I just got back from the Open Way Sanghas fall retreat entitled: Wonderfully Together. The retreat was held at the Lubrecht Forest Camp in Greenough, MT with dharma teacher Brother Phap Hai and Brother Phap Hanh, monks from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Deer Park Monastery in southern California.
There were about 40 retreatants in attendance. We practiced sitting and walking meditation together, listened to dharma talks, ate our meals in silence, enjoyed free personal time and discussion groups in the afternoon and had evening programs after dinner. Our retreats start Thursday night and end on Sunday early afternoon and happen twice a year, one in the spring and one in the fall.
Attending Open Way retreats has been a process of unfolding for me, much like everything in life is. I was trying to recall my first Open Way retreat many years ago but with my poor long term memory all I can really remember is being pretty uncomfortable and not feeling like I belonged – and getting annoyed a lot. I’m not entirely sure what made me continue attending them, maybe my love of this practice or the sense of belonging I felt on an deeper level. Whatever the case was I am sure glad I kept showing up. I’ve learned a lot about myself on retreats and each time I attend one I grow a little more comfortable with myself, and thus more comfortable with the retreat itself. The two are not separate.
Here are some of the notes I took during Brother Phap Hai’s dharma talks:
The 8 Winds that Blow Into our Eyes of Practice: 1. Praise 2. Blame 3. Gain 4.Loss 5.Status 6. Disgrace 7. Pleasure 8. Pain
We have 3 deep roots: greed, ill will and delusion. Example – Greed: holding onto people, grasping, holding onto perceptions. Ill will: judging ourselves harshly, shutting down, judging others. Delusion: not seeing things as they are, seeing things as separate, seeing ourselves as separate. One root will be deeper than the other two for each of us. The mindfulness trainings will help us to work with these deep roots. The trainings are a gift and help us to care for ourselves and the world and help us to open up to the world around us.
Thay was quoted in saying, “don’t waste your time looking for small comforts.”
The practice of stopping in our daily lives is important. When we stop we can practice coming back to our senses. What are our reactions to what we see, hear, smell, taste, feel? What senses are more heightened? What are the first things we notice when we stop? Where does our attention go?
Our everyday life and our spiritual life are not two, they are one, this is the heart of engaged buddhism.
Thay was quoted in saying, “you can tell the nature of your practice by the nature of your relationships.”
Seeings as where we had the retreat there were other staff people around who live and work there and other visiting folks to the university’s experimental forest camp location coming and going I found there to be a good number of distractions around during the retreat. Our retreats are held mostly in silence so it doesn’t take much to create a distraction. For me one of my favorite parts about retreats is sharing silence with others so I missed it this time around. There was a certain lack of focus associated with it for me. I found myself concerned more about others practice and how the distractions were translating for the newer folks than for myself personally. Practicing amidst distractions is an advanced skill set.
What I appreciated most about the retreat was the light heartedness of the monastics who led it. They moved with such grace and ease and had such humor and joy. I guess I expected them to be more formalized and solemn. It was nice to be reminded that the practice is alive and rich and diverse. It’s important to keep the practice fresh and light so that we continue breathing new life into it.