A Reflection from the True Connection Retreat
“You have a long way to go,” I said to myself as Lama Tsomo called our awareness back to the room. It was a bright, slightly chilly Saturday morning at Lama Tsomo’s True Connection Retreat in Oakland, CA.
My eyes welcomed the energizing light as I rubbed the still present tiredness from them. We had just finished a 45-minute meditation on the Boundless Quality of Sympathetic Joy. Despite the topic of focus, I was only feeling alert to my struggle maintaining the meditation.
45 MINUTES. I fidgeted. I closed my eyes. I might have fallen prey to sleep for a few minutes. My 20-minute daily practice, a hard-won achievement, was pushed aside as I ruminated on how hard those 45 minutes had been, and how little I was able to embody the idea of Sympathetic Joy.
Then I listened, no longer to my thoughts and internal ramblings but to Dana, another student at the retreat. She was lit up, glowing from the inside out, sharing how much she had enjoyed the practice. Quite the opposite to my experience.
Lama Tsomo, Dana, and others brought the discussion back to how hard it is for we Westerners to appreciate joy for ourselves, and how imagining it for others is an excellent gateway to start sharing it with ourselves. Still, I thought, “I’ve got a ways to go.” We partnered and shared our experiences in detail. My partner shared an experience similar to Dana’s, but he mentioned that he felt more strain around imagining himself in complete joy and was not confused by the challenges that I shared.
I chatted with others and refilled my tea. I was surrounded by warm and excited folks. Why was I so down? Because I was telling myself a story of failure and inadequacy, because I was busy criticizing my meditation “performance.” Some of our thought patterns are so entrenched that even after I heard repeatedly that I must appreciate and love myself, I couldn’t even see how I was causing myself to suffer.
I know joy. I can imagine joy. However, joy wasn’t able to fully grow within me because I was too busy thinking I wasn’t doing well enough at sitting still. I was completely and utterly annoyed with myself. I couldn’t even see how the meditation could help me. Now that’s self-centered!
Do I have a long way to go? Yes. Meditation can be full and enriching at 20 minutes, but there are opportunities for embodiment and further work during longer sits. This retreat helped me realize that both are valuable. And in retreat in particular, longer sits are great practice since you’re surrounded by support. So yes, I can improve, but that is a joyous thing, not a critique. I have a lovely, warm, boundless path to follow. I can imagine myself on the first step and the thousandth. And on the cushion tonight, for 20 minutes, I’ll use that Sympathetic Joy practice to see my loved ones on their own amazing paths, filled with complete joy, and I will feel joy too. Then I’ll step my vision out to my larger community in joy, and then the world. And my capacity for Sympathetic Joy will have grown just a bit further, a bit beyond my little cushion.
Note: I work with Namchak through my employer, I am making this post of my own accord and I am not receiving any additional compensation.