The results of daily spiritual practice are tough to see. We meditate each morning, practice mindfulness throughout the day, we give our full attention to our projects, and we meditate again in the evening. Like trying to watch your hair grow, we just don’t see the minute changes. Once in a while life throws us an experience where we recognize how our patterns have changed. Perhaps we run into an old acquaintance who used to draw us into dark drama, and this time we choose a happier way of interacting with him. We have a moment where we remember who we used to be and we can appreciate who we are now. Most of the time we don’t see this. Most of the time we are living here, in the present, living in joy.
Compared to the general population, those of us who embrace our spiritual practice every moment of every day live in high, beautiful states of mind. Even in these happy states of mind, we can find ourselves stuck in our limited ideas of self. We reach a plateau that doesn’t seem to have a way to go beyond it. In order to keep moving forward, we take the time to retreat as part of our spiritual practice. Retreats are opportunities to rejuvenate and recreate the Self. On a retreat, we step away from our daily routines and patterns. This gives us an opportunity to make tremendous leaps in awareness.
The teachers at Dharma Center take members on retreat once or twice a year. These events allow us to get together and spend a few days away from the world. Sometimes we venture into the desert, where the energy is intense and our concepts of self are sanded down. Other times we travel to the mountains to experience a softer energy that gently wears away our limitations.
During the retreat, we never know exactly what will happen, although we do select a leader who maintains the focus on Light and spiritual growth. We enter the retreat with the understanding that the leader makes the decisions, which allows everyone to leave as much of their ego at home as possible.
During our retreat earlier this month, we rented a huge house in the mountains where we played. As the leader, I suggested people bring paper and crayons to get in touch with their child-like creativity. Of course I knew they would think I was joking, so I brought plenty to share. Silly pictures were drawn, a few games of chess were played, and journals were filled with words. We all took turns putting together a puzzle we found in the house.
The puzzle turned into an incredible challenge. We sorted 1000 nearly identically sized and shaped pieces into huge piles of almost the same color. I watched the different approaches by the people playing as we struggled with the puzzle, learning that each piece could fit in many different slots but had only one true home.
After my shower on the last morning of the retreat, I saw the completed the puzzle on the table. Upon a closer look I noticed two pieces had been forced into place and were sticking up. I tore into the puzzle once again, pulling out about 30 H-shaped yellow pieces that looked ever-so-slightly out of place. After an hour I gave up and others took over. They were able to get the pieces together, but again, some were shoved into the wrong place. As the clocked moved closer to checkout time, I noticed the pull to just get it “done” even if the pieces weren’t together correctly.
When it was time to leave, we debated if we should tear it apart and put it back in the box, knowing we had not been able to complete it. I decided to pull the three ill-fitting pieces out and leave it for the next visitors to the house to puzzle over. I imagined the next person saying, “Only three pieces left! Oh…wait a minute, they don’t fit…why won’t they fit?”
This puzzling experience offered an insight of how our current self is like a puzzle piece. We experiment with the aspects of our life, trying to find the precise fit for our current self. Sometimes the urge to squish the self into the wrong slot is irresistible. However, when we do that, we soon discover the others pieces of life won’t fit together. After playing with the possibilities, we eventually find the just-right home, and the puzzle is complete. Then we discover a new layer of self, and in doing so we discover a new puzzle to play with.
Retreats give us the space to shift our awareness. At home, we return to our daily practice in a new way, rejuvenated and re-created. Sometimes we come back from a retreat and see exact
ly what needs to change in order for us to move closer to finishing the current puzzle of our life and our place in this world. Other times we discover we have shifted into a new self because our old puzzle is done and we have begun a new one. We feel the truth of The I-Ching, which states: “Completion is beginning again.” And in this way, moment-by-moment, we continue growing in Infinte Eternal Awareness.