This is the time when sunlight returns to our winter world and a new year begins. 2020 has been a year of retreat for many of us, clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. We spent more time with ourselves than usual. I have seen this year as an opportunity to go the “mountain”, to use a metaphor common to many spiritual traditions. There has been less outward activity and more inward reflection. But now the energy is shifting, and the time is coming to re-engage with the “marketplace”—to bring our inner Light into the world.
I am fond of spiritual metaphors like the ox-herding pictures used in Zen Buddhism to teach about the spiritual path. The seeker wanders a path up the mountain looking for the wild ox, then finds and tames it, rides it back down, comes home and enters the marketplace, bringing spiritual wisdom and helping hands to the community. The ox is a metaphor for taming the unruly aspects of ourselves, including our overactive egos and minds. Other similar metaphors include Moses bringing the ten commandments down from the mountain as instructed by God, Jesus spending 40 days in the desert before giving the Sermon on the Mount, the wandering of the Jews in the desert before coming to the Promised Land, and the vision quests of native peoples. In modern times, we go on retreats, withdrawing from our normal lives and taking time for spiritual reading and inner reflection. We hope to come back wiser, more peaceful and compassionate.
What I usually find is that it is easy for me to be peaceful and compassionate while on retreat; it’s when I return to the world that I have trouble! So, I’ve been reflecting on how this lofty idea might be made more accessible to us everyday folks. My experiment this last year has been to incorporate Retreat Days into my schedule. Sadly, I’m here to report that I was unable to retreat for a whole day despite the best of intentions. I did have success in unplugging from news, but not from life.
Then I started wondering if there might be a more practical way to do this ox-taming business, must be the Quaker in me… My new experiment is taking mini retreats and then re-engaging with the world throughout the day, seeking to bring Light and the Quaker testimonies into the world. I’m finding this approach works much better and is more realistic given the nature of my life. My hope is that over time I will be able to maintain centered-down peace while I’m engaged with the world.
Here are some of my mini retreats:
- Silent Worship whether in community or alone—taking 30-60 minutes to sit quietly and listen for that still, small voice within.
- Sitting in easy repose and staring out the window for a few minutes, turning off my brain.
- Going on a walk or taking a swim and making it a moving meditation, where I focus on the movement and get out of my head.
- Doing Qigong, Tai Chi and/or yoga practice with mindful focus. It helps to do this in a room set aside for this purpose or outdoors. If I’m near my desk or the kitchen, I can get endlessly distracted! It also helps to do just one pose or form if I’ve lost my center or need a break.
- Taking several deep, belly breaths.
- Driving in silence.
- Petting the cat.
- Breathing and repeating a mantra while waiting.
- Observing nature and letting myself become absorbed into it.
- Meditating using a mantra or following my breath.
- Reading a spiritual book.
Here are some of the ways I try to bring Light into the world:
- Listen with total presence, seeking to understand.
- Speak the truth from my heart, with compassion.
- Be thoughtful in my actions and words.
- Do random acts of kindness.
- Practice peace, even when I disagree.
- Seek unity; there’s usually some common ground somewhere.
- Be patient.
- Love my neighbor without exceptions.
- Live simply and in harmony with nature and those around me.
- Be a good steward.
- Share generously.
- Shine my Light, encouraging others as my equals to shine theirs.
- Have faith and trust in the good in myself and others, and Life itself.
- Stand in my integrity with humble courage.
- Be open-minded and non-judgmental.
Like any human, I stumble a lot, miss the mark, make mistakes, get distracted. Then I get back on that ox and try again. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an ongoing experiment without end. I find that comforting. Oh, and it helps not to take oneself too seriously and have a good sense of humor!
What are your ways to retreat from the world and reconnect with the Light?
How do you bring Light into the world?
What distracts you from your highest intentions? Disturbs your peace?
By Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.