This is a short testimonial written by a guest at the 2017 Easter retreat. We found her words so kind that we had to post them! Thank you everyone who made the retreat so special.
This Easter I attended a four day health and wellness retreat at the SIBA Tibetan Buddhist Retreat center located in the beautiful Snowy Mountains. I want to share some of this experience with loved family and friends. It may inspire you to seek some similar relief from anxiety and the "busy-ness" of life. I think we all look for that magical center of calm and acceptance.
I can be hyperactive, over-think an issue, and hold onto anger about issues out of my control. The Yank Sherman Tank in me has been both a blessing and a curse, and I have sometimes made the impulsive charge into battle before considering the cause and effect and the karma of my action.
I had booked myself onto this retreat with the prime objective of finding an alternative way to deal with pain while I await a hip replacement. I have struggled down the path of painkillers like morphine, which dulled my mind and drowned my "mojo" – my inner magic - and paralyzed my need to be creative. Since moving to Paynesville, I had stopped writing and could not find the inspiration or the courage to write again. I became addicted to my i-pad, Netflix, spider solitaire, and sitting like a slug in my recliner chair. I indulged in the poor-me control drama because I could not take my beloved long walks. I would rant and rave in my mind (and out loud in the shower) about second family issues, and I tested my dear husband's patience while he tried his best to cook, clean, walk the dog, take care of me. He had to juggle my demands with his family's needs and on reflection I confess that I was not always fair or compassionate about his issues and needs. My ego became a huge black cloud full of self-pity and that also clouded my spiritual vision and my ability to connect to the divine. I had even dropped my former practice of daily chakra clearing.
During the retreat I met so many inspiring people whose stories stirred the creative flame in me and I began to write again in my journal. For those four days I was shielded from the internet, telephone, radio, television and the news which had made me anxious, unhappy and angry with the world. As a friend often reminds me, "nature abhors a vacuum", and when I emptied out those diversions I found room for love, for insight, and for freedom from negative thought.
The retreat offered a delicious smorgasbord of prayer, calm abiding meditation, gentle yoga, healing massages, wholesome vegetarian food, and singing. Although I had tried meditation for several years in WA, I was never able to sit and meditate for more than a few minutes. Indeed I did not really understand how or why to meditate. Under Jampal's skilled and patient guidance, I began to learn how to tame the wild elephants in my mind, how to use meditation and controlled breathing to dissolve angry thoughts and replace them with quiet compassion, unconditional love (which I thought only dogs were capable to expressing), and how to make friends with my pain.
I finally tasted the mental release of meditation (at the end I was able to comfortably meditate for 40 minutes – much longer than I have been able to do in the past.) Meditation began to transform from an uncomfortable chore into a calming pleasure, and I was delighted to find I could shift my overactive mind several gears down from a roaring flat-out race to a purring pace. This was a new and rewarding experience and I hope to continue the practice daily. I also realize I have much more to learn and that I will need to be self-disciplined in daily practice.
Initially I was hesitant about attending the Yoga (everything was optional) because of my hip but this gifted and sensitive young Yoga teacher showed me some other avenues, including using a chair rather than the floor all the time. She did not push me into uncomfortable or painful poses, she simply taught me to listen to my body and to use the pain as a sign that I might need to try a different position. It worked like magic and to my surprise I was able to get on the floor, get myself up again, and move my hip and muscles more fluidly. By the fourth day I could walk short distances without the cane and without a limp. My need for painkillers reduced and at night I was able to lie down without pain and fall into a refreshing and deep sleep.
The massage therapist worked some stubborn and tight knots out of my back and leg (she used an interesting cupping technique) and the information she provided in a workshop has equipped me with the tools and understanding of how to self-massage using special rollers and balls.
A talented musician led singing sessions and it was uplifting to witness the group's collective radiation of happiness. We had so much fun singing a variety of songs, harmonies, and percussion. I had loved singing for many years in different community choirs, but in the past few weeks before this retreat I had stopped attending the singing group here. The experience of that one session I attended has once again ignited my love of music, and the deep pleasure I have always felt with singing. I will be returning to my local choir again.
Finally add to that already rich fabric of experience, an environment with panoramas of the Snowy Mountain forests, wallabies, birds, chickens, and the famous "Fortunate Flock" of sheep that were saved from slaughter as lambs. While I didn't see the flock in person, I had a chuckle at the picture that looks as if they are actually smiling! The stars at night were so brilliant I felt I could touch them with my spirit. And the days were golden (it could have been the original setting for the Garden of Eden).
I think Michael has been pleasantly surprised by the change in me – I feel calmer, I feel comfortable with my pain which has significantly reduced since we made friends and agreed to a truce...yes, it really does work to go into the pain, to be gentle with it, to make friends and to release the spirit within that pain. When we picked the pets up from the kennel after the weekend, Beth the lovely woman who runs the kennel, was amazed at how much calmer I looked and said my face was beaming with contentment.
I also learned a little about Buddhism (and I know there is much more to learn – I am at the base of mountain that has nine challenging levels). Instead of watching Netflix, I am choosing now to read a book about the Dalai Lama. What I love about Buddhism is the philosophy and the teachings that are inclusive (not exclusive) of all the different religions. There is respect for everyone's belief and culture. Over many years I had developed a personal faith that respects the roles of all monotheistic and polytheistic religions. Tibetan Buddhism offers the recipe to transform restrictive religion into free faith where everyone is treated with respect, tolerance and love.
I hope to go again next Easter – it is a wonderful way to celebrate a personal resurrection!