A Pearl of Great Price

Sunrise in Big Sur

Yoga & Zen: One Bright Jewel

The holidays and a full work schedule had left me feeling stressed and depleted. I had eagerly been looking forward to the perfectly timed retreat with Tias Little and Henry Shuckman January 18-23, 2015. This five-day immersion offered me the opportunity to travel down to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur for a transformational week of yoga and meditation. 

Looking Back on My First Retreat

morning dew of the coastal succulents

This week was not a training - I find it interesting to consider how these are different. Before attending my first retreat, I used to think of retreats as a luxury for relaxing on the beach (assuming they were somewhere tropical). I used to avoid them in favor of a "training" or "intensive" upon which I felt like my dollars would be more practically spent. I wanted some gem or insight to bring back to my students and to enhance my teaching - therefore, training was the right choice for me, or so I used to think.

listen to the fast-moving stream heading toward the ocean in the meditation hut

The last time I was in Esalen (November 2013) was my first retreat and it marked a few big shifts in my life and my perspective. It first showed me that a retreat offers great depth in study and practice. Not for the purpose of teaching, but for filling one's own reserves and replenishing the spirit and soul.

I also began to realize that you don't have to travel far in order to replenish. California offers me a wide breadth of opportunities to retreat for a few days -- hot springs, camping, hiking day trips, etc. The possibilities are really quite astounding.

By turning off all electronics (email, phone, texting, etc.) the mind is able to rest. To let go of expectations and responsibilities. And to focus on each moment. In our constantly connected world, a few days away from email and phone calls is quite a challenge and a gift!

welcome to the bath-house...no other photos of these tranquil spaces

I've learned that while you don't need anything fancy, tropical, or far away to retreat into one's Self... There is something quite alchemical about a retreat that combines yoga, meditation, hot springs on the Pacific Ocean, a treasured teacher, and a sangha of dear friends.

The daily meditation practiced as part of the 2013 retreat offered me a steady foundation on which I have built a consistent, daily meditation practice. The stillness and silence I start each day with has given me a deep well to dip in throughout the months that followed that November 2013 beginning.

It was time to replenish my reserves and revisit my intentions.

The Pearl of Great Price

Last week at Esalen was filled with so many lovely moments. I've had a hard time find the words that come close to offering a glimpse of my experience to others. There are a few that sum up my experience simply:

Subtle. Deep. Simple. Nourishing. Integrated. Intentional. Balance. Heart-Mind. Nothing to get, but much to lose. Be Here Now. Serenity.

Tias & Djuna provide assistance and hands-on adjustments all throughout asana practice

I was once again amazing at the skill of my teacher Tias. He was able to guide a room of 58 practitioners of all skill levels using clear language, tone of voice, sound effects, humor, poetry, and anatomy. The sequences built on each other, not only in the course of a single practice, but also over many days.

sitting as the sun sets

I recall being astounded by the simple details introduced on day one culminating and repeating on the final morning in parsva bakasana (side crane). How exquisite and refined to be able to carry the sutra (thread) of instruction throughout a whole week and offer a challenging asana with an element of possibility to an all levels group.

No instruction wasted, each piece built on the foundation of the one before and designed to guide the student to ever more subtle layers of body, breath and mind. This is not choreography; this is well thought-out sequencing. In my opinion, there is a great difference between sequencing and choreography in yoga practice.

I am humbled and inspired to keep refining my own sequencing and teaching with his fine example. I remember the feeling of that moment in parsva bakasana. Reverence, awe, excitement, possibility, limitless space.

slender, so slender
it’s stalk bends under dew
little yellow flower
— Matsuo Basho

little orange flower

New Moon Intentions: Take Heart

Esalen's garden Buddha

The second full day of the retreat was welcomed with a sliver of the first new moon of 2015. This cradle-like crescent set over Henry's left shoulder as we finished the second day of practice. The bright light of Venus seemed to follow the moon into the dark ocean. Shining her light of love on our new intentions. As Henry spoke of far away lands and stories of teacher and student, the crescent moon echoed the cradle-shape of the Zen Mudra (hand position) used in our seated meditations. The moon slipped lower toward the horizon with its warm and comforting embrace. Eventually slipping under the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

As Henry encouraged: "Take heart. With a daily sitting practice, it doesn't matter what is happening on the surface. There is a deeper process going on under the surface that we cannot think, we cannot feel. It is not part of our conscious thought, understanding, or awareness. Take heart."

reflections & intentions during early morning tea time

As I reflected back on the intentions set during my November 2013 retreat, I found it interesting to see how some had come to fruition, how some were not meant to be, how some needed more discipline, and how others needed more time and patience. I found it quite helpful and inspiring to reflect on these before setting new intentions for the coming days. I also found it fascinating to see the heart's intention within these goals. Was my purpose still the same? How had it changed? It was difficult and good to sit quietly with these questions. I inspire you to do the same.

A Deep Bow

Tias & Henry

A deep bow of gratitude to the expert guidance and example of Tias & Henry. I also want to thank Djuna and Katie for their assistance and support. May their example continue to guide me as I explore the many facets of the Jewel of Yoga and Zen.

Trust - ah - trust. Trusting that this body, this seat, is here, is not here. That the small flickers of thought come and go, but that unwavering-ness, that indescribable place within - is also without. Is not separate. Shanti. Shanti. Shanti. Peace. Peace. Peace.