This personal piece was offered at the banquet of the Summer Youth Retreat, July 23th 2016, Dechen Chöling, France.
Ready for some serious self-therapy? Try living and working in a Buddhist community and staffing a Meditation Retreat. Success guaranteed.
Life throws lemons at you when you are ready to eat them, right? After working and studying intensively this fall, I felt it was time to move out of my flat in Amsterdam and leave my country homeless for some serious relaxation and exploration. Volunteering in Dechen Choling, Shambhalas main European Meditation Center in the sunny south of France, sounded sound to me as the start of my experimental journey. I saw a short description on their website with something about breaking habitual patterns and jade jade jade but why would I read that, I was more than sure that I was way beyond that station. I didn’t want to think about how it would be so that I couldn’t fall for too many expectations. I just went. My friends had more questions than I did. That could have woken me up from my ego trip but it didn’t.
I arrived in ‘the land of great bliss’ and it felt immediately like being on a honeymoon. The people in the community were SO lovely, kind and calm and it seemed like we were all there for similar reasons – a little fed up with the extreme longings of our western society and ready to become better persons to make a change in the world. Eating our delicious nourishing meals together, three times a day, on the sunny porch of a beautiful chateau, talking about life and it’s meaning, and my favorite topic of all: love. It also felt like this was a space to linger together for hours and hours. Besides all the time to relax, working in landscape felt great too. Dirty fingers, connecting with nature, learning new skills and pruning everything that needed space felt invigorating. At the same time I was pruning and weeding shit out of my own system and life too. It felt so amazing. And of course, meditating together for two hours a day and finding the GAP again and learning more and more about my favorite study: Shambhala Buddhism. My heart had opened straight away and I was falling in love with several of my new family members immediately. I sure had arrived in the land of great bliss and felt so at home that I felt like I wanted to stay forever.
But then the taste of my juice got sour. The universe, or should I say the dralas, decided to start throwing those lemons. It was like the reflection button in my mind had switched on and the off button was gone. Everything moment, every second, every activity, every interaction and every word I said was guided by a little voice in my head that showed me my soicent mille quatre neuf habitual patterns: “I always do this”. Whether it was being impatient with others, unrealistically goal oriented with myself, not feeling my boundaries, seeing everything as a competition, being needy for acknowledgement, looking for comfort and intimacy to avoid my own problems or very often being annoyed by others because they didn’t do what I thought they should be doing.. It didn’t matter. ALL of my patterns were there. Apparently these were no outside world problems. These were mine. And I had taken all of them with me to the land of great bliss. Who was I to think that I did not have any patterns that stood in the way anymore? Who was I to believe that I was better or further on the path than anyone else? It felt like my ego had hooked me and it was time to go for the only right solution – to drink the damn lemon juice.
The sips were so sour that they made me cry. A lot. I needed time to be able to process it all and I spent hours on top of a broken tree that felt a little like me and that was willing to absorb all my tears and my sadness. I felt so many sensations in my body, mainly the ones that come with loneliness: emptiness. I felt small and alone. And I was. This was something I had to do by myself, even though my body was craving for someone else, preferably naked 😉 to hold me and solve all the problems that my mind had created by itself. I realized why I would always fall in love and took refuge in others when being on retreats and lived in bubbles in the past. I was never willing to go through these nasty feelings of emptiness alone and I was never willing to swallow the sour juice before either. But this time I was not going to spit it out. I was so thirsty and I was going to drink the whole damn glass of juice.
By the time the Summer Youth Retreat had started, it felt like the glass was almost empty. I felt proud of myself and didn’t see my ego had apparently found a new way to mislead me. Obviously I wasn’t finished. It all started again, from the beginning with new and fresh patterns. Hah. This time, the FOMO pattern, my fear of missing out was a huge one. How could I take time off for myself if I wanted to be part of the group? I struggled a lot with my staff position too and became aware of unwanted narcissistic thoughts that maybe the retreat would be better off if I would have been in charge… My god, Ego, excuse me??? Could it not shut up, if only for half a day?? And another pushy pattern: how could I make sure that the teacher, MI’s and coordinators would think of me as the best staff member they’d ever had? Oh boy. There was not enough time to make it all happen! It was out of control. I was out of control and I hated it. Wasn’t I the flexible easy-going independent woman who I thought I was anymore? It all seemed so difficult all of a sudden and I felt tested so many times. This wasn’t lemon juice, this was a full on lemon attack. In my face. And I could not hide. There simply was nowhere to go.
Yesterday I managed to sit on the floor of my tent for three hours. I could not get up and had to give up and be honest. I had to say it out loud: I am struggling. I am tired. I need help. And I don’t know. Four sentences that had always embarrassed me in the past. I wanted to be stronger than that. Thank God I realized I was actually much stronger by admitting this. It was not easy but it did pay off. I was being honest. With myself and others. A big win.
It created a GAP. One that was open for so many sensory sensations. For LIFE. For you. For amazing experiences which I otherwise would have never been able to feel. (…) (If you have been to the retreat and you would like to have a copy of the highlights I shared with you, please contact me).
Leaving the retreat and Dechen Choling now makes me feel weird. I feel like I have been here for at least three years instead of three weeks. As if the learning curve was beyond vertical. I am ready to leave but I feel that all these experiences and these sensations deserve so much more time and attention then they did. I feel like everyone in this room deserves more time than I could give. All you beauties that came to this retreat, everyone with their own stories but all with similar intentions – finding space. It is amazing not to walk this lonesome path alone and I am so glad I had the chance to spend a week around you.
Orhun, Mederic and beautiful Jessy, thank you for creating and holding the space. I can’t wait to have more lemon juice together with you in our future.