Musings of the InsightLA teachers
This last week I again had the great pleasure and honor to teach a silent retreat in Germany, this time in Bavaria. Fifty brave souls, about a third of them new to retreat practice, showed up. Many of them secular mindfulness teachers or aspiring teachers. The place was magical: A medieval castle on top of a hill, first mentioned in local scriptures in the 12th century, surrounded by a big landscaped park with faux romantic ruins, perfect for walking meditation and reflections on nature.
Two male peacocks, one in natural colors and one white, watched our every move and commented the bell ringing with their cries. We decided that their cat-like “MEOUW-MEOUW!” could also be heard as “NOW- NOW!” What a fitting reminder!
After the first few days when the minds were caught oscillating back and forth between sleepiness and restlessness the repeated daily rhythm and the lack of outer distractions allowed for peacefulness and contentment to arise. Awareness practice became more easeful and kind and allowed for insights to arise, like these:
~We can see how we keep ourselves busy in order not to feel.
~We can see how much we believe that in order to be worthy of love we need to work hard and be perfect.
~We can see how we hold on so strongly to our roles, even on retreat, where many of them are just memories or projections.
~We can see how everything arises and passes away, inside and out, and relax back into this truth that nature shows us everywhere.
And (as Mark Nepo so beautifully describes it) we can have glimpses...
“..into the endless breath
that has no breather,
into the surf that human
shells call God(dess).”
With love and respect,
P.S. Trudy and I are co-leading InsightLA's 5 night Fall Insight Meditation Residential Retreat. The retreat is being held at the beautiful Royal Way Retreat Center, just a couple hours outside of LA, in Lucerne Valley. Hope you can sit with us!
We live in scary times and we easily get caught in the primal reactions to fight, flee or freeze. Being in those states is miserable; we feel angry, fearful or numb - or all of the above. And it will taint our interactions with the people we love and the wider community.
Where to turn for support? Two spiritual leaders who I think have had a lot of practice with violence, suppression, heartbreak and loss are His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. One living in exile for nearly 60 years now, his country still occupied, his culture and language still violated and suppressed. The other has been fighting years and years against the Apartheid system in South Africa and since its fall the many still ongoing after-effects.
Yet both of them, spiritual leaders for millions of people for decades, have been described time and again as some of the most joyful and happy people around. Which is no coincidence. What can we learn from them?
In his book with the Dalai Lama psychiatrist Howard Cutler describes research on unhappy versus happy people: “In fact, survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and socially withdrawn, brooding and even antagonistic. Happy people in contrast are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative, and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And, most important, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.”
Desmond Tutu says: “Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” What uplifting and hopeful words. And the Dalai Lama has been famously quoted as saying: “Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?”
This is so much easier said then done – and yet. As mindfulness practitioners we have an idea how to do that. How to use our practice on and off the cushion to put this into action, one step at a time, one breath at a time.