Another woman went for a walk down a grassy ditched road and was kissed by the most beautiful cow she had ever seen. Are you getting the idea that it was a slightly magical affair? Would you expect any less of a retreat held in the crazy wisdom lineage of Chogyam Trungpa ? The retreat was led by Tami Simon in the body centred Vajrayana tradition of Reggie Ray. Through reading, listening to CD's and hearing Ray talk in Victoria in January I was curious enough about their way of working with the body to get myself down to the beautiful Stowell Lake for the Wed- Sunday retreat.
The setting at the bucolic farm was enough to make you feel as if you had entered some heavenly abode before even a whisper of Dharma had been uttered. Stowell Lake Farm is a magical mix of lush perennial beds, a secret garden, organic veggie plots, and fields of voluptuous grasses. Pleasing patches of tamed lawn are dotted with sturdy cedar buildings. The gentle sounds of sheep bleating in the fields and children playing in the distance were punctuated by birdsong and warmed by the delicious May sun. The lovely fields played host to the mindful footsteps of our walking meditation and offered a stunning end to Friday's session where we sat in the cool air as the landscape darkened. Over the days as our senses woke up, the landscape became even more vibrantly beautiful.
And if our eyes and ears were not filled with enough objects of delight we were treated to a kaleidoscope of wonderful tastes, mostly vegan and organic, all whipped up by the charming and inspired retreat cooks, Evelyn and David. We feasted on Thai Green Curry and enormous salads with silky dressings, polenta and tomato sauce and roasted yams with mushroom gravy and veggie pate and delicious soups. People were clamouring for the cookbook of retreat recipes Evelyn will be putting out this fall.
Tami Simon, who spends her days interviewing spiritual teachers and thinkers for her company "Sounds True" has followed her passion and become a teacher in this "crazy wisdom" tradition. She is clearly someone who lives and breathes the Dharma. She shares it in an authentic voice with a personal style laced with transparency, humour and intensity that was humbling and heart warming and refreshing. She doesn't hesitate to share all her own "neurotic episodes" as she refers to them, weaving together a flowing robe of Dharma.
Her format was interesting, offering a day where people could chat and get to know each other, then plunging us into silence and then pulling us out by the scruffs of our sweaty necks and tossing us into a social evening that she called "Dance like a Buddha". I think for a lot of us the silence is comfortable and allows the deeper descent into your "own stuff". But the social time brought us face to face with our vulnerabilities, insecurities and projections as we manouvered the slightly awkward sidewalks of social interactions with strangers. While I came for the silence and inner exploration I was impressed by how the "talking times" stretched me and contained its own intense Dharma. People were not at all as I imagined them. Even the most coiffed and perfectly attired showed their humanness in lunchtime chats. I saw the movie screen of my own projection and judgement dissolve as I listened to people talk. Those silent hours were filled with subtle (and not so subtle) mind chatter.
Much of the 4 days was dedicated to the body work which is the hallmark of this tradition. The body is explored and mined like an archeological dig. We are the anthropologists of our own hidden tensions stored in dark, buried places. Can we find them, can we breathe life and awareness into them? Can altering the terrain of the body, unearthing it's secret somatic messages alter what goes on in the mind? Does your sitting posture affect your discursive mind? What is the interplay in this field of body/mind that we inhabit? What is locked in the body that hurts and escapes our conscious awareness? Can we heal our lives by working in this way? Can we enter gateways of awareness through the body that are not available to us in any other way? These were our weekend's work and exploratory map.
So we navigated our way through each day from sitting to lying to walking, exploring abdominal breathing, cellular breathing, earth breathing and other body centred techniques for opening to an empty, boundless state. There is a slightly esoteric bend to some of the work, while some is simple and straight forward. It is about the willingness to abandon belief and enter an exploratory state. And as in any meditation practice it takes time and concentration.
Tami started the weekend by talking about taking "the leap"; that is what this tradition is about. She encouraged us to be "fearless" in all aspects of our life, reminding us that this fearlessness is what gives our lives texture and interest and makes us truly alive. Her "through line", as she called it, for the weekend consisted of 5 points. This 5 point roadmap is a perfect little reminder for living our whole lives. 1. Relax 2. Don't Judge (yourself or others, or situations) 3. Be curious 4. Be kind (to ourselves & others) 5. Offer everything up.
I was deeply touched by her talk on "indomitable or fierce trust". Trust that everything that has happened to you or will happen to you is just what you need. Nothing is wrong if it comes to you. She said that in fact we are breaking our vow to awakening when we think something is "wrong" in our life.
We got huge goody bags of Dharma to take home with us. We can open them and play with the treasures and treats we received any time we like, any time of day, in any situation. Little roadmaps and guides will show us the way to the biggest party which is a rich and vibrant life filled with courage and authenticity. Each bag contained a ticket inviting us to take a leap from the plane of life without a parachute. It's okay to jump, Tami reminded us, there's no ground to hit.