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” …to stop what you are doing right now, and to stop what you are becoming while you do it” -David Whyte

Six years ago I went on my first 7-day silent retreat with my teacher Adyashanti. Lding up to the retreat several friends and family members were interested in why I felt drawn to go on a silent retreat; it was a question that was difficult to answer since I had never been on silent retreat; however I had recently felt a sense that at some point reading books, chanting mantra, practicing yoga, and studying with spiritual teachers could only bring me only so far; I had a hunch that taking away all distraction-even the practices themselves-would force me into spaces that had not been explored or discovered. I had began to see how my yoga and other practices, which were very profound method of transformation had simultaneously begun provide to provide a pseudo safety net. I wondered what would appear if I did not have an outlet or a release valve to neutralize some of these feelings; what was at the bottom and beyond?
The structure of the retreat consisted of approximately seven -45 minute meditations a day; in the evening session we had an opportunity to stand at a microphone and ask Adaya a question. In orientation we were informed that there were no other workshops that week on the large Omega campus and that all 300 participants were there for this particular silent retreat –and that the silence would even include the Omega staff.
In order for us to truly steep in silence we were instructed to not read, journal, exercise, make eye contact, gesture, or communicate -with one another or by telephone. During the brief meditation breaks we were told to resist engaging in any deep stretching or large movement and to essentially not engage in anything other than the silence of our own being-ness.
Upon my return, students and friends were interested in what I had learned. I shared some of the challenges of being silent as well as some of the profoundly beautiful experiences that the spaciousness of silence afforded; but perhaps the greatest realization of the retreat (and of one of the greatest gifts I have ever received), was the deep and humbling realization that I had always believed in some way that I had to have a “reason” to dislike people; that there had to be something they had done or did, said or not said, acted or not acted–but the reality was that this was just not true. I realized on retreat and in the depths of silence that I could feel deep feelings of anger and hatred, be severely critical without even knowing or interacting with someone; and that I could come to these conclusions just by the way they shuffled to their seat, the sounds they made as they breathed in the chair next to me, wore their hair, brought their fork up to their mouth, the size of their body, how they proceeded thru the buffet line at meal time, their outfit, what they chose to eat, the type of meditation cushion they brought, how they “om”ed at beginning of session…. even the way they cried or sniffled during the question and answer period.
I had the profound realization that I never needed a “reason” to dislike, or be offended, judgmental or prejudice….that my mind had the ability to do this all on its own. That on a certain level, in trying to create a sense of comfort and relief of my own suffering my mind made others somehow responsible. This was at once embarrassing, (I mean I had been diligently following a spiritual path for quite sometime and talking about non-judgment in the yoga classes I taught), humbling (I felt helpless), disturbing (I had aggressive thoughts) and ultimately incredibly freeing (in the mere act of resting in awareness nothing could hide). Through extended silence, without having any of my usual release valves or the distraction of speaking or doing, I was left within the dwelling of my mind. I got a personal view on the inner workings of its scheming and storytelling.
I returned home feeling both excited and defeated as I realized that much of the work I had done in my practice with regard to being compassionate, peaceful, truthful, non-judgmental were wonderful gestures towards these aspirations, however they were just scratching the surface. There was a “doing-ness” in these ways of wanting to be, and on some level, (although well intentioned), my desire to ‘become’ kept me from seeing. I was trying “to be” compassionate I was trying “to be” non-judgmental. I realized that underneath these desires to ‘be something’ different I missed the honesty that silence had unearthed and not allowed me to ignore. I clearly saw that somehow along the way I had come to believe that spirituality was a particular construct of “shoulds” and a process of “becoming” – and in that I had missed the roots and stayed in the branches. I had tried to correct a system that required dismantling. I saw that the practice of spirituality was never about becoming…. but about un-becoming; and in my attempt to be the light I had missed the darkness; and in my desire to become spiritual I had missed my spirit. I recognized that in my desire to be ‘spiritual’ I ultimately provided the ego just another hiding place.
The outrage being expressed over the shootings, the long overdue love and support being expressed is beautiful to witness; but if we are interested in a change that is abiding, one that goes to the roots- perhaps the most powerful thing we can do is to turn within in ways that truly unearth; and for those of us that may consider ourselves on ‘spiritual’ paths to be curious and willing to explore even the deepest recesses of our being…. even if it means sacrificing our ideas as to what it means to be ‘spiritual’.
This is the path of the warrior; we must be ever vigilant, ruthless and unencumbered by beliefs of how we ought to be- so that we can truly see what is present–it is the only way in which get to the root of our own suffering and the subtle ways in which we may be contributing to the suffering of others. I hope you will join me in turning within- to leave no corner unexplored, to shine the light in all the places we have allowed our minds to convince us that judgment, racism and all other ‘isms’ are justifiable and that they will in some way, (no matter how perverted), provide us with the safety and happiness we seek. To see beyond the beliefs of how we ‘should’ be so we can see what truly is. We cannot heal what we cannot see.
May all beings be happy and have the causes of happiness. May we be crusaders for abiding peace and love by having the courage to look deeply within, to rest in unconditional awareness and not turn away.