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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
53 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly usually builds in a series of steps that begins with learning to meditate and progresses through lengthier and deeper periods. Most people, apart from parents with small children, seem to find the opportunity to do retreat once the motivation sets in. Even people who have a busy work life tend to get at least two weeks of vacation a year and can carve out some time. Helping people find the time is mostly about helping them discover their own motivation and then letting it develop to the point where retreat seems like the sensible next step. And in terms of cost, a retreat can be pretty modest compared with most vacations. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: I’ve also been inspired to see people with small children, with full careers, with partners who aren’t practitioners—the whole gamut—find time to do retreat not just once, but repeatedly throughout the year. And they do it in such a way that they find balance with their families. In fact, retreat can help us to establish priorities in our lives. In general, it’s to say “no” to things you don’t want to do or that clearly cause you great pain. However, intensive practice also can help us to say “no” to things about which we might really be pas- sionate but which are going to give birth to a whole stream of energy needs and time and resources. You may learn to be more discerning about what you take on. You may become clearer about what the most important things are and give them the time they need. You understand why the great spiritual traditions regard simplicity as such an important virtue. I live in New York City, so I know what an uphill battle that can be in our culture, but living simply is always a choice. ElizabEth Mattis-NaMgyEl: Recently, I have noticed a surge in interest in retreat. We have thirteen cabins and they’re almost always full, and a lot of the people are parents. We have a strong community, like an extended fam- ily, so that children have support. Last year, I visited Sogyal Rinpoche’s center in France, and there were 500 people in a strict three-year retreat and another 300 doing an in-house style three-year retreat. It seems people are becoming more and more attracted to doing retreat these days. guy arMstroNg: I definitely see a growth in interest in retreats. We had 94 percent occupancy this past year at Spirit Rock and the three-month course at IMS was full. It’s part of the momentum of dharma’s growth in the West. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: We have generally been at capacity, which I think is part of the maturing of Buddhism and the fact that it’s reaching more people, but it’s also a result of people responding to a feeling of deepening despair and the crisis that we’re in the midst of, which generates a very sincere searching. In the early years, we would get mostly people living on the fringes of society, now we have people coming in from the full spectrum of society. buddhadharMa: You’ve talked about how being in retreat and being out of retreat can begin to take on the same quality. Nevertheless, the transition back to home life can be challeng- ing for many people. From the top of the mountain everything looks orderly. When you walk down into the middle of the fray, things can feel more threatening. Is returning from retreat also an important part of retreat? guy arMstroNg: We often say at the end of retreats that the first half of your retreat is over. The second half begins as you make the journey back home. It isn’t an easy journey most of the time, especially for people who are going through it early in their meditation career. You’ve slowed down but the world has maintained its fierce and brusque and often unkind pace. But the bumpiness tends to smooth itself out after a bit of time. buddhadharMa: But is that the point, simply to adapt? How do you not only survive the transition but maintain continuity with the quality of the retreat? guy arMstroNg: We long for the beauty of the retreat experi- ence and that reminds us of the potential of our human nature. It builds motivation and even urgency. It may cause us to adjust our life to make the qualities we cultivate in retreat have a bigger place in our lives. It may also cause us to go into retreat more often. ElizabEth Mattis-NaMgyEl: The longing is quite beautiful. It’s an expression of buddhanature. We may judge ourselves harshly at times for not being as connected as we would like, but when we feel that longing it shows how truly connected we are. As retreat begins to mature, our feelings of being iso- lated can decrease. We feel more engaged with life itself, so returning to everyday life from retreat has less contrast—it’s just living your life, as Shugen said. And yet, there is some dif- ference. Dudjom Rinpoche said that while it’s good to do soli- tary retreats, it’s also really important to mingle in the world. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: It’s necessary to leave retreat so we can dissolve the duality. An old master said we need to test our understanding against the sutras. We need to test our retreat against life itself, where the messiness will challenge our composure and compassion. The retreat is the extraor- dinary in some sense and we need to bring it to the familiar, and vice versa. As Master Dogen said, we need to harmonize the inner and outer. Gaining insight on the cushion is the easy part. Harmonizing that with how we actually live our lives is the hardest part. There’s always a lag, it seems, between what we’ve understood to be true and what we’re able to embody. buddhadharMa: Given how important retreat seems to be, is there anything we need to do to help so that more people can do it? gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: At our sesshins we’ve had more and more young parents come in. ➤ continued page 87 Photo renshin Bunce