Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Minding and finding the gap

I recently went on a retreat in Lerab Ling, a Tibetan style Retreat Center with an authentic Buddhist temple in the south of France. A retreat is a period that you step away from your ordinary life and focus intensely on spiritual practice, instead of the mundane concerns of ordinary life. For me one of the most important themes of this particular retreat was "the gap." While the gap has a very specific connotation in the teachings, metaphorically it is a very important concept.
First of all, a retreat in itself is a gap--a gap between our ordinary ways of thinking, completely reactive and preoccupied with whatever is at hand. Because a retreat is a place where you are in a completely different context, it allows you to take a step away from your ordinary thinking patterns and take a more bird's eye perspective. Sometimes you need a full retreat to remind you that there is actually the possibility of a gap, but of course the gap is always there. There is always a space to take a step away from your ordinary thinking. Just take a breath, and drop all your concepts and preoccupations, and there is a gap. It is so easy to forget that! In fact, I think it takes a lot of courage to break through our ordinary thinking and take the space to just be for a moment. And even if you try, sometimes you may feel as if it just doesn't work to drop your preoccupation. That is fine too. You can even let go of the concept of letting go. This may seem paradoxical, but sometimes when trying it out, this can just work. Why is engaging with a gap so important? Very often we keep ourselves busy from early morning to late at night (at least I do!), and there is no space to think about why and what we are doing. We are just following our mental habits. Making a little gap allows you to step outside these habits for a moment, which may provide you with a new perspective. Moreover, I find that I feel less stressed when I make a moment to stop and observe the gap. Another thing a "gap" can do is to consolidate our knowledge and understanding. A traditional Buddhist method for contemplation is to alternate periods of analytical thinking about a philosophical issue with periods of just resting. The idea is that when you rest, the knowledge becomes more embodied. Wouldn't it be an interesting experiment to try that out with things that we are analyzing and thinking about in our work? It may lead to interesting new insights, or maybe to a stronger memory of the material you are thinking about. I am definitely going to try this. So: it may be worth it to not forget the gaps, but to try to cultivate them. This blog is also posted on http://radicallyhappy.org/blogpage

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