I am on a plane to Italy finally writing about my Nampantan Hall Mindfulness Retreat experience.The day before the start of the Retreat, a problem arose that nearly convinced me that I should stay at home and sort it out. Instead, I decided to go following my daughter's encouragement. Somehow I knew that staying at home was not the cure and would not address the source: myself.
The Retreat had run smoothly, nothing felt difficult. I enjoyed every day; the silence, the compassion meditations and the time spent mindful walking and stretching.The meals were delicious and I truly enjoyed sitting together as a community. The problem I brought to the retreat was gradually shrinking. Mindfulness had helped me to increase the confidence I needed in order to attract the solution. I was quite pleased with myself.
On Friday, the last day, I woke up to a different mood: I was grumpy, anxious and unsettled. An awareness of fear surfaced. My mind was desperately looking for a space where I could feel safe and looking for a solution to the impermanence of life.
As I was lost in these thoughts my eyes were screening the outside landscape of Nampantan Hall Grounds. A strong wind was shaking the trees whose branches were bent towards the ground, grey clouds were running in the sky ready for the rain. For a moment I realised my inner state matched the external landscape. I started feeling slightly worse. Out there it did not feel safe. I focused on my breathing and it helped, but the wave of fear would return, so i decided to surrender to it.
An insight opened my awareness whilst I was watching this mighty nature shaken by the wind and dulled by rainy, grey clouds: the wind blows today and not tomorrow and so does the rain. The next day it will be sunny again.
I could feel peace inside me and a sense of life that was extended beyond the confines of my self.
For many individuals life is a source of stress, emptiness and creeping anxiety. Many bodies are carried around with poor awareness by minds constantly busy in the past or in the future, searching for solutions outside ourselves, confusing means with ends. The illusion of owning things when we don't even own ourselves. Things are a mean and not an end. A good question we should ask ourselves more often is "What's the meaning in what I do, why do I want this?" And because often we don't have an answer to this question, we numb ourselves with more objects and labels in the hope of feeling a meaningful connection with life.
But what is it that really helps us in finding peace and fulfilment in our existence? It is the courage to pause in this frantic world and dig out the gold from our life as it is now. Practicing the awareness of breath and body, fully experiencing emotions and noticing what thoughts we are clinging on to and bravely letting go of them. In that space we sit alone and it is there that we may find what we are looking for.
By practicing mindfulness day by day with gratitude and compassion we gain the gift of presence which is reflected in our body posture and body language. When we are able to be present to ourselves so we will be to others.
Attachments are a part of being human. We are born with a survival instinct and we learn to fulfil our needs for safety, love, recognition and belonging. We learn what makes us feel good and we strive to achieve it: success, money, popularity, career and happy relationships. We are taught that if we really have motivation and commitment to what we want to achieve we can be successful. And here is where I believe the confusion and the self-exhaustion starts. The search for self-fulfilment becomes a search for external objects and along the way we forget who we are. Our attachments become what we believe we are or what we believe we are not. Our job title, bank account and car give us a sense of being but we deep down know it is not true, so we live our lives stressed, anxious and fearful. Those objects give us freedom but they also own our freedom. Nobody has taught us a good skill to practice regularly: letting go of our attachments to ideas or things for a few minutes a day and mindfully sit with ourselves, feel our breath and appreciate our life as it is now. And , although, it may sound scary or unproductive, it is actually, what make us a better person. Own your inner freedom, know who you are now.
It was a cold day of December 2009 at East Town Park. The Park was covered in deep snow and it was very silent. I had been suffering from stomach problems for a while then, I had lost a lot of weight. My fears were taking over and it had became increasingly difficult to control them, I was suffering from anxiety. That day at the park, being alone and hearing each step and breath as I walked on the snow made my fears even more real. I did not have any diagnoses to base them on apart from the ones that I made myself: I thought I was more close to death than to life. I felt so hopeless that I surrendered to my fear and I embraced it. In that very moment something happened, a sense of joy pervaded my whole being and I decided that I was going to live my life moment by moment to the fullest, no matter how long I had to live. My mind turned to the present moment and I started noticing more and more of the beauty around me and I felt in my bones that I was alive.
That turned out to be the beginning of my recovery and another door that opened on my spiritual path.