Saturday, January 14, 2012

December 2012

I have always wanted to do a meditation or yoga retreat, and given my free as a bird status, decided on Dathun (which means a month long meditation retreat) with Dharma Ocean.  I went for "just" two weeks, and it was made possible by the option of work study in the kitchen (75% off in exchange for 8 hour shifts every other day).  If there was one word that comes to top of my mind about this retreat, it would be Quality.  The food, the beautiful buildings, the location with its grand views, the sweet people, the teachings, the shrines.  They used the words "sacred container" often, and the more I was there the more I could feel the tight circle around us that made me feel safe and good.

All meals were eaten Oryoke style, which is is a meditative form of eating which originated in Japan and is mindfulness awareness practice, and consists of an elaborate ceremony of precisely orchestrated movements with bows, tables, cloths, bowls, chants, and confused looks of participants as they spy on each to see which move comes next. Oryoki translates to "Just enough" which refers to the efficiency and accuracy of the form. Each movement is a simple reference point for the mind that encourages one to become present and not wander in discursive thought. An Oryoki set consists of nested wood bowls, and utensils all wrapped in a cloth and tied with a topknot resembling a lotus flower. This is the formal style of serving and eating meals practiced in Zen temples.

Since we spent so much time in the shrine room, I became very bonded with the many shrines around the room.  Every day, all day, a fire roared behind us, at the Pele shrine.  Four hung on the walls behind us, the Earth / Native American shrine to the right, and of course the main shrine at the front.  I felt most called to the Earth shrine, with its enormous tree trunk table which was topped with feathers, small drums, pictures of an eagle and a tribal chief.  

Then came the highlight of each day between 3-5pm, where we said a long slow good-bye to the sun, and watched through the enormous windows lining the entire front of the room, as the sky turned various shades of pink, orange, and blues.  Often our teacher, Reggie Ray, would quietly shuffle into the room with his wife Caroline around 3pm, at the beginning of a sitting session, flanked by his protector "Kusungs" (a Tibetan term for the branch of the Dorje Kasung that protects the teacher. The term could be rendered literally as "body protector". Kusung serve as both attendants and as bodyguards).  Every ounce of attention in the room would follow them, as they rounded the room to each shrine, lighting its candles and incense, bowing to the shrine and then finally to each other.

And so here I must say a word about Reggie and his wife Caroline.  His reverence and devotion to her was palpable, not only in their presence of each but in several of his teachings.  It is clear he finds her to be his greatest teacher, and spoke of her as his Consort, meaning Queen of his court.  He spoke of his teacher, Chogyum Trungpa and his belief that Chogyum never met his true Consort, or what I would call a soul mate; one who meets you fully with an open and clear heart, offering their own teaching and growth for each other, a devoted life partner.  I resonated so deeply with this message, and every cell in my body was validated with what I already believe - there is one Consort for me, and I know this with complete certainty, and that this is why I wait patiently. 

And what a treasure chest of kind, loving and warm new friends I met!

But what of the retreat?  How was it to sit for hours at a time?  What did I gain?  Ah, good questions!

There were many cycles of many things, but the core pieces:

1) Sitting was surprisingly easy for me.  Yes, I had soreness in my upper back and noticed the other physical tensions, but I basked in the silence.  In fits and spurts around me, I could hear others cry here and there, rising and falling with waves of emotion. I found this a bit confusing, as I wasn't feeling deep emotions or grief or anything painful.  A lot of the retreat teachings were about the heart, opening our hearts and releasing any pain separating us from others, and ultimately offering our heart to serve others.  After "struggling" with why I wasn't breaking down, my meditation instructor offered that perhaps I have a strong and open heart.  This clicked for me, and although surely there are parts of my heart that are wounded or will be over time, I have done so so much work on my heart, grieving and letting go, that I see myself as a clear channel.  My heart is open and I am here to be used, to hold space for others and help them to let go of what's in their heart.  I'm able to fully "be" with myself, and I can help others do the same.

2)  I hold extreme tightness in my body, specifically in my 3rd chakra, or the band that feels like a tight corset at my sternum. During week one, I had to leave the retreat on the fourth day to make the eight hour round trip drive up to Denver for my (required) Regis orientation (SWEET I GOT INTO GRAD SCHOOL!). It gave me a chance to watch that physical tightness, and see as my body literally leaned forward as if into the wind, driving and pushing myself toward my goal (speed!).  Upon my return, images and familiar feelings came to me about college.  It was so surprising and interesting to find information in my muscles, in my tension.  I saw it all unfold in my dreams, in the moments of silence.  I felt how terrifying it was to leave home after high school.  I put on a brave face but felt deeply alone in the stream foreign faces passing me on campus, dizzy with anxiety as I signed loan papers and found myself increasingly paralyzed during exams, where the words floated and mixed through my head.  I don't know how I made it through.

Wait, actually I do know.  It was by bearing down and PUSHING through, by faking it, acting like I had it together and resolving to finish no matter what.  But I didn't feel proud, I felt shame.  I never saw the positives, never recognized what I did right, I only saw my poor performance in classes, my social awkwardness, my flaws.  To saw I was hard on myself is an understatement.  I found life to be one great big mass of dangers, and I developed the "Helen sigh", as my friend KK called it - which leads me back to the corset choking my mid-torso.  I can't get air down to my lower belly.  The constriction is so tight... my breathing can be shallow in my upper chest.  So here comes my exercise, the reason that every morning I go for a run or hit the gym... it helps me to take long and big breaths, putting me into the kind of breathing which calms me to the core.  Then, throughout the day, this pushy and demanding self (that has helped me survive), can take over.  By the end of a workday, I race home so that I can rest and turn down my nervous system. 

So, what's next?

This year is about learning how to be an empowered woman who moves through her day deeply relaxed.  A tall order.  But I have some help.  I'll be taking a five month course offered down at the same retreat center called Meditating with the Body. I have a new job in Business Development for a company that does websites and internet marketing for different markets (Therapists, Vets, Doctors, Dentists, Physical Therapists and Coaches).  I feel really lucky to be so taken care of and guided in my life right now.  

Oh, and then there was Christmas and a trip to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, a new year's ritual and yummy food.   Happy New Year!  God bless you one and all!  May your true destiny unfold clearly before you.  May you prosper.

As usual, you'll likely find spelling and grammar errors in here which I'll edit later.   Too impatient not to press publish!

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