“When we are ready to let go, we will do so with relief. We will experience renunciation not as a death but as a birth.” – R. Gates
The beginning of June I went to Cloud Mountain for my third annual Young Adult retreat. Cloud Mountain feels like a second home. I began coming to this Buddhist center in my early twenties & kept coming back. It’s one of my favorite places. So much in fact, that I stunned a friend by saying that I would rather spend my time on retreat than traveling to Paris, France. She scoffed at such an idea.
Why on Earth would I choose to spend my time doing this?
Because these experiences expose so much of what needs to be Known. Because these experiences infiltrate my DNA. What I consider to be the purpose & meaning of life is rediscovered on these retreats. It’s been explained that retreat reveals “everything” – the highest of highs & the lowest of lows.
I’ve mentioned before that retreat is conducted in Noble Silence. The essence of Noble Silence is to go inward. That by becoming silent, we can understand our Mind better. There is no escape, no way to numb ourselves with food, activity, media, technology, substances, etc. When things come up – & they do – you bear witness to that experience.
Personally, I love silence. As my teacher said, most of us are “thirsty for silence” in our lives. I slip into silence with ease. Cloud Mountain asks us to renunciate even further by foregoing writing, reading, & technology. We are even asked to avoid eye contact when walking past other yogis. This may sound excessive, but this provides the freedom to simply bewithout fulfilling the roles we inhabit when interacting with others.
On previous retreats, I walked around like I owned the place – full of confidence & ease. But this time was different. This time I felt clumsy. I felt self-conscious, constantly stumbling around & running into things. I wondered what the heck was going on & then it hit me – this time – I. Felt. Ugly.I found myself looking at my gaze in the mirror & surprising myself with how much I detested my reflection. I had this short hair that stood straight up & my face was so…out there.
It doesn’t bother me too much that I had this thought. In fact, it has been a long time since I have taken thoughts seriously.
When I came to retreat, I never imagined I’d concern myself over matters as trivial as my haircut…but that was where my practice led me. I observed the other male yogis move around on retreat. I saw them move with such ownership & power. Having this short hair & caring so much about what other’s thought of me became painfully obvious how little power I embodied.
I discussed this with my teacher. She responded by describing a time when she symbolically shaved her own hair. She then promptly looked at herself in the mirror & began to sob. She too was startled by the person staring back at her. She too felt a little scared by this reflection. She concluded by saying, “the path to nonidentification… is full of identification.” Meaning – the path to letting go, to renunciate fully exposes the absence of these qualities in the first place. Exposure – while painful is the way forward.
I came home caring deeply about the state of this Mind. I saw that after getting “informed” on the day’s news – I felt a heaviness inside my body. It then became so clear that I would continue to renunciate. I let go of consuming the news (Donald who?), social media, podcasts, & blogging. I realized I didn’t need to do anything extra. I just needed to stay home, be with my family, sit outside & be still. I am slowly coming out of this state but with far more balance. Through renunciation, I have clearly seen that less brings so much more.
Seeing this Truth is simply another rediscovery about what it takes to live a meaningful life – that it really doesn’t take much at all.