Elaine’s Buddhist Retreat for Compassion and Lovingkindness
Having recently taken a week away from every-day life and work, to retreat into Buddhist teachings and practices of compassion and lovingkindness, I thought I might share a few insights and ways that these teachings have changed some of the habitual ways I’d been responding to and engaging with the world around me.
The first step I took to ‘disconnect’ from my every-day life (and more deeply ‘connect’ to my internal life) was to re-organize my phone. I took the time to move all of the applications I typically check every day onto a separate screen (out of sight, out of mind), and to turn off/silence all notifications. I made an agreement with myself to take one hour a day to ‘communicate’ with friends and family – to call/text people I love – and for the remainder of my time, to refrain from the habitual pull I feel to ‘check in’ with people, virtually.
From the first morning of my retreat, when I recognized that the very first thing I do every morning is to check Facebook, I realized that I didn’t actually want to be doing this, as a way to start my day. How exactly had I built this particular habit, I wondered? And perhaps more importantly, how would I prefer to start my day?
During the days I set aside for this retreat, I didn’t travel to any other locale – I stayed at home, and practiced ‘staying,’ with myself, in my own space, in my own body and mind. I did, however, make time each day to be outside, to remind myself that I am a part of our natural world. Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, encouraged us to “walk quietly and take each gentle step with reverence … Each mindful breath, each mindful step, reminds us that we are alive on this beautiful planet.”
While I was able to drive to places like the North Branch Cascades and Waterbury State Park to swim and float in the lakes and rivers nearby, I listened to audiobooks including “The Path is the Goal,” by Chögyam Trungpa, and “The Art of Living,” by Thich Nhat Hanh.
In 1984, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche founded Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. He was Pema Chödrön‘s root teacher, as she is now one of mine. Pema teaches in the United States and Canada, and has written a number of books that have inspired my practice of Buddhism, including “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times,” and “Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears.”
“Mindfulness Meditation,” by Tara Brach, is another audiobook that I listen to regularly – usually as I’m meditating before falling asleep – and during this retreat I listened even more closely to each chapter, both in English and in French. I was reminded in particular of the importance of recognizing the ‘pause,’ the moment between when an emotion arises and when we react, whether positively or negatively, to that emotion.
In Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor writes: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” As Pema Chödrön also teaches in “Taking the Leap,” we can consciously mark this pause, every time an emotion arises, before we act on impulse, by taking three deep breaths – in through the nose, and out through the mouth. This offers us just that much time before we give a knee-jerk reaction, to more mindfully choose how (and when) we truly want to respond. Most likely, an immediate response is not actually needed, or desired! We can be more thoughtful, by sending that email tomorrow, or returning that phone call in a few hours, or texting back once we have taken more time to decide what we really want to say.
Here are just a couple of take-away insights/new habits I’ll be weaving into my day-to-day life:
I prefer to begin my day with a 10-min. meditation … I’ll be keeping my Facebook app on that other screen, to discourage my auto-pilot morning check-in.
I’ll be organizing my days in ways that encourage ‘pausing,’ by setting aside particular times to ‘check Facebook,’ call/text with friends and family, read/write, prepare and enjoy meals, meditate, etc. Rather than allowing my attention to dart from the page I’m reading to an app I’m checking, or from the meal I’m eating to the news I’m watching, I’ll be more deliberate in my attempts to do each thing mindfully, without distractions.
In “The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation,” Thich Nhat Hanh teaches: “If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance … we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink.”
As I continue to learn from and practice the teachings of Buddhist guides and mentors, I hope to strengthen my capacity to respond to myself, others around me, and this world I love, with deeper compassion and lovingkindness.
May I be filled with lovingkindness. May you recognize lovingkindness as your essence. May we be happy. May all beings everywhere be healthy. May I be well in body and mind. May you be at peace. May we be at ease. May all beings everywhere be free.