I have to take a break now and then, and imagine myself on a kind of retreat. My retreat is of my own invention, and may look nothing like your retreat.
I picture myself in the woods, sitting on a bench. My bench is one of many in a semi-circle around a speaker standing at a rough-hewn lectern. Sometimes, I scribble some notes, other times I just listen. I sit listening with others. Sometimes, it is my turn to speak.
We are a group of older adults who have all completed our householder duties in life. We have raised children and had careers. Most of us were teachers or clergy. There are a few others in the group. We wear loose-fitting white clothing. We don’t connect with each other in any earthly sense of the word, so there aren’t any sexual dynamics happening, good or bad.
Some of us are very old, and have stayed here a long time, refusing to move on because we feel like there is just one more thing we need to get from our lessons.
We sleep in cabins on simple bunks, usually four to a cabin. There are communal showers and a mess hall. The food is extremely simple. It is a sort of monastic retreat, but each of us is working through our own particular set of spiritual problems. A few are more focused on mathematical or philosophical things. Others might be more inclined to create art or music instead of meditate and be contemplative–but we are all focused on our internal landscapes.
Naturally, those of us who are tuned to a specific kind of spiritual quest will gravitate toward each other, and spend more time comparing notes and discussing what we are thinking and how we are doing. There is no sense of pride or competitiveness here, because the custom nature of each journey renders any would-be competition impossible.
I am seeking to remove all of my hang-ups that prevent me from reaching out to and opening up with others when I am back in my life. I am also wanting very much to know more about what lies beyond this life, but am willing to be patient if it is not my time to know these things just yet.
At the retreat, it is very easy for me to open up. We don’t judge each other, and we don’t find it the least bit odd that each individual has different shades of gender identity–there is no one who is completely male or female. I don’t feel like I am constantly having to shove a part of me deep inside out of fear of putting someone off or offending them, because all of me is on display as much as all of my fellow retreatants.
We are not materialistic people, nor are we possessive. We have no need for a sense of private property. We have basic respect for each other’s humanity and dignity, and beyond that, there really are no boundaries or walls. What’s more, we are all working to get past that less obvious materialistic urge–the need to consume experiences. Of course, all of us love good food, museums, music, art and travel back on earth, but we are striving to enjoy these things simply in the moment that we enjoy them. We aren’t collecting a series of memories for show-and-tell or bragging about later. If someone is well-traveled and someone else is not, it really doesn’t matter. Each individual is trying to work through particular problems of the self in how it connects with the Universe, and how each of us are living our lives can be very different for the same reasons and vice versa.
For example, two of us may be working out our problems of opening up and giving to others, but one of us may be a mainline Protestant pastor, and the other might be a grade school teacher. However, a fellow pastor might be working on a completely different problem of the self–greed, ego, lust, you name it.
Generally speaking, the members of the group are well-educated, or at least well-read on earth, and none of us have committed a physical act of murder in any of our recent lives. In other words, we aren’t caught up in simple survival issues, or so immersed in our existences here on earth that we forget about this place.
One place where I start is with me imagining everyone from my group greeting me as an old friend. They know me well as I do them. This may seem like nothing to some folks here on earth, but to someone like me who has so very few connections, it means everything. Smiling at someone, asking them how their work is coming along. When we talk about work, we don’t mean the day jobs we do or did while on earth, but we mean the soulwork, the enormous effort of the spirit to rectify all that was darkness, chaos and brokenness within. We commiserate around the trials of being evolved beings in a primarily material world–our lives are stories of constantly seeing good friends lost to the gross and the base.
There are times where I can’t really talk much at all about how things have been, and I just have to cry. I have to weep for a long time, because I haven’t been doing so well. My fuse has been short, and I’ve lost my temper too many times to count. I’ve given in to lust and purchased things I know I didn’t need. Even on days when I set out to be a loving, caring human being, things have ended badly.
There are plenty of people and circumstances that could take the blame for my bad behavior, and believe me, they have–but, they aren’t really to blame. I once had a vision of myself upon arriving back on this earth as being a perfect, pristine soul, but now I am not so sure. There is the concept of original sin, and there is the concept of past life karmha, and I can certainly see that somewhere close to my core, I carried with me some foulness, some rough stuff that needed to be carved away in this life.
Am I a good person? Not without a lot of help from God. God is good, and the more of Him I allow to help me get things done, the better I get. If you witnessed me being or doing good, you probably saw God at work in me, or you saw someone else whom you just thought was me.
But, the folks I meet up with at the retreat don’t beat up on each other. We don’t spend a whole lot of time beating up on ourselves. We know that we do that way too much back on earth. We seek out Bible verses and teachings from other wisdom traditions that we can use to help us and build us up.