next time…
May you be well