Every time I go away on retreat I have only one intention, prayer, hope and focus: “May I be faithful to my experience.” What this means to me is, may I be able to recognize what is actually happening for me in any given moment, as opposed to seeing my experience through the stories I have amassed over a lifetime. Stories that run beneath the surface of my awareness. Stories that tell me what I need to do and say and feel in order to belong, be safe, be me. These are stories that I have told myself for a long, long time.
This intention translates into a running dialogue with myself where moment by moment I am checking in to notice how things are actually going for me. I focus on what is happening at that very moment. I notice which direction I am most inclined to move in. I notice when I am eating, not what my mind is pushing for, but the actual feel of the food in my mouth and in my stomach. When I leave a program session, I try not have to an agenda about what I do next, following instead wherever it is that my feet take me. Quite literally that may mean I get about 20 feet before I sit down, waiting where I am, until I feel directed to the next place. As for my mind and my emotions, well, I let them be too. I notice what is rising and falling like I am watching images on a screen. Instead of trying to fix or push away, instead of getting lost in a story, I try and just be with what is there, noticing as impartially as I can where it comes from and what it is linked to. For me it is like a game of connect the dots for my mind. I look at how my responses now come from then.
And while this is a tremendous amount of effort, exhausting even, at some point, I hit a critical mass, and it clicks over into a place where I just am as I am. All my edges are worn off. The need to run incessant story lines is gone. And I am left with a softness and a spaciousness that far exceeds any story I could come up with. I tell you all of this because we are living in times where the pull from the external world is great, so great in fact, that it is pulling us out of the truth of what we are personally experiencing. We look outside of ourselves to tell us what to think, how to feel and what to want. And we run our lives on memories from the past. This leaves us without the presence to know reality for what it is. And without that knowledge we will always, always suffer.
The body is such a great antidote to any story line. Over and over throughout your day, come back to any experience that the body is having, and watch what your mind has to say about it. You do not have to like it or want it. When you feel a sensation or a need, notice the stories the mind is telling you about it. For instance, if you are tired, see if you can let yourself just be tired without trying to make it go away. Watch what happens with the mind. Watch all the reasons you have for not being able to be tired. Watch all the actions you will take to deny that reality. Watch the feelings that arise when you are denying exhaustion, and then when you allow it. Daily we lose track of ourselves because we do not want what is happening with us to be happening; believing that it just has to be something else that is right, or better. When we do this, we deny our very existence. And to deny our existence is to say that what we feel and experience does not matter, or is wrong. Denying ourselves in this way is to create a kind of sickness inside for which there is no outside cure. Denying ourselves in this way is to collectively create all of the horror we see in a world bent on denying the existence of Life itself.