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The Transformative Power of Retreat

31 Mar 2018 4:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With gratitude to Chris Witrak for this sharing

The Deconstructing World of Self retreat in January was my first FCM retreat, and the experience was life-changing. I had already taken the first Deconstructing the Myth of Self intensive in the fall, and Fred’s Dharma talks during the retreat on how the self tries to claim everything really accentuated how pervasive the self can be in our lives. Seeing it this way also made it clear that day-to-day living would be much easier and less stressful if I let go of attaching to the self and not get entangled in emotionality and likes and dislikes. Thanks to the teachings and the retreat, I now have a clearer understanding of what it means to practice letting go of the self, which has brought much peace and emotional healing to my life.

Throughout the retreat, we had question-and-answer periods with Fred. These sessions provided me with some of the most important insights from the retreat. It became clear that many of us – myself included – had built up in our minds that the self was this big enemy that needed to be subdued. Fred clarified that the self is essentially just a small voice chirping in your head, which made the idea of putting down the self seem much less difficult. Another individual also asked if he should totally let go of self and everything that it claims, and Fred affirmed to just let it all go. I realized that part of the practice with non-self was simply being willing to just put the self down without overthinking. I also felt instant relief because I let go of goals and ideas that I believed I needed to be happy but just caused stress and weren’t necessary in any sense.

During one question-and-answer period, Fred provided a very brief thought exercise to show how the self has no real, permanent substance, and this brought about a light-bulb moment. We were discussing the self and its need for approval, and he asked who or what is it that cares if you walk into a room and no one notices you. He pointed out that the body doesn’t care; it’s just the self in the mind that cares. I then realized that I, me, mine is no more real than the idea of a unicorn, and like letting go of the idea of a unicorn, I can just let go of the idea of self. For thoughts such as “I like or want x, y, or z,” I had only been letting go of the x, y, or z part but not really letting go of the first half of the thought. I was trying to push away the I, me, mine, causing unnecessary drama and making things worse instead of just putting it down and coming back to the present moment.   

Fred also discussed what it meant to take refuge in the Three Jewels, which I had only heard mentioned briefly before at various times. The idea of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and trusting them as guides for life initially brought up feelings of resistance since I had negative feelings toward the religion of my upbringing. By the end of Fred’s discussion on the topic, however, I had no concerns about taking refuge. Fred pointed out that taking refuge is not some dogmatic adherence to a belief system and that we’re always taking refuge in something anyway as a guide for living our lives – which is usually the self. He also pointed out that it makes sense to take refuge in a path and teachings formulated by someone who has already found a way out of suffering rather than in the self that has caused the messes in the first place.  I thought to myself, “Well, when you put it that way…” I didn’t see any need to try and reinvent the wheel either. I experienced the value of taking refuge in the Sangha in a deep way during the retreat as well. In addition to the questions asked by other brothers and sisters, also hearing about their experiences made my struggles seem less unique and less daunting. I’ve heard before that the more personal something is the more universal it is, and this proved to be true, helping me feel more connected with others.  

Since the retreat ended, practicing with letting go of the self when it arises has not only made day-to-day living easier, but it has also made it easier to figure out where emotional healing work needs to be done. Anytime I continually get caught on I, me, mine and in grasping and aversion in a certain area, I look more deeply at this part of my life to try and find why I can’t let go of identifying with the self in this instance. Fred and others have helped me look at these issues and show me where or why I’m getting caught, and I’ve already let go of several unhelpful assumptions and beliefs that I had not really been conscious of before. Sometimes doing this investigating and letting go stirs up strong emotions, but knowing that the emotions and the I, me, mine that gets attached to them aren’t “me” or anything permanent has made it much easier to do the work of healing emotional wounds and letting them go.  

Thank you to Fred and everyone who organized and attended the retreat for a wonderful experience and the opportunity to deepen my practice.



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