Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reflections on the Kido Retreat

by Sangha Member Ron Schiff

What is it that makes anything memorable? Clearly there is the activity itself, but without the mindful connection of "being there", it would just become another brush-stroke in our everyday lives. I think too that when something stands out in relief, it is far more noticeable. And that is how I recall the Kido retreat last week.

Without wishing to make “same” or “different”, it was in many respects unlike our usual form of retreat – slightly later start, no morning bows and a noticeable shift from black cushions to straw bales in a much bigger Dharma Room out there beneath the open skies above Tamasine’s and Michael’s Natural Horsemanship Centre at Long Valley Farm behind Robertson.

But that was not the only difference. Perhaps the most significant transformation for all of us who commented on it later, was something in the practice itself that marked a tangible shift from the first to the second day of the retreat. For some reason, I personally found that first day a little strange and was unable to relax into the practice. Everything seemed somewhat theatrical and in hindsight I recognise my own checking mind. So on day two as we quietly took our places on the cushions in a darkened Dharma room surrounded by the soft glow of candles and joined in chanting the Om Nam mantra led by Heila PSN, everything was exactly the same as day one. Except that it wasn’t!

Something inexplicable happened that allowed us to connect at a deep level. Sitting there in the flickering candlelight, I remember fully immersing myself in the soft chanting and I had such a profound sense of sharing the moment with friends - Rebecca, Lauren, Dion, Darryl, Jane, Kevin, Ian, Tamasine and of course our wonderful teachers Heila PSN and Rodney. I am reluctant to explore the reasons for this change any further but I truly believe that it came about by attaining "no attainment with nothing to attain".

Later that day as we sat on straw bales in the garden, the sunlight just catching the tops of the mountains with the playful frolicking of the horses and bubbling of the nearby stream in the background, we struck an assortment of drums, moktaks, bells and even an upturned cooking pot, chanting for hours - sometimes with energy and sometimes just a quiet pulse. Heila PSN observed how passing the responsibility of leading the chants from one person to the other was just like handing over the baton in a relay race – that momentary shift in tempo before everyone settled down again to the new rhythm.

During this retreat, I was strongly reminded what my practice is all about – the awareness and the mindfulness are of course not ends in themselves but merely tools that help us to connect with something “bigger” than ourselves – to feel that profound sense of total engagement in what we instinctively know to be true and authentic - intangible and yet very palpable. Something that I recognised is already part of me. I had just forgotten it!

So finally, in deference to that old question about how many Zen monks it takes to change a light bulb, a recent psychology article agreed that it takes only one, but added that the light bulb really has to want to be changed. And there is no doubt in my mind that all of us who attended the retreat definitely wanted to be there.

In this regard, my love and warmth go out to our dearest friends Tamasine and Michael for so graciously opening their home to us - and to Heila PSN and Rodney, who make this all possible. My deepest respect also to all of you who were there, and likewise to those who were not able to physically join us. Michael who was on the sidelines mentioned how profoundly he was affected by simply witnessing our chanting, and I have no doubt that our practice in and of itself does indeed make a big difference to this world. I am reminded of something I once read by Thich Nhat Hanh who said "if you do not give yourself peace, how can you share it with others”?

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