I have been gone a bit, while I was on personal retreat. After a week in cloistered isolation I feel like a breath of fresh air.
On my way into retreat, I set an intention around what I was doing there. I followed guidelines from Jennifer Louden’s The Women’s Retreat Book, which were to “disengage from the externally referenced world (What should I be doing? What would others think of this?), and from the web of connections and commitments to others.”(1) I chose to engage only in activities that fed me or freed me. For a whole week!
I made a list of everything that was a No. It included news and social media, house cleaning and repair, paperwork piles, driving my car anywhere—everything that felt like a distraction. I also made a list of everything that was a Yes: joy, play, creativity, laughter, dancing, Nothing, art, healing, hiking, meditation, mindful eating, and (of course) writing. I traveled through each moment for seven days freely choosing Yes.
It turns out that this was a lot like Marie Kondo-ing my Life. Marie Kondo is the Netflix queen of organizing. She helps people go through the physical objects in their home and get rid of clutter. The process reconnects them with the sensations of joy, and they end up surrounded only by objects that embody that. By Marie Kondo-ing my activities, I learned to discard the “shoulds” and I practiced long-lasting connection with the flow of the Universe.
Through this I realized that my old Work Mantra was based on the idea that I could somehow ‘get ahead’ if I just performed more, or faster, or did more things at once. It made me feel hurried, pressured against Time, and energetically dead.
‘Getting Ahead’ is really the same thing as achievement. Achievement can be big milestones, like a new job or a new house or a graduation. It can also be hidden in smaller activities, like doing “just one more thing” from my paper pile even though I’m already drained. The drive to achieve can be fed by my own expectations—needing to “contribute to society” or “help my family/my team”, and then saying Yes to more than I can do. I often feel guilty for not doing enough.
I learned that a lot of those things on my No list—the Getting Ahead/Achievement list, keep me confined in ego function. As Osho, the Zen Master says,“This moment…this herenow…is forgotten when you start thinking in terms of achieving something. When the achieving mind arises, you lose contact with the paradise you are in…Forget about sin and forget about saintliness: both are stupid…How can you live joyously?” (2)
How can I live in the moment? According to Osho, it is a simple choice. “Either you can be in Existence or you can be in Self—both are not possible together. To be in the self means to be apart, to be separate…to draw a boundary line around you…The self isolates. And it makes you frozen—you are no longer flowing…In Love the boundaries disappear; in joy also the boundaries disappear.”(3)
During the week I let the boundaries disappear. To continue the fruits of retreat, as I emerged I developed a new Work Mantra: Open Up To the Joy of Existing.
- (HarperCollins, 2004), p. 3
- Osho, Osho Zen Tarot (St. Martin’s Press, 1994), p. 132
- Ibid, p. 122.