Everything is Uphill

“You park here”, the lady said, “and the check in is up there.” I gazed up the hill at the beauty of this place and realized this entire week was gonna be uphill. I never really imagined what I was thinking and the depths of how real it was. Everything is uphill.

From my first step I was beginning the journey of a lifetime. I looked around at the steep grassy hills, dotted with groves of brilliant green trees. I looked at the buildings set against this stunning backdrop and noticed how each one blended in and was accented by the grassy hills. There was a peacefulness here and it was evident that this was a powerful land and this was a powerful place.

I walked slowly uphill to the retreat site and through the gate that had a large prayer wheel…what the heck, I gave it a spin and said a silent prayer as I walked through the gate. I could feel the energy emanating from all around me. At first it was intimidating but soon it washed over me in a wave of warmth and a peaceful feeling came over me. I continued uphill till I came to the first building, a sign said “Start Here”.

That was the beginning of it all. From that moment forward everything was gonna be uphill. My cabin, the main meditation hall, the dinning hall and the path that took you to the top of the beautiful hills. Even my spiritual growth would be an uphill climb. There wasn’t much further down I was willing to go, so I welcomed the energy and settled in.

That was four days ago. I have surmounted more hills both metaphysically and physically. We do a walking meditation eight times a day. At least one of those meditations I take the path to the top of the hill and explore. It is breathtakingly beautiful and in a meditative state you don’t even feel the gravity or your heart beating in your chest. Your breathing is slow and steady and with each slow methodical step you climb further up.

Scattered at the top are more trails leading off to glorious views of the surrounding countryside. Each trail has benches with makeshift alters and colorfully adorned Buddhas with prayer beads and chakra stones. The energy radiates clear up to the top of the hill from the valley below and you can gaze out and soar with the birds gliding on the air currents. Since this is a silent retreat there is no human sound short of footsteps. The deer walk right out onto the fields as you stand there. The lizards scurry around at your feet. Bees buzz as they do their busy work. The trees whisper their stories for anyone willing to listen.

I’ve learned this week that uphill can be hard and it can also be rewarding. Uphill isn’t so bad after all.

Day Three: Mindful Awareness

Each day starts out before the dawn. The sound of bells, deep, low gongs. I awoke in a great deal of pain today. Perhaps from sitting and walking…or maybe it was the bed? No matter, just one more hurdle in my day. It could be pain caused by emotional upheaval manifesting itself in physical pain. The things we put ourselves through to achieve peace of mind, body and spirit.

I roll out of bed and head to morning meditation, 6:15 sharp. The first few meditations were guided, the last few however, have been left to us and our personal practice. After sitting for forty five minutes we have walking meditation and then breakfast. Today I had a special awareness on my walking meditation. I heard a small bird calling in the morning light, hidden away inside a tree. I paused and listened to its tiny calls and finally found it amongst the tangle of branches…it was the smallest hummingbird sitting on a branch singing away. It sat and watched me as I listened. Nothing else around was present, just me and this small bird. I thanked it for its early morning song, and continued on my walk. It is this awareness, this awakening that can only be achieved in a silent meditation.

Have I told you how loud silence is? Silence is very loud at times and very calming others. I can hear the pounding of my heart, the rush of blood through my head, my belly is always making very loud noises since I am eating delicious food that is totally foreign to its system. In silence you can here the wind, you can here the rustling of the trees, every sound you normally wouldn’t even notice is ten times louder when no one is speaking. You can hear birds feathers on the wind as they glide by. In silence I have come to appreciate all that goes unnoticed. You can hear distant buzzing from the bees collecting nectar. The world is silent when we are making sounds and full of incredible sounds when we are quiet.

I have also noticed, when silent, all other senses are heightened. Like I said earlier, I hear even the smallest sound. I wish I could bottle the smell of the air here. My eyes see colors more vividly. My mind thinks clearer. I just want to touch everything as if it were for the first time. A heightened awareness of all my surroundings. The world is alive an vibrant and I have only to be silent to take it all in.

Day Two: The Road to Change

I just completed my first full day at Spirit Rock Meditaion Retreat Center in Woodacre, California. I have run the entire gambit of emotions in the last fifteen hours. I have cried silently, laughed silently and waged battle, silently, with acceptance. I have sat in meditation for eight long hours. I have walked slowly, silently for another eight. I have listened to the teachers as they have reached inside of me, grabbed hold of all my fears and opened the flood gates. I was brought face to face with my darkest demons and tried to make some peace.

Today has been a whirlwind ride into a place I haven’t been in a long time, myself. Here at the retreat we are devoid from outside interference. We all have entered into “noble silence”. We have a life line available to us at anytime if the experience gets to intense, to decompress and seek clarity and direction. This is no cake walk and these teachers are here to guide us and lift us up. It is up to me to decide what I get from this. Trust me, the last three sitting meditations were tough to attend.

This retreat is about Mindfulness. It’s about learning to love all parts of you. To embrace all you fears and felt inadequacies with kindness and acknowledging short comings. It’s about generating a compassionate inner being. Compassion for oneself is needed in order to give it. Love is needed for oneself in order to give it. Understanding how to internalize the good even in a messed up world. This retreat is about me and whatever I choose to take from it. Breakdown the walls, embracing whatever comes up, owning it and embracing it with love and compassion.

Day One: Finding Oneself

It’s my fifty fifth birthday. Life has been good to me without a doubt. Hard work and perseverance have paid off… but at what price? I have money, love, a great life partner, my own business, a beautiful house and means. Lately however I have lost something more important than all of those things… ME.

Sure I am happy and content on the outside, but the inside is a jumble of confusion, sadness and spiritual decay. This has led to depression and anger. So much so that those around me the most are often times the recipients or at least the observers of my unintentional and uncontrolled outbursts. It’s hard to accept, admit and own up to this. It’s harder still to accept it as a dark part of me and seek out ways to change.

Well change is exactly what I must do before all that lies behind me is a path of destruction… before I find myself alone. I know from my past lessons learned that inside of me is a constant battle. I’ve learned that when an imbalance occurs I must take a step back and gain equilibrium…I must put myself and my well-being above all else, or there will be nothing else.

This coming week I have chosen to attend a silent residential meditation retreat. I have chosen to place myself in the middle of nowhere, to disconnect from the outside world, to turn inside to my world and do some renovations. I have chosen to put my life and well-being in the hands of the teachers. I have chosen to be torn down and built back up. I have chosen to face my demons and fight the battle waging within. It is quite literally my life on the line. Not physically, but spiritually and emotionally. My foundation is not as strong as it once was.

This weeks goal is to root out the anger, frustration, sadness and whatever other little monsters I find lurking, and face them head on. To make peace with those demons. To find balance once again. I accept, acknowledge and own them. To find the spiritual tools to once again feel whole and grounded. It’s a path of enlightenment and peace. I will listen to the Buddha’s teachings and embrace the dharma. I will listen to, and take direction from the teachers and learn to live in spiritual harmony with all the good and bad within me. This is my path and mine alone.

Enjoying the Sun Melt

I’m sitting on my back deck, a warm breeze full of hot earth and warm leaves awakens my senses. I watch as the dragon flies dart about doing their acrobatics in the evening sky. I am counting my breaths in and out as I sit in silence with only the sounds of the river and rustling of the tiny aspen tree leaves.

My mind wanders off on empty thoughts, then no thoughts at all. I sit up straighter and soften my gaze into the slowly melting sun.

The sky fills with bright oranges, fiery reds and the truest purples. The crimson and gold silhouette the mountains on the horizon and reflect back up to the heavens on the water.

A blanket of blue creeps up from behind slowly consuming the brilliant colors. A breeze rustles the aspens again and I am brought back from my infinite gaze into the melting day, welcoming the night and all it’s calmness.

The crickets and tree frogs begin their symphony welcoming the cool stillness of night. The melting sun gives off one last burst of intense color and surrenders to the approaching night. She reaches up from below the horizon with her thin light fingers and pulls the night across the sky. Good night All… sleep well until morning.

On Becoming a Native American Buddhist: Step One

I recently realized I was in a bout with anger and depression. This is something I deal with on a daily basis and accept that it is part of who I am. In my years I’ve always sought out alternatives to antidepressants through meditation and writing. Years later, nothing has changed. OK well lots has changed. I am a grown up with too many responsibilities and way too much stress. I am caught up in the whirlwind of the life I’ve chosen. The thing that has slipped away, correction…what I thought had slipped away, was my peace and serenity. The tools I need to stay balanced. Today the teacher told us that “all we seek is already within us.” It just takes desire and practice to find it again.

Back up three weeks…

When my depression and anger became too much for those around me to handle, so much a part of my daily life that I didn’t even see it, it became a serious issue and I was “called on the carpet.” No one ever wants to admit they have a problem. No one wants to burden anyone with our issues. I did… and I was… and I don’t. I chose to turn back inward. I first sought out a “getaway”, somewhere I could go and get away from my stresses. Escape. Guess what? Where ever you go… there you are. There’s no running away. I knew that I really needed to dig down deep. To pull out the coping toolbox. Unfortunately I found it quite empty. Somewhere along the last 30 years or so I neglected it and have slowly lost the tools. Good thing though, I knew what used to be in there. I know what made me feel better, what simple principles applied to daily life kept me sane all these years. Physical tools need to be kept clean and well oiled. Spiritual tools need to be practiced, looked after and used often. Other tools include my Native American flute and music. When one finds anger a ruling force in their life, music soothes. When I studied with a shaman, back in 1987, he made me sit in silence with myself until I learned how to calm down, relax and connect with the pure primal-ness of my very being. I learned native songs and chants. I learned how to listen to myself and express what I heard with my flute. I learned to sit in silence and take a tour inside of my soul. The essence of my being. So knowing what “used to be there” I began to seek out that spiritual connection again. This time I found it in Tibetan meditation and mantra. I am still drawn to native flutes and drums. I found Urgyen Samten Ling Meditation in Salt Lake City, not too far from where I live.

 

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It’s not sweat lodges and drums, but the meditation and teachings are very similar. Today I attended my first Puja. It was centered around love and compassion for oneself and others. I listened intently and cried often. After the Puja I was singled out and blessed by the resident Lama/Rinpoche. What an honor since he spoke to my heart during his session. So I am here to tell you that I don’t know the first thing about practicing Buddhism or the Buddha dharma. It is a path I am drawn to though. Step one is letting go and listening,keeping an open mind and heart and letting it all flow.

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A Warm Summers Day

The dog fought me for my foot space. My partner lay beside me snoring. The pale morning light turned the blinds a rosy pink color. I turned over to see the blurry clock 12 feet away… 6:54am. Sigh…

I rolled over and kicked one leg out from under the covers. The air was cool, both from the AC and ceiling fan. Gandaulf lay horizontal across the end of the bed having little fits as he dreamed whatever dogs dream about. I listened to the crickets and birds from my iPads white noise app that I’ve listened to every night for over 5 years. I slid out of bed and made my way upstairs.

The day was splendidly blue and cloudless. The shadows grew shorter and exposed the vibrant greens of the aspens. I rubbed my eyes and went about making coffee. I opened the back door to free the stagnant night air and let in the cool morning. Coffee ready and I moved to the deck to begin my morning.

Welcome to July and a new start to my life.

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I sat on the edge of my chair and pulled the foot stool closer and crossed my legs, turned on some meditation music and began to breathe. With each breath I could feel a wave of calm come over me. I noticed all the tiny butterflies, the chickadees playing in the woods, the lazy lizards basking in the sun, warming their bodies from the night chill. The world around me felt a little more alive than I had noticed previously.

This is it. This is my new morning ritual. A daily awakening of the mind, body and spirit. It’s only one tool in my otherwise empty coping tool box. It’s about me and has to be. I’ve been down this road before. I know what needs to be done.

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I am beginning a new path of spiritual and mental healing. All that I took for granted, all I assumed would just be there, was gone but now is coming back and more real than ever. Like riding a bike, once I began to quiet my mind and began practicing meditation again, the peace began to flood back into me little waves at a time.