Earlier this month I spent a week at the Feathered Pipe Ranch sharing the “Mindful Unplug Experience.” It's a retreat I was involved in co-creating but that only came to life thanks to imaginative co-guides and the spectacularly brave people who took the leap and showed up. Here's the miracle: everyone shared a commitment to finding ways not only to "better tolerate” our stricken and confused human condition, but to being willingly present to life for the sake of its full flowering.
Only a couple weeks out from the Mindful Unplug, what’s come into sharper focus is just how rare such an experience is. Hashtag blessed.
Even for those intimately involved in experimenting with contemplative practices, being in an environment for more than a few hours or a weekend supports a deeper, and profoundly lasting, appreciation of the value of mindful living.
Immersing ourselves for a stretch in the 'grammar of mindfulness' is a way of getting better at understanding more of its dialects. It all seems more doable when you don't have to jump from a carefully choreographed mindfulness lesson straight back in to cleaning a litter box or running errands. Even though, of course, the whole idea is to make conscious living a round-the-clock engagement.
An extended pause, a meaningful 'time out,' helps a lot.
I've been trying to distill the “tenets of intention” (I know, sounds fancy) that made such a difference in our time together. I’ve memorialized four of them. What was it that we all committed to, accidentally or on purpose, that contributed to transformative alchemy?
First, acknowledging that it's worth giving your life some attention. Embracing and embodying a new, mindful way of being is a radically different approach to living. But if you’re weary of being weary, then you’re asking for something new to happen. For something that isn’t your usual experience of life. It’s a recognition that having a better experience of life requires some diligence.
Second, that “inner peace” doesn’t come from ‘out there,’ but rather it’s inside and potentially accessible in every moment. To have an ongoing, conscious experience of it, most of us need to first un-learn some of our habits: resisting our own good; unconsciously surrendering to reactiveness and fear; and defaulting to mindless autopilot to white-knuckle it through our days. Breath, mindful movement, user-friendly meditation, and sensory inquiry all contribute to training for a new way to be in the world. One that doesn't request that you relinquish your peace.
Third, that it’s possible to move out of reactiveness, defensiveness, and fear into the terrain of equanimity by making the choice, moment to moment, to pay attention. It was everyone's hope that the folks who took the bold leap, traveling to a Montana Ranch most had never visited, might uncover some big and little ways to do that — and then really start to get the hang of it. And enjoy it. They did.
We all did. I learned so much from our time there.
For instance, here's something: maybe these practices can return us to life with a recognition that it really doesn’t matter how crazy the world, or anyone else, is being. Our peace is independent of all that. Maybe the sages had this right after all. This could be huge.
It doesn't mean that we don't do whatever we can to contribute to mending The Crazy. But maybe we don't have to ditch our sanity in the process. Mend our minds, mend the world? It's worth a shot.
Finally, that fun is an indispensable ingredient. There’s nothing that says waking up to our true nature and living mindfully has to be a furrowed brow affair. Laughing until your face hurts helps the lessons stick.
A deep bow of thanks to the conscientious, attentive Feathered Pipe pit crew for ministering to all of us so attentively and with so much love — on the food front, the lodging front, the bodywork front, the take us on a canyon hike front, the share madcap tales about the Ranch's history front, and the "can someone run into town and get me my favorite lip balm" front. And to co-guide friends, Zane, Amir, and Todd, monumental thanks for putting so much heart and creativity into the week.
Most of all, a prolonged bow, high fives, and bajillion fist bumps to the 30+ souls that truly showed up so we could all experiment with these practices. I learned more from you than you might ever imagine. You were all so well-stocked with stupid jokes too. I didn't expect that. Thank you.
And I'm thrilled that we're giving this a fresh go again next summer (13-20 July). We've begun brainstorming and dreaming up 2019's gathering, based on inspiration from participant feedback and all the lessons learned.