The horses are lying down in the pasture, taking a break from their usual upright position. For the past 1 1/2 months I too have been taking a break from my usual position.
During the month of February I attended a silent meditation retreat in Northern California. For 28 days, 90 of us brave women and men practiced sitting, walking, eating and lying down meditation. We attended morning instruction meetings and evening dharma talks. We stayed in small rooms with no TVs, radios, or computers; turned our ipods, ipads and smartphones off. All in an effort to practice a continuity of mindfulness, to embody a moment to moment awakeness, and recircuit the cells and neurons of our brains and bodies with wholesome mind states and feelings.
You may be wondering why I would choose to spend a month doing what sounds like not much of anything, and in silence for that matter? Or why I was willing to replace my internet connections with only the sights and sounds of nature, and 90 other mostly unknown folks?
Have you ever felt so fully relaxed that you were able to let go of the worry, fear and concern you have for the future? Have you ever been able to fully let go of the expectations you have for yourself or others? Have you ever been able to let go of the anger you are feeling to spare yourself form using it against someone else?
Practicing mindfulness in a sustained, continuous way yields all these benefits and a whole lot more. There is a depth of contentment and release that occurs when we allow whatever is to be just as it is, without trying to fix it, change it, or make it into something else.
For someone who has spent much of her adult life struggling with fear and anxiety, it is an incredible feat to experience such calm and tranquility for an extended period of time. Not only that, it is a miraculous experience to watch how the body responds to anxiety in the mind, and how, when the anxiety is seen with mindfulness, the body relaxes, slowly lets go of its armour, and returns to a state of deep rest.
What an incredible miracle it is, the body at rest. This body at rest. Like the horses in the pasture.
Over the next few weeks I will post several pieces about my experience of practicing mindfulness on retreat and its impact on the rest of my life. This is a practice that has helped me learn to take care of myself and supported me to develop kindness and compassion toward myself and others for many years now. It also has deeply influenced my practice of Loving Inquiry.