“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”
― Pema Chödrön, Practicing Peace in Times of War
From Sun to Snow –
When I think about what it took to move it Boulder I am overwhelmed with mixed emotions ranging from fear, excitement, courage and love. 3 years ago I visited Boulder for the first time and instantly fell in love. The mountains, the people, the small town charm that is still city enough and only 25 miles away from a major metropolitan city, Denver. I knew I would move here, I just didn’t know how or when. I kept putting it off by listening to the voice that says “later”. Every year I visited Boulder the call got stronger and stronger. Why? What is it about this place that speaks to me so deeply?
Was it the strength that the Flatirons possessed, the wide open spaces of vast land surrounding the city, the spiritual community and eco conscious lifestyle that seems to take precedence in everyone’s lives. I have never been to a place where the emphasis on recycling, composting and reusable energy was such a part of the community. The people are so happy and so friendly and they have an overall joy about life and living in Boulder. When my visit was over and it was time to leave I always knew that one day I would return for good.
I had a string of misfortunate occurrences that prompted me to stop waiting and start living. In 6 days, my car had broken down, my house was broken in to, my music hard drive had crashed and my girlfriend ended our relationship. It was one if not the most trying times that I can remember. It was then that I knew it was time to head west. I can no longer live in Florida, I had to go to Boulder. My lease was already up so leaving my place was easy. I sold most of my things and furniture and stored the rest. I moved into my friend Jeff’s house for 3 months while my other friend Raymond babysat my 2 cats. I literally gave up everything, all my things, my animals and just kept what was necessary to live with at Jeff’s until it was time to move. It was very hard to leave my house, my animals and not have the support of my relationship any longer; thankfully I have the most amazing group of friends anyone could ask for. I went on retreat with Thay and by the time I was back home, I had found a place in Boulder. I was leaving Florida on November 23rd.
Jeff is like the older brother I never had. He is the person i’ve known the longest in Florida and he is always there for me. His partner Alex and he chose to drive with me cross country and help set up my new space. You find out who your friends are in these situations. We set sail and drove, drove, and drove some more. I could have a whole blog about that trip. We had a blast, it’s amazing to drive across the country. I recommend it at least once in your life. We arrive at my new spot and begin unloading, granted I didn’t have much. I literally only came with a 6 X12 Uhaul trailer. I took only what I needed and either gave away or sold the rest. It was extremely liberating to walk away from so many possessions. Often we define ourselves by our things instead of what’s inside us. You find out how strong you can be when you truly let go of people and things that no longer serve you.
Home, I am now home. As I sit on the floor of my empty living room writing this I can look out the window of my balcony and see the snow covered Flatirons. Something I have wanted for 3 years. I can feel my emotions pushing and pulling; sadness, excitement, joy and wonder. I feel the loneliness of not having my friends around but there is a greater presence of knowing I did the right thing that quietly overrides that feeling of sadness. This is a feeling that I know very well. I have moved my whole life. Born in Louisiana then moved to Dubai, Dubai to Aberdeen, Scotland back to Louisiana, to Florida and now home, Colorado. I can remember moving as a child the depression, anger and sadness that would come when my mom told me we where moving, again. I would have to start all over again, meet new people and try new things and although I hated going into it, it always made me stronger. This move is no different. I feel the sadness, I feel the loneliness but I know it will subside, it always does. I will meet new people, make new friends and try new things, I will grow, again. I think sometimes we are afraid of growth and change, afraid to let go of people, places and things that no longer serve us when in reality it always works out better in the long run. I don’t know what is next and what exactly Boulder is going to bring, but I do know that I am ready and willing to let go and receive what’s next.
What is it that you want or have wanted for a really long time? What are the stories that are stopping you? What would it take for you to pursue it? What are you waiting for ?
Here are a few photo’s of the Thich Nhat Hanh retreat. I will post some videos as well. This was my first retreat and it was an unforgettable experience. It has deepened my own practice and I fell in love with nature all over again. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to simply lay in the grass and be with mother earth. It brought back so many memories of my childhood. I have been so busy in my electronic life that I forgot about the simple pleasure of just being with the earth. It was so freeing to not have email, phone and spend many moments in pure silence. It’s within the silence that we can truly connect to source and hear our deepest desires and wishes. I received so much clarity on so many issues and things in my life that have been shifting at a rapid pace, the retreat was a perfect place to sit and be with all the changes. It was amazing to study, meditate and walk with Thay and be able to share in his energy. It was something that I will always remember. He is 85 today and to be able to do a retreat with him while he is still teaching was a huge gift that I’m deeply grateful for. I highly recommend retreats at least once in your life, they are a great way to go back inside and connect to what is truly needed and important in this world. At first your thinking, how can I give up my luxuries such as electronics, private baths, dishwashers,beds ( I had to sleep on the floor the first night ) but then you just sort of settle in.
When Kathy and I arrived we checked in and received our information including what our family was going to be. We where in the arrived home family, which couldn’t have been more perfect for me. Right now I’m transitioning from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Boulder, Colorado. I am out of my house and staying with close friends until I move on Thanksgiving day. Being away from “home” has been challenging for me, not having my space, my things and even my animals who are staying with a dear friend until we depart. Up until the retreat I kept feeling this urge to have a home, needing my space, wanting to find the perfect spot in Boulder to know that I had a place. When I saw that our family was arrived home it hit me, my inner gong went off and it radiated thru my entire being. Home is where you are, home is the moment you surrender to. As the saying goes home is where your heart is, I think it’s more like home is where your feet are. We can arrive home in every moment.
Dinner time. There wasn’t much left because we arrived late from our flights. The food is vegan and it was so delicious. Over the few days we had lots of Rice, Veggies, Soup, Tofu, Pasta and Fruit. During all meals we practice Noble Silence. We eat in silence to express gratitude for the miracle before us. Often we take food for granted and never truly think about where this food actually came from. Who grew the food, who washed the food, delivered, packaged….and that is only human help, we also forget about earth, sky, sun and rain that produced the food. In Buddhism we practice the five contemplations when eating in Noble Silence. Here they are below, they are listed on all the picnic tables and they are read aloud at least once over the PA of the monastery during meals.
This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much loving work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our Sangha, and nourish our ideal of serving living beings.
We finished our meal and washed our dishes and began to look for our cabin. Our cabin was nowhere to be found. The night was falling and orientation was about to begin so we leave our bags outside and head to the meditation hall. The Monks and Nuns where there singing children songs for the kids, and adults too. I am a big fan of the children songs, so sweet and simple that you can’t help but want to be a kid again or be around them to bask in their innocence. The Monks and Nun begin to chant so beautifully, some in English, some Vietnamese. The bellmaster invites the bell and the meditation hall vibrates. Thay was entering. There he was, so close you could reach out and touch him. Here was my teacher that I’ve been studying for years, he was finally here in front of me. I couldn’t believe my eyes, my body had chills and the room was incredibly silent. We sat for our first guided meditation.
After orientation, Kathy and I were on the hunt for our cabin again. It’s pitch black outside now and our flashlights were packed away somewhere in our luggage. It’s getting late so we find a nun to ask her, she brings us to our cabin but it was already taken. There seems to have been some miscommunications about cabins and people who were staying in them. The nun begins to search for a place we can stay in but everything was full. About an hour goes by and we find a room that has one bed available. I chose the floor and let Kathy have the bed. Here I was ‘home’ on the floor. It wasn’t so uncomfortable after all, I had a sleeping bag and a pillow.
5am wake up bells, we have to be in the meditation hall at 5:45 am, so off we go to sit with Thay and have our morning meditation. After meditation is breakfast and then working meditation with your family. Our family was assigned to pot washing. We had to clean all the tables, collect all the compost, wash and dry the pots and pans. Sounds like no big deal but keep in mind there are over 800 people eating and drinking. We finished just in time for Thay to lead us in our walking meditation.
What is walking meditation ? Walking meditation is taking the time to walk and breathe in synch, step by step being present in the moment and being aware of each slow step. A Gatha that can help during the meditation goes as follows.
I have arrived (in-breaths) – I am home (out-breaths)
In the here (in-breaths) – In the now (out-breaths)
I am solid (in-breaths) – I am free (out-breaths)
In the ultimate (in-breaths) – I dwell (out-breaths)
Imagine 800 people walking together mindfully in slow motion all meditating on the present moment. It’s pretty powerful, the energy you feel from everyone walking is like this huge wave of silent peace and oneness. It seems like an easy thing to do but I find walking meditation to be the most difficult for me. Your mind really wants to run off and think of anything else other than walking so slowly, this is why the Gatha’s help.
When we return to the meditation hall it’s time for our Dharma Talk. Thay spoke of different things each day. His talks will be available online soon, I’ll post them when they are up.
Dharma talk ends and lunch begins followed by either a deep relaxation meditation which I like to call a guided nap. 😉 If your into yoga and you’ve done the yoga nidra meditation before, this is the same principle. A guided deep relaxation that goes thru every part of your body and allows you to go in and release the stress from each area of your body.
Once your nap is done you have free time for a while before Dharma Discussion with your family. Dharma discussion is time for sharing your experience with the group and then onto dinner. Once dinner and cleanup is complete it’s usually time for the evening presentation. Each night was something different. A typical day looked something like this.
5am wake up
5:45 meditation in the meditation hall
8:00 free time or working meditation depending on your assigned family
9:00 walking meditation
10:00 Dharma Talk
2:00 free time
3:00 deep relaxation meditation
4:00 Dharma Discussion with your family
7:00 evening presentation
9:00 lights out
During the retreat there are mindfulness bells that ring every hour or so to call us back to the moment. So often we are running in the future, holding on to the past and having conversations with people who are not even there instead of being present and really focusing on beautiful moment that is in front of us. The bells are our reminders of this.
One of the most precious part of the retreat where the kids. They all participate in their own retreat run by younger Monks and Nuns. They have plenty of free time for basketball, soccer and volleyball. I played a few rounds with the little ones, I think that clock may be starting to tick for me. 🙂
When Thay leads walking meditation, the kids are always right next to him. He has a such a sweet way with them and he teaches how important it is for us to teach our children peace and how to really love themselves regardless of what others say or do to them. The kids are more enlightened than we are and we can learn so much just by watching them. They really live in the moment. The future of our planet is in their hands and it’s up to us to guide them. During the Q & A the kids had some of the best questions and Thay’s answers where always so simple yet profound.
I’ll look for the Q & A session online and post it when it’s up.
Well, I could go into a lot more detail but I feel this is enough to give you a sneak peek of what it was like to be on retreat with Thay. I hope this inspires you to break away from your everyday routine, strip yourself from your luxuries and relax into a simple life for a few days. I think if we all did this more often we would connect with ourselves and other people on a much deeper level. As the kids on retreat would say “Try it, I double dog dare you!”.