New Year’s Postcard from Retreat

Fuzzy iPhone picture of beautifully dramatic oak trees, garlanded with Spanish moss, at Marywood Retreat Center
Fuzzy iPhone picture of beautifully dramatic oak trees, garlanded with Spanish moss, at Marywood Retreat Center

Happy New Year, friends!

It’s  January 1, 2013, and I couldn’t not write today.

I’m on a silent Buddhist retreat in Northern Florida- it’s a sunny and breezy 60-degree sort of day- and I am out on a dock overlooking the St John’s River. A seagull is looking plumply at me. I am full of white chocolate-macadamia nut cookies and I am pleasantly drowsy, which I hope to shake before this afternoon’s mediation session.

So I’m not sure whether or not I’m really breaking the spirit of silence by writing this blog post- I think if I do this instead of journaling, it’s okay, provided that I do this as honestly as though it were my journal and you weren’t going to read it. I’ll do my best.

Waves are lapping, the dock is gently shifting, and two Minnesota natives are sunbathing nearby- I forget, sometimes, how different it is to live in Florida, where, for most people, it’s harder NOT to get a tan than it is to get one.

I’m having an overwhelmingly positive experience, despite my initial reservations. I was lucky enough to be able to attend this retreat on work-study, or it would not have been a possibility. You may recall from my last post that the few weeks leading up to this one have been really crazed with work and stress. I brought a lot of that emotion with me and it has taken a few days to really relax into being here- into remembering that even if I am working, even if I am busy, I can still be relaxed.

The style of mediation that I practice is shamatha, sometimes translated as calm-abiding. Sometime in the past few months, although I continued to meditate, I lost some of the sense of how it can be a metaphor for the rest of my life. The idea in shamatha meditation is that you meditate “without meditating,” by allowing things to be just as they are and just bringing your awareness to them.

{Please note that this is not an instruction and possibly not even a good explanation, and you should absolutely read The Joy of Living by Mingyur Rinpoche for a brilliant introduction}

2012 was an enormous year. I’m going to indulge myself here by recapping- you’re welcome to skip it, but since this is in lieu of a journal entry, I feel entitled. This year I: completed yoga teaching certification, quit my banking career, halved my income, got married, husband lost job, started working for 6 different people (studio owners and business owners), taught a total of 461 hours of yoga, finally quit taking anti-depressants (after 15+ years), helped plan a Buddhist retreat (which I’d never attended), became a chicken owner. Almost every day has been a chance to live outside of my comfort zone.

2013 is, so far, no different. I’m on this retreat, practicing silence, meditating 4+ hours per day,  and feeling an overwhelming sweep of emotions. Gratitude. Love. Fear, excitement. I am practicing resting in each of these awkward moments, feeling the discomfort and living through it, and then watching as the emotion changes to something else.

I woke up early this morning- couldn’t sleep anymore, had to move! I almost ran through the dark, couldn’t wait- I took my overindulged (the food is great here) and sore (sitting for so long is not easy) body to my mat and somehow I found the courage to do something else I’ve never done- a mala of Sun Salutations. That’s 108 of them, not all of them pretty, some of them sloppy, and I think I did more like 112, cause I lost count and made myself do a few extra just in case (never did care for numbers, sorry, Banking Career).

As I moved, I was aware of how my body felt, how my mind experienced the sensations of practice, and how the experience changed. Emotions, judgments, ideas, were born and died in the space of seconds. And I kept moving, kept practicing, and look: here I am. A living, breathing, metaphor, for this life, never easy, always beautiful, a life that has me by turns feeling like a proud party host- come in, let me show you how gorgeous everything is!- and then again, at times, more like a sullen teenager who wants nothing more than to crawl under the covers and die of her own misery. That’s life. Can I rest in, relax in, the weirdness of it all? I’m trying.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful aspiration from this morning’s practice- what more fitting way to open a new year?

Dedication from Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life By Shantideva

May all beings everywhere

Plagued by sufferings of body and mind

Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy

By virtue of my merits.

May no living creature suffer,

Commit evil or ever fall ill.

May no one be afraid or belittled,

With a  mind weighed down by depression.

May the blind see forms,

And the deaf hear sounds.

May those whose bodies are worn with toil

Be restored on finding repose.

May the naked find clothing,

The hungry find food.

May the thirsty find water

And delicious drinks.

May the poor find wealth,

Those weak with sorrow find joy.

May the forlorn find hope,

Constant happiness and prosperity.

May all who are ill or injured

Quickly be freed from their ailments.

Whatever diseases there are in the world,

May these never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid

And those bound be freed

May the powerless find power

And may people think of benefiting each other

For as long as space endures

And as long as living beings remain,

Until then may I too abide

To dispel the misery of the world.

2 thoughts on “New Year’s Postcard from Retreat

  1. Laura, so happy that you have been blessed to have this experience presented to you at this time in your life.

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