Co-creating a retreat center, running it and learning how to build community was a skin I learned to live and breathe in, for fifteen years. The problem was it became the skin I couldn’t step out of. The solution? Shed that skin. Two years on, I’m now working at Retreat Guru and I’m returning to Clear Sky Retreat Center for my annual two-week retreat, “Buddhas in Action” with my teachers’ Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat. Here’s some insight on my path of awakening.

As I enter the drive-way, shedding the old skin seems to allow me to free fall, into a beautiful state of letting go.

My being knows, from having done this many times, it is safe and desirable to dig deep, explore the uncomfortable and revel in the unknown while I am here on retreat.

This retreat, or shall we say advance, integrates study, meditation and embodiment of the teachings in our daily activities. The main focus, or intention is to be of benefit for all beings. Our day is broken into exploring three components: Body, Speech and Mind. Daily, we meet for class, meditation, meals and group projects. We also meet with other retreatants to share how we are doing and what we are working with. Giving and receiving together like this develops strength and empathy for us to let go more deeply in a safe space together.

As human “do”ing’s on this active retreat, we direct our doing for waking up ourselves and others. We practice and train in waking up, which includes embracing what we think we are not. Not that there’s anything wrong with us, it’s just that we can be predictable, sometimes lazy and limited in our range.

After a few days in retreat, we’re all experimenting with different ways of showing up that is one hundred eighty degrees from our usual selves. For me, instead of showing up as the caring, listening and sensible leader; I flip a switch and spend the next ninety minutes creating chaos. I ask…er, should I say tell, three people to solve a problem. I give each person contradictory information and then I leave them to figure it out. All the while, I watch the chaos in my own being learn how I resist showing up this way. And, FYI, I too experience discombobulation when I willingly become someone’s slave for the morning!

As a young spratt, with divorcing parents, I got good at solving problems. Reducing and avoiding conflict was just a normal thing. This served me to be competent and able to work harmoniously with others. Where it didn’t serve me however, is that I took on more responsibility than was mine and I tried to solve other people’s problems. In many cases, I actually enabled others, rather than truly supporting them.

As I watch the chaos I have created now, I remember that my body is my friend. I breathe into my tight belly, love the nauseousness and breathe deep. I disregard the habitual notion that this is my fault and I need to fix it. The fact is, I created this scenario but the difference is that I did it intentionally and like in meditation, I’m committed to seeing it through, being present in my body, observing what arises and not acting until the timer gongs and the session is over.

Our retreat learning and experimentation starts to uncover a bunch of goodies. For me, space and clarity emerge. Then joy, energy and insights erupt out of nowhere. I suddenly see people in ways I’ve never seen them before. The people pleaser stops trying and just shows up and I have no irritation. I find them so damn likable just as they are, without neediness or pretense. I see the fears of my fearless and sometimes arrogant friend come out of the shadow and into the light. My spiritual friends reflect back to me my neuroses, my own trying too hard, fears and arrogance. They show me my blind-spots as well as my beauty and strengths. This is why I came on retreat, to realize and embrace both the ordinary life and the mysteries of the Universe — all at the same time. It just feels good.

As I leave, I feel deep gratitude for those wise Buddhists who coined the middle way and all the wonderful beings who walk and have walked this path of awakening, especially my teachers’ for demonstrating this!

I leave with my heart wide open and a new understanding. After fifteen years of karma yoga, it dawns on me that the practice of karma yoga is a deep path of awakening to quickly see our neuroses. Most of all, karma yoga gives me the experience and motivation to develop and act compassionately, in a way that meditation on a cushion has never done before.

MICHELLE HEINZ

Spacious Octopus, Self-appointed Pun-a-holic, Astro-dharma Enthusiast & Meditation Sista From Down Unda!

Dharma book to rave about: It’s hot off the press and cuts to the chase: Wasteland to Pureland, by Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat.

Fave Thing About Work: Just one, really? Hmmmm, our team! We’re an odd and inspiring bunch! I know this as we have beautiful heart-sharing circles every Tuesday morning and we frequently go on retreats together. Our team includes four, just as quirky, black dogs. I love ’em as they keep me from levitating into the ether when I spend way too much time online!

A Guru Meditation Tip: Take time to practice and realize the benefits of good communication skills. They’ve served me spiritually, in my relationship with myself, my community, sweet-hearts and many others.

Truth in your Star Sign: I thrive on diving in and out of intensity. That’s what you get with a ton of planets in Libra or Scorpio, in the house of surprise….Scorpio or Libra!

Another Fave Tech Start Up: I don’t know what we would do without SLACK. We use it a lot and it makes communication with our awesome and growing team, sooo easy and playful!