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The First Retreat

The greatest love of my life is the process and practice of yoga. I wouldn't know most of our community, or have been able to be one of the faces in the lives of so many wonderful people. Like any relationship, it has been a long, arduous journey at times, though, and I've wondered whether I'm cut out for it. That's life. Thank the difficult times and enjoy the good ones while they last.


My worldview is heavily defined by relationships - friends, partners, parents, siblings, strangers - and the relationship we cultivate with our self. Always suspicious and hyper aware of the less than wholesome qualities of my mind, I have struggled to trust my own goodness and therefore to trust in the inherent goodness of others. It's a quality that leaves much to be desired in a friend, a partner, a daughter or a sister. Most of all, it kept me feeling small and unworthy of my own heart. I think I just never learned to really like myself that much.


There have been moments where I believed life was no longer worth the endless wrestling match of my mind. Those stories we all take on about heartbreak, disappointment, failure, sadness, regret, and guilt have a tendency to rattle around, silent and behind the curtains of consciousness like mischievous stagehands when we haven't felt them fully; I mean really experienced them and let them breathe. I felt bored for most of my life. To cover up the boredom, I worked incessantly and to a perfectionist degree. Things like a typo or misstep in class kept me up at night. Being a little bit crazy isn't new to me, but this brain jabber would never


turn


off.


This was the impetus to go into the woods for 9 straight days of silence to meditate. Free from expectation the way you can only be when you honestly have no idea what you're doing, I walked around in a half- amused daze of confusion for three days, watching fellow retreatants come and go, doing my best to stay awake, waiting for something to happen while also half believing it's all crazy. Our minds have tricks like these to distract us from unpleasant feelings; like a magpie, my attention dive bombed from one shiny object to another.


Sit, walk, sit, walk, sit, walk, eat. Present existence defined by the crunch of gravel, the cough of the woman in the room, the clink of silverware on plates.

It was all mundane until during one of those sits, I cracked.


By cracked, I mean I woke up, properly, for the first time. I felt all of my thirty one years of life wasted on old shit - on shit priorities, on selfish desires and childish tantrums all because I believed I was special and deserved to live without some strife. I wallowed in this realization and the subsequent sadness for a time, crying for days and deeply depressed, falling into the hole of yet another storyline about "who I am". I am a depressed, ungrateful, sad person, I would say to myself. I've been given everything and done nothing with it. I sat and cried and walked and cried and ate and cried, all a comforting pattern of blaming myself instead of taking responsibility for the information I had been given. Meanwhile, the retreat content continued to ask the same thing, to just notice and let go. After all of the crying (and in a very undramatic way while watching the clouds pass for an hour or two) I saw those mental patterns for what they are, which was just more of the same carousel of self-pity and self-doubt that had been the story of my life to that point. Perfection is an illusion. Doubt is an illusion. Predjudice and hate are illusions. All of these illusions are challenges the mind stirs up when we don't understand the fundamental nature of the self - that there is nothing, in fact, to protect.


That's it. Then it was gone.


I can't describe that moment of realization - of total freedom, really - under the big fluffy clouds any more clearly than the sensation of flying along in an airplane, feeling the engines thrust the metal people tube through the air at 700 mph, and realizing that all of a sudden, the engines are silent and the plane is gliding. For a few brief moments all is quiet. No babies squawking. No ice tinkling in plastic cups. Just silence as thousands of pounds undetectably sail through a mist of billions of individual water droplets high above the landscape. Nothing to do, nothing to be. Awake and observant.


Someone coughs. The plane banks left. We go back to reading our books.


As Tim Miller has said, that's the thing about Samadhi; the first one is always free.


So I guess what's left is what we do with the information we're handed. We could choose to ignore it, or we could choose to nurture, water, and hold space for it. We all have our lessons to teach and to learn in this life. I believe mine is to teach living and loving with great, deep, consuming passion. I suspect my lesson to embody is that love is surrender. These aren't things we just easily bring into our lives, no, they are the work of a lifetime. In our practice of yoga, we see glimpses of our highest truths as we chip away our crusty layers of illusion and resistence. Surrendering to the not-self means we can let go of the victim mentality, that we are no-longer characters in the play of life. As we internalize the reality that we are all waves in a boundless ocean, we see that all of life is a path of lessons we can choose to learn or continue to stumble over as we wheel through the finite days and weeks of our lives. For me, there is no work more worthy of my limited time than to learn to live with the highest integrity, kindess, equanimity, and truth in all interactions, and to learn some compassion along the way when, innevitably, the opportunity to embrace these lessons eludes me in the moment.


And so we begin.


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