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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

May 4, 2012

Retreat Reflections - Part I

I just returned from 3 weeks away. I was on retreat at Treveni - a secluded retreat center in Arizona that was created by Lee Lozowick, my spiritual teacher, for his students as well as for anyone of any lineage to go for retreat practice. 

I was in “the meditation hut” which is about 200 sq. feet. It is simple, elegant and beautiful – not really very hut-like. Last year I was in a yurt – also lovely but more rustic and exposed to the high desert heat, cold and wind. 

The general flow of my days went something like this: I would wake up with the light at about 5 am; I would generally do two rounds of meditation-prayer-puja-contemplation-journaling before 8 am when the thermos of hot water would arrive at my door (delivered sight-unseen, as were the meals); I woulod have a breakfast of fruit and whatever hot beverage I made with my hot water; usually after breakfast I would visit the bathhouse. The bathhouse is where I took showers, did hand laundry and answered the call of nature. It was about 5 minutes walk.  After returning to the hut, I generally wrote in my journal for a couple of hours, then a round of practice as above before lunch appeared at my door at noon. Lunch was a 3-part affair in a lovely stacked tin set-up. The bottom layer might be quinoa or rice, the next layer was often a cooked veggie or two, and the top layer was usually some sort of raw veggie or salad. All the food was simple, clean and yummy. No salt, dairy, sugar, gluten.

After lunch I was usually a bit VATA deranged…..(In ayurvedic understanding, vata is the air element and when it gets too high in a person , they become "vata deranged". Vata is at its highest in the afternoon, is increased at high altitude (I was at 5500 feet), is increased when you are engaged in a lot of sadhana, and can make a person VERY spacey.  In the afternoons I had to work to keep the top of my head from floating off the planet. I would do things like lie down on the floor, put my hat on, put rose-water soaked eye-pads on, and just generally move slowly, carefully and think of elephants, chant to Ganesh (heavy!) and pray for gravity. I would start to regain some gravity after a while and then I would do more practice – including asana – until dinner arrived at my door at 6. Dinner was almost always a thermos mug of vegetable soup. After dinner I would go for a walk as it was cooler then.  During the day I would always spend some time reading poetry and usually during my evening walks I would work on memorizing a poem.  I almost always went to sleep at 8 since that is when it got dark and there was no electricity.

Occasionally I would see another person from a distance. But mostly I saw nobody for the entire time, not even myself (as there were no mirrors).

It was strong work and I loved every single day. It was not truly so much a “retreat” as it was an “advance” - an advance past my buffers, preferences, defenses and habitual, “mechanical-me” patterns to make myself more vulnerable and permeable to the Sacred.

One of the things I become aware of when I begin retreat is how “thickened” and impermeable I have become. Even with all the boons of remembrance and blessing that make up the fabric of my daily life – things like sadhana, study, good work, a husband and family who support and encourage sadhana and retreat – still I become thickened in my awareness.

Retreat initiates in me a thinning.  The layers of my being that have become congealed and dense are gradually thinned, refined, infused with sattva, and made more flexibly permeable to the Sacred, to my lineage, to my Teacher and the teachings. And everything supports me in this. EVERYTHING. It blows my mind and breaks my heart, this direct experience of being held and directed.

OK – that’s enough words for one blog post. Tune in tomorrow for Part II. It’s good to be home.  Thanks for reading!