Saturday, 23 August 2014

Bodhicharya Retreat with Donal Creedon at An Tobar, Co. Meath, 2nd - 9th August

 There were sixteen of us on what has become the annual week’s retreat at An Tobar, home to the Spiritan community in the lush green Meath countryside. Led by Dónal Creedon, it was again an opportunity to recharge the spiritual batteries and focus undistractedly on the working of our minds. Dónal’s method is both extremely simple and inevitably difficult to put into practice: we were invited, whether in the improvised shrine room where we had our meditation sessions, or informally in ‘post-meditation’, simply to be present, to be conscious of the workings of our minds, whether resting or in action, whether emotionally charged and full of runaway thoughts, or resting, in order to examine the ‘View’, ‘the way things really are’.  ‘Right View’ is of crucial importance, as Dónal emphasised in his introduction to the retreat, as it informs and underlies everything we do. Some Views lead to liberation from dukha, from the cycle of birth and death, others don’t. Time and again Dónal brought us back to the simple contemplation, without bitterness or desire to change things, of the way things are, of what is, in the present moment. Faithful to the Mahamudra/Dzogchen tradition, everything can be seen as meditation. The pain or distress that I’m experiencing is the meditation, and we should abandon all notions of ‘the way things ought to be’.
It is difficult to give a true account of a retreat such as this on the level of concepts, since we were all the time striving to go beyond concept and the vehicle of concept, language itself, or rather, to understand their insubstantiality. How is it possible, with language, to go beyond language? ‘Knowing’ takes on a completely different aspect when viewed in this way, paradoxically becoming ‘unknowing’.
There are techniques, in the Mahamudra in particular, which allow the meditator little by little to perceive the nature of mind, the ‘wisdom mind’ that is empty but cognisant.  Our physical being has a role to play here: The Mahamudra teaches that the body is to be stable like a mountain, the breath free like the wind, and the mind free like space; focusing on the breath, the instructions tell us to ‘rest naturally’ with the breath, not seeking anything, and with no expectation of a result. When thoughts or emotions arise, we simply stay with them, without judgement or preference, without contrivance or fabricating. And we ask ourselves ‘What does it mean to say the mind is resting? What happens when the mind is resting?’ This lucid awareness preludes any grasping at the contents of the mind, or aversion towards what we experience, and allows us to gain confidence in the wisdom mind possessed by all beings.
This flowering of meditation, in the deep sense of the term, is very much more than a technique, however. By opening ourselves to the vastness of what is, we can glimpse the mystery of being itself, as something sacred.
Every aspect of the retreat led to this same point: the silence that was observed from rising until lunch-time; the steady rhythm of the meditation sessions as they succeeded one another, either on the cushion or in walking meditation beside the lake or through the magnificent woods with their abundance of mature trees and wildlife; the conviviality of mealtimes when Colette, our admirable cook, tempted our palates with an endless variety of dishes; the supportive presence of the other retreatants on a common quest... The late afternoon session was given over to ‘Dialogue’, in which we examined a question (during these days, turning around the experience of ‘fear’), the dialogue arising out of the silence and building on it, again not looking for solutions or a conclusion, but emphasising the quality of listening. And as dusk fell, we did Chenrezig practice on some evenings, in a pared-down form that Dónal has made his own, dedicating it to specific people whom we knew to be in particularly acute suffering. On other evenings we did ‘metta’ practice, instituted by the Buddha himself to undermine fear by cultivating the wish that all beings – including oneself – be happy and free from fear. So there was no question of our practice becoming introverted and self-serving. The View has to be vast, taking in all suffering beings, or it is not the View.
An exceptional week, during which we had the privilege of benefitting from Dónal’s lifetime experience of retreat, his rigour and his compassion. Profound thanks to you, Dónal, and thanks too to all who made the experience possible.
Pat Little
17 August 2014

Behind the camera : Paul O'Connor
Magician in the kitchen : Colette Mullanney

Pat has also written a very good review of the annual Bodhicharya Summercamp held in July 2014 at Casa da Torre, Nr. Braga, Portugal for Many Roads,  the Bodhicharya International e-magazine .

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