Retreat! But don't retreat. Thoughts on spiritual retreat
At this time I am immersed in a powerful spiritual retreat, given by my Spiritual Father and teacher, Dr. and Master Zhi Gang Sha. I cannot share the teachings with you, but I can share some of my experiences, which are always vivid and mostly wonderful at retreat. I have attended many retreats of Master Sha, have lost count actually, and it has been entirely life changing and life saving from the very first one, an enlightenment retreat in San Francisco, California.
Those first retreats were a pretty steep learning curve for me, even though I had been raised in a metaphysical and spiritual family and considered myself pretty darn cool and high on the spiritual ladder. Ha. All of that helped of course, to prepare me for such a vigorous heart and soul journey, but in truth I was a real greenstick. I cringe at some of my early attitudes, but I'm very glad most of those sharp and unwise corners have been sanded off by the blessings and teachings of Master Sha.
I was also brand new to the concept of retreat roommates, and that alone has been one of the most rewarding and interesting experiences! I have made lifelong friends, and learned so much from my dear roomies.
The first was...Dr Sam.
I came into that retreat a little late and on a budget, and so didn't stay the the hotel where the retreat was taking place. Through new connections I found myself in possession of my first roommate, an elderly Chinese physician named Dr. Sam. His last name has escaped me, and wasn't all that pronounceable anyway. The hotel was in a very squishy part of town about 20 blocks south of the retreat venue, the room a third floor cubby accessed by an occasional elevator. There were, praise God, two beds. We had absolutely zero in common, and at that time Dr. Sam was a pretty dour companion, and dark in outlook. The room was dark and elderly also, but snug and clean, as far as I remember.
After some false starts and long uncomfortable silences we forged a civil relationship. He told me he wasn't sure his old legs would carry him the 20 blocks and back everyday, but in truth I was hard put to keep up with him most of the time, and we had some vigorous debates on those walks, learned a little about his family and career, and came to a sort of tolerant agreement about most things. Our big agreement was about Master Sha, who had given Dr. Sam many life-saving blessings by this time. This is where the assumption part comes in. A lot of my life has been lived in a kind of benign oblivion, just seeing people at their outside persona, failing to realize the deeps that exist in all beings, and that everyone, everyone, has a story.
It turns out that Dr. Sam had already been at death's door a number of times from various kinds of cancer, mostly in the brain and upper spinal column areas, and had been returned to health. More and more levels of karma were revealed and he had hopes that Master Sha would bless him again, and save his life.
Dr. Sam had a cool and distant relationship with his family, not quite estrangement, but not cordial. On a personal level I've had a lot of experience with cranky old guys and pretty much let it roll off. The only thing that I allowed to drive me nuts was his habit of out loud spiritual practice. I generally have my own practice and it was difficult to concentrate on what I was doing with him chanting away. In retrospect I am sorry for my lack of wisdom, what he was chanting was the Tao Immortal Classic, in it's entirety, every night. Instead of allowing myself to be irritated, I would have been better served to listen and learn from him. Sorry Dr. Sam.
At that retreat I received one of the greatest pieces of guidance I have ever had on this journey, from Master Ximena Gavino. She was doing a reading for me, for someone in my family actually, but looked directly at me and said,
"Beware of spiritual pride."
Those 4 words changed the course of my river right there, and have served me very well since. I had a lot of spiritual pride, which closes us all to better information. I have come to learn that number 5 of the Ten Da, the Ten Tao qualities, is Da Qian Bei, or greatest humility. This is one of the most important of the Ten Da, because without it we truly cannot proceed. Any little shred of self importance or ego, conceit or belief in superiority, comparing ourselves to others, judging and criticizing others is a huge stumbling block that we must overcome. She was entirely right, and I am eternally grateful.
I was so blessed, guided and protected, instructed and corrected in that retreat. I found myself out on the street at 4 a.m. on the Sunday morning, sleepless, looking for the Bart Station (speaking of ignorant...) so I could get to the airport. Sometimes I wonder how I have lived this long without a keeper to prevent me from falling into holes and running afoul of trouble of all sorts. There were the shadow people that walk the night, and one gentleman approached me and said, "You don't belong here sweetheart. You should go inside somewhere." And of course an angel appeared, in the form of a Pakistani Cabby who just happened to glide up to the curb, basically in the middle of the night on a deserted street in an extremely dangerous neighborhood and asked, "May I help you?" Nearly weeping with relief I fell into the cab and sailed off to the next adventure. Thank you Angel. I remember you still.
Our dear Sam softened with time, even embracing me on subsequent meetings. Even with all the blessings and downloads he couldn't overcome that last cancer, and passed at I believe age 86. I loved him. Master Sha, I'm sure, blessed his soul to a very high level, and I am so grateful for that as well.
What a fabulous journey!
I am so thankful for all of it, every minute, even being hungry and exhausted and confused, frustrated and unhappy at retreats. It's all part of the gig and I am so much better for it. Thank you Divine Tao Source Beyond Source, Thank you so very much Master Sha. I love you.