“Have fun,” one of my students called out just before she floated down the stairs and out onto the street.
I was quite sure fun was not going to be on the menu for this 6-day silent meditation retreat. A more appropriate wish might have been, “Have a meaningful time.”
Previous to this I had attended only two retreats. The first was five days in 2014 with The Art of Living. I cried any time I found myself alone. In November 2018 I did a 3-day retreat with Pascal Auclair (True North Insight Meditation) which helped me realize my intention of a daily 30 minutes personal practice…before breakfast, before feeding the cat/dog, & before checking email…as an honoured component of my morning routine. This 6-day retreat was to deepen my practice.
Deepen it did.
A meditation retreat sounds so simple: surrender your technology; give up speaking, reading & writing; and, do nothing. While doing (or not doing) all this, wholesome food appears at regular intervals and all one’s basic needs are met. Add to this the amazing setting, in Arnprior at the Galilee Centre, which uses understatement in their self-description: “Situated next to an old growth forest overlooking the Ottawa River, Galilee Centre is a welcoming holistic spiritual life centre that is an oasis of peace, care and comfort.” We sat through thunderstorms, windstorms and enlivening bird song. We sat a lot.
Simple, perhaps, but not easy.
The path to joy, equanimity, and freedom requires dedication, focus and self-examination. However, it was our good fortune to be guided by two inspirational teachers: Jill Davey, whose searching intellect, self-deprecating humour, gentle chastisements and fierce encouragement kept us on track; and, Pascal Auclair, whose skilful communication, profound knowledge of the dharma, deep compassion for all and gentle humour exemplified a template for right living.
This meditation retreat slowed me down, seemed to slow time itself. And in the spaces between the breath I found a little calm and some respite from the often heedless pace of my life. There were some moments that I felt myself become still water.
My thoughts often go to a favourite quote by Viktor Frankl that illuminates what this could offer in terms of growth:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In this space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Other moments brought the glow of joy. In walking meditation, I established a set place. I avoided the more spectacular areas and settled for a small path between two outbuildings, flanked by an old spruce grove on one side and an overgrown cedar hedge on the other. To my delight, the cedars were home to a family of chipmunks. With their laughter, arguments, game-playing…and each time they skittered across my path…I was able to find a lightness in the seriousness of the work I was doing. And a humility: as much as they become a joyful focus for me, for them I was just a harmless foreign body who had injected herself into their lives.
Other moments brought profound pain, both physical and emotional. When time slows down, one never knows what might appear. I was shown in these moments the work I needed to do with myself and for myself. I faced my list of resentments and grudges and the reactivity of my anger in certain situations with certain people. More work needed to be done. As another retreatant said, “I did all this work…I thought I was done.” I guess we are never done until the inevitable and I have such a sense now of time not being limitless.
On our last full day, for our last gathering of that day, we had been asked to write down a moment of joy we had experienced. These were read out loud. Some were like haiku, some shone with simple sincerity, many evoked empathetic laughter. After one particularly funny one, Pascal waited until the room was quiet and still to read this one;
‘Forgiving my mother.’
That was mine. My moment of joy.