Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way
Gathering in a flourishing way (after the title of a poem by Juan Felipe Herrera) is the essence of what we are doing when we go on retreat together, stepping out into the unknown to rediscover ourselves, to wake up together in a deeply nourishing way. Entering an unfamiliar culture with respect and awe, and this feeling that everything is new and vibrant, yet respecting that for those who live there this is their everyday. We returned just over a week ago from our yoga and meditation retreat at Finca Luna Nueva (New Moon Farm) in Alajuela Province, San Juan, Costa Rica, an “ecolodge” and working biodynamic farm. In some ways it is being back in far Northern Wisconsin in the middle of a blizzard that brings me back to Costa Rica, and makes me wonder if I didn’t pay close enough attention to the details.
Some of what I am remembering: Practicing together in the Palapa—the outdoor pavilion—where meditating facing the rainforest seemed like the natural thing to do, where the sounds of rain, birds, insects and monkeys made the passing world more vivid, and nature mixing with mantras and silence was perfect. The little lizards squawking up in the pavilion ceiling, or landing on the shiny floor. The tiny stingless bees, or “mariolas”, literally “fairies”, hovering harmless near a few heads in Savasana. Exploring the grounds and surroundings devoted to regenerative organic agriculture, heading out into the regenerating rain forest. Being led by generous and wise guides whose eyes opened up worlds for us. Making chocolate together in an outdoor kitchen—roasting the fermented cacao beans in a skillet, grinding them with cayenne, allspice and annatto in an ancient metate, mixing the paste with hot water for a pre-colonial bitter drink, and then with milk and sugar for the taste we are more used to. Ginger, Turmeric, Betel, Jack Fruit, Papaya and Monkey Tail Fern. The cinnamon bark and vanilla pods in the drying hut. The Arenal Volcano and the suspension bridges of Mistico Park like in an Indiana Jones movie—how by the sixth one I was almost unafraid.
The impossibly tall trees, some of which turn out to be entwined communities (air plants, leaf cutter ants) that last long beyond the original form.
Other moments that stand out: Driving through San Jose out into the countryside, all the bars on the windows reminding me of living in Los Angeles, and yet this felt so much safer than L.A. And was that true or just because it was unfamiliar? All the colorful and mostly pastel buildings. That was lot like Los Angeles too. Why do people in Northern climates choose such bland colors for their homes?
On retreat, in this sort of pop-up community, a closeness developed from practicing yoga and meditation together, living in proximity, eating together, lounging in hammocks, sometimes being alone. For most, joining in a community service project to paint the house of a local Amish family. And for some, hiking the Cabalonga Trail, early morning bird watching, horseback riding to the Fortuna Waterfall.
Some of us did our first headstands. Some of did our first daily practice of yoga and meditation. Some were deeply moved by the slow motion rustling of giant leaves.
And had I followed my instructions to others, to learn from the natural world, to let everything I encountered on retreat wake me up? Immersed in this beauty, had I truly seen it? Had I recognized my own? I know I saw the beauty in others, and as a “leader” of this retreat, I was buoyed by it.
“Smrti”, the Sanskrit word mostly translated as “mindfulness”, really means remembering. In remembering, we can embody what we learned, and bring that to our lives. We can remember who we are, our true and essential nature and stand fully grounded in that.