Part of my preparation as a Contemplative Psychotherapist was participating in one-month retreats. Once a year, my cohort and I will visit the Shambhala Mountain Center, a beautiful retreat center in Red Feathers Lake in Colorado. Isolated from the rest of the world, we had one simple task: meditate. With less distractions from the outside world, our minds progressively slowed down. We were more able to experience the spaces between our thoughts. Those pauses brought peace to our monkey minds. ‘Monkey mind’ is a Buddhist term referring to the restlessness of our minds.
These retreats were a fundamental part of the training of becoming a Contemplative Psychotherapist. The aspiration of the retreat was, that as we fearlessly experienced the nature of our minds, with its wisdom, as well as its neurosis, we would cultivate the capacity to non-judgmentally stay with other people’s minds during the therapeutic process. As blissful as meditation retreats in nature might sound, they bring up emotions that may have been buried during our fast paced life.
When the mind quiets down, it opens up and brings all that we need to see and work through to the surface.
Our retreat schedule looked like this: meditation, eating, meditation, eating and more meditation. With not much to do, our minds demanded our attention. We would get mad, project our issues to others, and beg desperately to get out of there. From time to time, as we meditated, we were able to befriend our neurosis. As we came back to the breath and to our bodies, we had a glimpse of the unencumbered space of the mind, the awareness that is always present and available to us, where we can rest.
As we stay with the breath, we were able to discover an unconditional friendliness to our present experience. Maitri, in Sanskrit, refers to this loving attitude toward our minds. Our retreats were called Maitri retreats, precisely, because by slowing down the world around us, we were given the precious opportunity to lean towards and not against our Selves. With no other place to go, we moved inward and learned to befriend the present moment. Chogyam Trungpa, a meditation master, described what Maitri means beautifully:
“Maitri can be translated as ‘love.’ It means a warm, friendly attitude. In making friends with someone, it means accepting their neurosis as well as their sanity. Maitri is an all-encompassing friendship that relates with the destructiveness of nature as well as with its creativity. But the first step is trust in ourselves. Such trust can only come about when there is no categorizing, no judgment, but a simple and direct relationship with our being.”
Maitri is the quality we can cultivate in these moments of quarantine.
Our current circumstances have created a spontaneous and inevitable retreat for humanity. We have the unique opportunity to transform this pause into our biggest ally. With less noise, we can hear what really needs to be heard. With less movement, the water settles and you can see the bottom more clearly. We can only change our circumstances from a place of unconditional acceptance. As we embrace all that comes to the surface, the pleasant and unpleasant, we are given the gift of clarity and we can skillfully change our lives and the collective for the better.
In a meditation retreat, we might not have cellphones or Internet to distract ourselves. Since we do have technology available at this time, we might want to use it as a way to support our mental health and be mindful.
I would like to share some free resources with you, that hopefully add to your self-care list during this time. I’ll keep sharing links and resources in my blog.
Stay safe and healthy. Stay connected and joyful.
1. Check out my “Therabits” blogs
I have bits and pieces of therapeutic techniques for you, to use at home, for free. Check them out in my blog.
2. Learn Some Mindfulness Techniques
Other meditations, mindfulness techniques, spiritual teachings…for free here:
3. Get Active
The body needs to move! There are tons of Zoom meetings or Facebook live videos offered at this time.
Coach Randy Soler is doing bilingual videos to help people stay active, for free!
check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/CoachRandySoler/
4. Listen to Audio Books
Listen to books with your children…or for you 🙂
listen to free books
5. Take a Course in Happiness
And finally, if you want to be geeky about your happiness, learn evidence based techniques proven to improve happiness: