Returning from the retreat: innocence, security, anger, and a good burger

Nature and the Human SoulAs I mentioned previously, I just returned from the Diamond Approach 10-day summer retreat in California, and I’d like to share some of the learnings from that, because they tie in with the summer part of the wheel. Summer is the time of childhood innocence. In fact, Bill Plotkin writes in Nature and the Human Soul that innocence is one of the gifts children give to the world. And it is the parents’ job to maintain the safety of the home-nest in the early years, to allow this innocence to flourish. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t happen. But we all are innocent at the core of our nature. Even George Bush, Hitler, and Charles Manson. Although innocence wasn’t directly the theme of the retreat, I found that when I was working with people, and being a very allowing, clear space of openness for witnessing their work, their innocence is something I kept seeing, over and over. And I also felt in touch with my own innocence. This is part of the radiant preciousness of who we are. I felt it was a gift from the universe to be able to experience this and know it directly, in myself and others.


Childlike innocenceSo when I left the retreat, I was in quite an expansive, open state, after 10 days of working in a deep way with people during the exercises, meditating, and having many satisfying connections with friends that I only get to see once a year. I arrived at the Air Canada security line at San Francisco airport in this open, friendly state. Although the line was quite long, and only one belt was open, and they kept letting people in first class go around the side and to the front of the line, I was in my open state, had four hours before my flight, and didn’t want to get caught up in my usual reactive judgement about this situation. I spoke to the woman behind me, who was from Calgary, and we shared some airport security experiences. When I got close to the front of the line, a man asked if he could cut in. I asked if he was crew, and he was, so I said sure, and we had a nice conversation too. He was from Montreal, and we talked about different cities. It was very pleasant, and I was pleased to be enjoying this potentially frustrating situation.


I guess this is where the universe wanted to test how grounded and connected to being I really was, because suddenly my bag was halted, brought out, and the security guy asked who it belonged to. I said it was mine, and he said there was a liquid in the bag. I had thought my water bottle was empty, but it wasn’t, and that was why it had been flagged. I pulled it out and dumped the water in the bin, and put my bag back through. Then my laptop was halted, and the security guy asked who it belonged to. I admitted it was mine, and a jerk in the line who was late for his flight said “Have you got anything else in your luggage that doesn’t belong there?”


Huh! Snap! I was totally out of my open spacious peaceful place and into a defensive response that came to the fore automatically. I said “It’s not my fault security is so fucking anal.” Luckily for me, they weren’t actually that anal, because they let me go through and didn’t say anything about this statement. But the passenger continued to heckle me as I collected my belongings at the other end of the belt, and I lost it again and said “It’s not my fault you’re late for your flight.” And he said “It’s not my fault you’re a stupid *&%&!” I said “I didn’t call you names and I would appreciate if you don’t call me names.” He called me another name, and then took off down the hallway.


So that’s it, huh? That’s the limit of my capacity to stay open and nonreactive. Less than an hour from arriving at the airport. Altercation. Irritation. Feeling caught up in reactivity, which is very familiar, and feeling hopeless about being a slave to it. Why am I getting triggered so easily, all the time? Here I’ve just finished a 10-day retreat and I’m totally A ball of frustrationcaught up in what some idiot stranger said to me. It was an attack, but I got caught in it. Where is the benefit of the practice? The openness and spaciousness? If you are familiar with the entity known as the superego, you will notice it at work, making the situation even worse by attacking me for not being more equanimous.


But I have learned something after these many years of various practices, so the next part of the story is how I worked with the stew of anger and reactivity I was caught up in. And, no coincidence, anger is also one of the qualities connected with the red of the south part of the wheel. It is a form of the red essential aspect which can be experienced as strength, and the heat, fire, and aliveness of it can help us to protect ourselves and others. It has often motivated me to take action in the world. But in its less purely flowing form it can be felt as irritation, frustration, rage, and so on. Which is one of the things I worked with over and over at the retreat. The movement, like here at the airport, from openness to frustration or rage.


As I walked down the corridor toward my gate, pulling my well-examined luggage behind me, I saw how I get caught in this uncomfortable place all the time. I felt the discomfort of it and the desire to move away from it. It feels so awful to be caught in this reactivity. And it happens to me all the time. This made me wonder what I’m doing to keep getting caught in this. Is this a familiar, comfortable pattern from childhood? (Well, yes.) Is that why it seems to happen over and over? Am I creating it? And I noticed how much I wanted to escape from the discomfort of it. I don’t want to feel this way. I want to control reality so I never have to feel this way. I wished I’d said something even more annihilating to completely shut the stranger up and stop him from making me feel this way. I spent a moment or two trying to think of what that might have been—what I could have said. I noticed again how the feeling was so uncomfortable that I wanted to move away from it. But it was inside me and I couldn’t. So I went to have a pee, and tried to remember to sense my belly center—the Kath meditation—a practice I had been doing for the past ten days (and nine years). As I was sitting on the toilet, sensing my belly, I suddenly flashed on my spiritual teacher, and how she probably doesn’t get caught up in this kind of reactivity.


The feeling was as if I’d done something wrong and the passenger who attacked me had told everyone about it, so I guess a kind of shame. I am normally very together, and follow all the procedures for passing through security correctly, but this time I was still in a somewhat expanded state from the retreat, floating along a bit, and didn’t realize there was still some water in my water bottle. Also I didn’t know I had to take the laptop out of its case. I had already taken it out of the suitcase, and put it in a separate bin, and I thought that was all I had to do.


So the shame I noticed mainly by the reaction to it—defending myself, as if I hadn’t done anything wrong. In my head telling him my IQ was higher than his, because he had called me stupid. But just seeing that my superego was involved didn’t really shift the experience of discomfort and an inner, red irritation that felt very difficult to be with. But as I was sitting on the toilet, I realized that the difficulty was that I was trying to maintain a self-image. My teacher wouldn’t care what her image was—what people thought of her (or so I imagined). But I was feeling so bothered because my self-image of being together and doing things right was challenged.


Seeing this started to bring me more of a sense of relief, inner space. I still noticed some superego activity as I went on to a bar & grill to have some dinner while waiting for the flight. Feeling sensitive and raw, seeing how many times I’d been reactive in the retreat and carried away by anger. But I noticed the table I was given by a window facing the sunshine was very nice, and the food was quite good, and I felt very fortunate to be in this amazingly quiet place in an international airport. Feeling some sense of the surroundings being safe and supportive helped me relax into my true nature, and the awareness of myself as an innocent and precious being. The reactivity dissolved completely and I enjoyed my meal.


Anger is a very potent doorway for learning for me. In this instance, seeing how it was working to maintain a self-image is what allowed the whole experience to shift from the almost unbearable heat and irritation to shame (which the anger was protecting me from feeling) to a sense of inner spaciousness and quiet enjoyment of my veggie burger.


P.S. The exploration I just described is an example of the practice of inquiry—the main practice of the Diamond Approach. Staying with our experience, being curious about it, and letting it unfold. The movement of the unfoldment, when we allow it to just happen, can go anywhere. In this instance, it went to spaciousness and a good burger.

Final post-script: Another perfect pedicure

A better pediI wrote previously about Conflict resolution and perfect pedicures, and I want to let you know how that story turned out. I recently went to the 10-day Diamond Approach summer retreat in California, and before flying south I returned to the spa where I had experienced the traumatic, injury-producing pedicure.

True to his word, the owner had spoken to his staff, and my new aesthetician, Grace, was very careful to make sure I was satisfied with the length of my toenails, asking me to check it was okay before proceeding to the polishing stage. She trimmed them to a nice, short length, rounded the way I like, with no arguments or lectures! Ah, how sweet. In the picture shown here, the sore on my left big toe is from dancing all night in silver sandals at the retreat. Now that’s the way to work a pedicure!

IDopey Donaldn another episode of conflict resolution, I took my cat Donald to the vet yesterday. He hadn’t eaten in three days, and had just been lying in his den (a cat carrier lined with a towel) without moving for 24 hours. So I brought him to the Blue Cross Pet Hospital, and the vet couldn’t find any external problems such as abscesses or infections, but suggested antibiotics in case of internal infection. He also suggested bloodwork for diagnostic purposes, and keeping Donald for a few hours to rehydrate him and observe him. I agreed to all of this, but when I came back to get Donald a few hours later, the bill was almost $600!

I asked to see the breakdown of the charges, paid the bill, and took Donald home. He ate a little, and though he was groggy from the sedative the vet had given him before taking the blood samples, he was clearly already improved. I looked at the printout of the bill again, and noticed there was a $95 charge for the sedative, plus $145 for a general anaesthetic. Given that Donald had responded to the antibiotics already, it seemed like the treatment and charges were a little over the top!

I felt a familiar sense of helplessness and being taken advantage of. One of the ways that I have habitually dealt with this type of feeling, which I have a hard time tolerating, is to get angry. This is one way of using the red energy of the south, and I will talk about this more next time. But yesterday, noticing how familiar this was (from some inner exploration I’d done recently at the retreat), I just didn’t want to go that route again. But how could I handle it differently?

Perhaps the earlier positive experience with conflict resolution at the day spa helped give me a clue, because what I did was call the pet hospital, and explained to the receptionist that Donald was doing much better and I had a concern about the bill and treatment being over the top. I spoke to her very quietly and calmly, and explained that since he’d responded so quickly to the short-term antibiotic, it seemed overkill that the vet had sedated him, given him an anaesthetic, taken blood samples, and given him a long-term antibiotic. It might have made more sense to give him the short-term antibiotic first and see how he responded. Also I wasn’t happy that the vet hadn’t discussed how much his proposed course of action would cost. The receptionist listened carefully and said she would ask Dr. Hartney to call me.

He did, a few minutes later, and apologized for charging me for both the sedative and the anaesthetic. He said this was a mistake, as the anaesthetic was just for a few minutes, and that they would deduct the $145 from my bill. He listened when I expressed my concerns about the treatment being overkill, and he explained his view of it: that while Donald was sedated he wanted to take the blood samples and give the long-term antibiotic, because there was no way of knowing what the problem was until after trying these things. No crystal ball… I felt satisfied by this rationale, because if it had been a serious problem it was better to know sooner than later. We ended the call on a good note, with discussing how to refund the $145 to me.

The next morning, the vet called me personally to let me know that the blood samples have gone astray, although the BCPH had actually bought the courier lunch to get him to come back and deliver the samples to the lab right away! Ah, life is a mysterious thing. All these little details and human and animal interactions, held within the larger container of nature and true nature. I appreciate being aware of the interconnectedness of all these things. This seems like the perfect, necessary resolution to my old patterned belief that I am alone in the world, which doesn’t care about me (at best) and is probably out to get me (at worst). And it is good to confirm that there are other ways of dealing with situations besides anger, although I am still a firm believer that anger is sometimes the most appropriate response to a situation. But more on that later!

Madame Moose strides again

Mooses hopping over fenceOn a run at Monkey Valley recently, a magical thing happened. I was running up the road, and saw a magnificent female moose in the meadow beside the road. She saw me too, we looked at each other for a little, and then she moved away up the hill.

I felt awe and pleasure at this rare contact with Madame Moose, and continued on my run up the hill happily, keeping a lookout in case I saw her again. Sure enough, when I got up near the top gate I saw her up by the gate, and she saw me again too. I backed off a little, so she wouldn’t feel trapped or threatened, and then I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity to ask her a question.

“Should I sell Monkey Valley?” I asked her. I was feeling very discouraged about the amount of time I’d been spending on tending to the ranch this summer, and feeling burdened by it.

She said, “Don’t sell this land. Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Or as my brother-in-law Geoff Price told me, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, don’t pet the sweaty stuff”!

Then she hopped the fence in a single stride. This seemed to confirm what she had said to me. To take the small stuff in stride.

A note to the poster who claimed to see a dead moose caught in the barbed wire fence on my south fence line: Not! The fence has been there thirty-plus years, and the moose and deer all know where it is. As I saw with my own eyes, these magnificent ungulates take such things in their stride.

I have not been so equanimous, and decided to probe the universe’s plans for me by putting Monkey Valley on the market, in spite of the moose’s advice (or, if you prefer, my own inner guidance as prompted by the moose encounter). I am feeling the call to have more freedom in my life, and keeping two homes has been feeling like a burden. Much as I love the quiet and privacy of Monkey Valley, I feel a stronger pull to the city, and it is a strain to keep both going. So I’m going to see what happens. If the place sells before snow flies, I will take that as a sure sign it is time to move on to new pastures. If it doesn’t sell, I’ll keep Monkey Valley and make a new plan.

In either case, I will continue to offer vision fasts. Either at Monkey Valley, or on the land near Monkey Valley.

Black bear safe from exhaust fumes

Strollers are nonchalant about the black bear on the pathGood news! I wrote previously about the trail expansion on the Twin Bridges trail and my concern that regular vehicle traffic would be permitted on my favourite running trail, disturbing a magical pocket of wilderness and the creatures who live there, including the black bear I spotted on my run a couple weeks ago.

Last week I spoke to Heidi Walsh at the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, and asked her what was going on with the trail. She immediately allayed my fears that it would be opened to public vehicles. The reason the trail had been widened so much in some places, including cutting down trees, was that the bridge replacement project requires it temporarily (no comfort to the felled trees, I’m sure). The 50-foot sections of bridge they will be trucking in necessitate that the road be widened in some of the turns. But afterwards they will be rehabilitating the road as much as possible, planting at the road sides to make it narrower again. She acknowledged that the current state of the road was a bit over the top! (That is, a wide, white gravelled, ugly expanse where there used to be a quaint mountain trail.) I was really glad to learn that the planners of this project were sensitive to the aesthetics of the trail and would try to return it to its previous state. Plus very relieved that a bunch of cars would not be coming to pollute the crystal mountain air with exhaust fumes!

Heidi also told me that they were going to cut down three more trees, but the trees contained nests so they were waiting until the nesting season was over. Wow, that’s great! That they are waiting, I mean. And aware, and concerned about the wild life. I also found out that these trees are small deciduous trees, not the two majestic pines that I visit at the Homestead trailhead. Whew!

I am so glad I made that phone call. My worries and concerns about something that wasn’t actually going to happen (the destruction of a wild, peaceful place that I treasure) motivated me to make the call. And what I learned was that the Metro Vancouver planning folks are aware of the impact of their actions on the wilderness, and take care to minimize the effects, even to the extent of waiting until the young birds have fledged!

Good News for a Change, by David Suzuki and Holly DresselThis makes me feel more hopeful about the future of our planet, and appreciative of my hometown of Vancouver. After all, this is the city that spawned Greenpeace, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Adbusters! My initial response of sadness, anxiety, and a desire to protect the bears led to a positive discovery about reality, people, and my city.

Good News for a Change, by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, gives many inspiring stories of ways people care for our planet. If you would like to experience another positive outcome from a distressing situation, check out this hilarious video on You Tube:

Dave Carroll’s United Breaks Guitars

Red hot summer

Munro's butterflySummer is here and it’s a hot one. At least in BC and the Pacific Northwestern states. I’ve previously written about the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters of the wheel of the year, and now it’s time to take a look at summer.

Summer is in the south quarter of the wheel, and it is the time of childhood innocence, compassion, and strength. Red is the colour, and the entry Red wheel rolling gives you an idea of the playfulness of the south. It is the time when growth is lush and bountiful, and we get to kick back and relax, soaking up the warmth of the sun. Life is bursting everywhere, and the aliveness of this is one of the qualities that the south brings us.

Mouse is the animal of the south, and if you imagine things from a mouse’s point of view, life is very simple. We see what is in front of us, at ground level. Details, and the parts of the world that are very concrete and tangible.

Red can be seen in the rushing of the blood, whether through exercise or sensual pursuits, and indeed sexual energy is strong in the south part of the wheel. All of the sensual expressions and experiences of the body. Embodiment is what the south can teach us. Imagine the turning of the wheel from spring to summer as a time to bring your inspiration and spiritual awareness (the gifts of the east) into concrete, embodied form for your people.

Warm summer blessings!