Yes, it has also been my plan to write about the winter retreat this week. As Master Pearson said we do share a lot about it, and though it may become repetitive for people who do not attend our annual Winter Retreat, it is such a perspective- changing experience that I want to write about it and a little bit about my experiences since. Besides, this year all of you who are reading this have a chance to share in some of the teachings from the retreat in the form of the recordings that have been posted of 3 of Master Pearson’s lectures. If you haven’t experienced the Native American meditation that is posted I strongly recommend finding a comfortable place to sit or lie down and give it a listen. I am looking forward to being able to listen to all the recordings myself and learn new things I may have missed in each one. Especially the Four Minds of Shin Ho Kwan lecture, as I happened to be helping to wash dishes in the kitchen as it started.
Before learning that our Shin Ho Kwan calendar starts in March in order to orient the beginning and end of our year to the dates of the Winter Retreat, I hadn’t realized that Shin Ho Kwan has its own calendar. I like that a lot; as I have attended more and more retreats, each year they become an even more important interlude/ force in my life. One of the first things we do at each Retreat is each person cuts him/ herself a piece of string and ties it on to his/ her own wrist. As stated in previous posts this string comes to mean something by the end of the Retreat; then each student has the option of keeping on or cutting off the string on the Sunday of the Retreat before we depart. This string has come to me to be an ever- present tangible reminder of the Retreat experience and in a bigger sense my martial art practice. I’ve had strings on my wrist continuously for over ten years now (can that be right? How is that possible?). Last year to signify the new beginnings that I felt in my life related to the 2011 Winter Retreat, I cut off the 3-, 2- and 1 year old strings around my wrist and kept only the then- current string. I now have that string from last year plus the new one from the 2012 Retreat, which signifies a continuation of the renewal I felt during the 2011 Retreat. One of the things that this relates to is the Taekwondo class I’ve started here in Ithaca. On returning home from the 2011 Winter Retreat I finally felt like I was ready to begin teaching a class. Master Pearson’s closing lecture that year implored us each to instead of making excuses, go ahead and do some thing that we felt like we wanted to do. For me, that was starting a class. I have always had reasons not to start a class yet, so instead last year I gave it a try. My class has never been large but it is always nice for me to be able to teach one or two or three students. The experience is teaching me a lot about how to transmit the information I have to other people, and makes me realize that I do in fact know things that can be useful to students to learn. This year, one of my goals is to grow my class, now that I’ve started it and become more confident in my teaching ability.
Unfortunately this year we were not able to experience our Winter Retreat opening ceremony, due to strong cold rains at the exact unlucky time to impact ceremony preparation. Speaking of the weather, though, it was nice to experience actual snow, a rarety in Ithaca these days, and Rochester from what I have heard. The Adirondack mountains (where the Retreat is now again held) are beautiful and would be a sufficient destination in their own right. As I lay on my bed, in the few moments that I had free to lay on my bed during the Retreat, I was impressed by the snow and icicles I could see outside the window, which contributed to a larger sense of quiet and stillness. This feeling that permeates the area definitely contributed, at least for me, to the overall experience. There were so many things that contribute to the Retreat experience, yet I have to say that the whole experience is more than the sum of the parts of the Retreat. I don’t think I can even come close to capturing the experience in words, instead I will be writing about some of the parts that go in to the whole that is the Winter Retreat.
The next part: Meditation. Early, early morning meditation. Friday morning and again Saturday morning at the Retreat we were awakened by the Bell at 4:30 AM (Sunday we got to sleep in to 5:30!). There is something inescapable about waking up to a loud clanging bell. There is no, “I think I’ll go back to bed for a few minutes,” especially without a clock to tell me when the few minutes would be over (no clocks allowed). The sound of the bell plus the excitement of being at the Winter Retreat makes it possible for me to get up quickly, in a way that I wish I could duplicate in the rest of my life. To that end, I’ve often thought that having a bell by my bed might help me wake up in the morning. On leaving the Retreat on Sunday, the first thing I did at the end of Big Moose Road was to visit a souvenir shop to look for small gifts for my children from the area. The one thing I ended up finding for myself was a small bell, not the kind that Master Pearson uses to wake us up (there was a smaller version of that kind too) but the kind made as a souvenir with a small seal on the top that says “Adirondack Mountains, NY.” It has a nice sound to it and I keep it by my bed. My plan, which I’ve put in to practice on a few mornings, is to ring the bell when I need to wake up. Then I can sit and meditate for 10 minutes (instead of hitting snooze) and then I ring the bell again. I’ve also used it similarly before going to sleep, which helped me fall asleep much better.
The first night I didn’t sleep very much at all. I believe this was due to a few different factors, including my thinking about the coming Dokcham during meditation in the morning (Master Pearson’s lecture about that is on here too so I won’t try to explain it). Several times during the night I couldn’t believe it wasn’t time to get up already. I even had a dream that I was getting up, but the bell hadn’t rung yet, so I convinced myself to go back to sleep. When the bell finally did ring in the morning it was relieving to know it was really time to get up. When I get up that early and stay awake and active all day, time seems to stretch out. Each day seems like two or three days long. I especially like meditating at the Winter Retreats, because as I am clearing my mind I am surrounded by a room full of people who are also focused on clearing their minds. There is something really nice about that feeling. The Dokcham turned out to be a helpful experience. Now I’m not sure what happened on what day, and it is late at night right now. So I will try to talk briefly about more of the important experiences I had at the Retreat. I am sure I will leave many things out, there was just so much that happened, in a relatively short period of time-
Another thing that was important this year, that has been building in to the retreat was the presence of our guest lecturers. Sensei Gardner, Master Pearson’s Aikido instructor (I am not sure if I spelled his name correctly, I apologize if it is wrong) taught a very eye opening Aikido class and Master Pearson’s chiropractor, Dr. Kladstrup, talked about the interaction of energy in the universe. Overall, I feel that having these very knowledgable teachers on hand in addition to Master Pearson and our instructors at the Retreat gave the whole thing a different feel, with knowledge being shared by people with different backgrounds and teachings that were still very compatible with Shin Ho Kwan’s own teachings. In the Aikido class we learned about the concept of “heaviness” and by extension the power of the mind. Sensei Gardner talked about African hunters who get meat by chasing lions away from their kill. Crazy as it sounds, they know that they can scare lions away and do so successfully. The concept of “knowing you can” is what we were striving for in our exercises. We explored the difference between hoping to accomplish something and knowing you can accomplish something. One of my favorite things about being around Dr. Kladstrup is that I can ask him about whichever physical symptom is bothering me the most at the time. I seem to have an endless list of aches and pains to choose from. For example, at a Retreat some years ago I asked about one of my big toes that was experiencing numbness. Dr. Kladstrup told me it originated in a pinched nerve in my spine, moved my foot slightly this way and that, and told me it would be better. I was curious to see what would happen; it took a long time over the next year for the numbness to fade, but by the next Retreat, feeling had returned to my toe and I haven’t had that problem since. This year I was glad to have my neck adjusted. My neck is a near constant source of stiff and soreness, and I was able to have a break from that.
The many mind changing and clearing experiences I had at the Retreat left me feeling like my mind is a glass or a mirror that was dirty and had been scrubbed clean. Taking that feeling back in to my everyday life is a whole different experience. This year I felt more like myself at the Retreat, rather than like I was a different person there from who I usually am, which is how I used to feel. I also felt less conflicted about returning from the Retreat to home. When I left, I stopped to take a walk in the hushed beauty of the Adirondack mountains- we didn’t get outside very much at the Retreat itself this year. As I walked out from a trail there were some snowmobilers parked at the exit. As I approached, one of them said “it’s Bigfoot,” so I turned around to look behind me but I didn’t see anyone. Turns out he was talking about me, and another snowmobiler said something like, “more like Littlefoot. That’s your Indian name.” So I said “thanks for the new name.”
My drive back to Ithaca wove largely through hilly fields and woodsy areas, and I thought that where I live isn’t that different from where we were; the hills are a little smaller, and at the time there was less snow, but I am fortunate to live in a beautiful area all the time. So here I am back at home, working on returning to the feelings and learnings from the 2012 Winter Retreat. One thing I like to remember to do when I am working is to sense all the people around me. That was what I was going to say my string would remind me to do (in addition to what I did say, which was not worrying, that is another thing I work on, and growing my Taekwondo class here) is to sense people- as I mentioned, I like the feeling of a room full of people meditating, and I think I am getting better at sensing people and how they may be feeling. I would like to write more about that, perhaps at another time, for even the library here at Cornell has a closing time which we are approaching.
Thank you for reading!!