Diary of a Solo Retreat.
Over the last Christmas holiday I did a 10-day solitary retreat. Alone in a small cabin in Vermont I practiced various meditations including following the breath, Ngöndro (a Vajrayana Buddhist practice doing prostrations), and inquiry, using The Work of Byron Katie. I also kept a diary.
Arrival Day: Arrived mid-afternoon, offered bows to the Zen Center’s Shrine down the road, unpacked and sat for a few hours. This place is gorgeous and all mine for the next 10 days. YES!
Day One: Took two naps, went to bed early, and slept late. In total, I just slept 15 of the past 24 hours. Am practicing maitiri—loving kindness toward self—in favor of going into abject despair and self-recrimination. Put two flies out, then immediately regretted it realizing that they will surely die in the snow. Began doing The Work (of Byron Katie) on a letter from my ex-husband’s new girlfriend. I checked email at the last wi-fi outpost before arriving at the cabin and read: “Kristin, you are cowardly and parasitic.” Fun times ahead, no doubt…
Day Two: It’s Christmas Eve, quiet and snowing. Slept until 10:30am, but no naps today! Sat some, devoured about 250 pages of dharma and am delighted that I brought pastrami sandwich makings. Have made a list of where I am cowardly and have identified the thoughts that make me so. Am questioning them. Have decided that parasitic isn’t so bad. Lit candles and sang for Shabbat and am feeling very inclusive in my Buddhist-Jewish-Christian-Pagan-ness on this Silent Night.
Day Three: Merry Christmas! Am flowing easily between sitting practice, dharma (read the other 250 pages today), doing The Work and drinking tea. Began prostrations and am thinking of taking Adyashanti as my teacher. Discovered that the blue plastic water jug makes a great drum for protector chants! Have fashioned a wooden spoon covered in an athletic sock to use as a striker. Have started to ration tea lights and Fig Newtons.
Day Four: Outside temperature dropped into the single digits and the updraft in the outhouse is a force to be reckoned with. Forewent on the walk today, too darn cold. Started writing a book between practice sessions—finished the title, intro, and one chapter. Auspicious signs starting to appear: the closed eyes of the statue of the Buddha opened and stared at me intently throughout my evening sit. They were quite penetrating.
Day Five: Wish I had taken the walk yesterday, as it is blizzard conditions today— blowing snow, windy, and 4 degrees outside. Now that I am no longer cowardly, I became obsessed with planning out my entire life: made a list of goals for the next year and worked up three calendars of how I can finish my Ngöndro, get certified in The Work, finish writing my book, and jump start my business while spending all non-school hours with my kids and never getting up earlier than 7am. Somehow it seemed possible on paper. Did prostrations like the energizer bunny in preparation to complete goal #1.
Day Six: Discovered I can get Internet access. All is lost.
Day Seven: Have started talking to the Buddha on the shrine the way Tom Hanks talked to “Wilson” in Cast Away. Tom is stranded on a desert island when a Wilson volleyball washes up on shore and becomes his best friend. Realize that I do not need other actual humans in my life.
Day Eight: Did P’s in my underwear and adopted a fly whom I have named “Mighty”—am guessing that the name will sound better once translated into Sanskrit. Mighty crawled across my Ngöndro liturgy which, according to ancient Tibetan teaching, foretells that he will likely be reborn as a disciple of the next living Buddha. Am giving him detailed dharma instructions in preparation for his big role which, given the life span of flies, may be very soon.
Day Nine: Just as I finished my opening chants, Mighty fell into a pot of water that I keep on the wood stove. Fished him out, put him on a towel and gave him a dried cranberry which he ate voraciously. I love him. Built a torma for my last night here out of Fig Newtons which resembled Stone Henge more than a stupa. Performed the Sadhana and cried a lot.
Day Ten—Departure Day – Awoke early today for the first time since arriving on retreat. Sat, wrote, did The Work, P’s, and cleaned up. Left the cabin in Mighty’s capable hands and went to the Zen temple to offer three “goodbye” bows. Now that I feel normal, the world seems really weird.
After I left retreat my friend who owns the cabin asked me to give it a name. I christened it, “Karuna Balraj,” which in Sanskrit means, “Mighty Kindness.”