On Spiritual Retreat

image credit: Rachel Ward

Like we do every summer, this past July XC hosted our Inner Justice Intensive retreat (IJI), one of our signature offerings for agents of change. It’s a retreat that’s meant to support activists in connecting to their inner selves so that the work they do comes from a place of true alignment, because how we are is how we do things.

This year we did things a little differently, though. We split the retreat in half, spending the first couple of days focusing on how we show up in our work. Most of this was reflected back to us through focusing on how we organize our work and how that can help us get things accomplished. We spent a lot of time outlining upcoming projects, determining tasks, next actions, etc. Not exactly what you’d expect from a meditation retreat. But then again, if how we are is reflected in all we do, and we spend a lot of our lives working–doing things we hate, things we love, things that we feel completely indifferent about–then work is a perfect time to practice. And in some ways, focusing on productivity was no different than coming back to the breath when the mind wanders during meditation. Only in this instance, we were coming back to look at the things we avoid working on, and then looking at them again and again.

Our general practice was not much different: walking, sitting, eating. And, of course, everything was done in silence.

During the second half of our retreat, we also practiced formal oryoki. This is also sometimes called mindful eating. It’s a beautiful practice. It’s also very precise. Chopsticks and spoons are placed in particular positions; certain bowls are used for certain things; everyone begins eating at the same time; and so on.

During oryoki, we were served food that didn’t stir our senses (so, yes, no double fudge brownies), so that we wouldn’t get distracted and attached to the food. Practice, after all, is about being in the moment, not in the next moment or the last moment.

The benefits of oryoki differ from person to person. I always appreciate chewing my food thoroughly and completely, enjoying each taste, texture, and bite. Others, love the precision around placing things just so, and others find they have a better appreciation for the food and for the process of how the food got to their plate.

Overall, what we receive from all of that practice varies every year. I never quite know what will shift for me, but I always know something will. And, again, this year it did.

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