As mentioned earlier…I ended up opting for a silent retreat closer to home, that my schedule would accomodate…so while it this was not conducted in an actual monastery, I’m pretty confident the end game was the same…so, on with the story…
I just returned from the annual spring silent retreat in the desert near Joshua Tree held annually by the Dzogchen Foundation.
No speaking. No reading. No writing.
The morning bell went off at 5:30am. We alternated between group meditation sessions, individual practice, and dharma talks until 9 at night.
By Day 4, my meditation had reached a level of absorption that intially frightened me. (This with a foundation of 15 months of daily 30-minute meditation sessions). I couldn’t move. Absolutely clarity within my mind, but my feet and hands felt like they weighed a thousand pounds. Very strange, and at the same time exhilirating, as it made me realize very quickly that there are facets of the mind that we do not realize, even in 37 years of thinking that we’ve seen it all.
Sequestered in my room, I cried at one point like I had not in 30 years. A full purge, weeping out loud like a terrified child. I was strangely detached in the moment, more curious about the entire thing while my body continued to have its catharsis. Sounds paradoxical, I know, a simultaneous detachment and involvement like that…but I’d venture to say that one must reach the levels of absorption that such sequestration allows to understand.
Ultimately, what I liked most about the retreat was the 2nd way they taught that one could arrive at the same contentment and peace (when one is not having their cathartic moments) in the contemplation of love, of the unqualified love you receive in your life, and which you transmit to others. Like most men, I am not apt at receiving love, which turns out to be the real key. To be loved without qualification. Once you get your mind around that, rest in that, a real contentment settles in. In some ways, despite the pyrotechnics of the medititative practices, that lesson in love was what I ultimately left the desert with. John Lennon was right. Moulin Rouge was right. The greatest thing you’ll ever do is just love, and be loved. It’s that simple. It took 8 days of boiling my brain the the California desert to fully comprehend that. But I do now. I sort of get the impression that I went into the desert a Buddhist and came out a love-ist. It may sound touchy feely…but for those who view it thusly, I only say, do it, take 8 days out of your lives to spend time in uninterrupted contemplation. Everything significant within you will bubble to the surface. You cannot escape yourself, or distract yourself through entertainment. And ultimately, through the hardships experienced, you feel a catharsis, a lightness. I highly recommend it.