One Year, Three Retreats

When I began to write this review of 2018, I couldn’t see much beyond the two main experiences of the year. The Silent Retreat, and what can perhaps be referred to as the Angry Retreat. Each provided a breakthrough which has the potential to transform my life. They help to emphasise this year as both the culmination of 19 years of work, and the beginning of the rest of my life; a turning point in my development, taking me further away from my conditioning and towards the emptiness which has so informed my writing since the end of last year.

But there has been more to this year than just those two experiences and the series of blog posts which arose out of them.

We Need Repetition

It began with preparations for my own retreat, which I ran in the summer with a close friend. More of that later, but the first two posts of the year, which came in April, are an introduction to the part retreats play in people’s lives. Childish Learning, is all about rediscovering the determination and curiosity to discover, which drive a child’s development. And Retreats & Reminders stresses how necessary it is for us to be constantly reminded as we seek to create more effective habits. This is especially relevant as I endeavour to make my learning from this year concrete.

Interestingly, when I looked back at my personal notes from April, I saw that I was struggling in a similar way as I did in November (but for different reasons). It’s a pattern which happens roughly twice a year. The goal for the new year, therefore, is to use every day to practise for when it happens again so it does not affect me in the same way as it always has in the past. Practise now, so I’m more ready when I need to be.

Life & The Mind

May and June saw a series of seven posts around the subject of creating a new habit. The attempt itself was unsuccessful, insofar as my original goal of early mornings was not sustained. However, it was an excellent demonstration not only of the process one goes through and how challenging it can be to establish a new habit, but also of how life works. Whichever course we take, life exerts a force much greater than any intention we might have, and has a habit of steering us in directions we don’t even realise we need to go. The best two posts from that series are:

The second of those entries places the mind firmly in place as the cause of most of our issues. It is a thread which runs throughout my writing, from the earliest days to the final ones of this year. In fact, in the middle of formulating this piece, I opened my book at a random page and was offered the following line.

‘In only two days I have started to pull things around. And all because I have gone back to the basics – discipline and awareness of mind.’

That entry comes from February 2001. It just goes to show that even though I knew back then what I had do – something I have written about again and again(!) over the years – it has taken nearly 18 years for me to wake up. I need to make sure I stay awake, and the first post of 2019, ‘Mastering The Climb’, will address that further.

Summer Retreat

For now, back to 2018 because in the summer, together with a close friend, I ran a weekend retreat. It was a real success, both personally and professionally, summarised best by the following lines from the final piece of the three listed below:

‘The intense environment of that weekend was so reminiscent of the weekends we spent working on ourselves under Karaj’s guidance. I felt so at home, so at ease in that place. Its familiarity embraced me and allowed my work to flow in a way which honoured those long days with Karaj and the group. I felt the same sense of joy I had on many occasions throughout my training.’

Silent Retreat

July saw a brief attempt to record examples of daily gratitude. It ended four posts later in a piece, What Exactly Do I Do?, which prompted me to look closely at my work and how it is that I am able to do it. That reflection brought gratitude for Karaj. Without him and what he did for me, I would not be where I am now. Days later, whilst attending Mooji’s silent retreat, I was overwhelmed by gratitude. I felt deep appreciation and wonder for the gift I had been given and the experience it bestowed upon me. It is difficult to choose the best pieces from that period, so here are all but one of them:

The Dalai Lama

A month later, in September, I sat before the Dalai Lama, following an invitation from a friend. I was writing a piece about perspectives at the time, and His Holiness’ words allowed me to conclude the post, A Shift Of Perspective, in the best way possible because of what he said at the end of the session. He spoke simply, telling us that altruism and emptiness are the way forward for everyone. Beautiful. He also talked of what we can do to ease our minds, offering us the eight verses he recites every day in a humbling reminder of discipline and practice.

Another two months passed, with posts highlighting the need to turn away from external distractions (Stop Searching, Look Inside) and examine the silence at the core of ourselves (Shut Up & Listen). There was also the milestone of my daily exercises passing the five-year mark. And one other intriguingly relevant entry; a microcosm of the two game-changing experiences which occurred either side of it. Connecting In The Stillness, describes the exact same contrast of anger and stillness which arose in just one afternoon of workshops. (It also mentions a particularly moving highlight of my year: my proposal of marriage to her.)

Angry Retreat

Then came the final crescendo of 2018, as I withdrew without warning into an emotional maelstrom. Again, the weight of insight from this event means that it is difficult to choose the most important pieces, so here are all of them:

Those entries show clearly how much can be gleaned from any experience when we approach it in the right way. They are a textbook account of how to do it, and the learning is as powerful and rich as anything I have experienced.

Let Go, Be Empty

It feels as though everything I have been doing over the last two decades has found expression in the events of the past 6 months alone, and I find myself ending the year with these lessons:

  • Surrender (to God) – stop thinking you can control reality and give yourself up to the greater forces at work.
  • Be open (to life) – achieve this simply by not closing. The more open you can be, the more life’s energy will flow through you, the more alive you will feel, and the more you will influence your world in a positive way.
  • Relax – again, relinquish any need to control things in accordance with your expectations or desires. They are nothing more than a distraction. Instead, simply enjoy whatever is in front of you.
  • Let go – of everything, at all times.
  • Be empty – reside in the infinite stillness.

They are lessons whose simplicity transforms without effort or pain; synonyms, reinforcing each other in an infinite loop. All one needs to do is remember, which can be difficult because we are so used to doing anything but those things, and because the world is a place teeming with distractions. It is clear, for example, from reading the entries from the silent retreat that what I experienced during those five days seemed to have deserted me during the anger I felt in November. Reading those entries again for this post confirms the need for vigilance.

This year has been a collection of events and experiences which have re-affirmed my work, my development, and my progress. They have also undermined those things. But the overriding lesson as the year nears its end is to release myself from the restrictions of everyday influences. Be empty, free of conditioning; go beyond the reach of the mind, yet remain open to the splendour of life as it unfolds; and live in relaxed surrender to a force I can neither imagine nor control, but which is always on my side.

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