Making Each Moment An Act Of Self Care:
Lessons From Retreat
Less than two weeks ago, I left the Gaia House haven to venture back into the speedy world of cities and smog. A renewed sense of ease accompanies me, which manifests in very tangible ways, including a lighter, more self-compassionate attitude to service.
Admittedly quite exhausted before my retreat, I can barely remember feeling so happily relieved to let everything (especially technology) go and plunge into silence! Every silent morning, nourishing meal, cup of tea, gentle stretch and conscious breath became a deep act of self-care. For two weeks, if I inclined to spreading metta outwards, my mind would (figuratively) beg, "please, not yet- I still need you most!" So what choice but to drink my fill- and I enjoyed every drop. Once truly resourced the sharing happened naturally, even increasing the reserves. Spacious, unscheduled days pass quickly when only several events occur; early morning sit, breakfast, two more morning sits before lunch, a rest, an amble along the lanes or fields, more meditation, and luxurious evenings in reclining chairs, or with a rousing Dhamma talk- that's it. Certainly, a nun's idea of heaven (while it lasts!).
In my final meditation week I joined a teacher-led retreat entitled 'Overcoming The Inner Critic' with Laura Bridgeman, who accompanied me on tudong (walking pilgrimage) in 2016. We looked closely at some of the conditioned patterns we carry that no longer serve our needs. The archetypal inner critics operating most strongly for me are the 'Perfectionist' and the 'Underminer'- which can make a debilitating pair (if you believe in them) combined! Seeing them clearly and objectively undermined the grip of their often veiled messages such as 'It won't be good enough', or 'If it's not perfect you will disappoint, so keep going, do better and work hard!' (sound familiar?) Often just kind-fully meeting the voices allowed for great strength and humour to arise and from there it was much easier to distill and connect to the beauty behind the message, such as the genuine wish to serve. This experience inspired the topic of Ajahn Brahm's December talk: "You Don't Have To Be So Perfect" -a marvellously rebellious message of 'good enough' that he often conveys to us all.
The inner nourishment of retreat also enabled much clarity to arise about healthy ways to proceed with Anukampa. The unexamined enquiry "how can my practice serve the project?" shifted to "how can the project serve my practice?" and this feels more consciously rooted in my spiritual aims and aligned with the essential purpose of a monastery. From strong roots grow strong trees, so in the next months and maybe years, focus will be on honing good organisational and communication structures, and exploring ways of empowering each other to bring our strengths and initiatives to the mix. Once this reduces my workload (!), we will be in a position to think about property- in the meantime we may choose to rent a flat as a small community base. On May 12th we will have our first 'key volunteer' meeting to discuss this: hopefully the first of many more to come.
I spent the last month at Gaia as temporary resident teacher and once again felt privileged to bear witness and gently guide people's inner unfolding, as an apprentice in deep listening and kindly holding space. Caring for my own heart through inwardly embodied connection, and noticing when I was moving energetically into the other's terrain felt key, and it seems remarkable that often the most healing gift to people is simply a non-judgemental grounded presence, rather than lots of advice. This is a hugely rich learning field for me, which is now coming to hand in comforting a dear friend as she nears the end of her blessed life, her goodness shining forth.
Truly, the more we care for ourselves, the more we are able to care for all beings, and this way the well-spring of compassion won't run dry. This way our service becomes love made visible, in this transient world of pleasure and pain.