Refreshed. Rejuvenated. Relaxed. Nourished. Joyful. Complete.
That’s how I felt during my personal seven-day retreat and digital release.
Could that happen for you? Yes, of course! If you are willing to make the break.
Meditation might not be your cup of tea. But there are countless other ways to nourish yourself with space.
Seven days might be too long – or even impossible – in your reality. But there’s always one day, one hour, or one moment when you can disconnect and breakaway.
Will you give it a try?
As we all know so well, the sense of simplicity we experience during a break may quickly fade away as we are thrust back into the fray of life.
Unless you decide – once and for all – on a reasonable life balance between activity and peace. That doesn’t mean you’ll achieve it one go. But a decision and a commitment are the recommended first step.
The Queen of Love
As nice as they are, relaxation and rejuvenation were not the motivation for my retreat. The point was to tug at my heart. To soften, to open, to touch my true essence. Then, through this unknotting process, be able to serve others with a bigger heart.
I happened upon a set of The Faeries’ Oracle cards just before retreat. I shuffled and pulled “The Faery Who Was Kissed by the Pixies.” This card depicts Morna, the Queen of Love who uses the power of love to help us open our hearts and love unconditionally. An auspicious sign, I would say! May I too be kissed by the pixies and the magic of Morna’s love.
The first morning of retreat, I was awakened abruptly by the ring of the phone. It was still very dark. A bleeding, homeless man had entered the neighbor’s screened porch. An ambulance and the police were speeding our way.
I felt unnerved. I popped up on the bed, straightened my back, and began loving kindness meditation to quiet my trembling and quell my fears. I sent love to my self, my neighbor, the homeless man, and all those responding to the call for help.
This unexpected event immediately challenged the boundaries of my love. Could I feel the same love for a bloody, threatening stranger as I do for a friend in the neighborhood?
The Heart of Loving Kindness Meditation
The practice of loving kindness meditation can be nourishing. But it also can be unsettling. Both aspects are part of its power.
Loving kindness meditation involves the mindful repetition of simple phrases. These are the ones used in my tradition.
- May I be well.
- May I be happy.
- May I be safe. [Optional]
You begin by directing the phrases towards yourself. Without loving yourself, you cannot truly love others.
I focused on self-love for several days. My sessions of loving kindness meditation were two hours in length, bookmarked by my usual morning and evening meditation practice.
Many get stuck right here in phase one. Gross and subtle self-loathing abounds in these modern times. Repetition of the phrases often raises our dire right to the surface. That’s the whole point. The response is simple though not always easy to apply: let it rise, see it, release it, return to repeating the phrases.
By the way, if you think you are not worthy of love, the Buddha doesn’t agree:
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha
Widening the Circle of Love
In the next stages, you direct the phrases to an ever-widening circle beginning with a benefactor and moving on to a good friend, a neutral person, a difficult person (or enemy) and eventually the whole world. You imagine a single person at a time and repeat:
- May you be well.
- May you be happy.
- May you be safe.
Then you move on to another. When you tire of repeating the phrases, the advice is to simply rest your mind for awhile in the atmosphere of love that has started to emerge. Then you begin with repetition of the phrases once again.
Challenges and Insights
Different people are challenged in different phases of loving kindness practice.
Self-love is very hard for some. Others encounter jealousy when they think of a good friend. Difficult people? Usually a challenge for almost everyone!
Some experience dramatic breakthroughs or gain profound insights. Others don’t feel anything at all, but later mysteriously find themselves with a lighter heart.
This time around, I discovered I still harbor subtle grudges from a whole period of life.
There’s no way around it, those dark spots obscure your happiness. They are like a mirror showing a sticky place within. As the layers unpeeled, I could see it’s really my own feelings of jealousy and unworthiness that trigger shutting my love down. The space and the practice gave me the opportunity to honestly see and own these projections. And to begin to gently release them without being harsh with myself.
I also hit deep pockets of sadness, remembering times when I had withheld my love.
Coming to enemies, the idea of unconditional love gave me pause for thought. What does it really mean? Why should I love an enemy? The reflections were rich and strengthened my resolve.
This year, I am personally discovering love is the best medicine I could ever find. I feel it to be the most potent force we can offer in this suffering universe. Partnered with wisdom, love can conquer all.
“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Distraction? Oh yes, plenty of that. It came in waves and increased toward the end of the retreat. Again, the remedy is simple though not always easy. You just bring your mind back to the phrases and object of love. Some sessions it seems you have to do this a thousand times. But other times, mind settles and you’re right there with love.
Realistically, you can’t do a quiet retreat and be online too. Although, in one sense, the digital sabbatical was a secondary gain, it was extremely important in my eyes.
With extra focus online the week before, I was weary of the internet by the time I began. So – at first – its call was not very strong. But, over the days, an alluring crescendo built up. Wisely, I didn’t make any hard and fast rules for this digital sabbatical so there was nothing to break or feel stressed about. Nevertheless, I didn’t cave in to surfing endlessly.
Deeper insights are personal and difficult to convey. One question that keeps bubbling to the surface: Am I wasting too much time?
It’s easy to fritter away one’s limited and, thus, precious time captivated by social media and the illusion that we are being of help. Are we really helpful or is it just ego’s game?
These reflections reverberated deeply. I see it is time to clean up my digital clutter and simplify my online engagement. All for one purpose: to focus more on my inner life. I’ll be writing about this more in the coming weeks.
In this day and age, it’s an accomplishment when anyone has the guts to do even a short retreat. But I’m not bragging about these seven short days. It’s peanuts in comparison to spiritual luminaries like Dilgo Kheyntse Rinpoche and Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche who have spent more than twenty years in solitary retreat.
What are your thoughts on breaks? Have you taken a break, digital or otherwise? Are you in need of solitude or a good break?
- Are You Serious About Loving Yourself – Loving Kindness, Part 1 – the challenge of self-love
- Are You Serious About Loving Yourself – Loving Kindness, Part 2 – on how to practice Loving Kindness
Image: The Thousand Arms of Avalokiteshvara, The Buddha of Compassion by suraj
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