I went on a retreat in November for 10 days at the absolutely amazing and breathtaking Taraloka. It was a retreat based around the Four Reminders which I have talked about before in this blog; a retreat called “Beauty and Urgency”.
It was a very special retreat for me… a lot of firsts! The first retreat which wasn’t led by Order Members (friends) who I know well. The first retreat where I knew no one. It was a longer retreat than I had done before – 10 days compared to the 4 done over the Easter weekend. It was my first retreat for those who are working towards Ordination. My first women only retreat…. So many firsts.
The retreat was so powerful for me. A lot of time spent in silence; hours spent in meditation; time spent “just sitting” and reflecting. I learnt such a lot about me; about my previous (and present) patterns of behaviour. I learnt more about the Dharma. And I realised – again – how much I love this Buddhist life. The women on the retreat – both the Order Members who led it and my fellow retreatants – were so warm and beautiful; their love sustains me still. The retreat was also a reminder of how far I have to travel.
I had all of these plans, these expectations of how I would be on my return. How I would be acting, what I would be doing. Life was going to be calmer yet more full. I would be living according to the beauty that is this life, and the urgency caused by its very impermanence. I even had plans for this blog – posts I would write….
Expectations! Expectations are dangerous things. They can arrive quickly and easily then laugh in your face.
For a whole host of reasons life has not been as I expected since my return and I have not (until today) implemented many of the plans I had made. My mind has been all over the place. I spent some time last week beating myself up about this, feeling the usual guilt arise. But now – I just accept what it is. I cannot change what is happening; I cannot change the last few weeks. However, I can change my reactions to it all and I can resolve to act differently now.
My brain is beginning to function again. I am starting to go through all of the notes which I made on retreat. I am beginning to look through my photos. So this is the first (I hope) of a series of posts about my retreat at Taraloka.
I went on my second ever retreat for the Easter weekend. What a lovely, relaxing, spiritual time spent with some lovely people. 22 Buddhists all gathered in a beautiful country house to meditate, discuss, reflect and explore friendship – the whole of the spiritual life. Phones were turned off. There was a period of silence. It was an amazing calming and refreshing time. A time in which lives were changed forever.
The sun was shining that weekend. There was time to walk, sit in the sun, read and reflect. I spent some of my time writing. On Sunday afternoon, during the silence, I sat outside of the summer house in an extremely comfortable chair and wrote:
I am sitting in a very comfortable chair. I need that else my painful body is far too much of a distraction. People are scattered around me – reading, writing, walking. Down the slight hill is a pond – a pond which is covered in algae because (I think) it helps to support the waste eco system. It is still beautiful and tranquil. Surrounded by green lawns, bushes and a bright splash of yellow flowers. Two ducks live on the pond. They are always together, swimming one just slightly behind the other. The backdrop to these rolling lawns and pond is a wood. Further on in the wood there are carpets of bluebells, pockets of primroses – although they cannot be viewed from here. All to be seen immediately is a tapestry of trees. At first glance, the trees are all beautiful shades of green, all alive and vibrant. Some with big, flamboyant leaves, others with more delicate ones. But mixed in with this tapestry of greenery are shades of brown. Some trees do not look as alert and alive. They may well experience a re-becoming further on in the year as spring turns to summer. One tree is a deep russet brown, almost red. It is fiery. It towers over a lot of the other trees. The blue sky is its backdrop. The sky was a picture book blue earlier on. I remember a jigsaw I did when a child (I was addicted to jigsaws back then). This jigsaw had just green and blue pieces – a thousand of them. Just trees and sky. this could be that jigsaw. But now the sky has faded a little – a paler blue, almost white in places. Still no clouds though. As I turn my head just slightly to the left I see the stunning show-off that is the magnolia tree. Pale pink flowers against the bright green of its leave. Two / three / fours shades delicately painted on each flower.
My favourite tree cannot be seen from here. It is a favourite of mine and a friend. It forms an archway between the gravel car park and the garden. The brilliant pink rhododendron tree.
A beautiful weekend which reminded me of the need to be more mindful. To live in the present. To enjoy and be grateful for what is happening now.
Last night I managed to get to a Sangha night for the first time in ages. It was a special night. We were celebrating the going forth of a dear friend. I haven’t known her that long but she is in my heart forever. She is the most wise, the most spiritual, the most caring person I have ever met. She is going on her three month ordination retreat in Spain. She is climbing a mountain- quite literally. She will come back with a different name; she will come back as the wonderful person she is but more so.
Ordination – such a beautiful and serious thing! Takes a lot of work, certainty and courage. I will do this one day. I am far from ready to go on the journey but I can start to prepare.
I came back from my first retreat earlier today, a few hours ago. The world outside of the retreat centre seems loud and busy; I feel a little disoriented. It was a life changing weekend in which I fully realised my path.
This morning – just after I got out of bed – I wrote a diary entry. Here it is:
I am writing this through the period of silence which started last night after the beautiful Puja and is carrying on through this morning’s meditation until breakfast. My back hurts, my hand can hardly hold the pen but I am deeply content and happy. Not happy in the euphoric, roller coaster, worldly sense, but in the way of being at peace.
There are so many things I can write about this weekend – the people, the shrine room (which still makes me gasp even though I have spent quite some time in it now), the beauty of Rivendell itself… My deepening sense of belonging in this Buddhist world. I could talk about how blessed I feel to have been introduced to this community and how joyous it has made me to feel useful to others. This is an introductory retreat so people are new to Buddhism. A few people have come up to me, given me a hug and told them how I have helped them over the weekend.
Three main thoughts:
I have felt a dissonance / disconnection between my need to stay calm and walk / sail my course through the onslaught of the worldly winds which batter and torment me and the need to feel love / compassion – metta. This weekend I feel the love. I feel compassion. I thought that I would spend some time reading but have not opened a book. I have recommended books to others but have put to one side the strongly intellectual part of me which always seems to take over. Not deliberately. It just happened that way. So instead I have been immersing myself in friendship, meditation, love, discussion, I can feel my love returning, It hadn’t gone away it had just got trapped as someone suggested to me. Saturday morning during a meditation I could feel tears running down my face. That was the breakthrough. I have felt a deepening love and friendship with those I already knew and have a connection with. I have made new friends and feel love for everyone here. My heart is connecting with the world again. The importance of Sangha.
I wanted to go on a couple of solitary retreats this year. May still do so. But I think that these group retreats will be much more beneficial to me for a while. I need to develop my connections and love for the Sangha. I grow through love, friendship and discussion. Solitary retreats hold a danger for me – that I will just revert solely to my intellectual self. My intellectual self is an important part of me but I need to work in my Sangha.
One day I will be ordained. I have an important role model in a very dear friend who gave a talk last night. I want to help others through this journey, along this path. I feel that this is what I am meant to do. Not yet. When the conditions are right.
I will need to reflect on this retreat over the coming days and weeks. I have already booked my next one.