Last month I attended a weekend meditation retreat at Esalen in Big Sur, CA. The theme was “The Heart of Buddhism” and it was facilitated by Noah Levine, Vinny Ferraro, and Enrique Collazo. This retreat was much-needed as this year has been emotionally taxing with the passing of two of my brothers. Add to that an extremely demanding school quarter and full-time job. No bones about it, I needed this retreat.
I had heard dharma talks by Noah and Vinny before, but I had never been to Esalen. I really didn’t know what to take with me, and honestly my only preoccupation was, “Do I take a bathing suit to the hot spring baths?”
Once I was there it only took a few hours to get oriented. To say that Esalen is gorgeous is an understatement, and the rainy and windy weather only enhanced the beauty of this place.
The whole experience was amazing, and the dharma talks and meditation helped ground me and allowed me to really see how much I’ve learned and integrated. After a few years of conscious healing, everything finally seems to have fallen into place. This became very noticeable during the last half of the retreat.
Late into day two of the retreat, the sun broke through the rain storm and we were given the opportunity to enjoy the sunset. I stood on the patio and watched the sun quickly drop below the ocean’s horizon. As it did so I felt no anxiety towards how fast this moment was ending. Instead I felt a calm, and was able to just enjoy the experience. “Goodbye for now.” I thought. “See you soon.”
The next morning I awoke early. I am typically an early riser, so a 5:30 a.m. walk down to the tubs wasn’t too unusual for me. When I arrived at the tubs it was still dark out and there was no one there. I disrobed and sat in the hot spring sulfur tub that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. I was immediately filled with so much gratitude for the experiences I had at Esalen. The conversations, the moments alone, the tubs, the dharma talks, and the meditations were all so intertwined for me. In moments where I felt attachment I practiced non-attachment and simply tried to observe. I thought of my mother and brothers who have passed on and cried simply because I miss them. In doing this, I somehow began to prepare myself for the upcoming loss of being here, and returning to my “regular” life.
How do you prepare for an ending? Well, like the sunset just a few hours before, I chose to just be in that moment and trust that everything would be okay. I sat and watched the sky gradually lighten, and just like that, I realized that this is how it is.
Change is ever so gradual that it’s easy to miss. It does not matter if you are paying attention or not, change happens. The whole retreat was filled with the validation that, although things feel distressed at times, I have, in fact, changed. I am more patient with myself, and I give myself more loving kindness than before. I can appreciate a moment, and not be attached. I am more proactive and slightly less reactive. I speak on my own behalf and take more risks. Yes, there are still enough old patterns in me to drag me down, but there has been an emergence of a kinder self in me.
Just as the sun set the day before, it arose, without question or worry. Mindfully observing this natural cyclical pattern of darkness and light gave me great comfort. It was evidence to me that this is how life is, and that I just need to let go of trying to be in control of the darkness and light in my own life. It will cycle through on it’s own, and I can simply observe.