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Reflections from a Spring Retreat at the Franciscan Center

07 May 2018 12:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With gratitude to Mitch Schaefer for this sharing

As I walked along the Hillsboro River on the first evening of the Spring Retreat, I reflected upon my aspirations for the next three days. I decided they were: 1) to deepen my understanding of the four nutriments and develop a greater moment to moment awareness of what I am consuming; 2) to leave the retreat with clarity on where I am going to reduce consumption of the things that are harmful and contribute to my suffering, and where to increase those which are more wholesome; 3) to strengthen my meditation practice by increasing my ability to (more effortlessly) focus on my breath, and by becoming a more objective observer of my thoughts; and 4) to feel gratitude for the journey I have traveled since becoming an FCM member last year- for my deepening spiritual practice, my new Sangha friendships, and for the peace I am experiencing from a regular meditation practice.

The retreat gave me everything I hoped for, and more. Here are just a few of the many moments which I found valuable:

The opportunity to journal throughout the retreat was a very meaningful approach for capturing insights during the dharma talks and jotting down reflections on my patterns of consumption. I left the retreat with strong commitments of where I intended to make changes in each of the four nutriments - specifically, where I was going to reduce consumption and what I was going to replace it with.

There were several visualization exercises that were very powerful for me. One took place in the Meta Garden, where I had the opportunity to offer "meta flowers" to myself and other people in my life. The imagery and emotions associated with this exercise were filled with warmth, spaciousness and compassion. The other exercise was a visualization sitting by the river-bank, watching various boats (i.e., thoughts) float by - each with their own stories and adventures. Following this exercise, I was able to "observe" the boats go by without getting pulled onto them from the shore. Weeks after the retreat new images and metaphors continue to arise in my mind, creating a feeling of spaciousness and light-hearted moments.

The opportunity to learn from senior students who have been studying with Fred for so many years was truly a gift. Their understanding of the dharma runs very deep, yet at the same time, they shared their daily struggles on the path with honesty, humility and humor. This made the teachings feel so real and accessible, while demonstrating the self-compassion we each need to offer to ourselves on our spiritual journeys.

And then, we had the good fortune to have our venerable Zen Master (aka, Fred) lead the Dharma teachings each evening and take our understanding to new depths. We talked about the body as a vehicle to transport us through our journey in this life, and how we wish to care for it. We explored the cumulative affects consuming a constant barrage of input through our senses has on our emotional well-being. Fred challenged each of us to examine if we were truly willing to let go of our never-ending pursuit of pleasure - and commit to the possibility of simply enjoying a pleasurable experience, without attachment.

And, we discussed the importance of choosing which of the seeds that have been planted in our storehouse consciousness over the years we want to focus on watering, with the understanding that..."what we take in conditions our mind, which ultimately conditions what we take in."

As our weekend came to a close, perhaps the most practical insight we discussed was that despite our high aspirations, transformation will not occur if we do not have a clear understanding of our "employer-employee" relationship with our 'guard at the gate'. We were challenged to assess what type of employer we are, and how to ensure our guard stands mindfully by our side, alert yet with compassion, ready to help us make the right choices. And that we should not be too generous with his or her vacation time.

Though the three days passed quickly, I left the retreat with a feeling equanimity and a renewed sense of volition to make better choices. I also departed with deep gratitude to Angie, Betsy, Diane, Fred, and my fellow retreatants for the experience we shared together. And to think that the majority of our time together was spent in "noble silence".


  • 07 May 2018 3:23 PM | Anonymous member
    Thank you for sharing. The experiences you shared help me understand what can occur during a Silent Retreat and what changes might unfold as a result of the time spent in silence and contemplation. Very illuminating reflection.
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