Retreat is my word for the year. The qualities of retreat I hope to manifest: practice, balance, rest, and transformation. At four months in, a third of the way done, it seems the perfect moment to give you a progress report, to tell you what I’ve learned while on retreat so far.
I am studying a lot with the “master teachers” of my path, mainly women, artists and healers, studying with them both directly and at a distance: Pema Chödrön, Susan Piver, Tara Brach, Andrea Scher, Jen Lemen, Brene’ Brown, Susannah Conway, Rachel Cole, Laurie Wagner, Patti Digh, Jennifer Louden, and Mary Oliver. There are men too: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Daniel Collinsworth, Leo Babauta, Ze Frank, Chris Guillebeau, Jonathan Fields, Hugh McCleod, and Austin Kleon.
This isn’t even the full list, simply the primary instigators, the masters. I am reading, studying, taking classes, practicing, connecting and communicating with a rich, vibrant community of creative and compassionate people, and learning so much.
I am continuing to practice: writing, yoga, meditation, and dog. Yoga is steady, constant. There’s nothing new to report there. My meditation practice is deeper, stronger, more intense, more heartfelt and committed. Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project instigated the shift, the softening, and continues to support my practice. I also took vows and recommitted to working with a meditation instructor and participating in my local sangha.
As for dog, every day this practice deepens, as does my relationship with my dogs, my love and appreciation for them. Sam continues to teach me about enthusiasm and patience. Dexter reminds me there’s joy and play in every moment, even as we age and our body begins to change and confuse us. Losing Rocky, along with Dexter getting older, is a contemplation on impermanence–there is enough time, but time is short.
And writing…this is the practice that is the most transformed. Morning pages, this daily writing practice, has been constant for the past 3-4 years. But, starting a blog, taking myself seriously, going to a writing and meditation retreat with Susan Piver, taking Telling True Stories, sharing more of my writing publicly and regularly, has allowed me to rediscover, to claim, my voice and my confidence. I am also clear about my purpose for writing and then sharing it: writing is at first an act of self-care, and then it becomes service. I connect to my basic goodness, my innate wisdom and compassion and strength, and out of this renewed awareness and mindfulness, I can share my insights and hopefully ease suffering in the world.
I believe that at the heart of everything we might judge as “wrong” with our self, our life, our community, our culture, our world is that we have forgotten basic goodness. We have forgotten that we are all connected and fundamentally the same, all of us desiring to be happy and safe, that everything, including us, is precious and sacred, that we can, with confidence, be with what is, as it is–even the messy, confused, brutal, and sharp bits. We are brilliant and sane, one blink of an eye from being completely awake, and brave and strong enough to work with whatever arises.
The things I am still working with, struggling with are resting and my relationship with food. I am getting better. I am more fully embodied, connected to my body and aware of my actual hungers, more loving and kind in my response to them, more willing and likely to provide what is needed, to feed the right wolf.
These habitual patterns, of pushing too hard and too far, pandering to ego and fear, smashing myself to bits, are old, deep, and sticky, so they shift, but more like the way water wears at a rock. The eye doesn’t see the change, but it is happening, slowly and with time transformation happens. There is more love, more kindness, gratitude and confidence.
In terms of my food issues, I realized that at the heart of it was the need for self-love. There is no diet, exercise program, external wisdom, strategy, technique, plan, or routine that would “fix” it. All I have to do is love myself, realize that I am precious and treat myself accordingly. When you know you are precious, you care for yourself, you get enough rest and exercise, you feed yourself well. It all falls into place when your perspective is love, gentle and kind and wise and brave.
The biggest realization so far is that I didn’t need to change.
This process of life-rehab has revealed that I didn’t need to become someone else, different or improved, but rather I simply needed to remember, to sink in to, BE who and where I already am. My strengths are exactly those I was born with. I am, and always was, generous, sensitive, kind, insightful, wise, creative, imaginative, curious, wanting connection and community but also needing time alone with stillness and silence and space, a nature and animal lover, collaborative, easy going, nurturing, loving, peaceful, and funny. This is who I have always been, but I learned to mask it, hide it, torture it, because I believe it, believed I wasn’t loveable or enough or worthy or whole or healthy already.
While on retreat, I have remembered myself. I love myself, I appreciate everything I am and everything I have (most of the time), and I am brave enough to be vulnerable, to risk that I’ll show up as I am, my fully embodied and real self, and you might not love me, might not even like me, might actively dislike and reject me. That’s becoming more okay. I love myself, I have faith in my basic goodness, and in that way, I don’t have to depend on you as a source of love and acceptance–I’ve already got that covered. This frees me up to get busy with the real work, of realizing and manifesting my basic goodness, my “buddha-nature,” and being of service, easing suffering where and when I can.
This is freedom. This is life. This is love. I am love.