Every winter, my friend and mentor and bodywork teacher and coach, Janet Evergreen hosts a retreat for 10 days at her Sanctuary space. Last year, I was going through a tough stretch and I did not make it to much, if any of that retreat, which I would later regret.
I say that because this retreat is like a sling shot for the new year. It is a shot in the arm of Dharma juicy-ness. Even if I could only do a couple hours a day of meditation, the combined space created a mandala of potency, of virtuous momentum and resourced support to lean into.
Due to work – December and the holidays are our busiest time of the year – I missed two days of the retreat. Then with family in town, I missed another two days. But I’m so glad I went to some part of every other day – six or seven days total.
I would be lying if I said I did not experience any resistance. For instance, I woke up a couple of days at 5 am with the possibility of going to the 6 am session, only to choose to fall back asleep (! ^ !) What can I say, I am human and sometimes a bit lazy. I also needed my sleep as I have been quite stretched and stressed out with work.
The session I went to most often was from 10 am until noon, and then I would stay for a delicious, dynamic, organic lunch which was eaten in noble silence. Occasionally there might be a little playfulness at lunch (silently) but for the most part we could all just enjoy our food at our own pace, in peace and quiet and good company.
From 10 until 11 am, we did a breath meditation (following, analyzing, shifting, exploring, stretching, resting of the breath) called the Anapanasati Entryways. These were fairly powerful, but I never got through all 16 stages in one 50 minute segment. Nonetheless, it was very potent just to track the mind and breathe, to track the body while breathing, to get distracted for a moment with thoughts and come back to the breath. I would usually get through at least 4 or 5 of the stages of breath awareness – opening up to, deepening, refining, refreshing, calming, stabilizing the breath. This was the hour where I usually experienced some resistance, so there was less enjoyment than I would have liked. If this sounds interesting to you, go to http://www.liberationpark.org
But then from 11 am until noon, we did a practice called the 8 Jhanas. This is more of an analytical meditation, where we are aware of our breath, then that fades into the background and we become more aware of a pleasant physical sensation (which can be as simple as a forced smile). That pleasant sensation can become more intense and we can notice joy and happiness arising. Etc etc and eventually it leads to contentment, equanimity, awareness of a boundless space around us, etc. The end result being to rest in a vast open spacious aware of a tiny spot close to our face with our state of being having no characteristics. This is extremely simplified. See http://www.leighb.com for more!
One thing I especially like about the Jhanas is there is a recommended daily recollection to do before and after the practice:
- Aging happens, no one avoids it
- Illness and sickness happen, no one avoids it forever.
- Death happens, no one gets away from death.
- Everything that I love is and will change.
- I am responsible for my actions (karma). My thoughts words and deeds create happiness or suffering. I am born of my actions (karma). I will inherit my actions (karma). Whether good or evil deeds, I will always inherit my actions.
There are 5 things to do at the beginning of a session:
- Why am I doing this (motivation)?
- Working up some determination – for instance, practicing for the benefit of all beings (self included)
- Wishing ourselves and others, well-being and happiness
- “Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile.”
Then at the end of the session:
- Recapitulation – what did I do to get here? How did I get here?
- Impermanence – whether highs or lows, our emotions, feelings, sensations are changing and are gone or will be gone shortly
- Insights – did I get any? What were they?
- Dedicate the merit earned for the liberation of all beings
- Resolve to be mindful as I go about my activities
This is a good stopping point for now. All in all, so glad I attended this year’s winter retreat. Next year, here is what I would change to prepare better for it:
Start preparing for retreat weeks in advance – have all errands and nursing school requirements done by December 15th if possible. Do all Christmas shopping (if any) before Dec 15th. Do more resting down, self care and Dharma practice two or three weeks before retreat starts. That way I can be more receptive to retreat mind mode. This year, it was a bit jarring to be really busy up until retreat started and then to hit the brakes hard. Fortunately I would still gain benefit from that less-than-kind version of preparing… but I could prepare better!
Thank you for reading!