Four-day isolation retreat at TAT Center

Good bench for listening quietly

Spending some time alone in an isolation retreat can get new perspectives, sometimes changing someone’s life, or even realizing what they really are beyond a mind. I hadn’t done one in a while, and got a new tent with my coronavirus stimulus money that finally arrived, so it was time to go. These are some photos and highlights.

The TAT Foundation recently bought some acreage north of Durham, NC, and the space is planned to be used for meetings, group retreats, and isolation retreats. It has a few spots for camping, so I asked if available, got the OK, then headed down to set up camp. On the way down, I listened to a recording of an old TAT meeting where Tess Hughes mentioned she felt her takeaway from the meeting was “find your thread.” She meant it in a Joseph Campbell “follow your bliss,” sense, and I felt that would be my goal for this retreat, to find a thread for my search I could believe in and have some emotional energy to it.

I arrived late Thursday, and Bob F. and Mark W. helped me bring stuff to the location so I could set up. They offered again to allow a place to stay inside, as it was getting dark, but I wanted to get started, and had stopped at a couple gas stations with people coughing without masks, so didn’t want to risk staying indoors during a pandemic.

That first evening, I stayed in a “go” mode mentally, focusing on new tent set up and letting my mind adjust to a slower pace, not checking emails, news, Netflix, etc. I noticed sounds of nature, crickets, birds, squirrels. But also traffic. It being November the trees have dropped their leaves and the nearby road sounds easily got through the canvas. Traffic died down late around 11pm, and then I slept 12 hours, catching up 🙂

The next day I went for a walk on the trails Bob and Mark built and are maintaining. As someone who waits for the HOA to send a nasty letter before raking leaves from my yard, these trails stuck me as a labor of love.

There were several thoughtfully located places to sit and reflect. It felt to me a bit like a monastery without the symbols. Figured if I need symbols, I can carry around my laminated Ramana Maharshi photo and look at it every 100 steps. Or do a Douglas Harding looking exercise or something.

Douglas Harding would say if you notice you don’t see your head from your own point of view, there is A LOT of significance to that.

I did feel a more positive and potentially productive energy for me than at Richard Rose’s farm for isolation. Having an active teacher on location may help. Another teacher, Joel Morwood, recommends having a relatively strict schedule for a solitary retreat. I didn’t feel I could do that this time. I just wanted to get out of my normal thinking, though might want to plan a schedule for next isolation. Besides walks, food, meditation, and journaling, I did read some of Rose’s Psychology of the Observer very slowly.

Rose’s honesty in POTO struck me, and after this first full day, I was thinking maybe my thread is self-honesty. I noted, “The value I feel is like the truth shall set you free – like somehow there is a kind of freeing aspect of this truthfulness.”

I could see I imagine a thread as a thread of study – like a topic I’d pay attention for insights when reading a book hoping to generate new ideas. But not necessarily a thread of self-study. I imagine the thread is intellectually appealing. Yet, “it’s not in books. If it was in books I would have found it by now.”

Considering my usual efforts to change the world around me so I can be happy and feel satisfied, I noticed, “Here I am with a fire, in a tent, with some chocolate, reading about reality, trying to get enlightened. This must be about the highlight of life.” But, “I still don’t have a clear pull anyway.”

Day 3, I walked the trails a lot, stopping to listen. I began to wonder if this hope for a highly compelling thread is itself procrastination and resistance. I already believe I can only find answers by going within, so I have a thread intuitively, and journaling from my heart, I feel that’s it. If I wait for the body Umpire to get fired up about seeking within, that fire might not last.

It feels dry, asking, “who am I?” Maybe I will never have more motivation than I have now, and I just need to start, like starting cleaning my room as a kid – it seemed impossibly huge a task, yet once I started it became easier to keep going until it was cleaned.

Finally, day 4, I was feeling going within is the tentative answer to, what is the thread that can take me home? The next step would be questioning assumptions about what’s alive. I’ve written a handful of these down before that I believe with my level of conviction on a scale of 1 to 10, things like,

  • I have control over the mind 5% of the time. 10
  • I’m what experiences. 10
  • I’m not any object outside the body. 10
  • I’m not my current emotion. 9
  • I’m not my current thoughts. 8
  • I’m the problem-solver. 8
  • I’m a separate mind with some doership ability. 8
  • I’m a focuser of attention. 8
  • I’m not the generator of my current thoughts. 7
  • I’m not the decision-maker. 7
  • I’m not the intention-setter. 5

While not, per se, thrilling to question these beliefs, I do think the truth can set me free a bit there. Maybe a big bit. Yet I noticed I didn’t think I could commit.

My last notes before going and talking with Bob and Mark were

“Maybe the intellect can’t get excited about going within, but maybe longing can. I have that longing to become one with all ever. Maybe I can act on that a little at a time: hear it and act. Like I’ve done for intellect.

“So the longing is the thread? And to keep my mind on it, it’s not mental chewing on a paradox, it’s listening and acting on longing?”

Before heading out, I said goodbye, and the three of us ended up having an impromptu discussion. It ended up being a highlight of the weekend. Some things that stuck with me are the idea that the search might be 90% feeling 10% thinking, that I might need to pay more attention to my feelings in meditation in a basic sense, and that longing or nostalgia is a pointer that I can ask where is this coming from? and that might begin to re-prioritize.

In the days since, I’ve been noticing what I’m feeling more often than I had been before and trying to catch the longing beneath the surface to ask where it comes from. In terms of the vector, I’ve also been looking from a perspective of, what if I were starting over as a seeker, what if I were totally new? Somehow the task feels more possible removing the idea of “so much history.”

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