Friday, September 05, 2008


A week ago, I drove up to Shambhala Mountain Center for a tantra yoga-and-meditation retreat. Sally Kempton taught and led the tantra meditation sessions (of which there were lots), and Jeanie Manchester taught and led the Anusara yoga sessions (of which there were some, but not enough for my appetite).

I'll try to spend some time with my notes and write up some more in the next few days, but here are a few take-aways:

1. At this point in my life, retreats are good more for discovering obstacles and practicing techniques for engaging them than for getting some surpassing peace or whatever. Felt distinctly like hard work, and hard work of the sort that I typically avoid.

2. A wonderfully interesting question to ask whenever obstacles occur in daily life: "What would I be like without this particular thought?"

3. When breathing into the back body, we don't have to stop with the confines inside the rib cage. Breathing into the back of the heart, I find it possible to combine physical, mechanical breath with consciousness as I draw in and through the heart and into the back and beyond. Is that an approach toward deity?

4. When meditation ends by another's instruction or by a timer, rather than by my own top-of-the-ocean awareness re-arising, it can be important to take a few minutes to intentionally draw awareness and consciousness back into the body. (Yes, that sounds weird. Maybe I'll find something useful to say about it later.)

5. Mechanically, my knees sit with greater ease if I practice Half Pigeon pose on each side for a few minutes before sitting. Also, breathing into the back body and allowing the back rib cage to expand and the shoulder blades to separate on the in-breath seems to relieve the chronic rhomboid cramping that I've experienced for the past five years or so. Who knew?

6. It's easier to sit longer after the retreat than it was before, but things are more jumbled.

7. I'm still on the fence as to the utility of mantra practice for me at this stage. Sometimes it seems to help manage the meditation (when Sally led us in hum-sah meditation, I found it to be powerful and subtle) and other times it seems a distraction from the experience of Witness. Maybe I'm just not very good at it yet.

8. Tonglen meditation, especially when combined with breathing through the back of the heart, is powerful.

9. For walking relatively safe trails, star light is plenty.

In December, I've decided to spend five days at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, north of SF to see what I can see from there then.