Settling the mind is essentially about dropping the chatter that keeps us from being fully present. When you develop a sane relationship with your mind, you can then maintain a healthy relationship to your world. Retreat is a great way to deepen that relationship.
It’s not always easy to return to “normal” daily life after spending time in intensive retreat. I’ve found myself more than once this week slightly overwhelmed at the sheer amount of noise in city life. Cars, TV, shouting people, advertisements, sirens and horns. I admit to just a teensy weensy bit of resistance in returning to the “unreal” world after spending such intensive time in nature. Because, in my opinion, the real world is the one with the wildlife.
It occurs to me to ask why these kinds of retreats are so life-shifting. Why do most of us seem to need some help to return to the source of our wisdom and to remember how to slow down and relax?
Could it be living without internet (or TV, or phone) for 2 weeks? Absence of cars? Lack of pollution? Waking daily to unidentifiable screeches coming from the thick woods? I’m more than ever convinced that a simple life is key to maintaining balance. Less is definitely more.
Here are some of the highlights of our simple daily routine:
- Waking with the gibbons at dawn
- Early morning sitting meditation while listening to hornbills get their breakfast from the fig tree
- Clean air
- Bathing in the clear freshwater lake
- Chanting in a limestone cave, accessible only by a floating bamboo raft in a protected wilderness area
- Our hostess with the mostest (and my new fairy God-mother), Beth, who narrated lively and informative stories of life in the jungle.
- Delicious Thai food with fresh fish caught in the lake
- Glorious afternoon silent napping
- Candlelit dinner under the stars each evening
- Living in floating bungalows
- Regular yoga and meditation practice
- Open hearted dialogue and
- Plenty of laughter
The best way to reconnect is to take a break from your habitual patterns long enough to see them for what they are: thoughts. As such they are insubstantial and malleable, and there is space in between them. Noticing the pause between thoughts is, in essence, settling the mind in its natural state. When you take time out (whether it’s taking a moment to breath before speaking, or taking 2 weeks out from your life) to recognize this, it can have profound affects on your state of mind. You may decide not to voice that complaint or hurtful remark and choose to take a deep breath instead. Stringing together many of these awakened moments, you may start to discover an entirely new aspect of your life that is calling to you. Because you slow down, you can start to listen to yourself and what truly makes you happy, instead of what you’ve been taught will make you happy.
Why do we disconnect from what we know to be true? More importantly, how can you reconnect?
Watching a wild gibbon swing from a tree 100 feet off the ground while singing to its mate brought tears to my eyes. That simple feeling of joy, in the moment–isn’t that what we all seek? And if you have several moments of simple joy, and then more, then eventually you have a whole happy lifetime.
I’m not saying you can (or should) ignore the challenges. But if you can keep watching the thoughts flow, rather than getting stuck in creating and believing a negative story-line, then you’ll probably be a happier person. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about reminding yourself that you can still be happy in the midst of life’s perfect imperfection.
Once you start to poke holes in your habitual way of framing things, it’s hard to pretend not to see where cracks are. Relationships may go through a testing phase; you may question whether your chosen profession truly makes you happy; you may suddenly feel called to make radical shifts in your life. So simply by doing this one thing —pausing long enough to observe what is actually happening—you can manifest major changes in your life.
Or, you could simply realize that you already have everything you need to be happy.