As summer approaches, I have been reflecting on the many retreats I have participated in over my lifetime.
The modalities include cleanses, yoga, Movements, music, meditation, dance, relaxation, self development, motivation and combinations of the above.
I realize that many of us have preconceived notions about meditation retreats, their purpose, the commitment they take and the investment required.
These notions may not be based on factual evidence, experience or truth. Meditation does not always mean escape from the world. In this day and age, there are so many retreats to choose from in the rest and relaxation category because of the fast paced, overworked lifestyle we live. It is a challenge to live in balance. More and more people are realizing they need to take time out to rejuvenate and unplug. What if a retreat could offer a means of learning how to live in balance?
The kind of retreat I am writing about is not exactly in the rest and relaxation category where one escapes.
It is an immersion in what regular life could look like when we are making right effort and serves the purpose of teaching us how to live mindfully. Stress reduction will be the by product most certainly, but the slowing of the mind and the development of greater attention is necessary to bring about permanent change in our lives.
Taking everyday tasks, for example, gardening, building, or other kinds of practical work, in a group setting , and infusing it with presence of mind exercises creates conditions for extraordinary transformation.
Movements and yoga help us embody our spirituality and ground the framework to create a container for permanent change. Chanting, zikr and vocalizing calibrate the frequency of our bodies and cleanse the rust from our hearts. ( for more about the Gurdjieff Movements read this blog: The Movements )
Our notion of a meditation retreat often creates scenes of imposed silence and lots of sitting. Good results can be experienced from these kinds of Vipassana retreats. We have no choice about not talking or sitting, but in many ways that is easier than the kind of retreat to which I am referring. When and if silence develops organically from our own impetus, it becomes our own. The choice to listen to that silence has come from an affirming active energy. The power of an active choice over passive obedience helps us to do it in our everyday lives more easily. The retreats I am talking about provide opportunity for this choice.
I am an eternal student, always wanting to improve my skills and understand more. I am like a hummingbird gathering nectar. I feel that if I stop learning, I stagnate my growth. I am not referring to taking in more and more information. I am referring to acquiring knowledge and understanding of my place in the world in order to be of service.
My transformation changes the quantum field.
This learning means seeking to truly Understand my Inner Process. If I am to successfully do this, the information I take in must be applied. It is not enough to hear ideas and intellectually contemplate them. I must put them to the test. If I can be in an environment that requires me to do that, then I acquire real skills and actually experience the effect of the practice. So many times I am taught ideas and must find a way to implement them through will power, discipline and motivation.
What if these methods at the retreat taught the strengthening of those very attributes?
In this way, I can implement what I learn. Active learning has always been my policy for effective results. If I have a piano student, I make sure he can master the skill before he goes home to practice it. The reinforcement of what he has already learned viscerally will make it permanent. I do not tell him how it is done and expect him to figure it out on his own at home. I make sure he has got it.
I can choose any activity as a vehicle for my spiritual transformation, but if I am to actually learn and change, my Ego must be put in check. If I am identified with who I think I should be, how I want the world to see me, what kind of parent I ought to be, what kind of religion I choose, whether I am a good person or not, I block reception to the teaching. If I am filled with my own knowing and rightness, I cannot receive the gift from someone else.
Without humility, I suffer from ulterior motives of which I may be totally unconscious. If this is the case, I go along with the motions of the retreat and remain unaffected, unable to fully participate and outside of the Dharma Transmission. Part of the struggle to maintain attention will help me see my own identification. A retreat which offers conditions to see these kinds of things can be very disheartening to those who were expecting the “Hawaiian Relaxation Retreat”.
I want to come as a blank sheet, a sponge, a child with innocent curiosity.
Blessed are the children for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. If I am to absorb real teaching, I must arrive with no agenda except to learn, to try and to ask. I must make an effort toward that end, but at the same time, I must be willing to receive. Having an open mind and heart to new experience is key. The wish and aim to learn will bring me closer to the kingdom of heaven, and my quality of effort will allow me to experience it here on earth.
If you have read this far, you may be interested in joining us this summer on beautiful Whidbey Island at the Aldermarsh retreat center to experience this for yourself.