The 8-day silent retreat in July 2023 was my second through Maitri Retreats – I also attended in July 2022 with Hamid. This time, I had both excitement and nervousness with Annetje Jikai leading the retreat, knowing I was hoping to experience something magical like in 2022, and not knowing how it would differ.
It was similarly magical, though entirely different. On one level, the experience of returning with a different group, a different temporary practice community, brought me in touch with the real meaning of sangha and how our shared presence is its own factor in shaping our path and our experiences. This isn’t good or bad. The groups that I shared this time with in 2022 and in 2023 were both precious in different ways, both inspiring in different directions. I left in 2022 with the vague sense I should explore practice communities closer to home. I left this year knowing it was an imperative – that there’s something deeply precious in engaging in this practice together. It led me to reflect on how often in my past my communities of practice were chosen by chance or convenience (my last home shared a fence with a Zen temple!), though I have been inspired to choose actively, passionately, willingly. I want my practice fed like it is by those dedicated humans who consider 8 days of silence to be the type of adventure they are willing to lean into.
I haven’t begun to touch on what happens in this place though. Nothing, as we stare at a wall hours a day. Everything, as we turn inward and find that beneath the masks, the stories, the words, there is a vast sea of compassion waiting to be swam in. I found myself touching, again and again, the patterns of mind and heart that rob this life of its vitality and wonder, and left with an awareness and insight into other, deeper ways to exist in this moment. The gentle daily practice of yin yoga offered by Helen is such a transformative gift, as it grounds us again and again in this body, undermining our fantasies of escape into the mind and mending the discomfort after sitting long periods. Hamid and Annetje’s dharma talks are so different in style, yet share the same warm and gentle invitation to see what this journey, on this cushion, in this moment, will lead to.
Other reviews and blog entries have spoken to the rare treasure these retreats are, and the desire to return. I have that, and have done it. I also have learned from these retreats that the path is in the practice, and while I hope to return again to Monchique (or eventually join Hamid in Bali), I know that the real work continues in my heart, carried with me, every day.