Simply Being: Reflections on a Buddhist Retreat

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The retreat centre was set in the beautiful Welsh countryside.

Here I am, in the kitchen at the retreat centre, sitting and writing.  It’s the second last day of the retreat and today, after lunch time, over twenty of us will be coming out of a week of silence.  Tomorrow we’ll be tidying up and saying our goodbyes.  But right now, this morning, I’m up early suddenly, wanting to communicate. To share something.

I want to express ‘this’ – this ‘way in which there is a sense of freedom into the unknown’, one that’s full of potential and kind gentleness and qualities of patience and simple knowing – awareness itself.  I know there are parts of which I am conscious and others that I am not: vast areas that are unknown.  Yet it is from these that arise joy and inspiration.  I feel an openness and freedom from fear of this unknown.

I’ve learnt that by simply being – pausing and noticing in a way that can seem very ordinary – there is an opportunity to step into a broader framework.  It is like I’ve been invited to open my heart and mind, to ‘soften’ around seemingly ‘fixed’ conceptions about what is or isn’t here in the present moment. I notice that what is here includes the very anxieties and thoughts and worries that besiege me from time to time.  And yet, I am called to really pause and consider all of this.  All that is here. Now.

It is so simple, the essence of this.  I remember when mindfulness led to being better able to cope with the ‘stresses and strains’ of living.  Now, something beckons me further, pointing to the heart of what underlies concepts and thought streams themselves.  Opportunities arise to unravel mysteries of the past, of relationships with others and myself and to let go of patterns and stuck ways of thinking and being.  I sense an opening into new possibilities of ‘being’ (whatever that may be) to delve into the unknown, the mysterious.

Suddenly, I understand how the negativity bias in the brain has preconditioned me into being trapped in reactivity, craving and aversion. Now I am offered a chance to be released from that propensity and into a freer way of responding to each moment as it arises, moment by moment.  This is not superficial but strikes a deeper chord in the very heart of being, enabling me to tap into a deeper source of yearnings, joys and intricate subtleties, all that once seeded my ideas and inspired me. I am remembering something precious and close and yet also very ordinary.

I reflect on how I have been getting lost as my ‘middle age’ emerges, wondering where the time has gone and what might be left. I have been so ‘serious’, perhaps out of necessity, but now I want the broader picture again.  Stress had narrowed down my perspective and trapped me in time worn ruts and habits as I functioned, survived.  Now, I am awakening to there being more to life – all is a vast potential of opportunity.

It strikes me that I do not need to wait until a crisis, disaster or the moment of death to be shaken out of seemingly inevitable patterns of being.  I realise the infinite possibilities: I can tune into the essence of what is happening right here and now in as many waking (and possibly sleeping!) moments as possible – and realise that which touches the very essence of being.

It is not just the thoughts, fears and preoccupations that are here now. There are also moments of simple openness, wonder and joy in being – moments without any pressure to be this, think that or plan to do or do not.  I reassure myself that that is not about developing ‘complacency’ or ‘laziness’, but getting unstuck from habitual patterns of thinking and behaving.  It is freedom from the trap of existing in complex situations that lead further and further way from any sense of meaning or purpose.  Suddenly the beauty and value of simple being becomes clear.

Whatever happens now, happens.

(And with that, I go to the first meditation of the day, it’s 6:45am.  Then later that day, on the train home, I edit this and that evening post it on the website for you).

Warmly, Bernadette

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Bubbling water flows downstream near the centre, sunlight sparkling on the ripples. The air is cold, frosty. It is mid afternoon and I am out walking after lunch and before the next meditation practice.

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