Beth's perspective on our 2015 retreat
It all started when me and Aran decided to buy the land. We had little money and notion, so we ended up buying in a super secluded place in a city where we did not know anyone but with wonderful nature and a very low price. I do not know quite what we had in mind to enter this adventure: mad desire to simplify life, to be intimate with nature, to have more independence from the financial system. But I certainly had no idea what we were going to have to face, otherwise I would never have dared to come :-)
We came to plant, learning to do things in a more sustainable and independent manner, and meditate. I had a dream that this was an open place for people to stay a while and get in touch with themselves. I wanted it to be a place of retreat and inner healing open to everybody.
We overcame so many obstacles, failures and disappointments! Starting with the physical: the property had no fence! We camped for months, built our house, made solar electricity and we are still gathering to address the issue of consumption of drinking water. My dreams of sustainability were dissolving with the urgency of our needs: earth building? No way! Let's buy pine wood and asbestos roof to have a shelter before winter!
But the worst difficulty was looking at myself nakedly. I saw very quickly that I did not have any opening to invite people in distress here. That's because once we got here we invited Aran's crazy friend to stay here and after a few months I angrily kicked him out. I've never felt so ugly and mean. And the negativities were sprouting up with violent force. My anger was unbearable: my eyes scorched rage for days without stopping. My anxiety gave me insomnia, stomach ache and a lot of pain: I was always wanting to control something, plan something to perfection. And then the failure, one after another, as many as I ever had. And the more I planned, the more I failed. The control stopped working.
And so many other things! I've always liked the solitude, but I felt extremely lonely here without friends, and neighbours with such a different mentality than mine! I was very scared to be wasting my life: career? retirement? And my desperate desire to help? Now I could not help anyone; at the same time, I needed a lot of help with everything, and needed to be humble and ask strangers for help.
Pain, so much pain. Several times I thought I would go crazy. I clung to practice to get rid of this bunch of junk. Just like that: with great aversion. I really needed help. I asked for help to lama Santem - I was part of CEBB. He showed me a facilitator and I was really hopeful, now things were going to take off! I met her personally: she was a sweetie. But the first time I tried to talk to her, was a big disappointment: she did not answer me. It hurt me so much, because it was the fourth person from CEBB that didn't answer emails that I thought super important! I felt totally unsupported, full of pain, desperate!
A while later I went to Brasilia and my sister introduced me to lama Gelek. Those huge German eyes, with the brightness of a passionate dharma practitioner. His presence feels like a big hug. He offered to help me with his big heart. And since then he has helped me. The first thing he taught me is to accept myself. Accept anger. "But people hate me when I'm angry. And I just create problems. I can not accept my anger, it has to go away!” I said desperately. "I accept your anger. Accept it too”, he said. Revolutionary concept. I do not have to fight anything. I need to learn to love, to accept, that's what I need.
Still I had a lot of instability, uncertainty. I wanted to practice more, but he did not want to impose a schedule onto me. He just invited me to do the Mahamudra retreat with him and his teacher, Tilmann Lundrup. We did it, me and Aran. Tilmann is the complementary opposite of Gelek. When I spoke about our situation, that we lived in the woods and needed to do very little work to cover our expenses, Tilmann's eyes got bright and he put me in retreat straight away. "Stop everything and go practice! Bring me a schedule tomorrow and take the year to stay in retreat! Leave there only to buy food!" he said, with his assertive way. We made the schedule, he approved and we started the year really excited to practice!
But soon came the obstacles and doubts! Sitting in meditation was a dwelling on negative issues and energies. What to do with them? I knew there was a step further than accepting. But what to do? Meditation itself is a difficult exercise to explain and I was very confused. I needed practices to handle my energies. By opening space for them, they become overwhelming! I realized that when any space opened up in me, when any silence came, I just did not know what to do with it, how to exist in that space and so I quickly clung to what was familiar: control, thoughts, etc.
I was looking for answers to these questions when I met Tenzin Wangyal through the book “Awakening the Sacred Body”. It seemed that he answered all the questions I had. I felt such a strong connection with him, something strange - or magic? Several lamas have passed through my life, in person or in books. While I feel admiration, affection and gratitude for them, I always knew it was not my way, always felt it was not my group. With Tenzin it was different. I fell in love. Too much. And life shook me in order to be smarter and not idolize people. I found aspects of the institution that I disagree with and it made me so angry that I broke up with him, like with a boyfriend, crying a lot! It was my dear sister, my guide of all life, who asked me to give him one more chance: a strong connection just doesn't disappear overnight. I gave “him” a chance. I met Ligmincha Brazil. I saw the dedication of Tenzin, the energy he expends, generosity, willingness to spread the dharma to the four corners. I saw that the work is far greater than my judgements. I was even embarrassed and I apologized for it. Of course he does not know any of this, nor ever saw me! Hehehe!
I used this whole year to understand what I'm doing. It took time to understand the basics: what is a retreat for? How do I practice? After all, what is the spiritual path? But I think I'm beginning to understand. And the basics are essential! Every now and then I forget and begin to wonder what the point of it all is or even what is the meaning of life? And I go back to my notes to remind myself!
What is a retreat for?
I realized that in society, especially in a city, the samsara wheel spins dizzyingly, no matter how many hours you practice each day. There is the vibration of "make, produce, consume, something is missing", even if I'm locked in my room. There is the relationship with the people: every time I relate I strengthen an identity, make it stronger. Being away from that environment was essential. Normally I do not practice long hours here in retreat - I'm lazy and scatter-brained. But the nature and abundance of space and silence are always reminding me what is essential. I can not strengthen identities towards nature: it is neutral and welcoming. The nature does not require anything from me: I do not need to be productive, happy, successful or nice. It does not require anything from me and at the same time she reminds me all the time what's presence, that I also could live in full presence. By retreating from the world, I stop reacting to the world and can observe what spins on me, which is all ready to manifest, whether good or bad, and what are my habits.
How should I practice?
Ah, habits! That was my keyword for this year! If I got angry, there wasn't anybody to blame! Anxiety came all the time and I wondered: anxiety of what? There's not a more peaceful life than this one! Depression pulling me into withdrawal, the creativity of the mind dispersing me from practice. The initial schedule was long gone! But the worst habit, and it was my dear lama Gelek who showed me, was to fight, to want the experience to be another. "But Gelek, I wake up filled with thoughts! I wanted to enjoy the birds singing." I learned how much I idealize where I want to be, and how much energy I put into controlling the experience. What can I do? It was over 30 years learning to do this. I have to learn to exist another way. And there was my dear Tenzin Wangyal who taught me that I must get used to another existence. Every time I do a Tsa Lung, a mantra syllables seed, I take one of three pills, be in touch with nature with an open heart, I'm learning to exist another way. I learned that I'm developing another option to exist and the more I'm familiar with it, the more it will sprout naturally, without effort. It's like learning to drive: I do not think about shifting gears, it happens naturally because I'm so used to it!
After all, what is the spiritual path?
It was in this retreat that I answered many of my greatest questions. The greatest one is: what is the meaning of life? The meaning of life is to learn to live, to be fully present, with an open heart. And when that happens, I do not need to seek any sense, life is sufficient and fulfils me. Another question I had is, why so much suffering within me? Why is it so hard? Out of habit, due to lack of mature other stuff in myself. Another concern was the apparent opposition between retreat from the world, and being of service to and connected with others. I wanted to be a teacher, wanted to be a clown in hospitals, wanted to take care of abandoned children! But something magical happened: I put myself at the service of Ligmincha Brazil and they needed exactly my abilities that I least value: journalism and translation. And suddenly I saw that I can serve, even from a distance. And I saw that being in the city makes me disconnected from myself, let alone of others!
This retreat has served me to understand what a retreat is, what the point of doing this is. Of course I wanted to finish this retreat as Marcia Baja, from CEBB: her eyes shining and with a loving heart to everyone. This will not happen. I'm still angry, petty, whiny, depressed and closed. But now I am more than that and realize it is precious. Life opened up. The fulfilment is possible. I learned to walk and know in which direction to go. This is worth more than gold, than the best chocolate pudding, than to have a great love, a super tantric orgasm or a brilliant career. And what I most desire now is to continue to walk, learning to open my heart and be of service to the world for others to also realize how precious life can be in profound simplicity.