Reflections on My Recent Retreat

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I just returned from a 7-day mindfulness retreat at Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. I am feeling deep gratitude for the opportunity of submerging myself into a week of brilliant teachings and practice. Trust me- it wasn’t easy to leave my family, job, and all of my daily responsibilities while I escaped from reality into the woods of Massachusetts. It took a great deal of planning and a tremendous amount of trust to know that all would be well while I was gone.

There was a lot of fear and doubt that tried to get in the way of my decision to go; however, I have made a contract with myself that I am committed to living authentically. My intention and commitment to myself was far stronger than any fear or doubt that tried to sway me otherwise.

There were 100 people in total on the retreat. It was a silent 7-day (teacher led) training. Although I didn’t know the majority of the participants, I could feel that we were all connected by the universal search for inner peace. It was beautiful to see all different walks of life with the common desire to be present and awake to life as it unfolds.

During the retreat, I personally experienced many ups and downs. “This too shall pass” was the perfect mantra to help me remember the impermanence of all experiences, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. When we are present in the moment, we can learn how to embrace whatever arrives at our doorstep.

For example, I was visited by joy, contentment, excitement as well as boredom, frustration, sadness and anxiety. At times, these visitors all came in the same day. It was quite a busy day:) With the practice of staying in the present moment and connecting with my body, I was able to allow in all of the experiences with curiosity and kindness. With mindfulness, we learn how to be present with it all without clinging to the “good” or pushing away the “bad.” When feelings of joy, peace and love are present- we can feel it in our bodies and soak it all in. When despair and anger arrive, we can find our breath and go inside our bodies, staying present with the sensations in our bodies rather than the stories in our mind, which only add fuel to the fire.

Over time, we learn not to fear the difficult nor crave pleasure. All states are transient. If we lean into the moments of joy and peace, we can start cultivating these states. If we embrace our dark emotions with kindness and curiosity, we can let them come and go and little by little release the tight hold they have over us. The present moment is our refuge.

What are you feeling right now? Become curious of how it is felt in your body. What does joy feel like? What does anger feel like? Being curious and getting to know how we experience different states helps us stay in the present moment and allows emotions to move and not become stuck.

None of us want to suffer. Mindfulness is a way out of suffering. It teaches us how to turn towards our difficult feelings and hold them with kindness. The suffering occurs when we avoid feeling the difficult feelings. We all have them. It is a guarantee if you are human that you will encounter pain. Pain is unavoidable but suffering is optional. Life happens- death, divorce, financial struggles, illnesses, moves, the list goes on. If our happiness is tied to the external, we are fighting an uphill battle. We cannot control life. The more we try to control, the harder it becomes and the more confined we feel.

When we can trust in the unfolding in life, we can then navigate from the inside out. Clearing our inner landscape is no small task yet it is the most important thing we will ever do for ourselves. You can’t clean the kitchen without seeing all the dirt. We all have dirt. Embrace it all with kindness and remain clear on your intentions. Continue to take small actions everyday in the direction of your deepest desires. Are you willing to show up for yourself?

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Mindfulness is a limitless tool for self-discovery. It is an experiential process, meaning that you cannot just read about mindfulness to understand the process and receive its benefits. You actually have to practice and develop the skill to be present.

 

-- Amanda Votto

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