Just a few days into three-year retreat, almost seven months ago, I was helping a fellow retreatant polish some shrine bowls. It was during the lunch break, the only time talking is allowed, and we discovered that we had both come up with the same metaphor to describe our experience so far: down the rabbit hole!
Many aspects of retreat are like being in another world. We hear very little news from outside, even about the monastery whose grounds we inhabit; we are protected as much as possible from anything that might engage our thought processes unnecessarily and interfere with the process of letting them naturally settle so that we can begin to connect directly with our own vast, peaceful, powerful underlying inner nature. A classic Buddhist metaphor is of being caught up in the waves versus experiencing that they are part of the great, calm ocean.
It’s just a temporary escape; when we emerge from retreat we will fully engage once again with whatever waves the world throws our way. But in order to develop the capacity to engage truly effectively, a period of isolation is needed, and that’s what three-year retreat provides.
Well, that’s half of it. It might be isolated, but it’s full of life and activity, even if most of it is internal. Three-year retreat includes a large number of diverse meditation practices, some of them designed to calm down our current, ordinary mental busyness (the waves), and others intended to activate the various aspects of our potential realization (the ocean). These practices can be quite complex, colorful and dynamic: for more on this topic, see “We Are All Superheroes,” also posted this month.
Or, to paraphrase another classic work of Western literature:
Oh, the places you’ll go and the people you’ll meet
When you sit on your seat in a three-year retreat!
Anyway, this is just by way of letting you know that, though I am aiming to send in a post or two about once a month, there are likely to be some lulls in the process. During these first seven months, and probably for several months to come, we are still in the upper reaches of the rabbit hole, pretty much just out of sight of the surface. But my understanding is that some of the practices we will do in the future will serve as express elevators to the depths of our minds…and those periods may not be conducive to the kind of conceptualization required to write a web post.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this web page, Lama Norlha Rinpoche has given me permission to write occasionally from three-year retreat in order to keep in touch with the New Hampshire/Maine community of practitioners affiliated with PTC Monastery. But I can only write what I know (or think I know), and that isn’t much, compared with what is available from the many accomplished teachers in the Kagyu and other Buddhist traditions. There is a wealth of genuine teaching accessible via books, dvds, cds and the internet, and best is to find an authentic teacher to study with if possible. PTC Monastery is open to visitors, and its schedule of teaching and practice, along with contact information for its affiliated centers. If you can’t get to PTC or an affiliated center, start with books or other media by Kalu Rinpoche, Tai Situpa, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Pema Chödron, and others.
Most likely, I’ll be back with another post in August.
From the yellow brick road,