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great eastern sunThis is my third day back at home. I’m not sure how far I am in to processing the experience of the past 4 weeks; nor how long it will take to do so. People I know how have completed Dathun retreats say it takes as many weeks as you’ve been away to “recover”. I’ve been encouraged to go slow, keep things simple, and to stay curious.

The Shambhala Buddhism view is that we all possess an inherent nature, one described as “basic goodness”. “Basic” because it is fundamental, without a beginning nor end; and “good” not as in the opposite of bad, but rather something pure, untouched. The retreat I have just attended worked primarily with this view - all the teachings, the practices (on and off the cushion) all intended to open up our experience of basic goodness (or what other Buddhist traditions call buddhanature). We are already enlightened, we’ve just forgotten that; our daily experiences make us close down.

There were times on the retreat when I had deep experiences of this okayness. To have been sitting, feeling everything in my experience, to contact my being and to have confidence in who I am. I felt open to my world, and connected to everyone and everything in it. The long hours of sitting (often 6 to 7 hours of meditation per day) took me to places of boredom. The looping and looping of the same absurd thoughts. Then there was boredom of that boredom…and over the days, as I accepted this looping as my experience the boredom transformed to contentment. I found contentment in just being with myself, no need for entertainment, no need to change my endless thought stream. Acceptance. People have previously described this as ‘coming home to being’.

The retreat was led by Archarya Barbara Martens, a contemplative psychologist. In one talk, she described how she has volumes of journals containing a list of her questions. Throughout the retreat she encouraged us to know less and to question more. I smiled when I heard this - I have always sought out answers, I consider myself a searcher - and I can see how the opposite approach keeps us open and connected to our world. Searching for answers can keep us blinkered; asking questions keeps a sense of awe and wonder.

At present, I have many questions…
How can I live more simply and find space to be?
What helps me stay open?
What closes my heart down?
How do I maintain the trust in my fundamental nature and not feel like I have to earn my place in the world?
How can I help and reach out to others when the world feels so aggressive and the degree of suffering is overwhelming?

And these questions pervade all aspects of my life: how do I stay open in relationships with loved ones, even in times of difficult emotions or if my needs aren’t being met? How do I meet my clients or students with my presence and not let pressures of work make me speedy or take on too much responsibility? How do I keep my priorities set by the Bodhisattva view, a wish to help all people find ease in their lives? How do I make the space and time to rest, and to nourish my being?

It is quite strange to be sitting here both remembering my experience and yet being back and the familiarity of home and the routine. I have had the dathun ahead of me on this path for so long so it feels strange that it has come, been lived and has now ‘gone’. Yet, it can’t ‘go’, it remains inside of me. Only time will tell how I assimilate the experience.

I leave you with a poem from Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood, someone who often came to mind during the last 4 weeks given my retreat experience with him in 2016.

Forget about enlightenment

coffee contentment

Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, and the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be.
Not the saint you’re striving to become.
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You’re already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Breathe out, touch in, let go.

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