This week I’m preparing to go into a week of solo retreat in the wilderness hermitage deep in the Tusas Mountains west of Taos. The retreat cabin is a hike from the ranch at Vallecitos, nestled in one of the most magnificent and remote landscapes of northern New Mexico where I’ve been teaching summer retreats for fifteen years. And this is the year the dream of doing a personal retreat before teaching comes true.
All this week I feel an undercurrent of anticipation, for even after 40 years, you don’t know how a retreat will be.
Years ago I was relieved to encounter this teaching of 13th c. Zen master Dogen Zenji:
That you carry yourself forward and experience the myriad things is delusion. That the myriad things come forward and experience themselves is awakening.
Years ago, I was hiking and sitting on retreat alone in the mountains. When I sat down on a rock off the trail to meditate, mountain goats quietly gathered around me, one by one. At first the goats scared me – unexpected apparitions with sharp curved horns. After a few minutes, the me who opened her eyes and immediately imagined being gored by wild goats stepped back and relaxed.
Dogen teaches us to take that backward step in our meditation, too. We step back from our fears and fantasies, freeing the myriad creatures and things to be just as they are. I marveled at their closeness, just as you marvel at the freedom that can come when you sit still and let yourself be so close to experience as it unfolds. This is how mindfulness connects us to the simplicity of what is. From Dogen: “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.”
Isn’t it a relief? Whether we are out in nature or sitting on our cushion, this mysterious world comes to us, and it’s AWE-some, awe-inspiring. Then we’re open to learn, to free each moment of being to be as it is, as we are. If we don’t find freedom where we are, where else can we find it?
Image Credit: T. Goodman