By SCOTT NISSENSOHN
What does it mean to be on retreat? To me it’s a letting go of anything and everything and immersing myself in the practice. The retreat was a special weekend of teachings with special friends in a special place. Sangha is always a special place, but spending 14 hours a day for three days during the nonresidential retreat on the Four Seals of Buddhism was truly special. For someone that has always felt out of place, Sangha is home.
I was hesitant about signing up for the retreat at first because it was nonresidential and I live about a half hour from Sangha and let’s face it, Nebraska Avenue is a far cry from the Franciscan Center and the Hillsborough River!!
My hesitation was alleviated within five minutes of arriving on Thursday night. Settling in at dinner with old friends, I felt the weight and stresses of the world lift away as we sat down to what would be our last talking meal for four days. Bryan Hindert, Carol Meyer and the other kitchen helpers outdid themselves with one incredible meal after another.
It was an interesting experience leaving Sangha in silence and heading home each evening. What if I ran I to my neighbors? Would they think me rude for not speaking? Waking up in time to make it to Sangha by 7:00 am was a challenge, and Friday morning I walked into the foyer just as Marilyn was ringing the bell -- what a letdown, starting the first day in the foyer while my sisters and brothers were chanting. Lesson learned: I would arrive much earlier the remaining days!!
The more I settled into retreat and the quieter my mind became, the more at peace I was with myself and the world. There is something magical about being on retreat at FCM; the love and the energy is just wonderful.
The highlight of the retreat for me was my interview with Fred. As I sat in the chair waiting for Fred to ring the bell, I kept thinking, “What am I going to ask?” “What incredible insight have I had that I can share?” As I sat and watched my thoughts, I decided I would go into the interview with no agenda and see where it went.
It amazes me how within 15 seconds Fred can be right at the core of whatever is going on in your world. With a couple of pointed questions and his wise guidance I came to the realization that I’m not living an engaged life, that due to previous pain and suffering, I had disengaged from life. I’ve done a lot of healing over the past few years but I still haven’t fully engaged in Sangha and aspects of my personal life.
Fred helped me to see that I excel at work, that I’m fully engaged and thriving there, so why can’t I carry that over to my personal life? Fear. Fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted, not fitting in. I made the commitment at that very moment that I would live an engaged life. I would be more present and engaged when at Sangha, with my kids and with my friends. Fred showed me there was nothing to be afraid of, that it was my “self” that was afraid and that I needed to let that go. How powerful and freeing!!
Another highlight of the retreat was the closing circle. Listening to my brothers and sisters share their experiences and what they would take home from the weekend was truly special. Everyone shared from deep within their hearts, new folks and elders sharing what they had learned and what they hoped to take with them.
Once Great Cloud is complete and we will be able to hold residential retreats in Tampa, retreats will be taken to a higher level. To be able to stay on the grounds and roll out of bed into the Meditation Hall will be magical. I’m looking forward to spending that first retreat with y’all.
Thanks to Scott Nissensohn of the Tampa Sangha for this insightful article and to Alex Lerner for panoramic photo in the Meditation Hall above.