Good Medicine – Retreat Reflections
by Lindsay Zaiyo Freed
Nostalgic reflections of our summer retreat in the Uinta mountains regularly tug at my memory. It was, in one word – bliss. A short but very sweet time to be fully present and deliciously silent; a time to savor the depths of awareness and enjoy the freedom found in living the practice, without day to day distractions. Together with our Sangha family, I spent the weekend chanting, meditating, bowing and breathing, alive and awake, witnessing the vastness of each present moment. Sure, the monkey enjoyed plenty of swings through my mind, begging for attention, but I found that the more silent and present I became, the more the monkey stayed still. And the more the monkey stayed still, then the more blissful I became.
Every moment felt like a masterpiece, unfolding itself right before me. At a few points I remember thinking to myself – I could really live like this, imagining a simple life at some far-off monastery. And then Awareness kindly came to me whispering, “You don’t have to go to a monastery to live mindfully. That is what the practice is all about.”
Mindfulness practice and meditative experience don’t have to be far away dreams, something only grasped when we are away from the world and everyday realities. In fact, it’s much the opposite – mindfulness practice grows stronger when it has the chance to sink its roots into the soil of our day to day lives. Through awareness practice, we are invited to become the steward of our inner landscapes and the gardens of our lives. As we do this, sowing our mindfulness seeds and tending our awakening plants, we then receive the bounteous harvest, the fruits of our practice – our own medicine.
Don’t get me wrong – finding a peaceful, mindful presence in the mundanity and routine activities of our daily lives is not always easy, sometimes hardly feeling like bliss. And so often we feel like the harvest is a long-ways off. I regularly find myself contemplating my unskillful patterns of behavior, wondering when I’ll be able to be fully free from reactivity and fear, free from my conditioning. I wonder, will I ever taste the sweet fruits of unfailing compassion and unmistakable wisdom? Then I remember to listen to the call of Amida and the Great Compassion, always embracing me in every moment on every step of the Path, saying, “Yes, you will. Keep going.” And I again find the courage to walk further through the Rivers of Fire and Water.
This is the practice, one we must keep returning to over and over again, kindly returning home to the nembutsu, the present moment and the steady rhythm of the breath when we find ourselves wandering and confused. Sure, the simple monastic life may at times look idyllic but for me, I know that’s not where I belong right now. My story of escapism says otherwise, but I return my gaze to the garden I have grown in the “real world” and I smile, remembering that without the stories and sufferings of my life I wouldn’t be here now. And there is truly nowhere I’d rather be. I look at all my mud, and I see all my lotuses.
There can be a harvest every day, there are good fruits and seeds and medicine all around. We just need to open our eyes to see them. We must be willing to do the work to find them. And oh, how delightful it is to find something that is ripe for the picking. During the retreat I discovered a handful of wild raspberries and strawberries growing on the hillside, reminding me of this exact lesson. How delightful indeed.
After 4 years of Buddhist practice I made the decision to officially Go For Refuge, taking the Bodhisattva and Three Treasures vows in our fellowship’s Ti Sarana ceremony during our retreat, giving up the foundation of my old life for a new foundation – the Dharma. As my old name was called and my new name was given, I cried at the miracle of it all – this life, this beautiful rebirth, and the most perfect name I could have received as a mark of where I’ve been, where I stand now and where I’m headed.
Sensei Kakuyo gave me the Dharma name Zaiyo, which means Medicine Sun, or Awakening to Healing. I bow my head in deep gratitude for all I have learned and experienced on my path in the Way of Oneness, and I know that I have truly come home. I take refuge in the spirit of awakening, in the teachings found when I have my hands deep in the soil of my life, and in the community of fellow beings that I am blessed to be joined with on this Earth walk. I take refuge in the power of healing, and in the medicine that lives within, without and around me in every moment, always.
Namu Amida Butsu