Stillness and Samadhi: My Quepasana Story

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To share one’s story about an experience of Samadhi is not easy. Even Rumi said this is a place that is beyond language: When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the concept “each other” makes no sense

I define Samadhi as an awakened state of consciousness found in stillness. I can’t speak for all 21 of the participants at my recent Quepasana, but I believe all of us experienced many moments of this expanded awareness. When I returned home it was difficult to summarize the depth of this experience for family and friends. The breadth of such an experience cannot be conveyed by words, photos, or even videos. Nevertheless, this story is my way of sharing little views into the heart of my Quepasana journey. I hope it serves as a thank-you note to everybody who made this retreat possible including all of my new Quepasana friends.

Aloha!

I haven’t spent much time at the Quepasana retreat center in Ashland, but it was immediately apparent that Hale Mana is what I call sacred space. As a former artist’s colony it is lovingly immersed in art and creativity. Everywhere you look there’s another semi-hidden jewel. My favorites were the conjunctions of something alive and something practical, like the kitchen counter sculpted around a living tree.

One translation of the Polynesian phrase, Hale Mana, could be the “house of sacred power.” I understand “mana” as a universal energy that can be manifested as authority, competence, and effectiveness. I think that once someone embodies the courage and vulnerability to accept an opportunity to become something more than they were before then a place like Hale Mana is awaiting with open arms. Synchronicity, mystery, and magic will follow.

For example, one day during our two-hour yin yoga class the lyrics for the music which was playing were saying something about giving love. At the same time we could hear noises from what sounded like a large tour group next door at Charles Lindbergh’s grave. It sounded like the tour guide was taking a group picture, so three times in a row the group gave a loud cheer, “Aloha!” That invisible cheer sounded like a perfect representation of the original etymology of aloha as love and presence. Here was this big group on their whirlwind tour of the island making the most of that one little moment in time that the photographer was capturing. And here we were next door on our mats opening ourselves to our own moment of aloha, all of us fully cognizant of the brevity of these experiences.

There is far more to be said about the surreal magic and beauty of the sacred space that everyone has co-created at Hale Mana. The red ball of the sun cresting the horizon at sunrise and then immediately disappearing into the clouds above it. Sumptuous teaspoons of cacao pudding-bliss. Rainbows and the sound of whales breaching, salty ocean spray, and the chorus of birds awakening just before dawn. But I want to tell the tougher parts of the story, too.

Noble Silence

I’d had one previous experience of Noble Silence at a week-long dathun at the Shambhala Mountain Center around 2004. At that time I think I fell prey to a victim mentality, and I took on a depressed, overwhelmed, fearful energy. It’s very challenging to be immersed in a micro-culture of downcast eyes, no words, no physical touch. Thankfully Quepasana purposefully set the stage differently.

When the weather was beautiful I would soak up the sun or sit at the cliff overlooking the ocean and absolutely revel in the beauty. But when the weather turned colder I would sit around the dinner table with my retreat friends eating meals with downcast eyes. At first I felt like I was taking on an old depressed energy or attitude, but I was able to quickly throw that off and say, “no, that doesn’t fit.” I can’t communicate, but there’s no reason I can’t be happy. There’s no reason I can’t smile to myself and enjoy the multitude of blessings that are so abundant here. I think most of my retreat friends were able to say this for themselves, too. For me to have the strength to say this required all of the following pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.

Equanimity

In simplest terms, equanimity means “I don’t mind what happens.” One night during yoga nidra we listened to a recorded talk by S.N. Goenka about clinging to pleasure and our aversion to suffering. This message could not have been more timely. We had all heard numerous references to the warrior spirit, Jedi warrior training, and similar affirmations asking us to rise up, stay strong, and not be blindly reactive to perceptions of pain or pleasure. As Jorge would sometimes say, this is “Simple. Not easy. But Simple.”

Noble Silence honed our awareness, but without equanimity it was hard not to flounder on the shoals of suffering. For example, I had enormous sensations I would identify as pain coming from the area of my left knee. Raising awareness about this particular sensation sometimes created more panic as my mind raced around the arena of speculation and worry. One early-morning sitting of “strong determination” left me covered in sweat, feeling faint and dizzy, overheated from the over-exertion of trying too hard. Thankfully I was able to regain equanimity through gentle reminders like the Goenka talk and through the structure of the meditation we practiced after Anapana such as the body scans.

From resistance to surrender

Resistance is an enormous force at any mindfulness retreat worth its salt. In retrospect I am glad we were not pampered any more than we were. It’s tough love to do this work from 4:20 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. There’s a good reason the setting is not at a luxury spa. And yet we were immersed in greater natural beauty than some spas may offer. It’s beautiful, but it’s work.

My personal resistance was the strongest in the first two days as my ego discovered things it did not like. At that point in the struggle there were things to complain about. Luckily Noble Silence meant nobody else had to listen to this drivel. Eventually through Jorge’s guidance—he is all too familiar with this phenomenon—I was able to separate myself from the chatter and watch thoughts and sensations passing through like clouds moving across the sky.

The death-knell for my resistance rang loudly during a kundalini yoga class on about the second day thanks to Noa’s orchestration of asana practice, kriyas, mindfulness affirmations, and transformative music. For Jorge to invite us to move our bodies through these mindfulness practices made all the difference in my overall retreat experience.

During that yoga class I remember the lyrics for one of the songs saying something about “playing the victim card.” And I remember feeling a wave of gratitude for the combination of supportive elements that was keeping me free from feeling victimized or oppressed. For the remainder of the retreat the yoga classes continued to be my principal crucible for daily transformation and awakening. For me, to move my body consciously is to move my soul.

Mehta

Our final meditation practice of the retreat was the loving-kindness meditation, Mehta. I don’t think it’s possible for someone who has not participated in Quepasana to understand the depth of how we were touched by this meditation, this entire experience. At no cost whatsoever we were given this enormous gift to be fully loved and supported in a conscious and creative experience of transformation. I don’t think it’s possible to finish such an experience and take this for granted.

The responsibility I carry forth from the retreat is to continue the practices of inviting the sacred dimension of stillness and Samadhi into my life. To remember Nature’s Starbucks. To lay under the stars and breathe. To engage the mula bandha “anytime.” To trust whatever unfolds with the equanimity of the warrior’s spirit.

I am filled with loving kindness. I am well. I am peaceful and at ease. I am happy and content