Itʻs Valentineʻs Day, and Iʻm thinking of one of my heartʻs favorite, Hawaii Island. Especially since I was just there, and itʻs cold here in Oak Park/Chicago with small snow banks piled knee high on all the sidewalks.
I was happy to be there to co-lead Sacred Fire: A Zen Meditation and Hula Retreat with my friend Jaune Evans. It was an opportunity to practice my two spiritual paths: Hula and Zen Meditation with 15 others.
We began first in Wood Valley, Pahala at the beautiful Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling Tibetan Buddhist Temple. It was rainy and cool with a high humidity. One of the first things I noticed was how in touch with Nature I felt there. The dining room and kitchen were screened off so you got a good view of the lush green surroundings: banana trees, ti leaf plants, ferns, Eucalyptus trees.
When it rained you could hear raindrops on the tin roof and see the rainwater gushing down - oblivious of gutters. My body seemed to be soaking up the moisture after having been dried out by heat radiators in Chicago.
For the first day and a half we practiced Noble Silence which meant, in addition to the quiet contemplation of meditation, that there was no unnecessary talking. This time was specifically to focus internally and to notice what was going on in our minds and bodies and always returning to our breath or other physical sensations in the body. This was a way to sink into your body and become grounded in Honua(the earth).
Our minds are often very busy when transitioning from regular life to retreat. So it can be a challenge to just sit and do nothing. Itʻs like a gateless gate that we must pass through in order to know and see our inseparability from our environment. It is the very practice of patience that nurtures more patience, clarity and fearlessness in our lives.
Our bodies can also be tight and tense when our minds are constantly busy. It was wonderful that my sister taught Iyengar yoga to help stretch and relax our bodies. My body felt light and open after her restorative asanas.
Hula practice then allowed my bodyʻs muscles and joints to exercise in a gentle way. The melodic Hawaiian music filled my heart and inspired me to dance. I felt all of us moving as one, inseparable from each other and the beauty of place. We danced for Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, and for all that she represented: compassion, courage and dignity.
On the last morning, we visited Kilauea (spewing or much spreading), an active shield volcano in Volcano National Park, which is estimated to be 300,000 - 600,000 years old. We walked quietly at sunrise along Halemaʻumaʻu (House of the Amaʻu Fern) Crater and saw the red, gold glow of molten lava in the darkness of early morning. Inspired, we paid our deep respects to Pele and to the magnificent ʻaina (land) of her home.
Molten Pele (lava) both destroys and creates rich new land. All of Hawaii Island was formed by Pele. In a way, our practice of meditation itself is a path of destruction and creation. In a paradoxical way, we are burning down our walls - our fixed views/ideas about life, our habitual ways of looking at the world and our relationships.
Itʻs a paradox because meditation itself is a path of non-doing that most of us are not used to practicing. And yet this practice is extremely valuable by wearing away habits or outdated ideas about our lives that no longer serve us.
Sitting still for at least 10 minutes a day, watching what you do, focusing on your breath and trying not to indulge in mental drama, is very nourishing to your brain and body. With regularity this strengthens parts of your brain that creates emotional balance, fear modulation, impulse control, and response flexibility.
Over time youʻll notice that you can slow down, focus better and open your heart to yourself and others. Thereʻs a clarity that develops that helps you not mix up what you think with what is.
Happy Chinese New Year of the Earth Dog and Ban Assault Rifles!!!
P.S. Enjoy Steve Bowerʻs photos of the Sacred Fire Retreat.