About Retreat Practice
Members of my family and friends have asked me why I spend nearly one-third of each year for seven years now in relative solitude, in a 12’ x 20’ renovated garage in Longmont, Colorado. They have asked me what I have learned. I hope these few words can help answer such questions.
I try to tame this wild mind of mine by sitting in silence, by meditating, and by reciting Buddhist liturgies and mantras. I walk and practice yoga. I try to slow down: to notice the exquisite pink sky in the early morning; to make a snowball and throw it as far as I can; and to lie on the floor and imagine the earth underneath me and the sky above—both solidity and space. I savor the movement of perception and consciousness.
Knowing that we are all thoroughly interdependent with the earth and all other sentient beings, what is there, really, besides compassion? Deeply aware of suffering and the inevitability of death, I want to grow my capacity to hold suffering—personal, collective, and global—in my heart. I wish happiness for myself and those whom I love. And, I wonder how far into the world can I extend my compassion? Can I extend compassion even to those whom I don’t like, including those who seek power for themselves while disempowering others through subtle and overt violence?
I extend prayers every day to my family and dear friends. Certainly I miss seeing and being with them and talking in depth about what’s going on in our lives and the world. And I know this is hard on close friendships and the deep connections of family. Even knowing this, I persist. I also extend prayers to all those I know who have died, and to all those whom I know are suffering and ill. I am learning to hold awareness of suffering without collapsing. I am learning to face my own suffering and aging.
Sometimes I wonder how I ever developed the inclination and desire to do this kind of inner work. I have an inkling of why Jesus went to the desert for forty days, and why Buddha went to the forest for many years, and why monks and nuns and yogis in many cultures have sought extended periods of solitude. Such experiences provide the opportunity for deep inner exploration and cultivation of a peaceful heart and mind.
All of this requires tremendous discipline and patience, especially with myself, and with all others in my life as well. It requires kindness, to myself and others. It requires cultivating equanimity toward all aspects of my life. And it requires joy, both a vicarious joy for others’ success and good fortune, and the simple joy of experiencing life, moment by moment. There is certainly a lot more to be said about Vajrayana Buddhist practice, especially carried our over so many years, but this is a beginning.