Post-Guo Gu’s Meditation Retreat Thoughts:

Post-Guo Gu’s Meditation Retreat Thoughts:            

by Tim Weiss

 
Before I venture into my reflections on the meditation practice guided by Guo Gu, allow me to make a couple of remarks so that you get a better feeling for who is writing this reflection piece.
 
First of all, I have to admit, I am not a well-read Buddhist who worked through a number of key publications before engaging in meditation. I, instead, put the practice always first. Why you may ask? Meditation is a unique part of my life that is not filled with examination, interrogation and deep analysis — the question why something is the way it is and how it could or even should be different. I rather tend to insulate my meditation practice from how my mind treats other parts of life such as family, friends or work (I am an academic). That also means that I do not engage in intensive reading or interaction with others on Buddhism and the practice itself. I feel words sometimes unnecessarily complicate and also frame/distort my own practice. You may say that I am leaving out a whole other dimension to it all and you are probably right but this is the mind through which I experience retreats and meditation. That means that retreats in general are extremely special occasions for me that reinvigorate my practice with new energy — a result out of the unique opportunity to share quality time in silence with pure strangers. 
 
What unfolds over a weekend is truly magnificent: Care, affection, respect, joy and mindfulness for others and oneself are expressed and transmitted through subtle ways that don’t follow the interaction patterns that we are so used to in our day-to-day lives. The mind focuses in the absence of words no more on what is said but starts to clear up the many layers through which we filter our experience of our surrounding world and our own self. Put differently and a little less “spiritual,” everything becomes a little more real, as if, after a few years, you finally clean your glasses, ears, nose and mouth. Life and all its sensations suddenly becomes more intense as your focus shifts away from words and enters new worlds. Sharing these important moments of life is a deeply personal and at the same time a deep communal experience — one can’t exist without the other. 
 
That said, it is certainly not easy to create the “right” atmosphere for a retreat. Guo Gu and the team from the Dharma Drum Mountain San Francisco Bay Area Center, however, have done exactly that, they created a warm space (not only in the emotional and spiritual sense, it actually happened to be quite cold outside so warmth really did matter) that made me feel instantaneously welcome and part of the group, even though it was my first time to visit the center. This warmth carried through the whole weekend and formed the basis of my meditation practice. 
 
Even though I don’t engage in deep analysis and reflection on the practice and meditation — as you by-now know — there are still three noteworthy points to the meditation experience during the retreat.
 
First, Guo Gu is a remarkable teacher who makes his profound knowledge of Chan accessible in a candid, clear and straight-forward way that was hitherto unknown to me. His words were easy to absorb, make sense of and internalize and especially the guided meditation significantly enhanced my practice. I am quite certain that this was not the last time that I attended one of his retreats.

Second, the alternating sequence of light yoga and meditation was the exact right mix for me that didn’t distract me from my practice but did quite the contrary and incredibly intensified the actual practice. Thank you to both instructors for their wonderful guidance.
 
Third and the most striking of all was the group. I have joined a number of meditation groups in different locations all over the globe and I must admit this group was truly special. And it is exactly because of the attributes that I had mentioned before — the care, affection, respect, joy and mindfulness of each participant that orchestrated in its sum to a special and somehow difficult to describe sensations and experience. It was beautiful and truly inspiring to see the seemingly so natural devotion with which each one engaged in the practice. This “natural” connection to the meditation and the group is what kept me awestruck and still does as I am writing these words. It is something that I can’t describe with words but rather needs to be lived and discovered – everyone on their own.
 
Finally, as I am writing this, I realize that I omitted an important part in the introduction that is I am originally from Germany. Its people are known for a critical and oftentimes very serious mind, a notion that I would subscribe to myself as well. I guess you wouldn’t think so having read my words but this just shows again how unique and special my time with Guo Gu and the Dharma Drum Mountain San Francisco Bay Area Center really was. 
 
Thank you for that!
Tim
 
P.S.: A shout out to all the individuals behind the scenes who made this such a smooth retreat and especially to the cooking crew with their mad skills. I enjoyed every bite!