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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
buddhadharma| 65 |winter 2005 of increased concentration to begin seeing all the different places of attachment, identification, and fixation of mind that are there.” The next step is to keep at it. Tenzin Palmo compared going on retreat to cooking food, pointing out that it’s not very effective to turn the heat up high and then turn it off again, and then the next day turn it on for a while and then off again. What’s needed is a constant flame that gives enough time for all the ingredients to cook thoroughly. “A slow cooker is probably best,” she says. “It will take longer, but the food won’t burn and it will turn out delicious.” since the core of all retreats is the same (after all, even in a group retreat, you’re still largely on your own), the differences between practicing with others or on your own tend to be subtle. Perhaps the most nuanced of these is one’s physi- cal setting. most monasteries and retreat centers are in quiet, rural spots. And for good reasons: there are fewer distractions, and the peacefulness of the surroundings makes it easier for the mind to settle. But, still, even monasteries in remote places are man-made compounds that act as something of a buffer between us and nature. milton believes that being alone in the wilder- ness has a healing, calming effect, which natu- rally fosters greater awareness, and he has the experience to back up his conviction. Part native American, milton did his first four-day, three-night solo vision quest when he was just seven years old. By the time he was fifteen, he was spending as much as a month alone in the wild, surviving solely off whatever the forest offered. In the 1950’s he began a serious zazen practice and often spent long stretches of time meditating alone, without provisions, in remote mountains. milton’s adven- tures induced powerful spiritual openings. hoping to share his insights, he has helped thousands of others experience solitary awareness retreats in the wilderness. “even without any [awareness] train- ing, we’ve found that spending a week alone in the woods has the equivalent effect of spending time in a meditation retreat,” says milton. I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical, but then I thought about sitting by a brook in the woods or standing in a forest meadow. The sounds of water and wind encourage one to simply listen, generat- ing a heightened sensitivity that makes it easier to drop one’s internal chatter and be more attuned to things just as they are. “When we step out of culture and all the cultural frameworks that define us,” says milton, “we step into a context that’s (top)coreyn.m.Kohn;(Bottom)liBByviGeon “During a long retreat, there comes the deepening power of concentration and attentiveness that is necessary for seeing the nature of the mind and the body more deeply.” — Joseph Goldstein