I first experienced bliss on a yoga retreat. It was at an ashram in the south of India. The friend who I had been travelling and yoga-ing with, bailed after determining that this ashram we had travelled two days to get to, offered him little appeal. My accommodation was in a dorm with 8 people, maybe more, maybe less, where I struggled to find sleep for the first few nights (and having the strangest dreams that I still remember to this day). I was ravaged by mosquitoes in the late afternoons, and wore clothes bought at the ashram that would have been made with only rudimentary function in mind. The only mirror I had access to was a compact which I used to over-pluck my eyebrows. It was such a departure from the professional life I'd left in London, and yet I was so happy. That experience caused something to shift in me, and it started my search for more of whatever it was.
Today I returned from a weekend retreat in St Albans, 2 hours north of Sydney. As I plug back into the world (way sooner than I should have), Facebook reminds me that three years ago today I was at a yoga retreat in the north of Laos. It got me musing about the retreats I've been on since that first one in India, what draws me to them, and how I can justify the expense and time away from all that I am committed to.
When I was in the ashram in India, I had this overwhelming sense of being in love. I thought it was something about the community, the teachers or fellow retreaters, who had created that. I keep going on retreats in search of that experience. After much reflection, I've come to realise that what it was, and what it is, that I keep finding on retreat, is a connection to myself after having been estranged for a while. To have basic needs kindly tended to, such that one can focus on a spiritual practice, creates a connection that is worth honouring. As the American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says "much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it.”. Namaste.
Our walking meditation this morning: "Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet" Thich Nhat Hanh
That relaxed look of being on retreat.