At the end of the month I will be going on retreat again. Last year I managed to attend six retreats, most of them two or three days and one nice long one of nine days. More than three weeks of retreat time altogether. This will be my first of the new year, although my last retreat kind of stretched over the new year so this will be my one and a halfth.
I would spend a lot of time in retreat if I could manage it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to manage a traditional three year retreat, (although that idea certainly calls to me) but I think that making time a few times a year to remove yourself from the busyness of daily life and set aside some time dedicated only to practice, contemplation, and study is a good way to proceed. Lord knows I dedicate a few days a few times a year to study fighting and killing, so it seems only right to balance that a little bit. In fact I feel I need years and years of retreat to balance out the twenty years of cop work I’ve done. Luckily the power of even a short retreat is so great that I find I can undo years of damage relatively quickly. Perhaps undo is the wrong word, but something like it.
The real key, of course, is to turn each day into retreat. I get a good start on that with daily practice each morning. I get up while it’s still dark and do all my buddha stuff, prayers and meditation. To begin each day in the cold pre-dawn darkness, outside on my deck with a candle and a stick of incense and my stone buddha and my wool blanket and pray and sit as the world comes alive is a great, great blessing and it feels utterly holy to me. Not holy in a biblical, religious way, but holy in an immediate, physical, numinous way. It seems to nourish me in the way that cold water from a well quenches one’s thirst. It is the cells and molecules and atoms of my body that give thanks for it.
Then I try to keep that awareness with me throughout the day. It is helpful to have reminders and support for this, so I have a daily dharma text I follow and read a little something from each morning after I get ready for work. Then throughout the day I try to keep coming back to that state from the morning. I’m not well trained enough yet to maintain it ceaselessly throughout the day, I’m easily thrown from my mount- but I do try to keep getting on over and over again, and to make the stretches of mindless forgetting shorter and more infrequent.
And I close my day with dharma study and prayers, and a sitting session if conditions are supportive of it. And Sundays I go to my center and sit with my dharma brothers and sisters and receive a teaching from one of our wonderful teachers.
I feel blessed to have found my path and to have the support of the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha in helping me proceed.
I don’t believe that how we pray or what we study makes much of a difference ultimately. I mean, I think it does for me and I think I’ve found what I want to keep doing, but I mean, it is much more it seems to me about the making space for devotion, making space for the holy, attending to what moves you, what nourishes you, what makes you feel happy and contented and of benefit to others.
I think that’s something that I see in the community of friends here on the intertubes. All these glorious lunatics who do art, who love their broken families, who rage against the stupidity of the world, who look in on each other with love and concern that feels rare in the real world. It’s nice.
I hope that you find your retreat and make room for it in your life.