Who am I when all my roles fall away?
Who am I when all of the conditioning is stripped away?
Who am I?
This last week I spent time with myself again in a deep way alongside 200 people from all around the world and John Cabot-Zin coming to my senses at the Omega centre in Rhineback, New York.
My dear friend, Shannon Arnold, would be the beautiful soul who would meet me on this part of my journey. We would meet days ahead of the retreat in New York City to catch up after 9 months of being apart and although we would be in the big city of New York with so much to see we would walk the city street spending the entire time in conversation catching up on everything we had missed in each other’s lives over the past nine months. As I write and look back at that time together it makes me giggle to think we were in New York City but we could have been anywhere because nothing seemed to matter except diving into deep conversation. There are a few souls that come into your life where you just get each other and the conversation never stops it is a constant flow of thoughts and ideas that seem to spin a web of trust and connectivity. We didn’t see much of New York City as far as the tourist attractions are concerned but we walked for miles and miles seemingly unaware of the millions of people walking by as we were completely engaged in conversation. The two days we had together would fly by and the next thing we knew we were headed to the train station to make our way to the Omega centre in Rhineback, New York for the event we had waited all year to join one anther and attend together.
Leaving the colossal City of New York and making our way South to Rhineback, I immediate felt the layers of protection falling away as we started making our way back into nature, bodies of water passed us by and the buzz of the busy city was starting to fade into the background. The knowing that I was making my way into something more quiet and serene settled my senses in a way that nature has the ability to manifest.
Taking our seats on the Amtrak and settling in for the two-hour ride a quiet settling happened for me internally and I took the time to ground back into my inner landscape and take the time to process the last two days and digest the assault New York had on my senses.
Omega is a beautiful oasis, a property that seems to go on for miles and miles; 165 acres to be exact, nestled in the forest with a variety of magnificent trees, the brilliant ash trees being one of the beauties, dispersed throughout the property. Omega boasts the world’s most beautiful wastewater treatment plant invented by Dr. John Todd. Omega has cabins, dorms and camping available for participants, a large cafeteria that serves delicious meals and a plethora of staff to be of service.
As we gather for the first time, 200 people from all around the world, with John Cabot-Zinn we would each look around the room with our judgements, our thoughts and our stories and we would sit in silence for the first time. The day would unfold as we would all begin to come to our senses and start the re-arranging of ourselves on a molecular level to live “who we are” rather than the character of self that we tend to be living inside the condition of who we think we are or ought to be. We would enter into what John liked to refer to as a laboratory, a vessel, a container where we would begin the deep excavating work of doing nothing. Our instructions included showing up for every session, let whatever arises arise and keep coming back to this moment.
We were about to encounter a new way of being with nothing to do, no place to go and nothing to worry about or cling to. Imaging going all the way to New York City to sit with John Cabot-Zinn to simply do nothing! I am sure there were some judgements flying around in this very moment!
A way of coming to our senses by being who we already are right now with nothing to fix, nothing to attain – no special state – just simply being.
We were asked to ask ourselves why are we here? Followed by why are we really here? Followed by why are we really, really here? Followed by why are we really, really, really, here? In silence we were instructed to simply be and let the answers arise on their own and if nothing comes, then nothing comes.
What came for me at first was my story … travelling the world, going to retreats blah blah blah following that was simply the word construction, following that was simply the word healing, following that was nothing, following that was an image of a heart.
We were asked to suspend judgement and step into the laboratory of our full selves to shine the light on the being that is here not the conceptualized version of the self that you think you are but just the being that you already are. The suffering and the scars that we hold so dearly are all part of the manifestation of who we think we are, they create the wisdom we hold inside of ourselves. It’s been said that trauma does not touch the soul perhaps this is the reason to sit in meditation; to reach our soul, our true self, our awareness.
Awareness is this elusive word that can mean so many things, perhaps awareness is our soul and through stillness, meditation and mindfulness we greet our soul exactly where it is as who we are, complete, whole and beautiful just as we are right now. John likens awareness to the sky holding all of the weather; thoughts, like clouds, come and go; thoughts like clouds obscure the sun that is always shinning. I like this analogy as it makes me think of the light that shines from within each and every one of us, it is always there shinning bright but is often obscured by the thoughts, the conditioning and the stories. Reasonably, if we get out of our own way we are able illuminate our own light.
As we enter into stillness we strive to awaken the process of illumination. This place of stillness and silence is sometimes the noisiest place of them all. We live in a world of distraction so the very thought of sitting in silence and doing nothing seems absurd. At first sitting in stillness and silence investigating the awareness the mind, the thoughts, and the stories can be an unpleasant experience but practice is where we strive to find the “gap” the space between the thoughts. As we start to embody wakeful awareness by dropping into the moment and breathe one breath at a time noticing the sensations in the body and accepting things just as they are right now in this moment. We put out the welcome mat and sit with the acceptance of what is and befriend our resistance, apply gentle loving care and compassion and remain open to what is.
Mindfulness is the ability to be centered in the self and simply breath without being attached to any outcome by allowing the thoughts, that will certainly arise, to come and go without engagement. Mindfulness allows us to build the muscle by training the mind by constantly brining it back to this moment by simply noticing what object, what thought, what feeling we are clinging to and coming back to now without judging.
Most of us live on automatic pilot with our inner critic having the loudest voice along with our judging minds and our delusional thoughts it gets noisy inside. We strive for pleasure and we push away pain keeping us in the prison of our own minds. By cultivating non-attachment, non-judgement and forgiveness we find our way to ourselves and who we really are.
We are puppets entrapped by the habits of the mind but when we hold our thoughts in awareness they pop like a soap-bubble and we don’t have to engage in the hell we create by continually creating the same stories over and over again.
Human Beings and the mind are the most complex matter of energy in the known universe and nobody and no one thing has all of the answers to the complexity of its inner workings. There are many schools of thought each one relevant in its own way and I believe that each and everyone has the potential to lead us home.
Imagine creating the space where you are already perfect, already whole, already buddha; a fully embodied human. By befriending ourselves and becoming our own best friend with acceptance, forgiveness for our humanness, non-judgement, non-reactivity and paying attention on purpose in this moment we all have the capacity to create the knowing that we are already exactly where we are meant to be – in this moment – as a whole perfect being.
At the end of day two and a plethora of information we would enter silence for 31 hours to be with ourselves, our thoughts, our aversions, our need for distraction, and everything else that would show up. As I headed back into silence I was aware of my experience in Colorado and the hell that I encountered during that month of silence and have to admit that I was a little scared of what was to come but at the very same time excited to enter blissful silence without the anxiety of having to strike up conversations with strangers and have the everyday surface conversations which inevitably always start with “What do you do?” I always imagine what it would be like if we asked a question like “What brings joy into your life?” instead.
I have a busy mind at the best of times and if I am not practicing mindfulness then my mind has its way with me and I live just like every other human out there who is drowning in their own thoughts. Thankfully in the first two days John Cabot-Zin has reaffirmed the validity and life supporting practice of mindfulness and how vitally important it is to do all the time everyday as though your life depended upon it.
John’s definition of mindfulness is:
“paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment non-judgmentally.”
It sound easy and I imagine it is to someone like John Cabot Zinn who has been practicing for 30 years although, having said that, I can also imagine that his humanness gets in the way just like everyone else and he also has to continually bring himself back to this moment time and time again.
It is a beautiful practice and one that can help us get out of our constant barrage of thought, the thing that gets us into trouble time after time, the thing that facilitates our suffering.
The first day of the retreat was a complete write off as far as deep meditation or being in the present moment but what the first day did afford me was some processing time to work my way through something that has recently come up and the win in this situation is that I processed, spoke to the other person involved, and let it go and it was gone. In the past an issue like this could have occupied me and my thoughts for a much longer period. The other win was that John was doing a lot of talking and setting the foundation for the practice and I was present enough to take it all in and get myself ready for day two which would start and end with a much less crowded mind.
Throughout day two I was able to notice myself in thought and simply remind myself that it was just a thought and come back to the present moment until the next though arose and I would gently, compassionately without judgement remind myself to come back to the present moment. I could really see how valuable compassion and non-judgement of self was going to be for the rest of my life.
On day one I was getting sick, my body was aching really bad, I had a headache, I felt like a cold might be just around the corner and I was riddled with mind chatter. I made an impromptu appointment for a massage hoping the some body work would help move this bug out of my body and thankfully it did. While I was in the massage my mind was judging the whole time, what is he doing, that is weird, how is that going to help, why is he jumping all over the place, this is such a rip off and on and on and on. I literally missed the entire massage because of my judging mind.
Day two I had another massage booked hoping it was not going to be the same practitioner I was greeted by an older man and immediately my judging mind had some thoughts only this time I was interrupted by myself noticing that it was just a thought and I could return to this moment. I could continue to notice the thoughts and continue brining myself back to the moment. The therapist and I spoke of deep tissue and what that meant, he encouraged me to speak up if he was applying too much pressure, I assured him that I enjoyed deep tissue massages and the deeper the better. I climbed up on the table and waited for him to re-enter the room and when he did he pulled the sheets up to my neck and started placing his hands on my body padding his way from my neck down to my feet. My thoughts started racing again, “if we only have 50 minutes to get some deep tissue he better not waste any time padding me down and just get into it”, right there in that moment I was interrupted again and was reminded that these were just thoughts and I could bring my attention to his hands and receive what he was offering me. I brought my attention back to his hands and focused my attention on my body and where his hand were at the time – receiving. This back and forth went on for the entire massage so, in essence, I got to enjoy maybe half of the massage. At the end of the massage he says well time just goes way too fast! Me and my thoughts had a tiny chuckle as my EGO rose up and fist pumped enjoying the delusion of being right!
The point is that I have a busy mind and I have to be conscious and aware all the time and continue to bring myself back to the present moment time and time again. It is the practice.
I have come to realize that no matter how many retreats I have been to, how many hours I have sat in meditation the only thing that matters is right now, this moment. I am a human being just like the rest of you with a busy mind; I am of the human condition.
The human condition is an interesting concept and I so appreciate that I had the opportunity to process and discuss with my soul buddie on the train coming home making realizations that are paramount to me and the rest of my life going forward.
We all carry a slice of the human condition, we are all the same in our suffering, in our insecurities, in our not being good enough, smart enough, rich enough, peaceful enough and whatever enough we think we “should” be.
In this conditioned world we live in we are all striving for the same things – happiness, peacefulness and equanimity. No matter who you are, what you do, what you have, whether you have received a nobel peace prize or you struggle day-to-day to make the rent at the end of the day we all want the same thing.
What I realized in the moment of this conversation is that perhaps there is nothing to reach, no level of happiness to be obtained, no level of equanimity to strive for, that there is no finish line – enlightenment is not the end. Perhaps as John Cabot-Zin said so many times in so many different ways is that all we have to do is accept that we are whole and perfect right now in this moment and that life is a collection of moments, the good, the bad and the ugly. In each of these moments we will experience something different; happiness, sadness, peacefulness, fear, equanimity, anger, connection, aloneness and that we are simply the guesthouse that opens our doors and windows welcoming each and every one with open arms, with acceptance, with non-judgement and with open heartiness. We open our hearts to our conditioned selves and we continue to strive to enter into the awareness of who we are without ever really having to find the answer but rather settling in the I don’t know.
We are all of it and we are none of it!
We are the awareness!