Thursday, June 30, 2011

Meditation & Buddhism 101

So a couple of months ago out of the blue I was googling "meditation mountain retreats" thinking how nice it would be to go away for a weekend into the mountains and just be quiet. I came upon a website of a local Buddhist center who was hosting a retreat in the northern Rockies the weekend of June 17-19. Perfect. I signed up.

Then I thought hmm, I should probably check this place out to get a feel for what this meditation stuff is like. The center is only two blocks from my place, even more perfect. I walked over there a couple of weekends before the retreat for their Sunday get-together called "Prayers for World Peace" and tried my best to follow along. There are a couple of prayers that we sing, along with a teaching by the resident nun/teacher, then a lengthy-ish meditation, then other prayers, and then the kids come down from their "Dharma for Kids" class and we all sing more prayers together. It's relaxing, peaceful, and full of good people and energy. I went back the following Sunday, and I think I'll keep going.

I left work the Friday of the retreat and drove up to the mountains to the West of Fort Collins. It was an easy one hour drive up, and then another two hours through a canyon and up into the mountains on curvy slow-going mountain roads. The views were spectacular. Whitewater river-side campsites lined the roads and they were packed full of people setting up camp for the weekend. I can't wait to go back just to do some tent camping in the canyon. Gorgeous.

I arrived at the retreat in Pingree Park 10 minutes before the first session was about to begin. Talk about timing. I missed registration and dinner because I couldn't leave work that early. Oh yeah, I started a new job June 1st, no time-off just yet, and it doesn't look that great when you start a new job and then say hey, can I take half day off two weeks into it. Anyway, I arrived just in time to run over to the cabin for the first session, not knowing what to expect. I kicked off my shoes in the entrance and took a seat with about 50 other people, many of whom I had seen at the center on Sunday. Others, I later learned, were part of the Fort Collins Buddhist center. I guess both centers coordinated to host the retreat.

This retreat's focus was on the "initial stage" which consists of the first 5 of 21 meditations Buddha taught. The retreat was composed of seven one and a half hour sessions, the first and last sessions being intro and conclusion type of sessions. They started out with a prayer, then a half hour teaching, more prayer, then a half hour meditation, then dedication prayers. How lucky for me we were starting on the initial stage instead of me unknowingly jumping into the middle stage and being completely lost. Anyway, I learned that meditation is very difficult for someone who can fall asleep anywhere, any time, any position at the drop of a hat. Oy! It did, however, become easier and easier to focus and stay awake and semi-alert with each session. It's definitely a skill I want to hone.

Here are a few photos of the retreat area. There was no cell reception (thank goodness -- so peaceful) so I didn't carry my phone/camera around, so this is all I got...

I started reading this book before the retreat so I wouldn't be totally clueless. I ended up reading most of the rest of it between sessions at the retreat. This is like a Buddhism for Dummies book; I learned a lot in a short time...

These next two books were used as reference for the retreat. I bought them but haven't dug into them too deeply yet. I'm finding that I can't sink my teeth 100% into all of the common beliefs that encompass Buddhism, but I'll be taking the bits and pieces that do resonate and incorporate them into my daily life...

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