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Retreat as Refuge (or: Why to Go On Retreat When the Talks are on YouTube)

19 Mar 2018 4:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With gratitude to Brandy Kidd for this sharing


For many years and for various reasons, I did not go on retreats. There were times when my children were younger and I didn't feel at ease being away from them; there were times (and still are) when it wasn't in my budget or when work demands made it (seemingly) impossible. When I can't go, I watch the YouTube videos that are recorded for those of us unable to attend the retreat in person. I appreciate it that this opportunity is always provided and I've been enriched by what I've learned from those videos.


That being said, I also say this: if at all possible, attend the retreat in person!


Perhaps you think I'm saying this because it's such a luxury to go on retreat. Often when friends and family members hear that I'm going on retreat, they seem to envision plush robes and steam rooms with new age music piped in from the great beyond. I hear a lot of "oh, how I would LOVE to get away from it all!"


On the other end of the spectrum are those who look upon me with an expression that ranges from squinty-eyed dismay to wide-eyed, eyebrows-raised panic: "Four days without looking at your phone or computer?? What if someone needs you?? What if something happens??" or "Four days without talking! I could never do that! I'd go crazy!"


But the real reason I say "Go!" is this: the process of being on retreat works hand-in-hand with what one learns on retreat. It's true that the talks are deeply meaningful. But for me, it's the potent alchemy that takes place when I have the privilege of learning dharma in a setting that simultaneously requires me to practice it right then and there - in a setting that requires me to let go and trust (or make myself miserable otherwise).


Because on retreat, there is nothing to control. It's a bit akin to sailing a rudder-less boat. A gong clangs when to wake up, when to head to the Meditation Hall or the Dining Hall, to yoga or outside walking meditation. The schedule is posted. The thermostat is set. The menu is chosen; the food, prepared and the mess: it's cleaned up when I'm done. The retreatant can simply go with the flow. And this is amazing - except when Self decides it's not.


And here is when it gets juicy. Because Self can use any opportunity to have a problem with anything! Self opines that the rooms are too hot or too cold; that the food is too bland or too spicy; one's fellow retreatants far superior or inferior (and all of the above can vacillate from one minute to the next). But because it's quieter and more free of distractions outside of the mind: it is crystal clear just what sort of misery-making the Self is up to, 24/7/365. Whether I'm on retreat or at home doing the dishes, Self (Ego) is doing its "thing" of evaluating, comparing, judging - generally disabling my capacity to be truly alive and aware of whatever the present moment is offering. It's just that on retreat: I am blessed with the clarity to watch it, recognize it and with practice, begin to transform it.


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