I recently led a five-day retreat with twenty-two participants. As people gathered, there were mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety, wondering what they would find out about themselves.
Since each group requires a different approach, at our first meeting I put out feelers to assess the atmosphere: I listened to the voices as we chanted, and for themes that came up in people’s reflections to gauge what we should focus on for the week. I know from experience that learning happens to both the teacher and the students. Spiritual retreats are not a static process; they are engaging and ever changing experiences and a meeting of many minds.
One thing that I kept returning to throughout the course was the question: How do we learn? Sometimes we learn through life-changing events – a relationship falls apart, we leave home, work situations shift. Or sometimes our heart just opens in a moment of grace and we see our illusions crumble.
The opportunity to engage in spiritual practice in a group gives a gateway to more than just gathering information. Questions such as, Who am I? What is life about? And why am I here? come up. These questions have a penetrating, unrelenting quality. They are part of our quest to know more about ourselves and our relationship with the Light within us.
While there are endless ways of learning, learning about ourselves is a step-by-step process of building strength in new ways of being and thinking. Yoga is about practice and life is the school in which we practice. Life brings the pressure to look deeply at who we are. So in the course, we took the initiative and time to reflect on our lives and asked ourselves: What do I need to know about myself, now, at this point in my life? Through spiritual practice and reflection, we created the space for inner knowing and wisdom to surface. In giving ourselves the time to do this, experience teaches us to trust our inner knowing, rather than some outside authority. From there, we can continue to move forward with an open heart.
Knowledge becomes very intimate when we become aware of the Light within us. Recognizing the Light within and seeing the Light in others, there is no right or wrong, male or female, teacher or student, old or young; only people with common experience and wisdom. There is no separation. Everything is supportive and we recognize the paradox of being human with both failings and Divine qualities.
It is hard work to break free from old concepts and ideas about who you are. You must allow a shift in perception to occur. This is what I witnessed in the retreat as the students’ experiences with the practices allowed them to begin to trust their own knowing – for each person, it was as if a layer of dust had been lifted from an inner diamond and the Light shone through.
Learning about yourself develops a flexible, expanding mind that recognizes there is more of you – more subtle levels, more understanding. Gratitude comes from that place of knowing.
Here’s a practice that we used in the course.
filling with light
- Sit in a meditation posture. Rest your hands, palms up, on your lap. Focus on the space between your eyebrows.
- Try to think of yourself without the body or face; in other words, avoid the familiar reflection seen in the mirror.
- Visualize your body as empty or hollow like a glass bottle.
- See a stream of white Light flowing down the centre of the form, filling the feet, legs, trunk, arms, neck and head.
- Hold this image (a mass of Light in the shape of your body) for as long as possible.
Filling with Light can change your whole world because it changes what you identify with. Who are you? What is the image you hold of yourself? What is in your mind? This practice will give you a sense of the Light within you and you can experience it, feel it, see it and hold it.
Write notes after your practice. And remember that you can also practise filling with Light anywhere – on the bus, while you’re waiting for someone, while you’re chanting – or anytime you need to reconnect with the Light within yourself.