Saturday, March 12, 2016

Seclusion Stories: Renouncing Time, Following Guidance, and Trick Trails

I was really ready to go on seclusion. (And I’m beginning to think I’ll always begin my seclusion stories this way.) It had been almost two years since the last one, and it turned out to be an interesting followup to what happened that last time.

One of the themes from my 2014 seclusion was learning not to just blindly charge ahead with whatever I want to do (even if it seems like a good idea at the time), but to deliberately involve God and Master in the process, and ask what He would like to do with me in our time together. So my overall goal for this time was to figure out how to do that. I ended up with three main tricks:

#1: Renouncing Time. (Or trying to, at least. Time’s not so keen on renouncing me.) The evening I arrived at the meditation retreat, I turned my phone completely off and disabled the clock in my computer’s menu bar (I still wanted my computer available for writing). I hadn’t brought a watch, and the cabin had no clock, which left me completely free to have no idea what time it was. There’s still the sun, of course, but I didn’t know exactly when sunrise/sunset was up there, and I didn’t think about it too hard.

This had a few benefits. One is that clocks like to tell us what to do, what with things like “lunchtime” and “bedtime,” especially for someone like myself who’s very schedule-conscious. This shuts them up. Then if a clock isn’t telling you when to do these things, you get to (a) decide yourself or (b) practice using your intuition. (Hint: (b) is a good choice.)

Additionally, it was really nice to completely let go of questions like “am I sleeping in too late?” or “how long am I meditating?” or other things that are more judgey than useful.

#2: The Guidance Log. The next thing I did was to take a small notebook and start a list for each day. Any time during the day that I had a question or a choice, and remembered to ask Master about it instead of simply deciding on my own, I would enter it in the log. This is both helpful as a reminder to keep doing this, and as a motivational game (trying to top the score from each previous day).

This also results in the notebook getting filled with a fair amount of pretty dumb questions. But that’s okay. The number of times in my life that Master will actually care what kind of tea I drink in the morning is probably a bit south of one. But he does like to be asked. It’s keeping the conversation going that’s important.

#3: The Activities Bowl. This was the final piece of my “system” for the week. I always head into a seclusion with a huge list of projects and activities that I don’t have enough time to do at home, and this isn’t nearly as helpful as it is tempting. In this particular case, I wanted to practice guitar, recorder, and singing, I wanted to work on a couple different choir arrangements, I wanted to do some writing, I wanted to prep for the next class I’m teaching, and more. All good stuff, yes, but with the danger that seclusion will simply turn into more busy-time.

So what I did was to write everything I thought I might possibly want to do on scraps of paper, fold them up, and put them in a bowl. (I also included sadhana activities, like meditation, energization, yoga, etc.) Then whenever I felt like I really needed to do something, I would go to the bowl and ask Master to help me pick.

Putting It All Together. Well, the first two days were mostly rest and recuperation time, with lots of sleeping and reading. This was something else I’d learned from the previous seclusion: that it’s not worth trying to push yourself if what you really just need is to recover for a bit. So just let that happen until you’re ready to start putting out more energy.

I also didn’t use the activities bowl much during those first two days. I felt that, if I were going to draw something blind, then I wanted to feel absolutely open and ready to do whatever it would turn out to be, no backing out. Which is a good attitude to cultivate, but took me a little while to work up to. And when I did start using it, I found myself getting a lot of things like meditation and energization and reading Whispers from Eternity, and not working on my “projects” much at all. But just as well, since it was supposed to be a seclusion, after all.

As for the guidance log, what I noticed was that, after a few days, I was less inclined to be asking so many questions as deliberately or writing it all down. Not in a bad way, but more because I began to feel like I was in a better overall flow and could simply see the next thing I was going to do at any given moment, rather than needing to make a deliberate decision. I did still keep taking some notes, of course, because it doesn’t do to get too complacent, but I could tell that the process had already gotten me into a different sort of state.

Also by now I was finding myself really wanting to meditate more, and I figure when that happens I shouldn’t worry too much but just go do it, which I did. Since I’m not big on endurance but focus better for short periods of time, I started getting into a system of multiple short-to-medium meditations throughout the day, alternating with other things, instead of trying to do long sessions. If I’d had more time there (the trip was only 4 full days this time), I think my eating schedule would have shifted from three small meals a day to four snacks, which would also have been helpful for throughout-the-day meditations.

It would be nice to do this for a longer seclusion sometime. As it was, I only had two really good days, and on the second of them I was already thinking about having to go home the next day. But it was all very definitely worthwhile, even for just this short amount of time.

More Games on the Hill. I wrote last time about the games God was playing with me up on the Bald Mountain trail, trying to get me to pay attention and listen. And I continue to be impressed with how amusingly tricky He can be up there on that small hill with so few passable trails. This week I had been happily visiting all my usual places up there, but on the last day I noticed something new.

At a bend in the trail, I saw a gap in the trees that I hadn’t noticed before. This was on my best “flow” day, and I just felt that it was obviously there for me to go explore, so I did. A short way into the undergrowth, I came upon a trail completely covered with dead manzanita branches, like a river of bleached wood. It seemed deliberately created, but also odd, since it doesn’t make for a particularly walkable trail. I followed it for a while, wondering how far down the other side of the mountain we were getting, or if I’d ever be able to find a trail all the way down to the river. After various twists and turns, the trail petered out, but I managed to continue a bit farther through various openings in the shrubbery.

And then suddenly—a path! An honest-to-goodness, perfectly clear trail. I set a branch next to the trail pointing the way I had come, in case I needed to find my way back. Then I asked Master which way to go, and headed left.

Then within 20 yards I came to the trail sign at the entrance I had come in every morning. I had just completely not recognized it coming from a different angle, and had gotten so turned around I assumed I was on the other side of the mountain.

No major lesson here, except that God likes to find ways to make me laugh.