by Tim Burnett
This past weekend was our Spring Weekend Mindfulness retreat. For these retreats, I like to have a theme; a topic or idea around which I can frame my remarks, practices and teachings. Driving to Samish Island, I was still trying to think of a theme for the retreat.
And I wasn't coming up with anything clear.
The usefulness of retreat practice in general? The way we can learn so much about our preferences and judgments during retreat? The wonderful opportunity retreat is to open to senses - especially at the lovely Samish Island Retreat Centre we use for these silent mindfulness retreats? Working with physical and psychological pain? The great insights that come for simply being silent and "off the grid"? How mindfulness and compassion support each other?
These are all good ideas and themes but none of them were really coming alive in my heart
And then I started thinking about my dear friend Nancy who died a few weeks ago (complications from ovarian cancer) and I had a brainstorm. I found myself wanting to dedicate my weekend of practice to her: to her memory, to her can-do spirit, to her ability to keep going under adversity (Nancy had a lot of pain from a number of conditions most of her life and yet lived a full and pretty happy life).
Having that thought was really uplifting and opening for me. The idea that the purpose of the practice I was about to undertake was not just for me but also for something bigger: the spirit and inspiration of a good friend.
So I suggested to the group that we each consider dedicating our weekend of practice to someone or something that is dear to us.
Some, like me, thoughts of friends and relatives (living or recently passed away) others thought of ideals like more peace and healing in the world. There was a real feeling that psychologists sometimes call "larger than self" meaning - a sense of a bigger purpose. It was very inspiring to watch and listen as each person formulated their dedication into words.
Others, I think a little sheepishly, thought to dedicate the practice to their own well being.
Thinking about this I realized that dedicating your practice to your own well being is also uplifting - also a kind of larger than self vision, because it's embracing a bigger idea of yourself. To pause and open to the idea of a self that's calmer, wiser, more reflective, and more resilient. It is a wonderful way to dedicate your life. One person connected the dots for us saying, "I dedicate this retreat to my wellness so that I may in turn help others be well."
The process of thinking about what we were dedicating ourselves to also suggested to us some deep feelings around our core values as humans. We don't often think about what our values are - so lost as we can get just getting through the day and following through on our many commitments. The "what" of our lives, in other words, can really dominate the scene.
Thinking about what we're truly dedicated to; thinking about what our values and mission as a person are: this shifts us a bit from the "what" to the "why" and into the "how."
Why are we doing what we're doing? How do we truly want to live?
And I think ultimately these kinds of explorations also shift us into the "who" in a deep way. Who do you really want to be? It made me think of a reflection that's in the Compassion Cultivation Training curriculum: "In your heart of hearts, what do you truly want to offer to the world?"
So I offer this question on a beautiful Spring morning in the Northwest.
What are you dedicated to? How do you truly want to live? What are your values? And in the end who, in your heart of hearts, would you like to become? And what, in the words of Mary Oliver, will you do with "your one wild and precious life."
Wishing you well,
PS: See the Mary Oliver poem in the next post.