The leaves continue to fall: Robbie at Rains Retreat (part two)
Dear beloved community,
it’s been a month and a half since I last wrote: the leaves continue to fall, the temperatures continue to drop, and the collective energy continues to thicken. More people arrived and a few left, including two close friends. Although the retreat concludes in a little over two weeks, I actually have to return to the UK in a few days as my 90-day visa runs out (wow, thank you Brexit). I’ve applied to come back in January to begin the 1-year volunteer programme, and although not yet confirmed, I see few obstacles to being accepted.
What’s interesting for me is how, no sooner than I’d previously described my own energy as being remarkably stable, I felt deep multiple internal shifts, like tectonic plates grinding themselves into realignment. It became instantly clear that my incomplete PhD (a project of over seven years’ work) will continue to unsettle my waters until I find a positive resolution. For a period, I could observe my mind cycling through different configurations of stories, ideas, perspectives, and strategies to find the right path. Whether I chose it or not, a plan of action has now emerged for December back in London. It’s a very creative process, this involuntary problem-solving machine.
I also relate my shifts to my nervous system finally settling into a safer space of practice and consequently allowing for deeper processing. Gently testing the edges of it has brought contrasting experiences. Most challenging was encountering what’s known as a ventral vagal shutdown during a meditation (essentially an intense spike in hyper-anxiety, then crashing into an unresponsive freeze), which required rapid support from my mentor, who was present. Although shaken up, somewhat to my surprise I felt comfortable enough a couple of weeks later to sit in a traditional upright posture during formal meditation for the first time since I arrived. This felt a huge success. It continues to be a journey with little certainty about the outcome, but much learning along the way.
I continue to practice finding subtle joys, the most present of which remains the stunning colours of the turning leaves. I also decided, quite spontaneously during my quarantine (as it was written above the sink), to recite the teeth-brushing gatha twice daily for 90 days to see how it might impact my concentration:
Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly.
When my mouth is fragrant with right speech a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.
I’ve done well reciting the gatha, I think forgetting only once, but staying fully with the sensations in the mouth and body even for two minutes each time is not so easy (I often drift off into how mindful I’m being and how good my gatha practice is until I realise I’ve already finished and put my toothbrush back…)
The lay Sangha is over eighty people now, and we’ve fallen into a pattern of having a Be-In or a bonfire every week; events I’m told usually only happen only a couple of times during the three-month Rains Retreat. It’s clear the joy we all take from these social activities after so long with covid restrictions is manifesting in a sumptuous energy of togetherness. Somehow a cake always seems to appear, sometimes two. This is also a wonderful time for playing music (and I’ve been balancing myself a little better with this).
The shared space with my roommates Nick and Adam continues to be a blessing. While people have come and gone elsewhere, our room has rather fortuitously offered uninterrupted stability. However, our weekly sharings have also provided solid ground to understand what’s going on in each of us and where we’d most like support. What’s most beautiful is enjoying seeing either or both of them every time I enter the room. I have so much gratitude for this.
Even as my focus turns towards train tickets, UK day-2 covid tests and return visa applications, I can sense that this retreat has indeed begun to transform, or at least highlight, different parts of me: fears; habit energies; views; perception; attachments; and other things I can’t yet name. In truth it only feels like the beginning of a far longer cycle. But for now, I’ll be happy to see friends and family, join Wake Up London again for Saturday practice sessions, and refresh myself in a different context before coming back here once more for the next chapter.
A flower for you all,
Part one of Robbie’s blog from Rains Retreat can be read here: https://plumvillage.uk/grateful-to-be-here-robbie-at-rains-retreat-in-plum-village/