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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 7, 2012

Retreat Reflections - Part II

[Continung from last post - reflections on my retreat at Treveni]- 

Something I have come to recognize when I begin a retreat is that to some extent – and sometimes to a great extent – the engine or spanda that has been making me go and keeping me going is small. On the surface of things all my doings and goings make a good facsimile of discipline. I work hard, keep all my commitments, eat well, etc. but oftentimes the engine I  rely upon is like a lawnmower engine….good at keeping the lawn mowed but not capable of powering a vehicle of transformation.  I can see this more clearly in the hugeness of the Light at Treveni where I can look with 20/20 vision at the question: “am I alive to keep the lawn mowed or am I going to continue to open – relentlessly – to the Big Game where the stakes are so high that they are worth EVERYTHING and will cost me not less than EVERYTHING?” The Big Game demands that I leave my lawnmower at the threshold and get on board the train.

Treveni – much like a cathedral or a temple - is charged with Blessing Force. It is a matrix of Intelligence – a vast, open-sky temple - that allows me to think thoughts and have sequences of understanding that cannot happen in the architecture of the regular world. I am illuminated by the sattva of the place. Light begins to permeate every layer of me – physical, mental, emotional, subtle.  At Treveni the “still small voice” is loud and clear and guides me through the days of the retreat seamlessly and brilliantly.

Being at Treveni is very, very strong. Intense. I am immersed in Sacredness - exquisite and terrifying – in a naked, transparent interface with “just this”, without my usual buffers. I often feel stoned – in at altered state of brightness that is just at the edge of what I can capacitate. And yet I am held…..and do not go over the edge. It’s never “too much” but it IS always an intense edge.

I have done retreat practice for years, but until I came to Treveni for the first time, I always had a teacher present, and retreat managers with bells to keep the schedule and so on. I have had a couple of good friends, who participate in Buddhist meditation retreats with their teachers, tell me that they didn’t know if they could do a retreat without a teacher holding the space. They said they thought they would especially miss the dharma talks in the evening as these keep them motivated and encouraged through the harder parts of the retreat.

I get that. But at Treveni I am with my Teacher. Closer than I have ever been to any teacher.  As Kabir puts it, “Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat. I am the breath inside the breath.”  I feel impeccable guidance every step of the way: how much and when to meditate; what pujas to do; what exercise and asana will best support the retreat process; when to rest and so on. It is as if I have the best teacher in the world arranging everything, taking care of every detail.  I feel absolutely held and directed and loved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Loved! Beyond a shadow of a doubt…….and knowing it. This is HUGE. Following that knowing comes heartfelt praise, as inevitably as exhale follows inhale.

At home, daily sadhana does help me remember. But retreat at Treveni is a blast of remembrance. I leave my shoes at the door – my life at the threshold.  This severance is my signal to the Sacred that I am surrendering – or really being surrendered to - the challenge, the heat, the intensity and the work at the edge. In all of this, I am supported by community – sangha, my wonderful husband and family, my students, the teachers at Garden Street. My retreat practice is inextricably woven into the context of my community. Community forms a matrix of support which makes my sojourn possible. And also, when I return home, as inevitably as exhale follows inhale, the Blessing Force which has infused me, serves as a source of Real food for the same community that supports me.

The practice of extended retreat and daily sadhana (which is a daily retreat)  - line me up with the Sacred…..physically, mentally, emotionally, at every level from gross to subtle. It puts me  “on the mark” to serve as riverbank to a flow of grace.  Without this alignment – I will begin my days and meander through seasons and years, “off the mark” (the literal translation of “sin”) and then  – as inevitably as exhale follows inhale - the river of grace, rather than flowing in a great song of praise and service, is instead harnessed by “mechanical –me” and precious possibilities for Work and Love are lost.

My great good fortune is to have a spiritual teacher and a lineage - a line or a thread connecting me to the Sacred. And the Yoga tradition is also a lineage onto which I have held for almost 40 years now. The idea of staying connected to lineage - not letting go of the thread - is one of the reasons I like this poem so much -  The Way It Is, by William Stafford:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

I can let go of the thread but the lineage of grace does not let go. The true teacher does not let go. Ever.  I can know this more perfectly at Treveni.  In the dailyness of my life at home and with the help of practice I hold on to the thread but it feels at times as if I’m just holding on to something thin and tenuous. Retreat and sadhana reveal the radiance and love that stream like a great river in the center of the thread and then I am no longer holding onto a thread but moving inside it - and knowing it for what it is: slender as a spider's thread, brilliant as a million moons - a powerful, bright current of grace.  And this breaks my heart, which is worth everything, because from that broken heart, as inevitably as exhale follows inhale, the love and brilliance of the Sacred can flow like a great river to wherever It will. 

Thanks for reading!