everydaybalance

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the gifts in silent retreat – december 2008

December1

Writing near the window looking out over the mountain. I am in a quiet home with only the sound of the gentle rain tapping on the roofs near and far. I am filled with a well of emotion so full that in moments when I least expect it, I brim over with tears. Tears of joy, tears of sadness, tears of longing, tears of serendipity and abundance. On the eve of Thanksgiving, I write with so much gratitude in my heart for the year nearly past. This has been one of the bravest years of my life and my body and mind feel stretched like a canvas by the leaps into new work, a new country, new relationships and a deep yearning for people and places far from where I sit. And yet, it all is as it should be as we round the corner into December again. Somehow fear, comes, and she goes leaving us often in a moment we are ready to arrive into.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were staying in my family home on Mount Tamalpais with my parents. I have been away from this home for many years, but still I take the staircase down the stairs with the same rhythm that I created at five years old. The floorboards creak in the same old places and the deck is still held around the tall Redwood tree. This particular Friday, I was preparing to go on a week long Vipassana and yoga retreat that I had been given a scholarship to only a few days before. I am a chronic last minute packer, so on the morning of, I was gathering the bits and pieces that would prepare me for several different scenarios that my mind had frantically come up with. My friends often joke with me that my handbags are like Mary Poppin’s carpet bag, if you reach in deep enough, you’ll be able to bring out anything you need. My suitcases unfortunately tend to be the same. I was tinkering around trying to find a flashlight when my mom found me at the bottom of the closet where we used to keep them as kids. She started digging through and then gave a yell out to my dad, “Do you have a flashlight Chris could borrow?”

He came out of his home office and before I knew it, I had been pushed out of the way and my parents were digging through the bottom of their closet comparing the pros and cons of each flashlight. The mag light, my dad remarked is also used by police to protect themselves…not likely needed on a meditation retreat, but good to know for future. My mom thought the large yellow wide light would be best, nice and light for the suitcase, just perfect. Dad thought not, it streams too wide of a beam and might disrupt the other meditators, no need for spotlights. This went on for a while and then the discussion of batteries came up. How many extra would I need? My dad began testing many of the old batteries in the flashlight, confessing softly that as a child he really loved flashlights, he loved to watch the light appear as if by magic.

As I watched my parents kneeling at the bottom of the closet, I was suddenly struck by the fact that it had been a very long time since they had had the chance to care for me like this. Leaving home just out of college and living far away in another country for the past thirteen years, the support they were able to sprinkle on me was through phone calls and cards. The yearly or two yearly visits were always so busy, that there was no time for conversations at the bottom of the closet. Realizing this, suddenly I stopped fidgeting and had all the time in the world to discuss the merits of the flashlight. It is rare that we are cared for so unconditionally. It is rare that the people in our lives will drop what they are doing so completely to give your welfare their full attention. A half and hour later, I walked away with a mag light (you can never be too careful) packed lovingly with alive batteries and a new pack of four D batteries to support any circumstance that might arise. In my hand, I held a flashlight, but it was in my heart the light had been turned on.

Later that afternoon I arrived at my retreat, my mind was full of the ideas and decision making and emotion that had made up the past eleven months of 2008. From packing up our life in Australia to saying good-bye to our friends and loved ones to moving through the past five housesits and our travels around the United States, I was full of busyness keeping me from seeing that I had been uprooted and those roots had been dangling for some time. The grounds at Spirit Rock Mediation Center appeared to be the perfect soil to sink my roots into for a week. The Center is set in the foothills of the San Geronimo Valley in Woodacre, California. The hills at this time of year unfold golden and silent, home to the most abundant, varied and relaxed wildlife. I was given my own room, which in itself was a gift, as I haven’t had a room full of only my own things for the past five months. I gingerly set up my closet and my bedside table and made my bed. Taking my yoga mat and meditation blanket I set out to the meditation hall to find my spot to meditate for the following week. I chose a spot by the window so that on one side I looked towards the trails that the deer would use and on the other side I had a view of tall Redwoods peering towards the windows like wise advisors.

Over the week, that square of space became a home to many feelings and sensations. There was space for every kind of emotion to arrive. They ranged from fear to sadness, frustration to anger and compassion to joy. The retreat was completely silent except for two half an hour small group meetings where our teachers checked in on how we were doing and the amazing dharma talks that we listened to each evening. In those interviews, we chose our words with care, breaking the silence like skipping rocks along a lake. In the days before I had arrived at the retreat, I had worried aloud to my husband that I might go crazy not talking for a week. I came up with all kinds of excuses for why I probably shouldn’t go, even pointing out that I might have a dental emergency and then what would I do?! It was at that point that I think Pete probably thought, “okay she already might be crazy and well now you really need to go…”. He assured me that this was what I did before many of the most amazing experiences in my life. He assured me that I would love it. Deep down, I knew this was true, but my worrying mind was really having a field day.

When the silence was announced on the first evening of the retreat, I tentatively felt joyful. I had my own room in a beautiful space for a whole week. Something in me told me this was exactly where I was meant to be. The past few weeks had been alive with decision making. So much so that I didn’t know what in the world I wanted to do. We had laid out a number of different pathways that we could take in this new chapter of our lives and I was having trouble seeing the wood for the trees. I felt caffeinated and unfocused. I felt out of touch from my intentions and true self. Later in the retreat, I saw a Hummingbird moving very fast from branch to branch. She seemed to be concentrating on so many things at once while not really stopping to see where she was. I was reminded of how I had felt before the retreat. On that first night of silence, I felt all of the balls that I had up in the air, slowly start to lose their momentum and fall down around me. Pete wasn’t there and I couldn’t speak to anyone so there was no one to toss those balls to. I surrendered my need for planning and began rediscovering the present moment.

What I found was colour and taste and sound and breath and stillness. Over the first couple of days, I felt the tightness in my neck and shoulders melting like butter on a summer’s afternoon. By the third day, I had more rotation in my neck than I had in years. My yoga postures were awakening new muscles in my body and I felt as if I were unraveling from the inside out. In the stillness I began naming my emotions. I would name sadness, and then habitually begin to create the story around that sadness. A couple days later, I noticed that it was enough to simply name the feeling, without getting involved in the story. Feelings that once only existed in my mind, now had permission to enter the totality of my body. What a relief to allow the emotion that much more space, rather than tightening so much around the feeling that it became a physical block, I was letting it be okay to have a feeling even if it wasn’t pleasant. In this openess the feelings were able to be felt and then released.

After five days of silence in one of our walking meditations, I came across a family of deer. The smallest one of the pack seemed to be causing a lot of havoc. It was jumping back on its heels and doing wheelies and then knocking branches or the smaller deer around. I was riveted by the family of six so close to me on their afternoon outing. I watched them bathe each other and hold each other and eat from low lying branches. After so little outside interaction, watching these deer was like watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I was engrossed in every interaction, it was Deer Anatomy and I could almost hear David Attenborough’s voice whispering “and now the male deer will look to the female deer to control her young. She does so by gently brushing her neck against the fawn who subsequently moves to the back of the pack…” The deer were accustomed to the walking meditation of people on retreat, they held no fear. It was a wonderful opportunity for reflection on the interconnectedness of all beings.

On the last full day of the retreat, I was walking to the meditation hall when I saw woman bent down near a garden bed. We weren’t supposed to initiate eye contact as a gesture of keeping silence. Still she gestured with her hands and eyes for me to join her. I moved closer feeling like we were the naughty kids in the playground. We stood staring at a pile of dirt to one side of a little hole the size of my fist. Not having lived in California for such a long time, I stood there with the awe of a child, really having no idea what would come out of that hole. Would it be a snake, a bird, or a mouse? I had no clue. Who needed T.V., this and the deer were the best entertainment I had experienced in years. My breath came out in cold billows and the new winter cold kissed my cheeks. I waited as if a friend were about to tell me long awaited news.

After several moments, suddenly out of the hole came a bouquet of fur. He had buck teeth and bright eyes. He was all Disney and what I could only imagine must be a gofer. Over the next forty minutes he continued to pop half his body out of the hole and gnaw on the branch of the little bonsai like plant he had burrowed beneath. Then he would dive deep beneath the earth kicking more dirt out of the hole. This was serious work. Winter was around the corner and there were no breaks on his shift. After a week of stillness and internal focus, this incredible act of housekeeping brought the widest smile to my face. The bell rang signaling it was ten minutes until our next meditation. My feet were firmly rooted into the path. As my fellow retreat members walked to the meditation hall, a few glanced over at me smiling unabashedly down at a little hole. Curiosity got the better of quite a few people and over the next ten minutes one by one a line of people began to fan out from where I was staring into a little hole. I watched as each serious face stared with question at an empty hole and then erupted into cascading smiles when our friend the gofer would appear for his encore. People came and went, but I stayed, not for the gofer but for the experience of watching the wonder and the joy on the faces of those whom I had lived with in a gentle silence for a week.

Reflecting later on, I knew that each one of these people, propelled by there own questions, struggles, sorrows and their thirst for peace, had made the choice to take time out from their lives to come on retreat. I knew, even more so than when I had arrived, how inextricably our lives were all part of the same fabric of life. The colours and designs of our squares of quilt might appear quite different, but our edges were sewn together and our actions had a great effect on one another.

This was echoed by our meditation teachers who reminded us that the people in our lives, and really all beings, were cheering us on in our quest for more understanding of ourselves and the world around us. To sit peacefully for a week, to make time for the thoughts to quiet, to come in touch with nature and what is important in your life is such a gift. There were moments when I was overwhelmed by love for the friends and the family in my life and the possibilities in everyday life. Coming closer to what was real for me gave me a direct path towards my intentions, values and beliefs. From this space, I know that the next chapter of my life will flow. It will be less obstructed by what I think my life should look like, and more in touch with what my life could look like in alignment with my hopes and dreams.

On Monday evening, a few days after my return, my husband and I received an email letting us know that our dear friend Michael Moxey had past away. The news was a shock having only spoken to Michael a few weeks before, so full of life and love, as he always had sounded. Michael was our first landlord and had provided us a home over looking the water in the off-shore community of Elvina Bay just outside of Sydney. Michael was larger than life and always bragged about having an American poet living in what he called “The Ritz”. This was our modest studio cabin with a sleeping loft and an expansive deck where the Cockatoos landed and woke us each morning. This home, that we boated to and from the mainland to, provided us the most wonderful space to start the first four years of our relationship.

When I think about Michael, it is not anything material that I remember him giving me. It is the stories that he wove for me about his experiences living around the world. It is the way he cared for animals and named the python that slept in our gutters “Monty”. It is the way that he was always honest with people, even if he ruffled their feathers, but always settled into their hearts with a quiet presence. It is the food he prepared with such gusto and the Christmas where he treated us like family. It is the way he called me “pet” and the nip of scotch he gave me as we waited to see if Pete would make it across the water in our little boat during a howling hail storm. But mostly, it was simply the beautiful friend he became and how he always laughed from his heart to his blue blue eyes.

This holiday season, I invite you to find your everyday balance by giving the gift of your unique presence. Often we focus so much on the material gifts that we can give and strain our emotional well being and our wallets to do so. This year shift your focus to what you can give that people will remember as uniquely being an extension of you. If you are an award winning quiche maker, give mini quiches that people can freeze as a gift. If you weave beautiful wreaths out of branches and leaves that you find on your morning walks, lay that under your loved ones trees. If you are good with children, give your friends an afternoon off and have a cookie making party for several of your friend’s kids. If you know that a friend or family member has had a difficult year, make time to have a cup of tea and really listen to how they feel about this past year. You may find these to be the most meaningful gifts your dear ones receive.

To approach this, create your own silent retreat. This doesn’t have to be a week or even a day long. Set aside a half and hour or longer to sit peacefully, at the beach or in your favourite place in nature. Let the thinking mind quiet down, observing your thoughts without judgment and letting them pass away like bright clouds against a Spring sky. When you feel in contact with your breath and discover a sense of peace, open your eyes and write down the people you would most like to give to this December. This may be the person that does your dry cleaning or your parents or a dear friend. Let it flow and leave your wallet behind. Write down one act of gratitude next to each name and then write in the times in your calender when you can fit this in. Some will occur spontaneously and others will be planned.

From this space of gratitude and service, watch as abundance blooms. The holidays are about bringing joy into your everyday. Allow this to seep in not necessarily by spending money, but by giving parts of you, pockets of time that you have to give. Know that in doing this, that as you lean into the lap of your holiday whether it is Christmas or Hanukkah or simply a day of gratitude, that you will have made someone elses life more peaceful simply for your presence. This is what people will remember. The unexpected gift simply of you. Enjoy the spontaneity and the wonder and in this season find time for quiet and time to laugh, as my old dear friend did, mindfully from his heart to his eyes.

Happy Holidays from everydaybalance. Thank you for your gifts all through the year in your words of support for my poetry and inspiration pieces. I couldn’t do it without you. May your family be healthy and well and I hope that our paths cross soon. The photos that I took of my retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center are available at: www.flickr.com/photos/everydaybalance

This is a monthly inspiration piece brought to you by author Christina Adler at ‘everyday balance’. If you would like to share your experience with these tools or subscribe to this inspiration piece each month, please send your name and email address to chrisadler@everydaybalance.net or visit this website in the first week of each month. For information regarding life coaching appointments in person, by telephone or online, send an email to the above address with your name and phone number or visit the contacts section of this website. Photo by Chris Adler of grounds at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

posted under 2008 life balance

to sing of yellow

December1

the hills here
melt out of morning sun
and sing of yellow
as if to say

another colour could never be
so beautiful
and there is silence
as I sweep

the wooden deck in long fluid strokes
that break the silence
like a nail file
against the air of nap time in a sleeping home

in these numbered days here
I am sleeping less
but am more awake
among the redwood bodies

and the skulking deer
than I am among
tall buildings
and tangled horns

my soul recognizes
the silence like an old friend
and tries to change towards it
like a chameleon on a leaf

my jaw releases
and my face uncreases
there is quiet here
this is all I could ask of peace

copyright – Christina Adler – 15 November 2008 – Woodacre, California USA

posted under 2008 poetry