The Value of a Retreat

 The stream at Vallecitos

The stream at Vallecitos

I feel such gratitude that I have been able to use part of my vacation time this year for a 7 day silent meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Retreat and Refuge in northern New Mexico.  The location is stunning at 8,800 feet, tucked away in the Carson National Forest.  Amid aspen groves, vanilla scented Ponderosa pines and a babbling stream, all 36 of us were immersed in silence, sitting, hiking, community meals and wonderful support from three dedicated mindfulness teachers - Trudy Goodman, Grove Burnett and Wes Nisker.  We practiced formal sitting or walking meditation about 6-7 hours a day, ample time for me to "explore the anatomy of my mind/body".  I learned that if I quickly shift my attention back to a body sensation right after noticing that my mind is lost in a story....and do this over and over and over and over again.....that my mind will eventually quiet and settle more easily.  I also discovered how much time there is for my mind to wander and get distracted in a walking meditation between each slow footstep...even when I speak words with each step!  "Safe....calm....healthy....whole"....oh the places my thoughts and feelings could travel in such a short space!

Such an intensive retreat experience is not for everyone.  I recommend building your capacity to sit and be in silence in a gradual way, otherwise you can get overwhelmed with thoughts, sensations, story and emotion.  Most people are unable to attend such a retreat, but you can create a simple version at home.  Your daily sitting practice can be a retreat.  Choosing to be silent during a meal can allow you and your family a new and different experience (though smaller children may not be able to do this!).  Practicing a walking meditation in your yard in the summer while watching the stars emerge can be another refuge of sorts.  Be creative to give yourself a mini retreat.... your nervous system will be very appreciative!

 Evening walk

Evening walk

 View from my walkabout

View from my walkabout

 Meditation hall in the Vallecitos Lodge

Meditation hall in the Vallecitos Lodge

Spring is springing!

I really wanted to write a post before Valentine's Day speaking to our deep need for self-love, appreciation and compassion.  I thought about it a lot, had good intentions, but it never got written.  What happened? My impulse to "create" just wasn't strong enough to make it a reality and then Valentine's Day passed and the urgency diminished.  I still feel self kindness and compassion is important in our lives and another day I will complete a post on this.  I promise.

What caught my attention in this writing process, however, was investigating the  "impulse to create". What spurs me to manifest an idea, write a post, create a knitted piece or wonderful meal?  I am witnessing Mother Nature here in Albuquerque beginning to surge with new growth - the rose leaves are starting to unfurl, the bulbs are swelling and sprouting leaves and the mustard plants (weeds) are soaking up the longer sunlight and proliferating everywhere!  What combination of events is needed for the earth to launch full blown into spring creation?  Certainly a combination of light, heat, temperature, and other rhythms unknown to me form a deep complexity of "intention to mobilize".  So how do I sense that creative mobilization in myself?

 Spring parsley sprouting!

Spring parsley sprouting!

My creative process is something like this: An image, idea, or feeling will flit through my consciousness a number of times.  Then it seems to take hold and repeat itself more frequently. Then I get curious and chew on it a bit, then somehow it begins to flesh out. Perhaps a photo or article will fill in some of the gaps.  Then, there is a "wanting" to take action, see my idea or project come into physical form.  I get more excited about it and then I take the first steps, like making an outline, or jotting down some thoughts.  And today, I am writing this post.  

Am I at the whim of the creative flow?  Can I make it happen on a timeline? I am often inspired by artists.  My son will be graduating with his Bachelor's in Fine Art from an art school this May.  He HAS to be creative!  On a schedule, with deadlines and grades!  How does he do that? (To see his work visit www.shakyhandspress.com). Another favorite local artist of mine, Diana Stetson (printmaker, calligrapher, painter extraordinaire - see her amazing work at www.DianaStetson.com) has been churning out incredible work for years. That can't be easy!  (Click on the respective websites to see the talented work of these two artists).  

What I have witnessed with artists, that is also applicable to a mindfulness practice, is creating space.   Artists have studios, they lay out their tools, they have a workspace that provides an energy and an intention to create.  And they show up in this space whether they feel creative or not!  Sometimes creativity blossoms and many times it does not.  But they show up regardless. And then something happens.  Maybe it's not good art, maybe it is. And maybe it's a springboard to something bigger.

The important part about a mindfulness practice is the same....showing up.  It works best when we have a space and the tools to practice - a room, a chair, a cushion, a consistent time, and the tools of following our breath or focusing on our body.  Sometimes our practice feels scattered, our minds adrift with worry or work.  And sometimes, we are graced by landing into a zone that one of my mindfulness students, Dave, deliciously described as "sinking deeply into myself".  This experience comes with practice, with creating a space to show up and sitting with the intention to be aware of this moment, whether we feel like it or not.

I invite all of us to create our space and to show up.  Today, tomorrow and everyday.  We can create a momentum that will mold our neurons into new patterns for lasting change and beauty. How about that?!

Seeing Clearly

I just had cataract surgery on my right eye about two weeks ago.  I tried to stay very curious about my process from intake to the restoration of my sight.  In the prep room, the nurses were checking my oxygen saturation with a finger monitor.  I looked at the reading and it was 91%! That is too low for me!  I realized I was nervous and not breathing much, so I consciously took 3 deep breaths. Within seconds, my oxygen saturation went up to 99%. What a fabulous feedback tool that helped me during the surgery.  I was impressed with how quickly my body responded...just 3 breaths!  It made me wonder how often I constrict my breathing in the course of a normal day and how deep breaths can do wonders with oxygen nourishment in my system.  

The surgery itself was quick and painless.  Over the next two days I had a fair bit of eye irritation, and kept my eyes frequently closed, which led to an insight. I am a VERY visual person! I felt disconnected from a lot of things.....my family, my knitting, where I was being driven to in the car, etc.  Even though I could hear and touch and see (in a cloudy fashion) I realized how much energy I pour into and through my eyes, often with a lot of strain and "seeking" out.  I use my eyes to orient to the world and that was very different in these two days. So I made an effort to lean back....to listen and feel and rest.  It was not always easy.

When I awakened on the third day, the cloudiness had disappeared and oh my!  Colors were vivid, edges and lines were sharp and clear!  There was a brightness I didn't realize I had missed for the last year or so.  I was seeing SO clearly through my right eye!  I began to wonder how much I miss seeing or hearing or touching in my life.  What has become fuzzy or cloudy or dull or so routine that I tune it out?  What am I missing right now?  How much aliveness am I not paying attention to?

Since the surgery, I have made a conscious effort to attend to life's details more clearly, yet softly, with hopefully less strain over time.  I do realize that our nervous system does a good job of screening out much of what could be very overwhelming input to our senses.  Yet I have a clue that my life could be richer if I pay more attention, a little bit at a time, every day.  I invite you to try the same!