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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
ForuM • geoFFrey shugen arnoLD • eLiZaBeTh MaTTis-naMgyeL • guy arMsTrong • ForuM • geoFFrey shugen arnoLD • eLiZaBeTh MaTTis-naMgyeL • guy arMsTrong • Long-Term Retreat cHrISTIne SkArdA earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1982 and subsequently worked in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive science. She has lived in retreat since 1991, in both India and the United States. She ordained in 1994. SOMETIMES WHEN I TELL PEOPLE that I live in retreat, they raise their eyebrows in amazement—or is it perhaps dis- approval? I seldom go on to say that I have been doing this for twenty years. What I am unable to share is how this form of spiritual practice has deeply enriched my life. In retreat, spiritual practice becomes one’s sole occupation. This contrasts sharply with life in the modern world, where religion has been relegated to the margins. Retreat affords us the “space” to cre- ate new forms of meaning by living in a radically different way. This is a great privilege as well as a great challenge. Retreat also provides the opportunity to engage in forms of practice that require sustained effort and relative isola- tion. Some meditative goals cannot be attained through part- time practice. I have found this to be especially true for the Photo corey kohn inTroDucTion By chrisTine skarDa Vajrayana tradition, in which certain yogic practices require full- time application, but it is certainly also true for other traditions and forms of practice. My experience has shown that if I try to start and stop certain practices, or do something in addition to them, I suffer from severe physical and psychological ailments called wind disorders. There is a reason that these practices were traditionally done in isolated retreat: this is where they can be done successfully—and safely. Over the years, my views on retreat have changed. I’ve moved from viewing it as it is portrayed in the popular imagi- nation to what I would call a more realistic view. At first I tried to live according to the models I found in accounts of great meditators of the past. It didn’t occur to me that they were highly edited accounts, sort of like the baseball highlights on the evening news. “Life in the cave” is not all home runs, nor is it accurately understood as a vacation from life. For those who engage in it, retreat is life itself. It is a way of living, replete with all of life’s ups and downs. Some of us do it all the time; others do it for a while and then put on “another hat.” If people are to have the opportunity to engage in this form of spiritual practice, it is critical that retreat continues as a living tradition. Retreat may always have been the occupa- tion of a small minority of people, but unless the tradition is maintained, it will turn into a dead language. We need living role models; we need people to turn to for hands-on advice. In the following discussion, panelists explore the challenges and rewards of retreat practice and the steps that may be needed to keep this rich tradition alive. the challenges and Benefits buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 11 44