Robertson Nature Reserve

The Yoga Teacher Training program ended the last weekend of July with a silent retreat less than an hour away from home.  The following Monday I thought I would carry on as usual and work on my thesis, but sitting in front of my computer I still felt the need to officially recognize my experience.  I wrote a letter with the e-mail subject “To My Friends and Family.”  At first I thought I would send this e-mail to my closest circle, but that circle kept expanding and expanding to my extended family until even past co-workers were on the list.  My sense of self has expanded this same way in these past few months and is symbolic of this decision to share with as many as I could.

About to click the “send” button, I asked myself what my purpose was in sharing my vulnerabilities and this deep part of myself that I would not usually share otherwise.  It wasn’t to “show off” or “boast” about my experience.  To say that I was “better” than “you” because I have found peace and realizations.  It was simply to share.  The letter would also function to bring awareness to others in my life, whether we have talked with each other lightly about the weather or deeply about the workings of the universe, that it’s okay to show our vulnerabilities.

I believe one of my purposes in this world is to show my own vulnerabilities to others, something I have always naturally done, helping others see that we all have similar fears and desires.  Sharing these fears and desires perhaps is one way to transcend them.  Now I am sharing these vulnerabilities with you…

Dear Family and Friends,

This past weekend I took part in a silent retreat at the Capuchin Retreat Center which backs up to Stoney Creek.  Through the silence I connected deeply to the world around me.  I also connected to the essence within me and I wanted to relate this connection to the essence within you.

At about 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, my yoga and spiritual teacher chimed the bell that brought the thirty-five souls in the room into silence.  From that moment until about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, we dwelled in our silence on the ten acres of gardens,trees, benches, hammock, and walking paths at the retreat center.  We walked silently, we bowed our eyes to avoid eye contact with each other, we ate consciously and silently, with nowhere to be or go but in the place we were at that moment.

In this place, time was lost.  But there was a schedule to follow.  So there was reference to my watch to be sure I was in the shade of the trees when we practiced Tibetan Heart Yoga where we sent our love to a person in our lives as we meditated and practiced.  I paid attention to the hours so I could arrive to the dining room with enough time to slowly eat my meals, bite by bite, breath by breath in silence.  I made sure to lie down in the room with the rest of us in the late evenings, quietly on our mats supported by pillows and covered with blankets, as we listed to our teacher play Tibetan bowls and gong for at least thirty minutes.  Some of us would be lulled to sleep.  Others would surrender quietly to the vibrations as we lay still but awake.

In the times between our meals and yoga and meditation practices, each of us made decisions on the moments we would create alone.  There was no schedule in these periods of time.  And this is especially when time was lost.  With the earth supporting me from below and shade of a tree protecting me from above, I drew, read, and listened to the sounds that nature delivered. The fountain in the pond drew me in closer through the days and I visited it often.  The sounds of bees buzzing were larger than ever, and they drew me to the plants as I watched them float from flower to flower, gathering what they needed at that moment, what the plant was ready to give, and then moving on.  The walking path that centers the grounds took me through the path that Jesus took in his last human experience of pain and suffering.  On these wood canvases with images of white paint were sounds of pain, but also of love and joy.

It was on these walks that I felt a presence within me.  The devotion, compassion, and solitude of our Great Aunties, Sisters Diana and Margaret, flowed within me.  There I imagined their lives and in my heart I bowed to their chosen journeys and their departed souls.  As I came to the painting of Jesus, bearing his cross, and his mother Mary, I felt Milan’s presence within me. I cried for his soul’s departure. And I thanked him for saving my life, the way that perhaps Jesus saved his mother Mary.  I cried for mother and son.  And I thanked our angels, our saviors, this Salvador within all of us.

There were times, hours after silence began when the chatter in my mind finally faded away, that I wasn’t sure if I was alive.  I thought perhaps my body was dead.  I wasn’t sure if all of this was really happening.  I wasn’t sure if the silence was manmade or heaven-made.  I wasn’t sure if this group of people chose to be silent or if our true nature was silence.

As human silence and nature’s sounds supported me, certain thoughts washed away as more meaningful thoughts floated in.  And when silence broke on Sunday morning with the chimes of the bell, the silence within me remained.  Perhaps the stillness wasn’t as strong because at some point I was forced to move my vocal chords.  But the idea that the silence could remain, even as I drove home, even as I embraced my family again, even as I carried on with the routines of daily life after my return, teaches me that this force, whatever it is, is within me as I believe it is within you.  All I hope to do for the remainder of my life, amidst the challenges and unexpected surprises, is to embrace it.

Thank you for being in my life, in whatever way you are.

In love and peace,

Sandy

I am in a unique situation that is forcing me to see things differently.  The situation is an opportunity.  In this opportunity, learning to be a yoga teacher, I am learning about the idea of emptiness, the idea that grounds Buddhism and yoga philosophy.  Once I finally allowed this idea of emptiness to be planted in my mind, I realized that with each moment of life that I was misinterpreting, I had the responsibility to reinterpret the moment for what it was, empty of its own nature.  This is a difficult yet life-giving task.

A brief explanation of emptiness:  Emptiness is the notion that nothing has its own nature – our perceptions are nothing but perceptions.  Our minds work in ways to make us believe that everything has its own true essence, so that the computer I’m typing on is, well, a computer.  The end.  When we apply the idea of emptiness, reality changes.  Without my twisted mind getting in the way to call see this thing as a computer in and of itself, this is a thing made up of a bunch of little squares with shapes on them, connected to a rectangle connected to a rectangle and all these other little microrectangles that function as a computer.  One day this rectangle of a rectangle will not function anymore.  And while it may function as a mechanism of productivity for me, it may function as a toy for my son.  It may function as a warm (and hard) bed for a kitty cat.  So, I see this computer as a computer because of my own perceptions of it.  The way I see things comes from ME, not from the things I am saying. 

It’s expected, in the beginning of “getting” emptiness, that one goes back and forth, forgetting that things come from us and not to us and then coming back to emptiness.  Even in the atmosphere where I can express all of the yoga teachings to the fullest at teacher training school, I am noticing that I am reverting to my old conceptions. 

For example, in my attempts to constantly censor myself, I’ve noticed that when people seek to know about my life, I tend to act superficially until I know that (1) I am not burdening them in whatever way with knowledge about me (2) They are genuine in their concern (3) I have nothing to prove.  Though I know my yoga teacher is genuine in his concern, I feel that I burden him if I share or explain my pain and then suddenly I have something to prove:  that I am strong.  And then I become overanalytical, judging everything I say, judging everything my teacher says to me, wondering if I offended my teacher or a peer, UNTIL I remember emptiness. 

STOP!  STOP!  STOP!  Stop apologizing, stop wondering how others are perceiving me, stop doing all this nonsense, I have to say to my self.  See the situation for what it is.  When I am in pain, sometimes I am not genuine with others.  Sometimes I don’t speak meaningfully and truthfully.  Sometimes I engage in meaningless chatter because I am afraid to say that I’m in pain.  Sometimes I want to feel like I’m not in pain so I put on a smile and try to make others feel comfortable and good about themselves, and I agree with them when I really don’t or don’t even have an opinion about what they’re saying. 

Life Lesson 4:  Everything comes from me.       

Life Lesson 5:  I can change everything.