Saturday, June 03, 2017

Running around a retreat with cell phone in hand--an opportunity to find spaciousness in busyness

I attended a retreat with my teacher Sogyal Rinpoche over Ascension day weekend. As I am writing this, after four intense days, I cannot help but feel tremendously spacious and relaxed. That is actually pretty odd given that I went there with a healthy dose of aversion, feeling tired and somewhat sick, and then spending the full four days of the retreat running around with phone in hand from 7:15 am to 9:00 pm. How could this be?
Sogyal Rinpoche teaching in Amsterdam (picture from Facebook Rigpa Nederland)

People attending the teaching; the dots dress on the far left is me (picture from Facebook Rigpa Nederland)

Going on retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche you know one thing, and that is that everything is going to change all the time. The only thing that is certain is the time at which the first session starts, and from that moment, everything is in a constant flow. The reason I was running around with the phone in my hand this time around was that I was the so-called "teaching services coordinator", who has to make sure that changes in the program are communicated to all the relevant teams, that every team is doing its work properly and that everyone has the materials they need and know what to do. In other words, this roles requires you to constantly be in touch with everything that is happening in all the different places, and to constantly be "in the change." It felt a bit like the retreat was an organism, and I as a teaching services coordinator had to feel what it was doing.

One of the big themes of the retreat was the "twit-twit mode"--a mode of being very busy and not being aware of what is actually happening. This mode of being sounded very familiar to me, and therefore the retreat was a fantastic way to work with it. The idea is that if you are connected to the awareness that is always present in your mind, then you will be able to hold your ground, instead of being swept away by busyness. I noticed that I was able to get a flavour of this at the retreat, because I was able to listen to the teachings on meditation in the nature of mind, and then immediately go back to working to hold the retreat. In that way it was quite easy to experiment with that awareness. Another beautiful idea that Sogyal Rinpoche used to describe this state of mind was that our ordinary mind would be consumed by the awareness of our nature of mind, instead of our ordinary being consumed by confusion. And when we are confused, we are easily burnt out because we cannot prioritize.

An important part of being aware is also being able to listen. Sometimes working together is benefits from less focus on results, and more focus on just getting together and listening. In fact, when you are with people, it's not what you say, but how you are. What is incredibly helpful is just to be open, loving, and compassionate, and then things may resolve themselves. This is both the case for situations between people and for our own mind: when we leave our mind in its pure awareness, then we can also find our true home. This is a true friend that is always there, whereas all other friends will some day disappear.

A further theme was the "throwaway culture" in which we live nowadays, in which we always want quick fixes yesterday, instead of going for more durable solutions. In particular, we are not willing to spend time and effort on a spiritual path that does not give very quick improvements. Moreover, we always want new things, and quickly get bored. I found that this analysis of present-day society rang true to my own experience, especially our consumerist society.

In addition, we often look for happiness outside ourselves. But actually, the source of happiness is inside ourselves: in a sense of joy and appreciation for what is always there. This ability to transform everything that happens into something good is the essence of Vajrayana buddhism. It reminds me of a Dutch poem: "if you look carefully, then you see that everything is colorful." Everything is in fact a display of clarity, joy, and wisdom, but it's so easy to forget that in the nitty-gritty of our everyday experience. Similarly, we can find joy in our work--even when we are very busy--when we are inspired by bodhicitta and caring for others. But if we just do the work to get ahead and to gain recognition then we will quickly burn out.

In summary, I felt the retreat was very much about bringing together the absolute teachings about the nature of awareness with the nitty-gritty of everyday life. I was able to get a taste of what happens when you get let go of the "twit-twit mode" and instead expand your awareness to everything that happens in the retreat, being in touch and not so much worried about little things. An inspiring way to find space in my own mind!
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