Why immersion in human craziness builds more powerful enlightenment
“If only we could just go live there forever,” said one retreat returnee wistfully.
Retreats are fantastic – one meditates, reads, sleeps, eats wholesome food cooked from scratch (by someone else), does daily yoga asana practice, hikes, and of course takes the time to simply sit and think. In fact aside from any initial concerns about whether ones room-mate will snore, or if there’s western plumbing in the washroom, all the stresses of daily life are left behind.
And as the social media alerts and pressure headaches recede into the realms of the forgotten, a raw contentment settles, it feels as though a transformational shift has happened…Hallelujah! I am now the image of love and tolerance! My life will be forever harmonious, and the sniping corporate clones will never again sink their claws into me and drag me to the depths of murderous under-the-bus recriminations! ...Or not…
Photo credit - Noelle Otto from Pexels
Retreats create space for introspection, meditation and healthy routines, and they can reset us, in an environment where our customary lives and routines have been put on pause; where those normal routine elements have been deleted and snuffed from existence for that week or two. However the undesirable side effect of this is when the plane touches down, back on home soil, we are tossed rudely back into our regular existence; that pot which smelts all of our daily issues and problems. Then the tidal wave of all that has been stalled behind the dam for retreat week is released, knocking us from our sandaled feet, overwhelming the heart-mind (which is still happily trotting along in the forest of rainbows and unicorns) and before we know it, we’re washed up on our desk, silk scarf and loin cloth in tatters, blinking bewilderedly at the emails from irate management demanding to know if KPIs have been achieved and why your fiscal year-end figures are out of whack.
None of this is to say you don’t gain anything from retreats; they provide experiences and feelings you can anchor and recall. One has time to consider philosophies and tools for bringing about calm, and to help one step outside of issues, not to mention the basic time out they provide.
There are those who permanently retreat from ‘normal life’ (as it is often known by those running in city jobs, in developed countries where the corporate machine runs unerringly). They decide that the craze of daily life, and immersion in a social construct is too difficult a place to maintain the boundaries required for inner peace and spiritual enlightenment. The toil and stress can lead to the hitting of the quit button; anything from tossing in the corporate towel in exchange for driving the mower at the golf and country club, to moving to the country to become self-sufficient on the land, or in extreme cases, joining a religious order to spend days cloistered in prayer.
More often than not, it’s in cases of extreme retreat where the stories of astounding feats such as levitation, teleportation, or super-human strength, originate. In places where the ‘ratrace’ is exiled to a long-forgotten memory, and where lonesomeness and silence settle, so do miracles.
Take Milarepa, who is sometimes referred to as a kind of Tibetan Buddha, who in
his early years, as a result of a family feud which left him vengeful, became a sorcerer and murderer. Then full of sorrow for his crimes he went to study with his teacher, Marpa The Translator, and spent years enduring tests and solitary confinement to cleanse his soul and find enlightenment. He spent many years meditating in a cave where he was said to have eaten only nettles until his appearance become downright alarming; his skin (which was stretched over his skeletal form) taking on a green hue.
Despite the appearance and diet crisis, there in his cave Milarepa, reaching states of deep meditation, was said to have super-powers. One of his talents was described as being able to sink his hands into the living rock of his cave, and today visitors go to Namkading cave to see the impressions in the ceiling of the cave said to be Milarepa’s handprints.
What’s the betting this kind of depth of meditation and power would be possible with the phone ringing, social media prodding at you, the TV blaring its inconsequential, yet attention grabbing clamour? Not to mention family or corporate demands and dramas…
There are many other reports of ‘superpowers’ in all veins of spirituality, religion, philosophy and also physical arts (like the martial arts). The vast majority of these stories are told about individuals who have committed full time to their cause, withdrawing from other responsibilities and ways of life.
These feats of power aren’t commonly seen in the city. Let’s face it; you don’t observe people levitating to the photocopier do you? A weekly hatha flow class won’t have you walking on water anytime soon.
However most people aren’t aiming for super-human powers, and they don’t have the inclination, or feel it’s an option to ditch the livelihood which keeps their family with a roof over their head. What they actually seek is more contentment and peace in life.
So for those not evacuating their regular lives to live in treetops, can peace, happiness and enlightenment actually be achieved?
Absolutely! And it could even be argued that those who do achieve inner peace or enlightenment are possibly stronger, having found a way to centre themselves in the midst of the clamour of everyday distractions. These city padawans have evolved to take the fast pace of modern life in their stride while maintaining a practice of self-discipline and self-care. They carve out time for personal time and growth, creating that rejuvenating bubble of peace, healing and contentment, as all the other demands jostle for attention.
In the midst of family, children, relationships, jobs, bills and finance, commuting, time management, etcetera, the person who has taken time to become conscious of their thoughts and
actions, and has made the decision to commit to their development for the good of themselves and others, has achieved a level of awareness that the vast majority of people walking on the same streets has not.
Often yoga teachers (or religious leaders, counsellors, healers etc) will tell you that ‘some-thing’ always brings people to them; that ‘something’ could be a physical problem or illness/disease, mental health issues, anger/behavioural issues, bereavement, marriage split, trauma, PTSD, or some other kind of stress, or maybe they just started craving a better lifestyle or an answer...
So what are some basic things a person can do to invest in their own peace and well-being? As a yogi, I’m going to focus on the things I know (and given life’s parallels, some are likely to run in the same vein as the advice of other healers, doctors or religious leaders);
Everyone breathes don’t they? Yes, but not everyone breathes well. Many people breathe only into the top of the chest, taking shallow sips of air; this prevents the body taking in all the oxygen it needs for optimum functioning, and decreases stress and also illness. Take long, full breaths into the side ribs, back and belly.
Meditation does not have to be for a long time, and it does not mean sitting cross-legged on the floor in a pluming cloud of incense. Meditation can be simply standing, sitting or lying somewhere quietly, focusing on your breathing or you can count slowly. Thoughts may come and go; allow them to pass without latching on to them. Just give yourself the time to be, and to reset. Photo Credit - Kelvin Valerio, Pexels
Movement and exercise can shake you out of a slump, reduce stress, increase confidence and also keep the body well. Listen to your body while you undertake exercise; some days your energy levels will be higher and also flexibility will vary from day to day. Forcing movement or over-riding discomfort can cause injury and also listening to one’s body helps you to understand yourself better and leads to greater self-knowledge, all part of acting and thinking consciously.
Eating raw (unprocessed, natural) food offers the body far better nutrition than processed foods. You are what you digest, and raw foods are easier for the body to digest and use than foods loaded with chemicals, excess salt, fats and sugar. Eating well can help your body to function well, heal, build immunity and lose excess weight. A basic guideline is to eat SOUL – Seasonal, Organic, Unprocessed, Local.
Conscious Thought & Action
This relates to becoming more mindful about ones thoughts and actions. Many of us are so taken up with what has to be done in a day, and getting it done, that we fail to meet
our time (and the people, animals, places, things and opportunities in it) with the presence of mind that enables our highest good. Meditating can help with this, slowing us down and giving us space to stop and be present. Becoming more aware of our reactions, what triggers us, what makes us happy, and what stimulates us, can help us to become more self-aware.
Spending time on self-study and self-improvement can help us better observe ourselves and thereby become more conscious of our actions, and happier as a result. Yoga talks about the ‘kleshas’; our mental-emotional afflictions. We all have them to varying degrees, and they boil down to our core fears which tend to control our thoughts and actions.
These central afflictions are:
> Ego – ‘I AM-ness’ (Feeling more/less than you are – and comparing yourself to others)
> Clinging to past pleasures or past suffering (Fearing you will not get the same
pleasure again or fear that you will suffer the same pain again)
> Fear of death
And until we become aware of them, these controlling fears will run our thoughts, actions and reactions without us even knowing, perpetuating the same cycles in our lives.
Sleep helps our physical body to re-charge and repair, takes the gabbling mind and ego off-line, and brings our breathing to a full, restful rate. Aim to get between six-and-a-half and eight hours per night, preferably lights out at 10pm in order to access the best time for this rest and recuperation to take place.
Choosing one or more of these things and integrating them into your daily routine is likely to help you feel better, and start making more positive changes for your overall well-being, and all those you come into contact with. This small gesture of self-care and self-respect can roll out a far larger and impactful transformation than you may expect.
You don’t have to be a monk on a mountaintop to experience inner peace…