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looking out to sea

I’ve just got back from a 9 day retreat out in the US at a beautiful conference centre near Maine, New England located right on the Atlantic Ocean. When I say ‘right’, the ocean lapped to the shore just 50m from the meditation hall. An amazing and consistent reminder to awareness to rest and come back to the present moment. I’ve had a wonderful experience, perhaps one of the ‘best’ retreats I have been on - the place, the people, the programme, the teachings, the teacher, the discussions. Even though it is nice to be home, I was truly sad to leave. Perhaps the defining feature was the step I made in taking the Bodhisattva Vow on the final Friday. Whilst something I had been wanting to take for that last 2 years, taking the final decision still felt like a leap: the depth of commitment, the unknown of what that might require and lead to. No wonder the Bodhisattva is considered a warrior.

The retreat is in its 7th year; the brainchild of a community practicing under the Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who continue to study his teachings deeply together even after his death back in 1987. The retreats are based on material in the Three volumes of “The Profound Treasury”, a collected works of CTR edited by Judy Lief. Judy, much reknowned for her writing in the Buddhist world, was the teacher at the retreat. I have studied quite a bit with her through online courses, so to be studying and practicing under her directly was the original pull to attend: and I was not disappointed. I appreciated her ‘gentle fierceness’, clearly someone who has a command of the teachings and is able to present them to others in a way that inspires and feels workable.

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It has been a few weeks since writing. It wasn't my intention to take this break, it just happened: the inevitable consequence of finding myself squeezed and stretched by life 'happening'; a combination of things across personal and professional. Helping my parents move from their flat, the end of the academic year, the marking of assignments. Something had to give.

I can't say it was a completely conscious decision to leave off the writing and take some space. At times, the realisation it had been "another day" that I hadn't made the time to sit at my Mac popped in to my head; and I might have loosely promised myself "later maybe?". But to be honest, I didn't have the energy to make it a big deal. The main thing on my mind was getting through May. In the last week of the teaching term I felt was barely present. It had to be "one day at a time", as to look up and ahead felt too much. 

It is perhaps no coincidence that my colleague Dwight and I decided to add a session on "self-care" in to the teaching programme on a module we teach. We had recognised a week beforehand how low the energy was in the group of trainee counsellors before us; and we too were feeling it had been a long year. Dwight handed out a questionnaire to the class; I took one look and thought "I can't do this now". Another way that I knew I had to pull in, to not expand excess energy. 

What I am writing might not paint a very positive picture, but its actually the converse. Whenever a client of mine is talking about the big stressors of life (moving, relationship break-ups, bereavement etc), there is a inevitability about it being a big deal; that it IS stressful, and to be anxious and / or run down is the NORMAL response to these events. The positive note in my current experience is that I haven't added to my load - and that is breaking a very long-held patterning of mine. Even on the meditation cushion I have been "not meditating" and instead, simply sitting and being - no striving, no effort. When squeezed we need to find all the space to breathe that we can.

It has also been a reminder how tight the mind - body system is: the physical experience of anxiety, and the mental experience of my fatigue. The body-mind were constantly reminding me to live small, take small steps and conserve what energy I could.

I made it through May. My parents are moved, my marking is done...and now my attention can turn to the rejuvenation that summer always promises. I have a week's holiday and then a week on retreat. So this time, I can - with consciousness - announce a break from this blog.

See you in a few weeks!


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courage to be vulnerableWhen I go out on my bike at the weekends, I often take a podcast for company. I have a few podcasts of which I am a regular listener - and one is Dan Harris’ “10% happier”. This week he interviewed Brene Brown: a researcher in vulnerability, authenticity and shame who came to public awareness with her TED talk that first aired in 2010. Since then, the 20 minute talk has amassed over 40 million viewers. I watched the talk about 5 years ago and then read a couple of her books - “Daring Greatly” and “Braving the wilderness”. I especially enjoyed the latter given its focus on the quest for belonging and how significant that aspect of human being-ness (with its flip side loneliness) has been to me on my life journey to date. On listening to this interview and hearing Brene had a new show on Netflix I suggested to my partner that we take a look over the bank holiday weekend.

Even if I hadn’t heard this interview with Dan Harris or if I hadn’t been exposed to Brene’s previous work I probably would have been curious enough to watch the Netflix special when I next logged in for my regular Netflix ‘fix’. The title of the special “The call to courage” invokes another of my personal path processes - in Paul Tilich’s words “the courage to be”. I’ve shared with you previously on this blog that much of my personal journey has been learning to listen to my experience of anxiety and develop an alternative relationship with it. To hear how it helps direct me towards needs for connection and invites courage to be my Self - when alone and with others. In some ways, courage IS my path. Rather than rid myself of anxiety by nailing down as much certainty as I can, it is to open to the fear…courageously.

You can watch Brene Brown’s special for yourselves, so I don’t feel I need to provide another review or account of it here for you. Instead, I wish to simply share a few of the highlights for me; things that made my partner and I take stock and relate to our own lives.