A big step

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It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about my spiritual quests.  I mean,  originally, way back when, that was sort of the point of this whole blog.  I even named it Stumbling Along The Path to imply that this blog would be about one woman’s foibles as she pursues a spiritual path, a Buddhist path, a path to enlightenment even.   I documented my life both in, but mostly out of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).  Since I left the NKT about a year and a half ago, I’ve been seeing different teachers and traditions, though nothing steady.  When I stumbled out of the NKT I was left somewhat bruised and a little wary.  While it didn’t stop me from continuing along the path,  my steps were a bit more tentative.  I didn’t want to start plodding along another path until I was fairly certain of where  it would lead.

Today, however, I’ve taken a big step.  You see, I’ve been flirting with Theravadan Buddhism for a while now.  I took a series of classes in Vipassana meditation last year, and would, when I could find parking (that is another post all together) go to teachings in Berkeley.  And then a few weeks back, on quite the spur of the moment,  I signed up for the first of three ten-week classes at Spirit Rock called “Essential Dharma”.   And while I have not been as diligent about doing the homework and readings as I probably should be, I do appreciate having that weekly obligation that keeps me engaged in my practice.   I’ve found without some structure, it becomes far too easy for me to stray from any practice at all.

But today, I finally dove in and signed up for a week-long residential retreat out at Spirit Rock. Silent retreat.  Getting up at the crack of dawn retreat.  Sharing a room with a complete stranger and a communal bathroom down the hall retreat.  I’m equal parts excited and nervous.  I’m nervous because adhering to a rigid early morning schedule is not my thing, and especially a little scared of not having access to any means of escape from my own mind.  No computers, no phone, no TV, no idle chatter.  But, I am excited about the prospect of being able to really deepen my practice and develop my concentration.

Back in my NKT days, I used to tell people that I was going “on retreat” when I was going to an NKT Festival.  I think it was just easier that way.  If I had told them I  was going to a “festival” I would have to explain how being stuck in a moldy hotel in the Catskills or priory in Northern England was in any way festive.  But, while we were all sequestered away from the “real” world for a period of time, retreating in our own way, it was far from austere and contemplative.   And yes, I did do the Vajrayogini retreat where I spent two of the weeks alone and fairly concentrated, but I was in the comfort of my own home, my protective cocoon.  So, this coming retreat feels like it will be my first real, serious meditation retreat.

I trust I will be in good hands.   Unlike in the NKT where your teacher may have less experience than you in terms of practice, the teachers at Spirit Rock have been around the practice for a very long time, and are very experienced in leading retreats.  So, when my head starts to explode, I feel safe that I’ll get good counsel from one of the retreat leaders.

Now, if I can only get over my fear of communal bathrooms, I think I’ll be all right.

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28 responses »

  1. it IS a big step to fine alley get our butts in gear an due nothing ~ only nuttin from nuttin leaves sum thin = s i l e n c e i s g o l d e n = best wishez on yer re-treat

  2. In my simple mind, I can’t hardly imagine not talking for a week (I sure as hell hope I am understanding this correctly, since you called it a silent retreat, other wise I am just sounding rather uneducated).

    The last four months I have had opposing days off from the Wife, and found myself spending many days home alone. And at times, I would realize by about 2 pm I hadn’t said more than a word or two to the animals. I found it rather odd, really. Then I would find myself talking just to talk.

    Odd, really.

    So I admire the fact that you can sign up for such an event. Good luck with that. I guess by the time its done you’ll have plenty to talk about?

  3. Not so much a message, but alright anyway.

    I live in the middle of nowhere. Really, its kinda in the middle of nothing. I thought I was all alone. Then there was an advert in the paper about a monk coming to give a teaching. Ahh, but he was a westerner. Everything I have learned was from a book, an online teaching, audio, or web page. Now I’m not alone! yAy! a monk coming. He came was a nice teaching, some of us formed a Sangha and I’m not alone anymore. Wasn’t till the excitement went away things didn’t make sense to me. A monk sending bi-weekly Dharma teachings over the internet, and a local church was kind enough to let us use the church to hold our gatherings. The monk left and so we met and talked a little, so many different traditions but a Sangha yay! Everything I learned in last 6 years or more has been primarily from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thic Nhat Hahn, Surya Das, etc,.. So who is this Monk guy. Kelsang Rinzin of the NKT. Seemed okay till I started reading, then the Sangha did some talking and decided to get together and have some other teachings. Just a gathering to read from Pali and Tibetan Cannons. Someone mentioned this to NKT monk Kelsang Rinzin,. Did some more talking and looking around.. it seems that the NKT monk traveling with a woman, with a wallet of credit cards, wanting to charge for Dharma teachings, isn’t all that happy with some people who want to learn the basics from the canons, its been a mess. 90% of the original Sangha has vanished now is like 4 of us left and only 2 who are on the same page, and 2 who are just happy to consume and blindly follow anything that makes them feel good. No idea, I want as far away from NKT anything a Geshe I know when asked about the NKT now doesn’t respond to me. Not a damned clue. Think I’m going to turn and run as fast as I can. Seems like the more I observe the more sneaky stuff is going on. I don’t want to get any more of “it” on me. So now I’m kinda back at the beginning all over again. In the middle of nowhere and mostly still alone.

    • I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling so alone and cut off from good sources of dharma. That must feel really frustrating.

      You’re right, the NKT monk probably would not have been terribly supportive of your exploration of other sources of dharma than books by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. That is what he knows and has been trained to teach. Which is not to say it is not a valid source of Buddha’s teachings, but if you’ve been exploring other teachers and traditions, the NKT won’t be able to support you in that way. I don’t feel, however (though some may disagree with me) that he was out to exploit you financially. Yes, unlike many (if not most) traditions, they do charge for the teachings. However, for the most part, they barely break even after covering their expenses of room rental, or travel costs. As for the other Geshe who won’t respond to you re: the NKT, I’d be disappointed, but not terribly surprised. The NKT is not well respected in Tibetan Buddhist circles primarily due to their stand on the Dorje Shugden issue. When I inquired about taking classes at another Tibetan Buddhist center, I was told that I could attend as long as I had nothing further to do with Geshe Kelsang. That didn’t sit well with me either.

      Don’t despair though. Even though you have a small sangha, you do have a sangha. Even having the support of one other person in your practice is so helpful. There are so many Buddhist resources on the internet that you can take advantage of for self-study. Perhaps if you find one site that has helped you, you can email them and see how they might be able to help you. There is a teacher Anam Thubten (www.dharmata.org) who has sanghas who meet on their own and watch his videos, and probably have some other kinds of support from him.

      Best of luck to you. Don’t give up trying to find a teacher or a sangha. It will be worth your effort.

  4. I hear ya sista.
    My first one week silent vipassana retreat starts in 2 weeks!
    Like you, I have dabbled since leaving the NKT, the best thing I’ve learnt since is that it’s not in the doing, but in the being.
    I have a good routine now of at least 30 mins meditation every day, I try to be mindful, compassionate etc etc blah blah blah – but is this enough so that my mind doesn’t flip out on me? This will be a huge test for me also … bring it on!
    All the best,
    Nik

  5. Well, good for you.

    On my side, my relationship with my NKT centre has crashed and burned. It seems pretty much over.

    I don’t know where to now. It’s all pretty traumatic in my current situation, where I really thought I had the support of a community. But that’s the way it goes.

  6. having boarded at school and then shared flats with various friends throughout my twenties, I have no fear of communal bathrooms… but silent retreat? Yikes. I’m not sure I could stay silent that long. I even talk to my plants.

    Good luck! 🙂

  7. Mmmm

    I spoke too soon, I think. It’s all fine.

    I hope you enjoy your retreat. I’ve never done one, not for any real length of time. I did do a week long Mahamudra retreat at my Centre and that was really relaxing. Far more relaxing than any holiday I could have gone on.

  8. BBG – Thanks. If I lose my ever-lovin’ mind, you’ll probably find me on your doorstep jabbering a mile-a-minute and asking to use your bathroom.

    yBonsey – Thank you. Yes, I plan on doing a fair bit of journaling while I am there. That is, if I can remember how to use these things called “pens”.

    Corina – Yes, I think the silence will be lovely most of the time, but also frustrating when I just feel like running my mouth about something. But, it’s all an exercise in being present to what is going on – both good and bad.

    Kimtb – Welcome. Yes, I read your entry re: your daylong. I hate the walking meditations too! We look like the Day of the Dead Does Marin. I wanted to start first with a three day myself, but the shorter ones seem to fill up pretty quickly, and since I had my tax refund burning a whole in my pocket and I wanted to do retreat, well, seven days it is.

    TMC – Thank you. If you lived closer, you could have had the privilege of bunny sitting. Alas, the bunnies will probably get boarded since none of my friends are particularly bunny savvy.

    Adam – I should probably add a caveat to the whole “silent” retreat thing. We will be allowed to speak during Q&A sessions & if we meet with one of the retreat leaders. It’s all the unecessary jabbering that is verbotum. I think the oddest thing will be sharing a room with someone and not being able to chat. Hmmm. I wonder how often people cheat with that rule.

    Nik – Right on! Good for you. I’m glad you likewise found a spiritual life outside of the NKT. As much as I learned in the NKT, I found it didn’t really prepare me for all the silence and awareness of Vipassana. I like it though. Best of luck on your retreat.

    Ron – Glad to hear that everything turned out OK. With all the changes you’re going through, being divorced from your spiritual community would be extra tough.

    Woo – I’m sure I’ll get over the bathroom maybe 5 days into my retreat. We’ll see about the silence thing – I’m feeling confident most of the times, othertimes, well, blah blah blah blah blah

    Kangaroos – the Big Step happens in about a month – 2nd week of June to be exact. Until then let the jabbering continue.

  9. I bet the food will be fab! But I suppose you probably won’t hear any “yummy” sounds coming from anyone’s mouth. Come to think of it, at a silent retreat is the perfect event to have crappy cooks, like me. There wouldn’t be any complaints! Sounds perfect….

  10. wow ~ this is shaping up batter than eye thawt = a silent retreat with crappy cooks and chemical toilets ~ now if we kud just werk in that bed-o-nails thing weed bee red eye 2 par~tay ! ! !

  11. the food at spirit rock is WONDERFUL. monday night classes with jack kornfield often feature dinner before the meditation and dharma talk. i always make sure i get there in time for dinner.

    i’ve been following you on twitter for a while now and was pleased to see you are in my backyard at spirit rock! may 24th is a 1/2 or full day if you like woman’s mediation and yoga class. maybe i’ll see you there.

  12. Wow, I still practice with the NKT. My karma has lead me to some good teachers. As for the money issue, I have been in several Buddhist traditions and end the end you always are expected to pay. When you offically join a group, there is a monthly fee. So, it wasn’t any big deal to me about the expense. At lest, NKT is up front about it.

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  15. I had never googled the NKT till today and first thing I read was This. I have been a NKT Practitioner for roughly four years now and had started out with zen and mixing a bunch of different ideas into my mix and view of Buddhism. I, at first hated the NKT style but found truth in the teachings. I faught everything about the actual practice because I was rational and wanted to prove to myself that the way I practiced was better for Me than the NKT could be. And I kept proving myself wrong. I go on retreats yearly, and yes, real retreats, at the new York center in glen Spey. I spend the month of January there and have never found a place that radiated more happiness. There is no where I would like to be than under the care and protection of the NKT umbrella. I’m sorry you had such bad experiences. I will keep you in mind thing January. I hope you find the path you are searching for.

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