Enlightened Society in the City: Cultivating Kindness to Ourselves

I am looking forward to coming back to New York in August to lead our third annual weeklong meditation retreat. We had a rich time last year, practicing with the intention of creating enlightened society for the week. Rather than being a group of individuals meditating together, we explored how it feels to be a member of a community. In this case, our community was based on having all agreed to to abide by the guidelines of retreat (whether our commitment was for the whole week or for a day or two). Our main practice was showing up for each session, and our secondary practice was contemplating the possibility of basic goodness—of ourselves, of each other, and of the people in our lives. Kindness and mutual respect were the guiding principles of our society. We practiced these principles by adhering to the disciplines of the retreat, which, in essence, came down to caring for ourselves and for each other by showing up, by being silent during silent times, by sitting during the sitting times, by working together during the work times. We followed these disciplines to support the container of our retreat–our society.

Many reported that it was a powerful week for them. It certainly was for me. I discovered a lot about the depth of this word “society” and how participating actively as a member of society affects every aspect of my life — and my mind.

Over the course of the year since, I’ve been studying Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s recent teachings. Contemplating these teachings in my practice, I’ve seen that some of my habits of being hard on myself are so deeply ingrained that I have been unaware of many of them. I’ve learned a lot about myself this past year as I have taken the Sakyong’s invitation to “examine our motivation,” to more and more intimate levels within myself.

What about you? What does it really mean to you to be kind to yourself?

Does it mean eating or drinking whatever we want, whenever we feel like it? Does it mean getting a good night’s rest, sticking to our exercise regime? Does it mean taking a “mental health day” off work? Does it mean avoiding certain people? Confronting certain people? Does it mean being friendly to yourself when self-aggressive thoughts and emotions arise?

Personally, I think when we apply or express aggression, judgment, or hatred to ourselves that affects others, too. How can we be genuine in our life when we’re awash in self-judgment, desperate to impress others, or uptight and self-conscious? And, the inquiry becomes even richer — how do I participate in life, which is society, with responsibility to the well-being of myself and others?

So, this is an invitation to come to the weeklong retreat at the New York Shambhala Center in August and join us in this ongoing inquiry. We’ll be exploring these themes, both personally and as a society, within a practice container of safety and gentleness. (If you cannot attend the whole week, one-day registration is an option, but we ask you to attend the whole day. For dates and more information about the schedule, click here.)

By Acharya Emily Bower