Rest, Relax, and Abide: Finding Confidence and Courage on Retreat September 20, 2019 16:50

I'm not big on traveling. I like to travel occasionally, but I really have to be motivated, especially if it's a solo adventure. Crowded airports are stressful for me, and I'm not the greatest with directions, so I get turned around and lost very easily. 

Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a retreat and hear Her Eminence Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche teach at her Lotus Garden Retreat Center in Stanley, VA. I listen to her teachings and interviews online, and I have read her book, This Precious Life, so when I heard about this retreat, I was really motivated to go and hear her teach in person. The first step in dealing with any plan, obstacle, or challenge, is generating and maintaining the right motivation. Check!

Since the closest airport to Lotus Garden was two hours away, I decided the best option was to drive. I've taken shorter trips by myself before, but this was a ten-hour trip spanning four states. Needless to say, this was a big leap for me, and one well beyond my comfort zone.

After printing out directions, checking with my insurance to make sure I had roadside assistance, packing up the car, setting the GPS on my phone, I was ready to go. I even had a conversation with my teacher, Geshe Kunga, to let him know I was leaving. He was kind enough to give me an amulet to keep with me on my trip, instructed me to chant the Green Tara mantra, and said he would offer prayers of protection as well. Preparation and much-needed Support! Check and Check!

I chanted mantra the entire time I was on the road headed to Mindrolling Lotus Garden Retreat Center. Alternating between the 100-syllable Vajrasattva and the Green Tara mantra, I recited, in part, to help me stay focused, but more importantly, to manage my anxieties and fears of getting lost (which is ridiculously easy for me), breaking down, or getting run off the road by a runaway semi.

Chanting mantra helped me stay grounded, rooted in the present moment, and it added a welcome element of familiarity to a long journey full of change and unfamiliar landscapes. In short, mantra practice brought me safely to Lotus Garden.

It also served me throughout the retreat as well--from daily morning and evening prayers in the shrine room with the other retreatants to personal practice time in between teachings. I thoroughly enjoyed chanting quietly as I walked around the large lotus pond and along threadline paths that had gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

As the week progressed, I could sense my own confidence level increasing, as well as my ability to simply rest and be in the moment. One of my favorite meditation sessions was outdoors. Each retreatant (150 in all) was given a small tent to pitch along the grounds. Once our tents were ready, we were given a sack dinner, a chair, and instructions to meditate for three hours. The instructions were as follows: to simply relax, abide, and allow for the duration of the session.

Our session began in the late afternoon and ended in early evening. I pushed the chair out of my tent and lay on the ground in constructive rest pose. A somatic meditation approach was exactly what I needed to remain grounded and aware of everything shifting around me: 

patterns of light and shadow on the mountains

clouds drifting, gathering, and dispersing

a large spider busily spinning a web at the apex of of my tent

bird song shifting to chirping crickets

daylight easing into darkness

intermittent sneezes, coughs, the rustling of sandwich wrappers

and eventually, the sound of tent zippers, shoes on stiff grass and gravel as we made our way back to our rooms by flashlight

Over the course of the week, I noticed that my confidence and courage had increased dramatically, and my tendency to worry had diminished. Rinpoche's teachings surpassed my expectations. She was incredibly detailed, clear, and insightful. I enjoyed connecting with other practitioners as well. Even though the Mindrolling lineage was new to me, we had more commonalities than differences. I also enjoyed being able to take the time to improve my own practice in a fresh, unfamiliar environment.

I enjoyed my stay, and by the end of the week, I was eager to make my way home. Cell phone service was very spotty in this isolated area, so I had to rely on my printed instructions to lead me back to the highway. Ordinarily, this would be a cause for major concern, but I had the motivation, confidence, curiosity, and courage to find my way without worry or unnecessary anxiety (and I didn't get lost).

I also enjoyed the trip home, more confident in my independence and in my ability to navigate change: to rest--to relax--and to abide in this journey, and in all future adventures to come.