(some notes and ponderings while on retreat)
It felt quite strange packing a bag to move just 200 metres down the driveway for a silent retreat. It was a little hard to take packing seriously, knowing that I could just walk back up the drive and get whatever I needed. I had such a sense of excitement though. I could have been going on an international trip. To spend a week living in the cottage that my mum and dad lived in, until their passing. To join with others from all around the world in virtual connection. To embrace advanced teachings of the meditation protocol that I am trained in. To luxuriate in a whole week of inner exploration. I felt like a traveler indeed, knowing that the inner territory offers just as dramatic, breath taking and surprising encounters as can occur in our external travels.
The intention that I set for the retreat was “I relax into my true nature, I relinquish any need for separation.”
In the very first meditation I was aware of extreme fear, contraction, terror. We were encouraged to peel away our attachment and to recognise how we get stuck in the changing aspects of our lives. Peel away the bark to find the unchanging Awareness at its source. To enquire, what stops us from being Awareness, where there is no sense of separation. What takes us away?
I woke on the morning of day 3 (which was 12am my time) and noticed the starry sky out my window. I played with my perception for a while, noticing that if I adjusted my focus I could see the stars in different patterns. The words of the Don Mclean song started in my head. I found a YouTube clip with the lyrics. I started reflecting on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. I’m not sure why. It has left me with a sense of beauty, albeit in tragedy. He is one of the most well known artists in history and yet his life was broken and tragic ending in suicide. The legacy he left is enormous. In his lifetime he was considered a failure, a mad man. Perhaps it’s because I struggle with the way the world defines success and the deep yearnings I feel I need to follow in my life that often take me away from success. I reflect on the upside down nature of the spiritual life, how it is often at odds with what is seemingly expected of us, to conform and play our part.
I’m coming to know that there is very little that I need to do, that life happens all by itself, often in spite of me. That all I really need to do is welcome whatever is arising, whatever life presents me with, and that it’s all ok; my striving, my desires, my aversions, my fears, my doubt. None of it lasts, it arises, and if I pay attention, it is always an indicator that I can investigate and follow home to my true nature. I think it takes quite a bit of slowing down though. Somehow taking offline that program that wants to run the show.
Before I ‘dropped out’ of the mainstream I was running on auto-pilot most of the time. On the proverbial treadmill doing what needed to be done. It all felt terribly important, I took it very seriously. And then life changed. I just couldn’t do it anymore, notwithstanding the fact that life had decided for me that that was going to be the case. My response to a shake up in my career, was to let it go. I really did underestimate what an enormous loss that was, but as I have often said, no regrets. The layers started to fall away, and not without a whole lot of pain and suffering on my part. However, fall away they did. It has been really hard not to live up, in any way, to how the world (or how I had interpreted the world’s expectations) defined success. All of those little threads I’d picked up that wove together a tapestry of where I fitted in the world suddenly not very meaningful.
And yet, there was this golden thread that I couldn’t ignore. I didn’t know where it would lead. (Actually the truth is, I thought I did know where it would lead and it was the most enormous shock that it wasn’t all sweetness and light!) It just couldn’t be ignored. I wanted to abandon the pursuit of external success in favour of a deeper satisfaction that perhaps no one else would recognise. I hadn’t realized that being recognised was actually really important to me. I guess that’s where I am, and why Vincent came to mind this morning. I’m struggling with the need to be recognised. To feel that what I’m offering is important in some way, that it matters to others. That’s a work in progress. I watch my fear of failure, my terror of not being valuable or recognised. It’s hard.
A key learning on this day was that rejecting something (e.g that unwanted feeling or thought) is a subtle way of binding to it. And that even that is Grace, everything is Grace. There is nothing to get rid of, it’s all within us, and all can be traced back to the underlying Awareness that we are.
As we began to explore the subject/object relationship, the recognition that the one who is looking can never see itself, it can only be. And that fear is an ally, and as we learn to become comfortable with greater amounts of fear (being careful not to trigger our survival response), we can open to its deeper ground. Fear can be an access point for a deeper recognition. Really tuning in to what feels right in the moment. Asking ourselves ‘what about this doesn’t feel right’, coming to our first hand knowing. Discovering the deliciousness of what doesn’t see anything outside ourself. Enlightenment not as a finality, but ‘unfolding itself to itself but always having the same taste’. Not intellectual, a heart/gut connection.
At 1am this morning when I logged in to the retreat, it was 2 degrees. We’ve been moving along a spectrum from witnessing, being and today exploring pure perceiving. Recognising that whenever we separate it will cause distress in our nervous system, the more we separate, the more we cause distress. Continuing to feel the ‘unborn’ or pure Awareness within us, that isn’t in progression and is unchanging, can allow us to not separate so much. And, remembering that boundarylessness coexists with setting boundaries. That we can set firm, potent and authentic boundaries but with a quality of peace and kindness.
That boundarylessness doesn’t negate diversity or uniqueness, it is life living through us.
It’s the intensity of our longing that does the work.
It has taken me a long time, and I’m still not sure that I’m any good at it, to not separate from myself when I come across someone who, for whatever reason, I don’t like or feel uncomfortable with. The concept or ideal of having to like everyone (how I had conceptualised oneness) was very strong. When I had that experience I would go into a whole river of justification and rationalisations about why that person was the way they were. Now, I understand, it isn’t personal. Life is giving me a message, that I need to protect myself, establish a boundary – not separate from myself. And, recognize that in this moment, that is the most appropriate response. Most importantly, that I don’t need to change or fix anyone. It’s not a judgement about anyone else rather a recognition of how I need to honour my own relative path. Developing an enhanced connection to the unique humanity that I am, and allowing other ‘unique humanities’ to follow their paths.
When we’re willing to follow where life is taking us we really don’t know where we are going.
Today I saw, I watched, the belief “I have to hide until I’ve got it perfect”. Interesting to just watch that thought come and go. What is perfect anyway? Something that isn’t here, something that is in the future. What happens when we let go of the illusion of control? Now we’re in the position of not knowing and allowing the true events to unfold. Staying open to “I don’t know” rather than collapsing into “I don’t know”. Making everything an enquiry. Living the question. The question is the answer, the answer is the question. We are in constant movement, there is no fixed identity.
The pinnacle experience of this retreat came unexpectedly after partner work on ‘letting go of the illusion of control’. It was in a break and this realization came over me – “I’m off the hook!” I actually don’t have to do anything, all I have to do is listen. I watched my belief in being a separate self, fall away completely. It was so liberating. For the first time I knew myself without the concept of a self. No doer, experiencer. Just existing without the need for a self-concept, and all the effort that goes with maintaining it. I could just Be. It’s a month or so after the retreat as I write this and I still feel that lightness, that openness, the absolute joy of knowing myself in this new way. Without conception, without an idea of who I am, without an image to uphold. Helelujah!
“The chief obstacle to the fulfillment of our potential is the concept of a ‘me.’ It is nothing but a figment of the imagination created by memory and by the social context we find ourselves in.” —Jean Klein
We were encouraged to enquire; is there a deeper order that is trustworthy? Knowing that I’m always doing the best I know how. That there may be times of not acting or speaking skillfully. That I can meet these experiences not with judgement but with discrimination. This is evolutionary, we’re learning, growing, using curiosity rather than judgement.
A lovely quote was shared “The mind will take you into the courtyard of the Beloved, but only the heart will get you into the bedroom.” —Sri Ramakrishna
Without the me (concept), the personality begins to shine. The practical learnings of the self don’t go away.
Meditation isn’t about the body being awake or asleep, it’s about being the Awake Awareness that’s always present. The sleeping dream, the waking dream, two different rules, two different realities – one seamless Awareness. Sometimes remembering itself, sometimes forgetting itself. Letting go of the illusion of control.
We are addicted to lies. We’re afraid to let go of the lies and beliefs, it makes us feel out of control, all of our rights are going to be out of control. Thought is the real addiction.
The real problem is the myth of separation. The first tenet is that we are all equal. We need to become our own authority. There is an authentic action we’re being asked to take. Stop lying to ourselves. “Yoga is not for sissies”, this can be really uncomfortable. But, very simple. Are you suffering? Then there is some piece of separation. Find the resonant words, end the distress that we feel. The finishing line is just the start of no finish line. We have to find it within ourselves, outside authorities don’t have it.
Some notes I took on this day:
In the gap, come into ‘I don’t know’ mind, stop, wait a second, what is my truth?
We can only do so much of the work ourselves. We can allow it to unfold with someone else.
Enquiry is designed to drive us into our heart and access our whole body – the divine within.
“the recognition of the sweetness that is here”
Setting boundaries without defending.
After the online sessions I was pottering about in the cottage. Through the window on a wet, rainy day, I saw a bower bird family – mum, dad and two juveniles. It reminded me so much of my family. Staying in the cottage that had been my mum and dad’s home for last years of their lives had brought back so many precious memories of growing up.
Exploring the ‘I thought’. Recognising my personality (being) as a reflection of Presence (Being). The all pervading Presence being primary and my personality a secondary reflection of it.
In discussion around the Black Lives Matter protests – If we don’t project ‘other’, we still need to protest. We don’t have to project other to protest. How do we do that? (an enquiry)
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”—Jimi Hendrix
I take up my mantle. I live the life I was meant to live. An affirmation for me to take away.
A quote from an ancient text known as the Gospel of Thomas. “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Small gaps throughout the day – stop inside, feel the underlying essence that is living you.
Notes from the day:
Mentoring is useful to deepen the enquiry.
Ascending and descending the map (of meditation), a never ending story.
The blank state – let it be here and keep feeling into what can observe it. A constant enquiry from the Ground of Awareness of the dessert. Use the dessert to elucidate Awareness.
Keep making the differentiation, a feeling enquiry. Let thinking go, fall back into Awareness. It is more of a recognition than a doing.
Transition and integration, let the underlying essence outshine. Sometimes it will be outshined. Treat yourself with tenderness and self compassion. Devote time. Meet the moment from the vast ground. Nourish what is most dear and intimate. “Be excessively gentle with yourself.” John O’Donohue
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir
My challenge emerging from the retreat – How to put the world back on while remaining Awake?