dharma monkey

embrace the monkey

Preparing to retreat


I am, by trade, a planner. At least 20 times a day, I ask myself, What do I need to do to get ready for ‘X’? I have learned that the right level (and quality) of preparation – for a meeting, for my boss or for myself – can easily set me apart from my peers and ensure the best use of time for everyone involved.

During the last six weeks, however, preparation has been in short supply. An ugly, unusual confluence of personal and professional crises has left me in a state of non-stop triage mode. Put out one fire, two more pop up. Take one step forward, get kicked three steps backward. A seemingly endless succession of 14-hour work days has wiped me out. In this state, monkey mind goes into overdrive, emotions start to slide into the driver’s seat and my practice falls by the wayside – or does it? In retrospect, if I were put in this same situation five years ago, I would be completely unhinged at this point.

Although it’s not always easy to see, my practice has given me a foundation upon which to operate, even under extreme duress. Can I mediate right now? No – I go to sleep exhausted and I wake up exhausted, making a formal sit near impossible. Can I study right now? Again, no. I’ve fallen asleep with books from my teachers under my chin more times than I can count in the last month.

Manjushri’s mantra: Oṃ a ra pa tsa na dhīḥ, or, “Amidst the chaos, everything is pure by nature.”

I’ve come to lean on mantras pretty heavily during this time. Deva Premal’s recording of Tibetan mantras with the Gyuto monks is in the CD player in my car, and I’ve discovered that I can do a full 108 recitations of the Heart Sutra mantra between my house and the office (talk about a way to take the edge off of Washington, DC’s notorious rush-hour gridlock!). Given my state of mind, there’s no irony in the fact that the Manjushri mantra – om ah ra pa tsa na dhih – is another one that I keeps running through my head. A rough English translation of this, the Buddhist deity of wisdom’s mantra, is “Amidst the chaos, everything is pure by nature.” Wow. Powerful stuff.

So, as I sit here writing, I am contemplating my (lack of) preparation for a retreat that I’m attending. The Rigpa Fellowship’s Fall Retreat gets underway this evening, and I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours wondering if I am not sorely underprepared for the next nine days. But rather than put expectations on myself, my plan is to use this opportunity to hit my internal reset button.

Practice is, after all, exactly that: practice. Right?

Author: Sean

I am Sean, a writer/PR guy originally from the Rural South who grew up and settled down in Washington, D.C. My interests include local politics, Eastern philosophy, languages and reality television.

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