09 November 2015

Crisis management and retreats in general

“Can I just take an imprint of your credit card please sir; to cover any room charges”.

“Certainly” says I with the usual casual assuredness. Fumble around…. No cards! I am checking in for a stopover in Hong Kong, travelling on my own to a 3 month retreat in France via Helsinki and Paris.

More fumbling. Slightly more intense searching. Still no cards.

Some say going on a meditation retreat is good for your state of mind. No cards provide a good test of where the mind is at well before arrival. So this week, how to manage in a foreign country with no credit card or cash card - ie no money – and what happened on the retreat itself, but first

           Thought for the day

               Do not do to others that which is hateful to you.

               All the rest is commentary. 
               Now go study.

                   Hillel the sage
                          who was asked to relate the whole of the Torah
                          while standing on one foot

So no credit cards, no cash card, a few Australian dollars. Hong Kong, Helsinki, Paris then train to the south of France to join the retreat. Hmmmm….

First thing in any crisis is to remain calm. Things are bad enough without freaking out! Mind works better when calm.

So Hong Kong easy… Overnight only, dinner is chocolate and cashews courtesy of the beloved’s travelling pack. Breakfast the same, followed up by the plane food. Not bad at all.

Helsinki… Change Aussie cash into enough Euros to get to the hotel. Polite talk with the manager, give him the credit card numbers, request some cash be added to the restaurant bill and away we go.

In Paris, meet up with an old friend who advances some more cash and arrive safely at the retreat. Happily, every other aspect of the journey went smoothly.

Being on retreat provides the opportunity to withdraw from daily life, to turn our attention inwards and explore the workings of our own minds.

When I was a keen athlete and went to University, I sought out the best coach around, had to work quite hard to persuade him to take me on, then committed to doing what he told me. My performances improved rapidly.

At University, I studied Veterinary Science. Dean of the faculty was a world leader in his field. I had needed to work quite hard at high school to get into the course. Then I committed to doing what the Dean decided was best for us students to study and learn to become good veterinarians. I graduated 5 years later.

In both cases, with my coach and my Dean I knew they were reliable. The real deal. Authentic. There was no faith needed to commit (or dare I say it, to submit) to their direction. It is like when you are thirsty, you do not need faith, it is not a moral choice to drink water. We all know water quenches thirst. It just works.

So in the West, my commitment was called just that, commitment. In the East, it would be called devotion. Same principle, different word. And in the West, devotion is often misunderstood.

Anyway, in seeking to come to know my own mind, having the audacity to be interested in the actual possibility of enlightenment, and having a genuine need to know more about the science of the mind to help those I work with, going to learn from those who know so much about it seems logical.

So a Tibetan retreat centre in the South of France headed by Sogyal Rinpoche.
Traditionally trained, authentic, great communicator, great presence, great teacher. Reliable. The real deal. Authentic.

On the retreat we had many teachings on understanding and transforming the mind. All of us are seeking happiness, and the genuine happiness of inner peace and contentment comes through working with and transforming our minds; through meditation, prayer, compassion and most profoundly through experiencing the true nature of our own mind.

There was a strong emphasis on reflection; not just receiving teachings as information, but as guidelines for investigating and coming to understand our own experience...so in every moment to keep bringing our attention back to our minds, our perception and our experience, not just an intellectual or dogmatic understanding.

All of these themes seemed to fit together quite coherently and to give the retreatants something very practical that they could apply. There was a solid meditation program and long periods in silence which I really enjoyed. Meditation being a process of coming to know ones mind, a practice of being present and learning to be less distracted; all that is enhanced by being in outer silence.

Perhaps the take home message of these mind teachings is that it is up to us. We can be empowered to take responsibility for our own perception and experience. For example, there is more to the mind than our ordinary thoughts and emotions. There is a part of us that is to do with our awareness that is bigger than our ordinary thoughts and emotions and so we can let go of them. Bugger the credit cards!

Real changes come from being able to actually apply our practice at all times.

Be calm, be clear, be kind.

Getting a little closer to that is worth a few days out of our lives. Worth a few days in retreat.

Just a few practical details for the curious. 
Travelling on my own overseas was fine, but definitely easier (but maybe not so funny) with the cards. The food on retreat was pretty good, but I did lose quite a bit of weight that is just about all back. Physically I became fitter as the retreat centre, Lerab Ling, is quite steep.

The bonus and biggest surprise was how good the retreat turned out to be for Ruth and myself. What occurs to say is that when you live and work together really well like Ruth and I do, you share heaps, but maybe do not have the space or prompts to discuss deeper things. Not sure if this is always true, but the fact is that while apart, we communicated by email and the occasional call, and fell into discussing deeper aspects of our relationship which were extraordinarily beneficial. Big bonus.

So will I do it again?
Will certainly keep going to the couple of shorter personal retreats Ruth and I go on each year. Amidst the busyness of daily life in the times we find ourselves in, this seems mandatory for some semblance of balance. Plus I am always keen to learn more.

Another 3 month retreat? Maybe. But not tomorrow….

RELATED BLOGS – The meditation retreat series
1. Why Tibetan Buddhism?

2. The View and why it matters

3. Why follow a spiritual teacher?

4. Three month meditation retreat

The Dragon’s Blessing – Guy Allenby. If you are interested in more, the biography goes into it in some detail.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Sogyal Rinpoche. The spiritual classic that has sold around 3.5 million copies, inspired and supported many people along their path.

Meditation Retreats and specific cancer residential programs with Ian and Ruth Gawler 

He is coming to Australia again in 2016 and will give Public Talks in Melbourne – Tuesday January 5th and Adelaide January 6th, along with the annual retreat at Myall Lakes.

No comments:

Post a Comment