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Jul 21
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Solitary Retreat and the Running Mind, part 2

miksang photo by Charles Blackhall

part 2 of Running with the Mind of Meditation on Solitary Retreat
by Fay Octavia Elliott

Where we left off: I heard Pema Chodron say once that the middle is always the hardest part of a retreat regardless of its length. I crossed the middle line this evening and feel very happy. My shamatha practice this morning seemed more stable and despite the new wrinkles, I maintained my stability and completed the day. I decide to fast from eating, reading and writing tomorrow to remove even more distractions from my practice sessions. Tonight I will read the chapters on garuda and look forward to an “outrageous” day 4.

“The meditation technique of the garuda is moving forward with a healthy balance of mindfulness and awareness, with the result that we surpass previous limitations.” (RMM 135) When I planned day 4, I didn’t know the very plan was outrageous just because I would be going beyond my usual limitations. I loved that notion so much that I even decided to walk down a very long steep hill which I had avoided all week. At an altitude of 8,200 feet this was an outrageous idea since my lungs have very limited capacity. It was outrageous but not dangerous which the Sakyong warns against as foolhardiness. With the aid of trekking polls and a strategically placed boulder to sit on halfway back uphill, I made it and was rewarded with an unbelievably awesome view of the Battle Mesa near Grand Junction, Colorado, on the cliff at the base of the hill.

Nancy and Fay

The Sakyong says a variation of the Shantideva quote (in part 1) is one of his favorites. He points out that “In the garuda phase, we expand our mind to include others. Happiness is the experience of love and kindness between family and friends. The thought of love is the most powerful of feelings.” (RMM 163) Yesterday, I didn’t check my phone messages and this morning discovered that one of my housemates Nancy was hospitalized overnight. I live in community with Nancy, another friend and two awesome and amazing cats. Nancy was a student in one of my meditation classes when my mother died. She offered to become my surrogate mother and “Bengali teaboy” and has been close to me ever since — we’ve been living together for over six years. She is nearing her 81st birthday and is very concerned about being a burden on me. I decide today to cut my retreat short. I will go home tomorrow to support her and to be with Mark’s family. They have come to town to make arrangements for his memorial service which I will conduct.

“The power of the dragon is intention….I believe that with pure intention, you can bring almost any activity on your spiritual path. My intention in running is to benefit others. Thus running is a continuation of my spiritual journey.” (RMM 181) In 2007, I left the corporate world to seek a way to make my life more meaningful and to find a way to give back. I found it in the program leading to chaplaincy at Naropa University. Every step I have taken since then has been leading in this direction. To be ordained as a Shambhala Buddhist minister, concurrent with that program required taking all the Shambhala courses through Vajrayana seminary. At the beginning it all seemed very daunting. Like a runner, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and arrived. Obviously I didn’t stop there. A friend asked me if I was afraid of going to Rigden Abhisheka. The answer was an emphatic “no!”, that it was coming home for me. The deeper our lineage has committed to basic goodness and the path of kindness, the more at home I have felt. Sticking to the path fuels my motivation and intention to make my life be one of service and benefit to as many beings as possible.

“The point is that we are optimistic and engaged. In that way, not only is our activity of benefit to others, it is also personally satisfying and leads to contentment and happiness.” (RMM 195) Throughout the whole book, the Sakyong talks about happiness. He emphasizes that happiness comes from our relationships to family and friends. I would add also from our relationship to our spiritual teachers. During my retreat it has been a joy to share the companionship of the Sakyong. He shared so much of himself with me in this book, and I learned many things I didn’t know about him and his life. I felt the strength of his guidance and support all along the way. It feels like our relationship is stronger now than ever.

the view from the hike

After only five days alone on retreat, I begin to understand how a year in solitary retreat so deepened the Sakyong’s commitment to Shambhala and the world. I feel the deepening strength of my commitment to my bodhisattva vow, to our lineage and the greater community. I look forward to going home to support my family, friends, the SMC staff and participants and the larger community in whatever ways I am capable.

“…we too can take a solitary and lonely activity and turn it into a dynamic period of developing an intention to help the world.” (RMM 182) May it be so for all you meditators and runners in the world.

Having just completed her degree at Naropa University, Fay Elliott is now heading off to Shambhala Mountain Center to be the first chaplain in residence there.

For more information about Running with the Mind of Meditation, click here.

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2 responses to “ Solitary Retreat and the Running Mind, part 2 ”
  1. Chris Fici
    Aug 14, 2012

    Very interesting thoughts Fay
    I would be interested to hear what you and your readers think of a similarly themed article I just had published at Elephant Journal.

    “The Lost Art of Being Alone with God”

  2. Fay,

    So moving. Wonderful about the walk.


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