This past Sunday we completed our fourth residential retreat at Bethany Hills. Each retreat has its own flavor, its own joys and challenges. This retreat brought a unique weather situation that weaved its way into the retreat, and for several, their practice.
For much of the weekend, the temperatures hovered just above freezing. With near constant rain, this brought uncertainty and for some, anxiety, of freezing, icing and power outages. The weather was at an edge, a fine line between serious difficulty and simple wet and cold. Until Sunday the weather never hit that tipping point.
For several, learning to sit with the uncertainty of what was to come, to allow the situation to unfold in accordance with nature, was a practice in letting go. On Sunday at daylight we could see the trees and some areas of the grounds beginning to freeze as the rain pounded down. It was beautiful and many brought their cameras out during the break as the rain finally stopped. Others grew concerned about transportation and possibly traveling home on icy roads. Fortunately, though, the freeze was short lived. Worries faded as warmer temperatures melted most of the ice by mid morning. One person shared at the closing how her mind had become caught in anxiety, the “what if’s” of the weather, yet ultimately she could see her fear with some humor and let it go.
If we are practicing sincerely, we often find interior edges, places of uncertainty and doubt that limit and confine us. This is particularly true at retreats when we are spending considerable time meeting our present moment experience in its endless flux. Retreats are designed to bring us to our edges, to face the limits we imagine we have, then to find a way through those limits until they simply dissolve. But first we need to recognize the voice that tells us we’ve reached our threshold and can go no further. This awareness is the starting point. Then we can see that the narrative is composed of thoughts, not special, incontrovertible truths. As our resistance falls away, we also touch the fear and anxiety that often accompanies these thoughts.
Sometimes we do need to back off and take a break, to step away from our edge. But as soon as we find our courage and compassion, we can begin again. As we move back to our edge, letting go of our hesitation and any thoughts of doom, we begin to loosen our self imposed limits. The boundaries of our beliefs, the ideas that inhibit our direct experience of the dharma, of life itself, begin to soften. Ultimately, the “I” that holds us back dissolves into open space. This release from our false limitations liberates us, opens us to the joy of interconnection and true intimacy with this moment.