I thought to start this post by referencing a quote on Retreat from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, something about being as swift as the wind, or quiet like the forest, conquering like fire as you build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across. But the retreat I’m referencing here is not one of withdrawal, but rather one of refuge, asylum and sanctuary. I make this annual retreat, this flight from the monotony of daily life, at least once a year, usually as one twelve month period subsides and another arises. And I always make it with my trusted teacher and master of meditation Shinzen Young.
This January, the retreat was held as it often is at The Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Ranchos Palos Verde, southern California. Although red and green Christmas decorations still adorn the halls and walkways so soon after the first of the year, it’s a different tradition that calls us here. The prayer is a prayer of quiet, the infused contemplation of the soul uniting with God that is the journey of going from the surface of consciousness to the source. The retreat’s marketing materials state “come to our sacred grounds for a time of serenity, prayer and spiritual renewal,” which is an accurate overview of what occurs.
All the normal retreat happenings were present: the dull clang of the 5 a.m. wake up bell, the full plates of hearty fare that make meals a refuge from the psycho-spiritual work, the shuffle of silent, shoeless retreaters making their way into the silent zendo or meditation hall. The entire retreat is held in “Noble Silence” which means the only chatter you’ll hear during the week is the discourse emanating from your own head.
Of course there were Shinzen’s brilliant nightly dharma talks, hour plus discourses on Truth held in the zendo. We learned where yoga and sitting practice touch and complement one another, both together fueling the earth-shaking, paradigm-shifting dissolution into cessation that is the goal of classical yoga. Another talk focused on the Four Noble Truths or more accurately, “The four truths realized by the nobles”, according to Shinzen, and how having complete sensory experiences of phenomena leads us to freedom. And there’s always Shinny’s unparalleled, entertaining vocabulary, a litany of esoteric words and phrases unmatched by anyone I know. This year, the back page of my notebook reads – perspicacity, untoward, inveterate, little palliatives and palpable visage, to name just a few.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Art of Peace and how retreat can actually forward your life, check out Shinzen’s teachings at www.shinzen.org and www.meditationtraining.org. Or jump-start your practice at a One Day Retreat with us this Fall. We look forward to seeing and sitting with you.