[This is a makeup post for yesterday: I lost internet connection so am posting now. Enjoy]
Returning to the Vedanta Convent after such a long time away, I can feel how long it has been since I was last here, and how needed this personal retreat is for me.
Much here is the same, as it always is. The convent grounds are beautiful, though a little dried out from the California drought gripping the state. The nuns are still busy and full of energy, always welcoming, joyful, and bitingly funny; a new nun has joined the convent a few months ago, and this brings another wonderful spirit to the place.
And going into the temple tonight for arati, or evening worship, Ramakrishna still sits in the center of the altar, surrounded by blossoming flowers, flanked on either side by paintings of Buddha and Jesus. Arati in the temple has always been my favorite time here. The temple grows dark as the sunsets – it smells of sandalwood incense; the wooden ceiling and proud columns generate warmth and comfort; candles flicker as one of the nuns performs the daily ceremony of offering the four elements before the altar: water, fire, earth, and aether. And then the singing begins and the nuns’ voices are heavenly, lifting the spirit up. Then it is time for meditation.
If I am honest, it has been a long time I have practiced the meditation proscribed to me by my guru. And like any muscle, my practice has grown weak from under-use. I found myself struggling to concentrate. Despite the beauty of the place and the great spirit there, my thoughts turned negative.
Right now I am in a great period of transition. What do I want to do with my life? Where I am going? How shall I live? What is my purpose? These and other thoughts began to infiltrate my mind relentlessly and I found them turner even darker, more negative. ‘You are worthless’ ‘You will never accomplish anything’ ‘You are wasting your time’ ‘You always make mistakes’.
Panic and anxiety gripped me and I left the temple feeling unsettled and unsure of myself.
Thankfully, that’s why the nuns are here.
“You are still so young,” they said. “You should be making mistakes. You should be trying everything to see what works. Don’t settle for anything less until you find what works for you.
It is a long journey. And you have time.”
This retreat is a time to reflect and let go of negative thoughts and feelings. I must be kind to myself. If I am not kind to myself how can I be kind to other people? If I am not patient with myself, how can I be patient with others? If I do not love myself, how can I share love?