Recently I was preparing for a retreat and was curious to see if I was going to experience that same annoying loop that repeats itself. The “problem” occurs in the last few days of any retreat. Conditioned personality starts telling the same story. (The endless story would be a tip off that it’s Conditioned personalities control mechanism.)
The story is about how great it is to feel as “centered and insightful” as I seem to feel on day three of a retreat. The story proceeds to tell “me” (another hint on who’s talking) that it’s too bad I won’t be able to maintain that center as I re-engage in life. It “proves” this by numerous examples of how “I” achieved insight and gained center on retreat, and then within a week everything was back to “normal.” (Back to Conditioned Personality ego running the show.)
You can see where Conditioned personality has me fooled into thinking that retreats are not a part of “real life.” Conditioning even speaks of “THE REAL WORLD” that exists outside of retreat. I have thought and often heard comments that “Retreats aren’t the real world.”
My experience tells me differently. Everywhere I am present is “real life.” When I am present there is no artificial life. When I am not present I project artificial life on everything. Life is always real, it’s me who lives in fantasy and delusion. Take me out of the picture and you always have reality. Put me in a conditioned state and you have fantasy and delusion trying to engage with reality. In that state there is constant resistance to what is.
Driving to the retreat took a day and a half. My driving practice is to stay with the breathing cycle and practice attention. (Do you have a structured driving practice?) I self record and listen to specific topics and if you haven’t practiced that take a look at the Living Compassion site. And, for the time being I am working on memorizing the Daily recollection, a two page summery of Zen Buddhist encouragement compilation. I have never seen what seems to be the major encouragements of Buddhism written on two pages. I love driving to retreats, it seems like such a productive period of time.
On this particular trip I had made it to the mountains in N. Carolina when something dropped in and stayed with me taking up residence. I remember I was in a valley with mountains close by on either side and I was struck by how ancient they felt. Much of it, I later realized, I had processed cognitively over and over, but this time it was deeply visceral. I was feeling it instead of thinking it.
I realized that I had been experiencing retreats, and perhaps experiencing my life, with the mindset that the “I” was going to make an effort and obtain something that “I” would then own and use. Conditioned mind had me convinced that the only time I could “own” the retreat perspective was while on retreat. Ownership would occur because “I” made the commitment, spent the resources and time, and had developed expectations of something in return. Going on retreat was going to a “Special place” where I could be “spiritual” because it was special. Not because whatever arose came up out my being that way. What I found interesting was that I have seen this before. What dropped in viscerally was that none of this was true.
“I” wasn’t special. “I” wasn’t going to acquire anything. “I” wasn’t in a special place in the universe where magic happens. What would occur is that, in awareness, I would uncover more of the Genuine self. Upon leaving the retreat Conditioned personality would cover it back up if I wasn’t aware. The retreat environment is ideal for uncovering, what gets uncovered does NOT have to return to where it was. Period. There is no acquisition, nothing obtained, The retreat, by design, was allowing me to focus attention on a part of me that was continuously obfuscated by conditioning. So I wasn’t going to obtain anything, I was building awareness of something that I already possessed.
Conditioned personality had me believing and convinced that this “new information” was something I needed to grasp onto and hold or it would fade and the retreat would be “unsuccessful.”
The retreat environment, the guides sharing, the yoga, and a privileged environment weren’t MAKING ANYTHING HAPPEN, the retreat environment was crafted to ALLOW the opportunity to uncover what was already there. Whether or not the part that lies uncovered stays that way was up to me. I was already bringing with me the very part of me that would be uncovered.
YOU CANNOT ACQUIRE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE. YOU CAN’T LOSE SOMETHING YOU NEVER LOST, YOU CAN ONLY ALLOW YOUR ATTENTION TO MOVE FROM GENUINE SELF BACK TO CONDITIONED PERSONALITY.
What was needed? To embrace the uncovered aspects of myself with love and compassion. I know I’m making it sound simple and it’s a process like all things. That’s why I keep going to retreats. I quench my thirst at the pool inside inside of me, my attention fades, I get lost and thirsty, and return with the help of Sangha.
This retreat was different. When I arrived I had so much gratitude, and when I left I had more gratitude. And no, I wasn’t able to stay in that spot I seem to attain on retreat. But, this time it didn’t leave either. I was able to body sense that change. I became aware that the genuine self I sought was already there, always, waiting.
I am making plans for the next retreat this spring. I’m excited. About life and living. And all the opportunity there is in the world.
Have you been on retreat? Or, retreats? How was that experience for you? Will you continue to go on retreats?