The Power of Retreat

Girl Meditating by Dimitris Vetsikas

We Disconnect: To Reconnect #2

This one’s a bit longer than anticipated but I’m still learning what this is! Besides, as one of my teacher’s teacher used to say regarding cutting words, “it’s so hard to kill the little darlings.” I hope you find these words worth reading.

The Power of Retreat

For two summers, 1999 and 2000 I think, I went to week-long Healing Tao chi kung retreats in Big Indian, New York. They took place in neglected buildings in a valley community not far from Woodstock. As one teacher put it, regarding the facilities, we were surrounded by a powerful example of the impermanence of being.

The first summer I went for one week. The second for two. I found the Healing Tao work developed by Mantak Chia and his senior teachers to answer many of the questions I had not only about practicing Taoism but about my existence as an energetic being in an often difficult world.

Looking back, the facilities weren’t awful but one was constantly running into annoying details from clogged drains to exteriors that clearly needed more than the quick coat of paint one of the owners slapped on one summer. Really the attendees were the truly annoying part. Retreat centers attract oddballs some of whom seem quite clueless or arrogant at first encounter.

In addition, the work itself, much of which involved sitting meditations, forced one to confront one’s inner thoughts, physical challenges and occasionally one’s sense of sanity. Sitting work was interspersed with more familiar chi kung standing exercises outdoors but those presented their own challenges.

The food could also be an issue. We had a macrobiotic cook who cooked meat because the market demanded it. That didn’t always work out so well. Hardcore macrobiotic eaters were delighted at some of the flavors but the dishes that most impressed them tasted pretty weird to me.

Honestly, those first couple of days each summer pushed my cranky buttons over and over again!

And then something truly amazing happened each trip. As we went deeper into the work, moving chi through various meridians among other powerful practices, my energetic being shifted and before long my emotional state cleared up and I became at peace with everything around me. Most of all with myself.

I entered a state of acceptance that turned the minor annoyances into insignificant phenomenon. Annoying behavior became simply human behavior and, at worst, something to consciously accept and tolerate as another’s way of being in the world.

The chi in the natural setting of Big Indian has an amazing quality and once my blocks to experiencing that energy were released, my experience grew even deeper.

The second week of practice during my second summer was the high point or, better, the deep point of my summers at Big Indian. I remember lying in bed at night feeling chi rushing into the soles of my feet from the place itself as if someone had taken two garden hoses and were spraying points in the middle of each arch.

There was much more, so much of which took place while sitting in a chair as we do in Healing Tao meditations, but my memories are fairly simple. I remember going to a place far away from my everyday life with a group of people focused on transformation and leaving in a transformed state.

The power of these experiences inspired me to consider one day starting my own retreat center or going to work at a community focused on providing such services. Though I haven’t pursued those thoughts much further than initial investigations, I still recognize that hosting a bunch of cranks in retreat might just be the best thing one could do with one’s life.

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Sunday, June 18, 5:30pm to Sunday, June 25, 1pm

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Transformation Can Be Painful

Running Towards Death: How I Survived a Ten-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
Brian Hazard

“Turns out these sessions, three per day from the fifth through tenth day, were the most rewarding parts.”

“You’re asked to sit for the entire hour without changing positions, keeping your eyes closed. Whatever posture you choose, this involves a significant amount of pain (which must be what drew the boot camp comparison).”

“The first half hour is manageable, the next fifteen minutes are torturous, and the last fifteen minutes are unbearable. The final five minutes are made even more difficult by Goenka’s chanting, which seems to drone on forever. He’ll slow down towards the end of a long phrase and just when you think you’ve made it, he starts up again!…”

“When I reached the point where the pain became too much to manage, a sudden shift in perspective occurred. It was as if I’d been attending a loud party my entire life, and someone turned down the stereo. In the center of my head between my eyes, I felt, and to some degree saw, a racquetball-sized hole. There was a deep pressure on my left eyebrow and below my right eye, as if someone had grabbed those two points and pulled my head wide open.”

“Every sound in the room was crisp and distinct. The pain in my body was still there, but it didn’t feel like my pain anymore. The cough of a neighbor, the chill of the air conditioning on my neck, the torsional pressure on my knees — they were all equally impersonal sensations.”

Sometimes We Just Need A Break

Ryuichi Sakamoto Is Listening Closer Than Ever

Ruth Saxelby
“We have got ourselves into this cul-de-sac moment with technology. Sometimes I feel like I am going round in circles, constantly walking around with my phone in my hand. Swinging between needing to log off and needing to get back online. Are you afflicted by that?”

Ryuichi Sakamoto
“I try to avoid it. Yes, that affects me a lot. Especially when I wanted to concentrate on making this album, so for eight months I try not to be on SNS [social networking sites] as much as I could. I’ve been interested in, how do you say, off-grid people. I heard that there are a million Americans in off-grid. No cell phone, nothing. They live in camping cars somewhere.”

“On and off is what we need to do. Sometimes, of course, yes, we need to do that for work, for communicating. But we have to be off sometimes, and we have to be very conscious about that, otherwise you are all the time on and that makes you really tired.”

We Are Not Alone

Real books are back. E-book sales plunge nearly 20%
Ivana Kottasová

“U.K. regulator Ofcom found that one third of adults had attempted a ‘digital detox’ in 2016 by limiting their use of smartphones, tablets and other devices.”

And Many Are Joining Us

Melissa Mesku on Twitter:
“oh my god I just spent 10 days in Hawaii and was only on the internet once and I forgot about all of you and all of it and it was glorious”

Melissa Mesku on Twitter:
“tfw when you’re plugged in and read reasons why you should unplug but think naw that’s not for me and then when you do it you go ohhhhhhhhhh”

[Originally published at We Disconnect on May 8, 2017]