Retreating to Bliss and Staying Present in the World

We think of meditation as something that separates us from the world, that takes us, perhaps, to Vermont for a long weekend. Allowing feelings to simply be, to connect us with our humanness, gets at the basic sense of feeling worthy to be.

I want to tell you about Being Brave, The Shambhala Sangha Retreat I just finished. Really, I want to report on it. That’s what I do, professionally. I want to tell you about what we did, how many people were there, how close the cushions were set. I want to tell you about one-bowl meals and pithy quotes from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and the archaryas and shastri. There were many memorable quotes.

But being brave is not about reporting on external circumstances — it’s about connecting with our very human feelings, whatever they are, without judgment. “The first part of being brave is simply being,” Acharya Suzanne Duquette said in the first talk.

“We’re welcoming in humanity,” Acharya Duquette said later. “We’re not retiring into bliss.”

That may have surprised some people who came to Vermont for a long weekend because, face it, a weekend in Vermont sounds a lot like retiring into bliss. When you lead a busy life there’s a delight in leaving it behind temporarily. The wifi rarely worked, and to get cellphone reception, you had to walk to the far end of the parking lot near the recycling tent. No TV. Outside of meals, food was limited. We were there, and many of the usual means of escape were not.

Of course, many of our escape routes are mental — daydreaming, planning, replaying old memories, anticipating new ones. Just because you look like you’re meditating doesn’t mean that you are.

“I’ve seen a lot of people practicing next to themselves, watching themselves meditate,” the Sakyong said. “It’s time to just be.”

Just being is hard. We think we have to be something or be someone. Anxiety, theSakyong said, comes from not being sure who we’re supposed to be. We’re Buddhists — we’re supposed to be peaceful, calm, accepting. We don’t get annoyed.

Oh, but we do. I do. Steamed tofu cubes. Again. Woman in front of me who is inching back on her zabuton, which is jammed up next to my zabuton. Judging the woman in front of me, who is pretty much the only person I can see enough of to judge. Judging myself for judging.

I’ve learned in mindfulness meditation to note all that. Be aware of it. Let it go.

At the Being Brave retreat, we were instructed to not only see our feelings but to embrace them, to be with them, to feel the humanness of our feelings — and the connection they contain to all humans and to our basic goodness.

We think of meditation as something that separates us from the world, that takes us, perhaps, to Vermont for a long weekend. Allowing feelings to simply be, to connect us with our humanness, gets at the basic sense of feeling worthy to be, the Sakyong said.

Often we start meditating because we think there’s something wrong with our experience, that meditation can fix that and make it right, Acharya Adam Lobel said. But there’s nothing wrong with our experience. And if we accept that and fully accept our experience, it changes the practice.

“Meditation is abiding in a space that is infused with care no matter what arises,” he said.

Even when you’ve got your own personal meditation fly.