A few weeks ago, I returned from an amazing and life-changing week at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. This was my 16th annual trip to the ranch. Being there feeds my soul; it’s part of who I am. Every year feels transformative, but this year was different: I am deeply and profoundly changed. Our group gathered together from across the country and created one of the most amazing weeks I’ve ever experienced. We discussed, meditated, and explored Freedom Yoga in various creative ways, both on and off the mat. We helped each other to relax into uncertainty and spontaneity; we opened ourselves to inner guidance and infinite possibilities; and bravely let Creation move through us in everything we did all week long. We laughed, we cried, sang, danced, shared stories, and became the living art. We even painted our faces and chanted on a mountaintop; an epic experience I will never forget. But most of all, we let our true selves come to the surface and shine. We let ourselves be seen. I feel so real and so fully me; in fact, more so than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.
Many of my local students came on the retreat with me, which was a dream come true. Last week in class we had a wonderful discussion about keeping the retreat experience going. One student mentioned how fully authentic and real she has felt since returning home, and how things are flowing so nicely in her life. Then she voiced her worry and concern that all of this would soon go away in a few months and she’d be back to the way she was before the retreat. “How do I keep this going?” she asked.
One of the amazing and healing things about going on retreat, especially being at the sacred land of the Feathered Pipe Ranch, is that you have the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in remembering who you are. Many of the typical things that we employ in our daily lives to keep us locked in a perpetual state of forgetfulness are
removed for a whole week, such as driving to work, dealing with everything that the workday brings, the incessant multi-tasking, figuring out what to make for dinner, etc. During the retreat week all of that is gone. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do except slow way down, turn inward, stay with the experience, let the unbelievable beauty wash over you, and watch your natural joy and childlike wonder bubble up to the surface as you start laughing more and being wowed by everything around you.
And then, at the end of the week, we take this profound, magical mountaintop experience of spiritual awakening and assimilate it back into our daily lives at home. This can be quite bumpy, which is why it’s often called “re-entry.” It’s difficult to come back into the world of forgetfulness and its accompanying tension and stress, when you’re wide open and in a full state of remembrance. The contrast, which we don’t usually notice, feels huge after a fully immersive retreat experience. The question becomes: How do we come down off the mountaintop experience and go back into the valley of everyday life without losing ourselves again? How do we keep the magic going?
A similar phenomenon happens when we go to our regular yoga classes, too, but on a much smaller scale. We leave all the “stuff” behind for a little while and after class we feel so great, so genuine and full, but then we’re often back to habitual tension of forgetfulness as soon as we put the key into the ignition to go home. In fact, I’ve been asked this same sort of question in class many times: How do you keep this experience going when you go back out into the “real world?”
Whether we’re talking about a fully immersive retreat or simply being in a great class for an hour, the answer to keeping it going is this: you do Yoga. I’m not talking about asana, the yoga poses that you do on a mat, which have become inaccurately synonymous with the word Yoga. Rather, I’m talking about capital-Y Yoga: conscious unity with Infinity. Yoga is the art of living a spiritually connected and guided-from-within life. It’s about remembering who you are: the specific and unique self-expression of The All, and letting that flow through you freely. The trick is keep that going. Remembrance of the truth and living life from the fullness of that perspective is what’s real; it’s the real world. It’s the thing to keep coming back to, again and again, as many times a day as you’re able.
When we come off the mountain and go home, that’s the real world, too. There’s no “real world” and “unreal world.” There’s the real world only, experienced either clearly or unclearly. The difference in the experience is not caused by external sources, but rather the internal choice that we make of remembrance of forgetfulness. There is no force outside of ourselves that will come and take away the transformative experience that we have encountered on the mountaintop. There isn’t a black cloud that will eventually sweep over us, stealing our sunshine. The change in experience, which seems dependent on our location or the company we’re with, is simply the result of a choice that we ourselves make. And every choice is either built on the foundation of remembering our divinity or forgetting it. Each choice ripples out effects that we can feel and experience. So, if we’re not sure if we’re remembering or forgetting, all we have to do is look at what we’re experiencing – calm and peace, or tension and conflict?
Therefore, the power to keep the mountaintop experience of remembrance (of Yoga) going, as we go about our daily lives, lies within ourselves. Living the Yoga, remembering who we are, feeling the effects of calm and peace and being ourselves fully, is our natural state that’s empowered from within. We actually don’t have to do anything to keep it going; we simply just have to stop doing the forgetting.
For many years in my teaching, I have worked with something I call the “minimum edge.” In the asana practice on the mat, I encourage students to become skillful at finding the minimum edge in the pose, to be right there where change is just starting to occur, where you can just begin to feel the outer sensation of the stretch, for example. In that place, we immerse ourselves in the feeling of rightness and then practice following it in, wherever it leads, in minimum edge increments by minimum edge increments. This makes one extremely sensitive in the body, really being able to feel change as it’s happening, rather than after it’s already happened.
This is a great tool for coming back into the conscious experience of Yoga, but can be applied in reverse, as well. When we start to lose the experience of Yoga, the experience of remembering who we are, and begin sliding back into forgetful-world, it’s a process, a movement. You will begin to feel the minimum edges of changing sensation as you morph your way out of rightness. You will begin to feel the outer edges of dissonance, the very beginnings of conflict, of wrongness. The trick is to then catch yourself right there. You’re in the very center of the choice moment. You can continue to go down Forgetful Road if you want – the choice is yours and yours alone. With each step you continue to take forward down the road, the feedback of effects will increase. If you keep walking and disregard the feedback of effects, they will have to intensify quite a lot before they get your attention. Finally, you’ll be a tense, stressed-out mess, thinking, “Yeah, I knew that amazing feeling I had was too good to be true.”
The power is in the pause. Stop. Breathe. Feel. Ask yourself, “What is the quality of my inner experience right now? What am I choosing for – remembrance or forgetfulness?” The full-body pausing practice of seated meditation really helps to cultivate the ability to slow down and stay in the experience of remembrance, so that we learn to stay less in the experience of forgetfulness. With practice, you can access this ability to check in with yourself in moments of natural pause during the day, like the red light, or standing in the kitchen waiting for the microwave to ding. And, with practice, what I’ve found is that all the moments of pausing and remembering link together so that now, I have way less of a “re-entry” experience than I used to have. I’ve learned that the quality of my experience, which seems dependent on external factors outside myself, is actually entirely dependent entirely upon what I’m doing internally with my awareness. This is hugely empowering! It’s up to us. No one and nothing can take away the shiny radiance that we feel when we’re on retreat or even when we’re in a great class. All we have to do is keep on doing the Yoga.