I grew up in the Midwestern United States, from sturdy Canadian stock. Somehow my parents thought that Californians were a little silly, and to me that meant that an activity like whale watching was probably silly, too. Then I moved to California. On my first visit to the ocean, I saw sixteen whales pass by, and the enormity of the experience has never left me. Here were huge strong beings, moving slowly down the coast, determined to reach a goal I couldn’t see, on a journey I knew nothing about, breathing just like I do, and then disappearing, diving deep. Breathing, diving deep into a hidden world, making hidden progress, surfacing into the sunlight, relaxing, floating, breathing, breathing, breathing, and diving deep again. I took the meaning personally, and it stunned me. “That’s what I want to do — move forward, be strong, breathe, float free, feel the sunlight, then be brave, and dive deep again.”
I’ve done many, many solo retreats in my life. Not all have been easy, but the first one was a triumph. At the time, I thought I was different than others. I thought, “I’m going to lose my mind. Besides, fear of the dark will overwhelm me.” But I didn’t go crazy, and I survived the fear. It seems to me now that however each of us finds solitude, whenever we can find solo moments of resting in our being, it has enormous impact. It naturally takes us deep, because that’s what we are. Like a whale, I can feel this, but I cannot say or explain it. The whole thing amazes me.
Cynthia Kneen is the author of Awake Mind, Open Heart: The Power of Courage & Dignity in Everyday Life (Avalon, 2002), and the CD course, Shambhala Warrior Training (Sounds True, 1996). Cynthia has taught Shambhala Buddhist programs throughout the mandala for over thirty years and is currently writing a book on business and dharma. Visit her website at www.cynthiakneen.com