Finding refuge in kindness and community

Photo by Marek Okon on Unsplash

I love this image of the Buddha supported by the tree branches – and resting.

Yesterday, Saturday, December 10th, 2022, thirty of us gathered – some in person and most online for a retreat I co-taught with my teacher Doreen Schweizer, my first time attending a retreat in the role of a teacher. Doreen Schweizer has been my primary dharma anchor and teacher – and someone who has inspired me to become a teacher myself. When Doreen reached out to me a couple of months ago asking me if I would co-teach the December retreat – an annual offering in the Valley Insight community, one which I have myself attended several times – I was thrilled! Over the last couple of months, we met a few times – to talk through the process – everything from the title and the intention to the structure of the days which involved an optional pre-retreat gathering on Friday evening and a day-long on Saturday. Through the meetings and along with many emails, there was joy – our spiritual friendship deepened and I have learned so much working alongside a veteran and wise teacher whom I trusted in completely and felt a deep metta connection with. 

Finally the retreat evening dawned, though not without some personal hurdles. Over the past week, my body developed an allergic reaction of some sort, breaking out into hives. It started on Tuesday night – and progressively worsened during the week. Hives are not new to my body – they are a familiar visitor but do not visit not often enough for me to have coping strategies lined up. After racking my brain this week, I realized this was probably a reaction to the covid booster shot I took a couple of weeks ago. Exhausted on Friday morning, I finally called my Doc and managed to get an appointment in – and get some medication to soothe. 

Part of what also unfolded was the resurfacing of my own doubts – will I be able to make this retreat? Will I be able to hold the container for others? Most of all, the thought – did I jinx this with my own excitement and joy? I’m sure this is something many of us can relate with. 

The journey from fear to love is sometimes a single step. A single thought. If this was meant to be, it will be. All I can do is show up. At night, laying in bed, I allowed mindfulness to take over. Itchiness. Heat. discomfort. Sensations. Compassion. Passing away. Arising again. My husband’s gentle hands soothing the itchiness in my back. receiving care from him. My daughter’s concern. This was the practice. This was my practice for the retreat! 

The medication received from my doctor on Friday evening worked wonders. I had almost no symptoms on the retreat day. Wow! Sweet gratefulness. I could be present, attentive and kind. My practice deepened in teaching this retreat with Doreen and holding the space for the participants, many of whom are my dear spiritual friends, and who brought their commitment, presence, resolve and kindness. 

Most of all, there was gratitude. Support from so many to make this retreat possible. Opening of hearts to being touched by boundless friendliness and peace.

It’s another beginning, my friend, this waking in a morning with no haze, and help coming without your asking! A glass submerged is turning inside the wine. With grief washed away, sweet gratefulness arrives.

Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, in the collection ‘The glance’

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