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Touching the Peace and Ease that is Always Available: A Solitary Retreat Experience

26 Aug 2018 9:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With gratitude to FCM member David Royal for this sharing.

In late June, I was fortunate to be part of a group of FCM members who, along with our teacher Fred Eppsteiner, did a retreat at the Dorje Khyung Dzong (DKD) retreat center in rural southern Colorado. This retreat was a bit of a hybrid in that, although we travelled as a group, it was primarily a solitary retreat. DKD is rather unique in that it is truly set up for solitary retreats. It consists of 8 cabins, spread out so that you don't really see or hear your neighbors. Each cabin has a dedicated walking meditation trail, again ensuring that you can truly practice in solitude. The facility is maintained by a couple (Dan and Sheila) who have been there for a little over 5 years. We didn't see much of them, but they are wonderful hosts and really try to make sure that everything is taken care of, so that retreatants can focus on their practice.

Each day, we were asked to do at least 8 hours of formal meditation practice. I usually took a short walk after breakfast, before it got too hot, but other than that I was either in my cabin or on the meditation path outside. Each afternoon, just before dinner, we gathered as a group for an hour in the shrine room. During this time, we asked questions and shared about our experiences. This was a change from the daily one-on-one interviews that I'd done on previous solitary retreats, and I found it really beneficial. Hearing my fellow practitioners share their insights and struggles, and watching Fred guide them, was extremely instructive.

Practically speaking, days at DKD were simple. Without running water, I collected water from a nearby hydrant and I had a "mindfulness bucket" under my sink that I emptied periodically. Each cabin had its own outhouse and there was a camping toilet for use overnight. Every other day, I got icepacks from the shower house for my cabin's cooler. Since I didn't have refrigeration, I cooked single portions. DKD is also very, very dry, so drinking lots of water (w/ electrolytes) was very important. Honestly, I found all of these tasks (gathering water, emptying waste water, cooking small batches, etc.) to be truly pleasurable mindfulness practices. I was particularly struck by how much I enjoyed the details of cooking simple dishes, as cooking has always been just a means to an end for me.

In terms of the practices, we followed the text "Clarifying the Natural State" by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal. Like "Moonbeams of Mahamudra," also by Namgyal, this wonderfully clear and concise text lays out the Mahamudra path of meditation, starting with the preliminaries, then moving into shamatha (tranquility) and vipashyana (insight) meditation. Even though some of the practices were familiar to me, they felt very fresh. Following such a clear practice text in such a supportive environment was quite powerful. I felt a degree of ease and equanimity over the course of those 10 days that I have never before felt in my life. Past solitary retreats (not to mention my everyday life) have been marked by lots of ups and downs for me, periods of joy alternating with depression and anxiety. This time, to my surprise, there was none of that. Everything felt profoundly OK, moment after moment, day after day.

Every time I go on retreat, I experience more deeply concepts that I understood intellectually, and this retreat was no exception. I felt gratitude for my precious human birth more deeply than ever before, being moved to tears of joy several times on this retreat while reflecting on my good fortune at having found the dharma, a sangha, and a teacher. I also felt that I was truly able to rest in ease and equanimity, both on and off the cushion. Doing this really solidified my confidence in the effectiveness of meditation. So many of the choices I have made in my life have been driven by a desire to find lasting peace of mind. It is wonderful to see, definitively, that this is peace always here.

Another thing that struck me about the text was that, despite it having been written by a Tibetan monk in the 1500s, it was undeniable he and I were working with exactly the same mind. This, too is a source of relief and confidence for me. If we do all truly have the same underlying awareness, then the practices and wisdom that have liberated other practitioners from suffering over the past 2600 years can also work for me. I truly believe that now.

I wasn't sure what it was going to be like to come off this retreat. What would it be like being back with my family? What would it be like at work? I'm happy to report that, while in some ways it is very different being back in the world, I have found it easier to maintain a sense of balance and equanimity, regardless of what is going on. I still lose my cool some times, but at the same time, I know that whatever happens is fine, and that I don't need anything more to be OK.

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