Preparing for Retreat


I’m going on a retreat soon, lead a wonderful and very animated Buddhist teacher, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel (her book is The Power of an Open Question). This is not a silent retreat (many that I attend are in full silence), and it is not residential. I will go home every evening, and return in the morning. It’s an interesting process to go in and out, in and out. And it affords the opportunity to observe how I shift in awareness throughout the process; awakening to a larger possibility of focused intention regardless of where I am.

I have read David Whyte’s poetry for many years now. His words never cease to inspire me, to encourage me dig more deeply into my soul and discover what is “real” for me as opposed to what I’ve simply “invented” about my life. This particular quote was featured in a blog I came across, and, one more time, it catches my breath and quiets the busy-ness inside. It is the perfect reflection upon which to enter retreat.

The text of his full poem, Sweet Darkness is below:

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

 — David Whyte
from The House of Belonging 
©1996 Many Rivers Press

False Cypress

I used to write poetry. Or so I thought. Mostly I wrote whatever poured out of my brain onto paper when I was miserable, distraught, depressed. I suppose you could say I wrote “blue poetry”. (I made that up, by the way.) I didn’t show it to many people. Too depressing, I said. Too brutal, I thought. Really it was just too vulnerable to share with anyone. Most of it I haven’t even reread for myself.

False Cypress
False Cypress

I would work, and work, and work a poem. Drive it into my paper, into my notebooks … and out of my head. I think it was cathartic for me. I helped me to heal. It gave me an outlet for thought-trains that otherwise scared me to death. Getting those narrow-tumble-down-wildly spiraling thoughts onto paper was a way to finally, finally stop the spiraling. To quiet my mind. And, ultimately, to embrace the moment of “what is” rather than wallowing in the many moments of “what isn’t”.

I’m not depressed anymore. Not anxious. The PTSD has quieted and no longer raises its fearsome head in the middle of my sleep with night terrors. It was a journey out of darkness. I had help. Sometimes I had no help. Wonderful help, terrible help, knock-in-the-head with a 2×4 help, gentle, caring, compassionate help. I looked everywhere for the way out; mostly hitting brick walls. Until I made a decision. To not be depressed anymore. That’s all. I’ll write about that one day.

So, what to write about? The melodrama of my life has become mostly “mellow-drama” (thanks to Ram Dass for the phrase). There is a lot of “no big deal” going on with me. I’ve “retired” (more on that, too), which is really to say I’m redefining. Redefining what’s important, what needs to be “on top” for me. It matters that how I live my life is a benefit to others in some way. It occurs to me that has always mattered for me but I don’t think I knew it viscerally the way I know it now.

So, we’ll just see. There will be reflection; presencing the moment; commentary; poetry; themed and themeless writings. Mostly I just write about what I think. After all, what else is there to do?

Oh, the title “False Cypress”? That’s the name given to a shrub that looks like a cypress but for whatever botanical reasons is NOT a cypress plant. It’s a beautiful shrub. Sometimes we give a name to something in our lives as though it were real. That gives it beauty, value, and worth. But isn’t everything actually a “false cypress”?