Happiness is… a silent retreat

I haven’t practiced yoga and meditation for very long in the grand scheme of things; both in the scheme of my years on the planet to-date and the scheme of comparative experience to others on the path, many of whom have been at it from a very young age. However, I count my blessings daily that not only have I been fortunate enough to encounter these teachings at all in this life, but that the opportunities to study with some incredible teachers have come my way, ensuring that I don’t spend years or even decades, digging down a blind alley in the misguided hope that it will bring me the ultimate cookies – deep inner peace.

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Beautiful Dhamma Vihara

It is only now after five years on the path, through self-observation within the practice, that I am getting a glimpse of my incredible tendency towards laziness; realising how I have been partially operating under the idea that proximity to a brilliant teacher will somehow magically transform my life and ultimately how happy I am within myself, which is all any of us are really searching for when we get down to the bare bones of our desires.

This same, mostly unconscious but nevertheless active, tendency to get as close as possible to the best teacher I can find, led me last year to Burgs. I’d read his book (five times!!) and as soon as it was practical for me to get a break from work I did a seven-day retreat with him. It was phenomenal, mind-blowing almost, it sowed the seeds of real transformation in my life and in my yoga practice.

Burgs is the real deal. As soon as you meet him and his team, as soon as you enter into their energy, you just know. You know that something special is happening here. No-one (in my limited experience) is teaching meditation in such a relatable, practical, comprehensive and utterly transformative way. Most of us feel like we should be meditating, but quite often we’re not entirely sure to what end. For sure, you get a sense of clear direction and purpose when you learn with Burgs. You feel it, deeply; the benefit, the power of this seemingly innocuous little practice.

For a while after the retreat last March, I thought I had it all sorted. I thought I’d got the information I needed to crack on and live a blissful life. I was of course wrong. I had the information, yes, but I wasn’t consistent and dedicated with my practice. I knew in my head, but knowing in your head isn’t worth a grain of salt when it all goes tits-up.

We all know we’re going to get curveballs thrown at us left right and centre for the rest of our days on this planet. Most of us fear them and cross our fingers, or put them in our ears to block out the inevitability of the pain that’s coming our way. When life is good, we get carried away and complacent in the calm and balmy waters, pretending there is no storm ahead.

In November I got myself in a bit of a muddle. I felt lost, out of control, emotionally sensitive in the extreme, trapped, and utterly unable to deal with how I felt. I knew straight away where to go. I cancelled all my plans, got on a plane, flew half way round the world and went to Burgs, for five weeks. I spent one week refreshing his teachings on the art of meditation 7-day retreat and then I flew out to the Pyrenees to his retreat centre in the mountains to put into personal practice what I had learned.

I don’t think I can document how profound this experience was for me, but I will share the most fundamental shift in my attitude, which has to do with my tendency to laziness. I realised that I have to be willing to work my backside off at it. I realised that nothing worth having is easy, that all of the best experiences of my life have come after a series of challenges, have been hard work, toil, brow-sweat.

I realised that the fruits of the labour of meditation are potentially totally liberating, but that no-one is going to do it for me. I have to put the hours in. I have to be willing to do. Every day, even when it’s the last thing on earth I feel like doing or I have a million other things that seem more important, or when it seems like I am happy and I don’t need to meditate, I have to remember what is actually really important in life and I have to be willing to practice. To lay the ground work, the foundation, to keep myself solid, so that I am ready for whatever life throws at me. I have to ready my little boat to weather the storm.

And so every day, I glance at my little Buddha sitting on the side and I say Thank You. For his achievement, for his teaching of the path, for all the teachers who’ve passed it on, word for word, over 2500 years, so that Burgs can share it with us. When all around us the world, both inside ourselves and out there in society, appears to be crumbling and it all looks hopeless, it’s really comforting to have this lighthouse to guide us through the tempest and home to peace.

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