These words are from a lovely poem by Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. Listening with an open mind and heart allows the words to move you, to realize that each moment is a precious gift. That when we approach life with a real honoring of each moment, it allows us to shift from living in a mindless haze to being fully present; feeling our body, breath and the life energy moving through us. When we are truly present for life, aware, open in body, mind and heart, we stay open hearted and allow the suffering of the world to touch our hearts. This shifts us towards pausing, sensing what’s here, and what’s needed or how can we respond to suffering in a way that is both wise and compassionate . This is something that is desperately needed in our world. It is both a privilege and a honoring of life when we are present for it, when we respond to the need, when we cherish each moment, each person and every living being.
‘For someone deeply trapped in a prison of thought, how good it can feel to meet a mind that hears, a heart that reassures.’ Ram Dass and Paul Gorman
Going away on a spiritual retreat is an act of courage and kindness. When we enter Noble Silence, we take a vow to keep silent for a certain period of time. this commitment is an important part of retreat practice as it is in the stillness and silence that we get to connect with the vibrant aliveness that is always present. We connect with our senses; noticing sights, sounds, smells, touch, tastes and thoughts. This is completely different than the way we usually move through life. When we come into retreat we are making a commitment to be present for life in all it’s joys, sorrows and everything in between. In doing this, we get to reconnect with the wisdom and compassion that is available to us at all times.
The Benefits of Retreat…
At our recent 3 day retreat (October 5th-7th), participants were encouraged to support each other’s
practice, by taking a vow of silence. Initially, there were some
hesitation, nervousness at the though of prolonged silence, especially when the attendees were informed that they should set aside all mobile devices and refrain from contacting friends and family (excluding emergencies). This is quite a commitment in today’s world of easy access to news, social media family, etc. However, it’s also a gift. The gift of being present to life as it’s happening; of connecting with the aliveness, wisdom and love in an up close and personal way. We make a commitment, to bring a kind and clear attention to our lived experience moment to moment, without judging it. This gives us freedom to just be! And connecting with life in this way allows us to take a much needed rest from the busyness of life.
Gil Fronsdal (lead teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA), talks about the benefits of a silent retreat. He says, “Because social conversation keeps the mind active, periods of not talking help the mind rest. Silence settles the many emotions that are activated by talking, listening, and even in the anticipation of talking. As our mental and emotional lives calm down, our bodies relax. ”
Quieting the Monkey Mind…
At the start of retreat we read a poem by Kaveri Patel (below) that speaks eloquently about the chattering mind.
THANKING A MONKEY
There’s a monkey in my mind
swinging on a trapeze
reaching back to the past
or leaning into the future,
never standing still.Sometimes I want to kill
that monkey, shoot it square
between the eyes so I won’t
have to think anymore
or feel pain of worry. But today I thanked her and she jumped right
into my lap.
Trapeze still swinging
as we sat still.
Retreat: an opportunity to connect with life as it is…
“Meditation is a way to calm the monkey mind and offers relief from the constant mental chatter. It is actually not a way to make the mind “go” quiet – rather it’s a way to access the quiet that is already there, buried under the 50,000 or so thoughts that the average person has every day.” From the Project Flow Blog.
We can and do spend so much of our time lost in the virtual world of thoughts. And while thoughts
are not the enemy, when we react to them as if they’re facts, this can create much stress and confusion in our lives. Coming into retreat, gives us an opportunity to notice, often for the first time, how we are relating to our thoughts and how our thoughts affect us and those around us. For example, when our thoughts are filled with worry, the body reacts by preparing for a threat; tension arises, the heartbeat races, the muscles contract, your digestive system slows down. And that’s all just based on a thought! As the Buddha stated “whatever a person frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his/her mind. In retreat you get to see it, sense it, and learn to tend and befriend the chattering mind. We stop the war against ourselves and life and move towards wisdom, kindness and loving connection.
The Gift of Practice…
Mindfulness practice allows us to pause and connect with the life as it’s happening. The practice helps us recognize when thoughts are happening; and as space between thought and reaction develops, we notice how the body, mind and heart are affected by the thoughts. This pause allows for wisdom to arise; we begin to learn how to shift from reacting to responding and the reality is, that life is constantly changing. When we resist change we resist life; we get stuck in trying to control what’s happening around us. This stops us from living and appreciating/responding to life in a way that is wise, healthy and compassionate. Practicing mindfulness, helps shines a light on this, in a way that goes beyond words, concepts and beliefs. It is the practice of sitting with the resistance, with the inner struggle, with anger, with doubt, with joy, happiness etc. It is a noble act to stop running and to be present for the experience of being alive. When we connect with life in this way we sense and experience the preciousness of each moment. It is like holding a precious bird in hand, knowing that at some point it will fly away and grateful for the gift of it’s presence.
This poem by Martha Postlewaite, called The Clearing speaks about this. Listen with your senses and let the words land in the heart…
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.
Please consider registering for our next 5 day retreat which will take place, April 19th-23rd at Casa San Carlos Retreat Center in Delray Beach, To register and pay in full please go to Eventbrite-April 19th-23rd or to sign up for the installment plan please click here.
If you have any questions please contact us here.
May you be well…
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Our planet is but a speck in the universe and within that speck, we are like a grain of sand. Yet, when we face challenges, it’s as if we are the universe and everything else is a grain of sand. This is not to dismiss the reality that all of us face challenges; gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and shame, and praise and blame. This is what the Buddha called the 8 worldly winds. We all experience this, we get caught in it, like the fly in a spider’s web; we’re drawn to the promise of pleasure and when it turns out not to meet our expectations or is unpleasant we struggle against it. And this can happen dozens of times a day, hour, minutes or seconds. We ride the roller-coaster of desire (climbing) and/or aversion (descending) and it’s exhausting!
Let go of the way you want things to be…
The Buddha’s words on this aspect of life was clear. We hear it, when we listen to his words on the 8 worldly winds: “When gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure or pain arise for an ordinary person they do not reflect: “Gain (etc.) has arisen for me. It is inconstant and subject to change.” She(or he) does not discern it as it actually is. She welcomes the gain and rebels against the loss. She welcomes the status and rebels against the disgrace. She welcomes the praise and rebels against the censure. He welcomes the pleasure and rebels against the pain.’
Whenever there is resistance to what’s happening in our lives, there’s a need to shift perspective. This is the gift of this practice; the opportunity to soften our grip on our views, stories and opinions. We all have them! This is how we learned about life and how to survive. But there is more to life than surviving and this is the gift we receive when we are mindful. A great source of suffering is wanting things to either stay the same or go away. Truthfully, nothing stays the same and this is as it should be. Impermanence is part of this experience of being alive. We are born, live for a short time and eventually die. The short time we have on earth is a gift and something to reflect on. When we learn to approach every moment with this deep wisdom and compassion, we are freed from our struggle to hold on. As Jack Kornfield says ” “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.”
May you be well…
Please join us for our upcoming retreat. Come explore this healing practice together. Spaces are limited. To register go to October 2018 Mindfulness Retreat