I was recently afforded the opportunity to go on a retreat held by the Mindfulness Outreach Initiative based in Omaha and led by Dharma Teacher, Johnathan Woodside, here is what I experienced.
I know that people in the midwest are nice, but when I am fortunate enough to experience it I am reminded in the goodness of people, and it warms the soul. En route to the retreat my plane was delayed in Chicago (you got to love O’Hare Airport) about five hours due to a faulty flap that seals in all the goodies stored in the sewage tank. I felt impatience, frustration, and tension in my body and was reminded from some wise teachers about my attachment to time (what was my rush anyway?) and the importance of practice in each moment, as practicing patience is always a wise choice. I also observed that the people on my flight were much more patient than I would have thought they would be, kind, and to be honest we were all grateful that we were not stuck on a plane spewing sewage about the cabin! Although delayed we arrived safely and were appreciative of the flight crew’s service.
Arriving in Lincoln I was met by Maya, my good friend and colleague Drew’s daughter who weathered the delay with me patiently from afar. Drew Buss is a great psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher who runs his private practice “Into Balance” in Lincoln and he had invited me to this retreat smack dab in the middle of the country. Drew is a wise soul whom I met nearly 4 years ago when we began learning how to teach Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction with Susan Woods, Char Wilkins, and Allan Goldstein from the University of California at San Diego’s Center for Mindfulness. We went out to dinner that night with his lovely wife Deepa, complete with more generous Nebraskan hospitality and prepared for our silent retreat the following afternoon. The next day I was also treated to a Runza, a fast food staple out there that is a type of meat, onion, and cabbage pastry that was both rustic and delicious. One of the best parts of traveling is trying the local food and I was delighted to partake in some Nebraskan culture. After our meal we embarked on our journey to the wonderfully scenic St. Benedict Retreat Center in Schuyler, NE.
We met several other participants when we arrived who were very friendly and offered fellowship with one another. Everyone here for personal reasons of some kind looking for peace, calm, growth, awakening, and anything else one might imagine. My own reasons being to rejuvenate, find a sense of renewal and focus in personal and professional development as a human, student, and mindfulness teacher. There is a depth of practice that can only be found in retreats regarding intensive practice that I hoped to get to, although I needed to be careful with striving for an expected outcome, but my aspiration was wholesome nonetheless.
Later that night we had our welcome and discussion of walking and sitting practice, recited the incantations for Sila (Moral Conduct) and our Noble Silence began. As happens in these types of retreats we awaken early and then practice late at night, so the days and hours sitting are long, but I can still hear the teacher saying “take it easy” and not to fear offering ourselves compassion to adjust and take care of ourselves and our bodies, which I took advantage of. It was funny how fear, judgment, and our perceptions of ourselves creeps up even at a mindfulness retreat.
The St. Benedict Retreat Center is picturesque and ideal for any retreat so the conditions were quite nice even in the cold Nebraskan climate. There was a warm effervescence flowing from the group that brought things together. The Dharma Talks were familiar regarding the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and yet refreshing from Johnathan Woodside, and he was clearly knowledgeable and enthusiastic in his teaching style. The combination of everything leading to a rewarding retreat experience.
There is a grassroots mindfulness movement growing in middle America. Traveling from the coast here in Baltimore it was a pleasure to experience and soak in. Breaking silence we were treated to expressions of connection in our common humanity, friendship, recognition of our differences and above all gratitude for the time spent together in silence on our individual and collective journey in this lifetime, entering as a stranger and leaving as friends.