Gen's California Retreat Report

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    Gen's Retreat Report

    Real Life Encounter
    I arrived to an assembly of guardians at the Berkeley downtown Bart station on Monday morning, where we were all meeting to take a shuttle van to the retreat center, Pema Osel Ling in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Present were Maxine, Tarmel, Storm, Pema, Stim, Corvi, Isadora, Fefonz, Eos, and Lia.  Later Doug met us at the retreat center making us a group of 12!  

    Group Energy
    After settling in at the retreat center we got together for our first meeting before dinner.  It was clear that we were all excited to finally be in one another's full flesh and blood presence.  After we talked in an almost seamless way for over two hours, it really struck me how much trust was here in this group already, trust that had been built through the virtual world, which was now manifesting in the real world.  People listened to one another and not in the way of “listening to respond” but rather really hearing the person and what they were saying and not saying.  The wordless was as important as the words themselves and this became even more clear to me when we decided to do a 15 minute meditation before breaking for dinner.  The group energy was palpable, it felt heavy like a big cat sitting on my crossed legs purring. After the meditation was over, there was a silence and we looked around smiling a knowing smile at one another.  There was recognition around the room that the silence  had communicated as much as the earlier conversation.

    5th Level: Radical Openess
    The morning of the first full day of retreat Pema opened by giving context to Being as the 5th level, what he called “radical openness,” a sort of no motive motivation, as I understood it, in the context of other intentions/motivations/paths in embarking on the spiritual journey.  

    Level 1: Relaxation
    Level 2: Self Awareness/Self Development
    Level 3: Helping/Assisting the World
    Level 4: Devotion to a God
    Level 5: Radical Openness

    He then went on to lay out the “viewless” view of Level 5: “Radical Openness”

    no time
    no ground
    no view
    no doer
    only phenomena, only appearances

    The first four encouraging non action with only the past being a positive action.  This scheme reminded me of Tilopa's six words.

    Don't recall
    Don't imagine
    Don't think
    Don't examine
    Don't control

    Five of which are negations and the last, “rest” being the only positive action.

    Pema explained the last positive action: “the only 'doing' that is possible is seeing/resting in what appears.”  I considered what it meant to appreciate the appearance to truly “see” the four other “no's” of Pema's scheme without “buying into” them.  I then thought about what it meant to “truly” see, going back to conversations Pema and I had, summed in the chatlog “The If Koan.”

    In considering authentic ways of appreciating time, ground, space, and self within this 5th level I came up with :
    “One can only see/Appreciate the appearance of:

    the aliveness and energy of time
    the steadiness/confidence provided by ground.
    the spaciousness of view
    the emptiness of self/the freedom in non identification

    I then considered what it really meant to appreciate appearance for the sake of appearance.  I came up with “One can only see/appreciate the appearance of the:

    sheerness/emptiness of appearance
    fullness/inclusiveness/completeness of Being.”

    Working with Appreciating the Presence of Appearance and Radical Openess
    We did 15 minute meditation sessions exploring the mantra “appreciating the presence of appearance as a presentation by Being.” When questioned about what Pema believed “appearance” to be he described it as “the atomic structure of consciousness,” the building blocks, the foundation for experience.

    In the afternoon we continued the exploration on “appearance” first by using the mantra in relation to thoughts appreciating the appearance of thoughts with our eyes closed and next to keep our eyes open and pick an object in the room to appreciate.

    The discussion that ensued continued on Play as Being as a community, a conversation we started more informally in the afternoon the day before, and this newly introduced  concept of radical openness. People shared their entry ways into the community, to the Play as Being path.  The bridge for some was science, a curiosity about the physical world which led them into the inner world, for others it was an extension of their own self development.

    Some gems I spotted in the discussion about radical openness:

    Tarmel expressed her understanding of “radical openness” as love.
    Storm called radical openess “the celebration of life.”
    Lia saw her imagination as providing a bridge for her to go beyond her ordinary mind, appreciating the symbols that appeared in her “happy place” a imagined house in the woods she went when things were difficult in her life.
    Corvi described an experience when she was knitting and she realized that she was not longer the knitter but the activity itself, no separation between her and the activity.   

    Radical openess and creativity:
    Tarmel described her creative process for screen writing as a sort of image streaming which for her takes place in the bath, where images are received almost telling the whole story for her with her.    
    Maxine described her entry point into radical openess as connected to her interest in dreams and their organizing function.  
    Tarmel at the end of this discussion wondered if Play as Being could be packaged, something interesting which became significant later on in the retreat.

    Duty of Care & Wu Wei
    At some point we discussed the potential explosiveness of exploring some of the high level topics  explored in Play as Being.  A worry that working with concepts which which people have no prior experience with or reference points to ground them in could be potentially destabilizing.  We discussed whether we thought it was useful or necessary to have a sort of guardian duty of care.  In the end most us felt that there was no sense in creating rules to protect people but that the best we could do was to watch out for one another.

    We also discussed wu wei, the idea of doing without doing, using minimal effort and flowing with natural response.  “Cutting meat or wood the way it wants to be cut,” was one very nice description of this wu wei.

    Silent Day
    The Third Day of the retreat we went into our agreed upon silent day, where no one from the moment we woke up until 7pm that evening spoke, unless it was absolutely necessary or someone felt sure they needed to speak up.  

    We still gathered together in the morning at 9am and in the afternoon at 3pm to sit and meditate together.  We also managed to do Tai Chi led by Doug and Yoga led by myself in a group together without speaking.  

    I personally really enjoyed the silent day personally.  It is so rare in my life with a husband and 2.5 year old that I get a whole day to myself completely silent.  It was a complete luxury and I found that I really didn't have anything I wanted to say to anyone.  Not because I didn't find everyone fascinating and not because I didn't care about them, but because it was enough just to be around them.  By eliminating speech, the other senses opened up.  I remember the taste of the food, which was already very good, was even better.  The smells and sounds of nature came to the forefront of my experience.  I really enjoyed walking around the grounds and the surrounding woods at Pema Osel Ling.  I even came across a false coral snake, something I may not have noticed if I were busy talking.  Nature came to life and its voice heard in the silence.

    At 7pm when Tarmel, Isadora, and I rang pots and pans people continued to remain silent.  Maxine broke the silence with something absoluteley stunningly articulated which I can't quite remember now of course about the feeling of respecting the silent world?

    After that a conversation started about the culture of Second Life for which I missed because I went to bed early.

    The Time-Life Approach
    Thursday, the last full day of the retreat.  Pema gave us a new exploration, inspired by Tarmel's idea that perhaps PaB could be packaged in some way, he called it the Time-Life approach, an approach similar to something Steven had discussed with him some years ago.

    The  exploration consisted of the following “steps” or “stages” 1) personal history 2) personality 3) life 4) time and 5) being.

    Personal History: Recollect all of your own history starting from childhood to the present.  What self emerges as an aggregate of that history.  Can we hold that image of the self as “personal history” and then let it go?

    Personality: Identify different aspect of your “personality” what makes you “you” separate from all of the personal history.  Maybe these are things others have told you make you “you” or aspects of yourself that you can trace back all the way to childhood.  Maybe its related to your genetic makeup, your psychological makeup, your constitution.  Is there something there, which goes beyond your personal history that defines you? Can you hold that and then let it go?

    Life: Feel your breath moving in and out of your nose and lungs, blood pulsing through your veins, the heaviness of your crossed legs and pelvic area, the sturdiness of your spine, the heaviness or lightness of your head on your neck, your eyes gently gazing slightly downward in front you. Can you be with all of these actions without you being involved.  Can you notice your breath breathing you, your blood pumping you, a grounded and calm presence already present, your eyes seeing without “focusing.”  Is there life happening without you “doing,” without a doer at all?  Can you rest in this and then let that go?

    Time: Investigate your relationship with time. Can you see how you relate to it as a container in which to achieve, accomplish, all of the tasks on the checklist?  Can you sense another dimension of time beyond that container? Can you let the notion of time as a container go?  Can you sense time as something energetic, unfolding life around you? Hold that sense of time as alive and then let even that go.  What happens when you drop even this alive sense of time?

    Being: Lets start with being with a simple object using the mantra- Appreciate the Presence of Appearance as a Presentation by Being.  Pick an object in the room.  Take a comfortable position with the eyes gazing softly, again not “focusing” too hard on the object and not to relaxed that you are falling sleep.  Can you “see” the object without necessarily “using” the eyes? Can drop the “seeing” self?  Using the mantra appreciate the presence of appeaance as a presentation by being, what do you “see”?

    Responses to 1) Personal History and 2)Personality

    I personally had a difficult time with personal history and expressed that it was impossible for me to separate what was actually “personal history” and  my projections of what I saw as “personal history.”

    I also found it difficult to separate personal history from personality as they seemed so intertwined to me. It was diffucult for me to locate aspects of my personality that I don't see as connected to past experiences. I also found it difficult to identify a sense of “personality” with my eyes closed and found it easier to locate by opening my eyes and seeing the group around me.  I felt that personality had something to do with with relating to others.

    In response to “Personality” here were some comments from others:

    Corvi talked about playing with personality through different avatars in Second Life provided a good primer to this exploration.

    Eos commented that perhaps this is because one can more easily drop their personal history and isolate “personality” as something other than personal history.  

    Tarmel saw personality as patterns, the cause and effect of personal experience.

    Fefonz suggested that in order to figure out personality one must “activate” their personality in relation to others or life situations, it is something less “solid” perhaps more dependent on others than say your height.

    Responses to 3) Life

    Maxine reported a feeling of going with the grain of life as opposed to against it, which reminded me of our earlier discussion of “wu wei.”

    Lia also reported something similar, a sense of going with the flow, the energy of life.

    Corvi reported sensing her personality as energy as opposed to something more immutable.

    Fefonz reported a sense of switching direction, a sense of life returning back to his body as opposed to escaping the body.
    Tarmel reported feeling as though she was hearing unasked questions and being more in tune with seeing someone for what they are saying as opposed to how we perceive “they are.”

    Responses to 4) Time

    I experienced a sense of aliveness which tipped over into a sense of eternity.  So first a sense of time passing not as a container but as something energetic and alive and then in dropping that a sense of timelessness.

    Doug reported experiencing the cycles of time.

    Eos reported that he had a sense that foreever had already happened.

    Corvi and Lisa both expressed a feeling as though they were in dream.

    Lia reported that this experience was a bit scary for her, it almost felt like she was letting go into an unknown place.

    Responses to 5) Being
    I felt a sense that I was part of the landscape as much of the object and there was a sense of dropping subject/object or at least the line between the two becoming less apparent.  I felt like both the object and I were part of one field.  I felt very relaxed and content!

    (Others please fill in here)

    Origins of Play as Being

    The morning of the fourth day of the retreat there was a wonderful discussion started by Pema and Stim about Play as Being and more traditional methods.  Pema told us a summary of his 30 some years engaged with science and spirituality as two very separate things until more recently.  Pema talked a little bit about the origins of Play as Being as inspired by one of the last pages in “Time, Space, Knowledge,” a book written by Stim (Steven Tainer) for his teacher Tarthang Tulku.  Piet expressed that Play as Being was the culmination of his lifework, and he described it as something like his own art form, something expressing itself through him and the community.

    Stin then spoke up and talked a bit about the background of Play as Being in Time, Space, Knowledge and his own approach to teaching, which he said was really one one one and very different from the Play as Being, more community based peer to peer approach. He explained that many of the things being discussed in Play as Being were topics that he had Piet had been discussing for years before during Kira and Ways of Knowing.  In some ways it was strange to have so many of the same terms he and Piet had discussed together being used in Play as Being, often with completely different meaning than the one intended, but he expressed that he was willing to see Piet experiment with this new form of contemplation.  

    I brought up the point that perhaps the community peer to peer approach was a new evolution of contemplation, that perhaps the older more teacher based lineage systems were no longer relevant in the modern day situation.  

    Saying Goodbye

    On the morning of the last day we had one more practice session exploring “Appreciating the Presence of Appearance.”  Later after lunch Eos shared with us the news of a good friend's death.  It was a somber moment, but I felt honored that Eos could share this with us.  Eos told us that his friend had asked to play - Our Town, sung by Iris Dement at his funeral.  I remember feeling that I had not connected enough with everyone and wished I could have talked to Eos  and many others longer.  It felt too short somehow.  I felt like we had just started.   I think all of us who attended the retreat felt the same and I think most of us felt an unexplainable boost from the retreat.  For me it was not a blissed out boost, but something very honest, a willingness to look at my own situation without any ornaments and to see and accept my limits.  I believe whatever happened at the retreat in real life was something that couldn't be repeated in the virtual world, and I hope that everyone in Play as Being will give themselves the opportunity to experience one.<wbr/>
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