Fred recently led a three-day retreat for the Gainesville Sangha. We are grateful to Sangha member Mark Burlingame for sharing these reflections about the retreat.
I have attended several retreats where Fred was Dharma Teacher, the first at Chinsegut Hill Retreat Center in Brooksville, Florida in the year 2000. But I hadn’t attended a retreat where Fred was Teacher since the year 2008. So this was a “coming home” for me in a way. Here I was, in this moment, connecting once again with Fred and his skillful continuation of the stream of Dharma transmission of Thich Nhat Hanh. In this moment, surrounded by my beloved Sangha in my beloved town of Gainesville. And in this moment, practicing with my beloved wife who was on her very first meditation retreat.
At the start of retreat is the flurry of activity upon arrival. Getting oriented to being with others in silence for three days. But then the community is soon flowing like a river. The retreat begins and there is the start of awareness and settling into the activities, sounds, thoughts, and physical sensations of retreat. And then, with gentle encouragement, awareness and settling into the space. Resting and relaxing the awareness into the space between activities, sounds, objects, and even thoughts.
During these retreats, I am often challenged to look more deeply at my motivations on this path. On retreat in 2002, I had written a note to myself following one of Fred’s Dharma talks; “The door to the cage is open. What is keeping me from stepping out?” So here I am in 2017. Fifteen years later. Once again, I was challenged to stop and really, really look. “Do I believe there is a path to remove suffering? If so, am I willing to take the path?”
During the retreat, as in life, there were moments of suffering. The suffering of physical discomfort associated with sitting for long periods and the body protesting. And the suffering resulting from being carried away by thoughts. There were also moments of great lightness. Like the moment when looking out a window of the meditation hall and seeing Betsy diligently and mindfully running down the hill to gather in a retreatant who had wandered off and was late for the next session!
But then at some point, miraculously, there is this heart opening. Pure Love in the Pure Land! The wish for well being for myself and for others comes pouring out. Heart Opening. And I am reminded of Thay’s words from The Great Bell Chant:
“One single drop of this compassionate water is enough
To bring back the refreshing spring to our mountains and rivers.”
Dear Sisters and Brothers, on the in breath I am aware you are there. On the out breath I smile. May I remember to share the fruit with all beings.