By CHRIS SIDWELL
Enriching would be the word I would use to describe my first FCM virtual retreat.
As a longtime Buddhist but a newbie to FCM, I had never committed more than two hours at a time to any Buddhist activity. The FCM retreat was a big step out of my comfort zone and although I have never participated in an in-person FCM retreat in Tampa, I found this virtual format to be very impactful. I enjoyed being in the comfort of my own home and I did not feel distracted.
One point made during deep sharing was that we could implement what we had learned on the cushion minutes earlier, off the cushion during our activity breaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was able to do that by participating at home.
This was my first encounter with Bryan Hindert, yet another sincere, experienced and educated teacher at FCM. Bryan was very well prepared and organized, and I appreciated how he structured the intensive down to the minute, letting us all know exactly what to expect hour by hour throughout the three days. He presented Dharma in a unique and contemporary way that really clicked with me. He asked us to focus on gratitude and, rather than asking ourselves, "What’s wrong?", suggested that we ask ourselves, "What’s not wrong?" -- a very powerful twist on our words and thoughts. I have incorporated that phrase into my daily practice.
The theme of the retreat was “Anchoring our Minds in the Present Moment.” I appreciated his analogy of an anchor being lowered into the depths of the ocean to illustrate grounding ourselves deeply in our bodies and minds. The image really clicked with me and was raised by many others, a great new tool in our belts to generate and deepen mindfulness.
Cultivating boundless love for all beings in the universe was the other main theme -- something that does not come naturally for me. Bryan introduced us to the Metta Sutra, or Discourse on Love, which I printed out and is also now part of my daily practice.
Bryan not only introduced us to 19 Gathas from Thich Nhat Hanh, but he showed us how to breathe during recitation of those gathas for deepest impact. Like many people, I found the gathas to be the most influential part of the retreat.
My takeaway is that I feel a deeper level of calm, and it’s not just post-retreat bliss. I'm filled with a new level of confidence from the many new tools I have gained that I can use to manifest mindfulness at any moment by utilizing breathing and bringing my breath deeper into my body.
Also, the retreat pointed out areas that I need to focus on in my daily practice – gratitude and generating love and compassion.
I have also gained a deeper sense of Sangha/community due to engaging and sharing with others throughout the retreat. Since I have previously participated in the Intensives, I feel this retreat was the next step in the evolution of my practice. I am profoundly grateful that I was given the opportunity to participate.
Chris Sidwell lives in Cape Coral and attends the Naples Sangha. He has been practicing Buddhism for 29 years but joined FCM in August of 2020. Chris relocated from Los Angeles in 2005. He and his wife founded Pacific Coast Music, a smooth jazz record label.