Four days back from my solo retreat

I thought I would give it a while before I added a new post to see what the effects of the retreat were a few days after returning.

I have felt, and continue to feel really calm. My mind is still and I am very lucid. My thoughts have really subsided and I find that I am able to bring mindfulness into some moments that I previously have found difficult.

I have effectively taken another step on my personal journey with the realisation that I need to practice humility. I have the content that I created while away to work on and I am looking forward to fleshing out the presentation and putting the framework in place for the course.

It is probably worth posting where I am at some point later on this month to see what the residual effects are then.


Solo retreat 5th day

Today the mind is very quiet. I find myself bringing myself easily and smoothly into the present moment and lingering here rather blissfully.

I also took a bit of a back seat today on my work. I had to go into town in to pick up some supplies as I had underestimated what I needed. Next time I’ll fix a menu in advance and buy the ingredients.
One of the things I did today was to write down a list of achievements from this week.
I found that being totally alone like this is really brilliant for getting the contents of your brain down onto paper.
I was able to extract all of the details for a number of categories in such a way that I was able to formulate and plan based on the information.
I also did a lot of reading and made copious notes.
I think the most productive area was in intellectually demanding yet creative tasks such as planning a course and constructing a massive presentation.
I also struggled with the residue of urban life for consumer-producers which invariably consists of resentments and anxieties of some sort.

It seems to me, no matter how much time I spend uncovering and working with past resentments and so-on that there are always more. Speaking to other people who are experienced meditators, I’m not alone. It seems that the brain has infinite storage capacity for anything that it can possibly interpret as a threat.

Don’t think that I am particularly neurotic. I know beyond doubt that this sort of emotional burden (karma) is a characteristic of our entire consumer society. The difference with me is that after years of mindfulness and meditation I am both aware of it and can also, thankfully, release it.

My goal is to entirely divest myself of my negative karma one experience at a time. Whether I have enough time left on this planet to achieve this or not is the pivotal question :).

All I can say for sure though is that I am not adding to it!

I’ve started reading a book by Ram Dass called ‘Be Here Now’. One of the reviews on Amazon warned me that the book starts as a bit of a hippy bible encouraging us all to leave the workplace for the poppy fields and at this stage it certainly seems that way but I shall stick with it as some of Ram Dass’ teachings I have found are absolutely spot on.

Regarding what I blogged about yesterday, which is the fact that many mindfulness teachers don’t seem to confront the issue of emotions, there is an excellent quotation by Ram Dass which says “To him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible.”

Discussing the journey of the mind with the uninitiated is literally, like speaking a different language. This is where the language of spirituality comes in and where we end up struggling. Science has no concept of things like connection with nature, the joy of life, transcendence and bliss so there aren’t the words. Hence, we all end up sounding like hippies whether we want to or not! :) My daughter says that much of what I say she simply puts in her ‘Dad’s hippy box’ category.

I suspect, that there are some mindfulness teachers that have had this experience and yet keep it to themselves for fear that it will blow their credibility with their academic or healthcare buddies.

Imagine coming into the University or the hospital in the morning to say “I spent several hours bathing in the bliss  resulting from releasing ancient fears.” Probably wouldn’t contribute to their next promotion eh?

So this is the last day and I shall be back in the urban jungle soonish.

I shall report back on how that works out.

Namaste Brother and Sisters! :)

Solo retreat 4th day

And so yesterday, the fourth day, I got down to the nitty-gritty of my retreat.

Most mindfulness teachers seem to either see mindfulness as a ‘spiritual practice’ on the path to Nirvana or as a ‘therapy’ they can add to their portfolio.

I am somewhat different, I came to mindfulness through stress. When I picked up the Power of Now in a bookshop in 2009, I was searching for something to help me deal with my stress.

Two revelations in that book transformed my weak Zen Buddhist meditation practices into a powerful tool that has helped me to transform my mind, and my life. This retreat is evidence that transformation is an ongoing process.

The revelations were simply that I am not my thoughts or my emotions and that the present moment is all there is. This helped me to become aware of my emotions, possibly for the first time, and most definitely for the first time as an observer.

This ability to observe emotions rather than experience them is a key element of mindfulness.

An analogy that I often use is that the mind is like a river. When the current is strong and the river level is high, it stirs up the bottom, becomes murky, creates waves and froth. The bottom of the river is hidden and so crossing it is dangerous.

Mindfulness clears the mind and creates a calm, still silence which enables us to observe and experience our thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness can become a safe space, one that, with practice, we can always find. This is the eventual goal of mindfulness meditation, to experience the mind safely, transform our minds and so, transform our lives, though not everybody either can or would want to experience this. One has to ‘be ready’. Nobody quite knows what ‘ready’ actually is, but you’ll know it when you’re there.

In the consumer society, meditating on emotions, thoughts and beliefs consists of becoming aware of our conditioning, questioning it and releasing the limiting beliefs, habits and emotions which unfortunately, is most of it.

From what I have seen, most mindfulness courses and mindfulness teachers don’t actually acknowledge this process. I think that this is largely because they haven’t been there themselves.

It’s not possible to speak about, for instance, the connection with nature, the joy of life and the bliss of releasing deep inner fears unless you have experienced it yourself.

Today, to repeat a commonly used expression, “all sorts of stuff came up”.

Of course, it is all good, but it really was a day spent with various tricky emotions such as resentment and grief.

Over the years I have used a number of techniques for managing this sort of psychological quagmire, but nowadays I just dive in and allow myself to feel it. I can almost invariably identify the cause and so either I allow myself to be aware of it and let it dissolve, or find a practice to resolve it.

My latest personal lesson is humility. And the practice I needed to find was how to practice it!

Here are the Dalai Lama’s teachings on humility:
Recently, I have developed a great deal of respect for the Dalai Lama. I’m not a Buddhist simply because I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I will seek out wisdom wherever it can be found, and for the record, that’s often in the most unlikely places…

For some reason, probably because I simply didn’t understand, I used to think the Dalai Lama’s teachings were a western ‘media friendly’ version of Buddhism, but recently I’ve discovered the power in them. I had thought for instance, that compassion was an outcome, a side effect almost, of having found inner peace. Recently, I discovered compassion is something I need to actively practice. In the same way, I now know that I need to practice humility. I need to review my interactions and decide on who I should be compassionate or humble with, and then go out of my way to do it. 

I think if I can be compassionate to people that are resentful and humble with people that are arrogant, then I will have have found my way and rising to the bait will be a thing of the past.

To practice humility, I have now realised that I need to be mindful of how I have responded in the past and be prepared to defer to people not just when they’re wrong, but ‘especially’ when they are wrong, because after all, what is right and wrong except an idea we think is true that we hold in our heads? So why not just allow them to continue to believe whatever it is they want to believe?

Solo retreat 3rd day

Yesterday I spent more time meditating and my mind was a tad clearer.

Looking after the dogs ‘does’ have an effect and it is twofold. Firstly they tend to come over to play while I’m meditating, of course :), but there is also a sense of responsibility that maintains a link in my mind to their welfare and what thy are up to. It can be quite tenuous but it’s very real.

I spent the day focusing on doing ‘one thing at a time’ and found that I was very productive as a result. There was definitely a period of flow where I cracked through work that would normally take me ages.

The purpose wasn’t productivity, it was doing ‘one thing at a time’. The productivity was a side effect.

Overall invasive thoughts were mild and so I spent much of the day in a good mindful place.

Solo Retreat 2nd day

Yesterday was more of what I call meing and being where the focus of my attention moves between awareness and the inner narrative then back again over and over again.

Today will be a Zen day. My mind is relatively quiet and I’m confident that I can focus on my tasks and achieve my goals by retaining this focus.

Yesterday I cracked an elusive problem that I had been trying to solve, probably for some years now.

The silent stillness, inner and outer, enables a clarity of mind that has become such a rare event in my day-to-day life.

This morning, I am a lot closer to what Tolle refers to as the stillness. Yesterday my awareness opened up and I was able to appreciate nature a lot more.

The place that I am staying is thankfully surrounded by trees, some of which are aspens. They shimmer in the breeze quite magically and are a wonderful thing to focus on when meditating. Apparently aspens were associated with magical powers by the pre-Christian civilisations in Europe and I can quite understand why as the shimmering and rustling sound creates a quite wonderful experience.

This morning my mental experience is less of meing and being and more of mental stillness punctuated by the occasional thought.