0312 – Reflections on my mindfulness retreat

Well, hello there. Long time no see!

As 2012 comes to a close, I must say one of the things that I missed the most is writing these blog posts. Sometimes they can be powerful uplifting moments of clarity and reflection that nourish my soul. Alas, the rough semester of engineering courseload did not allow me to care for the universe within. I was so overwhelmed with my academic commitments, and my life was filled with frustration and chaos. At some point during the fall, I decided that I needed a break from all these commitments. So I signed myself up for a mindfulness retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, CO. To my disappointment a few weeks later, the retreat was canceled. I already had my plane ticket booked, so I came down anyway. Fortunately, I found a CouchSurfer in the Denver area who set up a self-made stay-at-home retreat for us for five days over the Christmas period. It was a bittersweet time of introspection and serenity, and it gave me time to reflect on my year and read some books.

I mentioned that my stay-home mindfulness retreat was bittersweet. That’s because it was really great to relax, but it also gave me time to think about what went wrong in 2012. It was a year filled with worldly desires and ambitions. I felt pangs of sorrow as I recognized my decadence and materialism throughout the year. O the desires, jealousy, egocentricity, vile thoughts, and the hunger for triumph. These thoughts totally robbed me of my faith and confidence in the meditation process. I started to wonder of my past karma is blocking my journey. As I contemplated my past, I looked back at my time as a novice monk back in 2009 before I came to the United States. It shocks me to realize how much dharma I’ve forgotten since then, and how easy and quickly it is to be absorbed back into our worldly pursuits. Sometimes I just wish I would be graced by a divine visit from God, just like many other lives have before. But that’s wishful thinking – a hope for a shortcut, and that never bodes well.

Some time ago I wrote about how there is never a regression in a spiritual path; the ups and downs always part of the journey. 2012 is harder to comprehend, because it seems like an obvious shift away from the spiritual. But perhaps it is not. A human life has its own twists and turns, and perhaps this turn that is 2012 is more a reminder of how difficult this path is. Throughout this year, I felt sick many times–spiritually, mentally and physically, and that might very well be an outward manifestation of a life out of balance. So it’s time to slow down that wheel of karma. After all, the past is history. The future is a mystery. The only time you have is now.

My retreat was a great change. I was with a kindred soul, Joshua. He’s a light-hearted fellow with a funny sense of humor. He’s also a student of Buddhism, and is calm, wise and really knowledgeable about food. He set me up with a healthy diet filled with herbs and veggies that I sometimes fear because they are so foreign to me. Ha. Looks like my typical college boy diet won’t really cut it in terms of my health.

In any case, while growth has been slow in 2012, I continue to be nourished by conversations with great people and wisdom from great books. At the retreat, I was glad to have finally found time to read Autobiography of a Yogi, given to me by my dear friend Harry over 6 months ago.

It turned out to be a fantastic book filled with wisdom of all religions and expounded the universality of the ultimate Truth. Highly recommended indeed. I was blown away by the incredible stories of many gurus in this book, and the lessons on how to live in reverence of the sacred presence of the Spirit–omnipresent and powerful. The book really rekindled my sense of worship and respect for prayers and meditation.

What I really loved about this book is how it combines wisdom from all religions, East and West. I’m a firm believer in the oneness of all religions pointing to a higher truth, but I usually struggle with how the Christian message actually relates to the other religions. This book changed this. Never before have I seen the Christian Bible elucidated so lucidly. For example, I used to have a problem with this:

Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

That sounds highly unsustainable! But Paramahansa Yogananda said that this is a message about man’s conquer of maya and the illusions in our world. Paramahansa Yogananda also  pointed out references to reincarnation in the Bible, and how Jesus may be symbolic of the Consciousness and Realization. Just blew my mind.

Above all, the book convinced me that one really doesn’t have to become an ascetic to find salvation. In fact, the Vedic texts state that men have responsibilities in both the worldly and spiritual matters. The task then becomes bringing spirituality into your everyday life, which is very much aligned with Thich Nhat Hanh’s engaged Buddhism.

I left the retreat with lingering thoughts (pretty sure it’s not supposed to turn out this way. oops) I thought about my role on this earth and where I can go from here. What has gotten me this far?  It’s crazy how I’ve left behind the Dharma that had a major impact on my life. As I look ahead, I pray for forgiveness and for strength in the commitment to reverse my wayward thoughts and actions. I lost my way as I was pulled in many different directions. Here’s to finding that balance. May all sentient beings find peace. May all of us go through this mighty struggle and reach the ultimate Truth.

Well, that’s it for 2012. It’s been quite a journey. I should be posting here sporadically – whenever the time calls for it. After all, it’s my way of creative expression and, to me, a symbolic act of harmonizing the universe within and the omnipresent spirit. So, I hope to see you back here again in 2013.


And Happy New Year!