Last week, I was at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley, experiencing another retreat in Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s “Community Dharma Leader Training.” Why an editor of Parabola would undertake such a training, what I have learned so far and what I hope to gain–the Parabola sangha I hope to create–I’ll be getting into that in the weeks to come. For now, I would like to describe how I managed to get lost in the woods.
It rained for days. The beautiful former monastery had begun to feel a bit like a gloomy English boarding school, and I had begun to feel a bit like Jane Eyre, doing my best to keep my chin up and my spirit alive. Finally, there was a break in the weather and many of us went outside. As stood there, feeling a bit lost and lonely (as one does at times on retreats) a friend came up. “I’ve found the path you’ve been looking for,” she said. She was referring to a conversation we had the first day, when we were both looking for a walk in the woods. I knew this. Yet, in the container of the retreat hearing “I’ve found the path…” was irresistable. I set out after her. We hadn’t gone far when we picked up a third hiker, also looking for the perfect path.
It was glorious, the perfect path through the woods, complete with a waterfall and tumbled down rock walls. As we walked, we talked about life and about our lives…and the next thing we knew we had lost the trail and we were lost. It was fun at first, and then we really couldn’t find the trail and we grew a bit frightened. We worried that we would miss dinner, which is a huge source of comfort on retreat. We fretted that the retreat organizer would have to call for volunteers with wildnerness skills to come looking for us. I wondered about using the GPS app on my phone as a compass.
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves,” said Thoreau. This was another one of those times when the trance of the ordinary was suspended. My true vulnerability, my true lack of connection to the real world was suddenly painfully exposed. It was glaringly clear that I live mostly in my head and that I have very little in the way of practical knowledge. I saw that I am a collection of parts not a whole, and that these different parts are often pulling in opposite directions, driven by different motives. And yet I saw that this very act of seeing, this opening to what is, called up—literally recalled–a different quality of understanding and intention. A more spacious quality of awareness appeared that was quicker and more sensitive than my usual thinking. I didn’t magically become an expert tracker–it was my companion who found the trail–but I felt as if I was assuming an inner attitude—a way of being with life–that was more whole, more deeply human than the way I usually operate.
Not only did I feel that body, heart, and mind were more aligned and working together, I felt the three of us start pulling together. I’ve written before about noticing a glow inside, the glow of our own life force and our own capacity for awareness. I’ve written that it can seem very faint, like a candle or a nightlight. But when I was lost in the woods around Garrison Institute, I discovered–or rediscovered–how we can pool our light and find our way.
After I made it safely back to the dining hall (and in time for dinner), I reflected on how important it is to have a journal and a community like Parabola–a place where people who are walking different paths or searching for a path can come together and have an exchange about what we have found. Due to forces and conditions beyond the control of our loyal band, we are struggling as never before. Please consider subscribing or make a tax deductible donation so we can continue to publish and become the sangha we know we can be.