Pointers for Practice
Being on retreat is basically an act of simplifying the external so that the internal can be seen clearly. To put it another way, our experience is, roughly speaking, made up of two things:
Normal human patterning puts overwhelming (compulsive) emphasis on #2 while basically ignoring #1 (with occasional exceptions in peak experiences). The essential instruction on retreat is to completely reverse this ordering. We put spacious awareness completely in the foreground of experience, and let thoughts, emotions, sensations, and all of external reality simply be “things that pass through” this changeless awareness.
This is not the same thing as suppression! It is actually the opposite. In letting awareness be the basis of our experience, everything is put in its right place. Everything is allowed and honored despite its ephemeral, transitory nature!
With this basic frame in mind, here are a few “frames” that you can try on during the retreat:
Listening, Waiting, Receiving & Acting
The relative spaciousness of our retreat schedule is deliberate (particularly the afternoon free time). While the concentrated energy of formal practice sessions is important, the time around formal practice is often where various forms of deepening and fruition are noticed and harvested. Do not ignore the free time, the transitions between one thing and the next, the chores, the basic self-care of showering, brushing your teeth and putting yourself to bed!
It is in the unfolding of these mundane experiences that the extraordinary luminosity of your own true nature can be glimpsed and enjoyed!!
Basically, your commitment is not just to a few meditation sessions per day, but to staying with your moment-by-moment experience as it unfolds through all states and situations.
In simplifying your life down to the essentials (retreat takes away the complexity of your various responsibilities and the competing demands they engender), you have given yourself a perfect laboratory to listen deeply to your own heart.
In a sense, each moment of our life is an open question. What now? What is right in this moment? Is there an action to be taken? An impulse to be followed?
Presence-awareness will guide this process of where to place your attention and “what to do next” with flawless precision.
But you have to let it. And you have to get quiet enough to hear it. You have to vow to listen to it. You have to wait without expectation and go slowly. We have been listening to the conditioned mind and ego structure to live our life and make our decisions for so, so long. This is a great, patient retraining of what is fundamentally in charge of our life (true nature or egoic conditioning).
The fundamental purpose of retreat is to experiment with putting true nature in charge of absolutely every aspect of our being in a safe, controlled and low-pressure environment. You are not deciding to leave your job or your core relationship (although those facets might surface for consideration if you have been repressing them).
You are deciding whether to take a walk, have more salad, or another cup of tea. But the mechanism is the same. Are you listening for the wisdom-voice? Are you attuning to the information this moment is giving you? Will you follow it?
All We Are Doing is Being Aware
Question any attempts by the conditioned mind to make what we are doing complicated or “technique-y.”
We are just simply being aware – resting in the sense of “knowing” that is the fundamental core of our experience.
This sense of being aware was the same when you were a child and it will be the same when you die. You cannot lose, alter, damage or corrupt what you fundamentally are! But it can be covered over by conditioned patterns and energies.
So, when accessing awareness feels complicated or difficult….
Allow awareness to settle into your felt-sense. The inner energy field of the body. The breathing. The sensations in your hands or feet. The openness of the sense-fields (seeing, hearing). Rather than fighting the mind, gently re-direct into feeling and sensation.
Don’t struggle with the sense of awareness “coming and going.” This is natural. Instead, we emphasize “short moments of awareness, repeated many times.”
When awareness wakes up, recognize it and surrender to it. It will be covered up again. And then it will appear again. Do not subtly resist this coming and going or harbor shame around it!
When it comes back each time, embrace it like the beloved! This creates unshakable confidence and continuity over time.
Don’t Bypass Pleasurable States
For many of us, there can be a subtle but pervasive habit of “excavating suffering.” We see the path as “looking for what’s wrong with us” with a few brief moments of calm and respite thrown in to keep us going!
No doubt things can get gnarly, but we need to watch out for unconscious tendencies to suppress bliss, pleasure, and profound well-being. So, if there is presence-awareness and even a subtle sense of well-being in the body….
Anytime presence-awareness is foreground, and no apparent suffering is perceived, this is the inquiry. Basically, our only job is to deepen! We don’t go hunting for conditioning if none is bubbling up. Doing so is one of the ego’s most subtle and pernicious tricks to keep us on the treadmill of “me.”
Be Specific About States of Suffering
One thing about being quiet and “internal” is that states of suffering and dis-ease can take on a vague, murky quality. Actually, we know that we are beginning to make contact with deeper levels of the unconscious precisely when things get “murky” and hard to pin down.
States, tendencies or syndromes emerging from the unconscious can have a “dream-like” quality as they come into conscious view. Retreat invites these states because the system knows it actually has the space to experience them/work through them there!
So work slowly! And be specific. If you’re feeling a murky collection of thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations, you can drop a simple inquiry into awareness:
From our point of view, each moment of awareness is also a moment of investigation. Awareness is always curious.
You should feel free to journal short responses to your inquiries. These actually help when you are in one-on-one interviews with the teachers, as well as reporting in the group.
See How Awareness Changes Your Interaction Style
As noted above, there will be some talking on this retreat at lunch and dinner. Our experience of this has been overwhelmingly positive. As pack animals, humans have deep wiring to make contact with the tribe around them. Far from interrupting states of deep presence, we want to present the possibility that human contact can deepen presence if engaged in consciously.
So, we get to play with the balance of letting ourselves be natural and free (following our impulses to talk and connect in a relaxed way) and noticing where we are using speech to leave our experience, avoid discomfort, make a positive impression on others to mask insecurity, or enable some other (usually quite subtle) defense mechanism.
In our teaching, “Right Speech” is not some kind of protocol. It is also not “not talking a lot.” Not talking can be just as much of a defense as talking.
What it is = an ongoing, deeply sincere inquiry into how speech manifests directly from our true nature.
What do we say (or not say) when we are not trying to be someone or defend or enhance an identity?
This is a deep investigation….