Xhale Yoga retreat: Lessons of Awareness

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Unless you’re a highly enlightened Yogi, when you sign up to a Yoga retreat you will have certain expectations even though you may have no idea what the retreat will encompass. You might think: “Yeah! Let’s learn some stretchy poses and yogic breathing for part of the day and then find something cool to do in the afternoon”. That’s about what my expectations sounded like in my head. That and the intention of an increased focus on my daily TM (transcendental meditation) practice.

From the wording you might already have figured out that it was nothing like that.

When we arrived at the retreat, and it was immediately clear: I was outnumbered 17 to 1. Yup, I was the only guy. At first that felt a bit scary not having a fellow male to speak with when discussions turned to topics that tend to be more of female interest. In the end however I learned a lot more about myself, then I could have ever even with just one other dude present.

When we arrived Boot (our Yogi community chief) gave us an outline of what the rough, daily retreat schedule would look like:
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We arrived at 15:00 and the retreat was to end on Saturday at 13:00, so all days besides these were held to this schedule with a few small variations.

Now I could go through a day by day description of the things we did, but I’m not going to. The reasons are: it’s not poetic, it’s not how I felt time pass, and I honestly think I would mix up the days anyway so there is no point. Instead I’m going to divide it up into lessons I’ve learned, and cover each in a different post. They are not supposed to be just for other people to read, but also an aid for me to be able to think about, and carry them into daily, monthly and yearly life. Furthermore, I think it’s best to leave it Boot’s little secret or surprise schedule. After reading this post, should you find an urge to know what the day to day schedule is, I would really suggest getting a flight to Thailand and making the retreat part of an exploration of this beautiful and life-filled corner of mother earth.

Yogic Lesson number 1: Violence against self is violence toward a living being

One of the dharmas (the word of Buddha if you will) is that of nonviolence. It greeted everyone entering the yoga retreat written on top of the arch.
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When one considers violence at first one may think of verbal abuse, physical violence, war, torture and the like. That they are considered first, undoubtedly has to do with their prominence in the stories of our societies: Movies, Television, Games, News, or the stories told to us by our friends about some violent experience. Of course topics like this will be discussed frequently because we all have the urge to understand why such horrible things exist in the world, and possibly how we could end any one of them. This is due to our inherently good nature. I will attempt to paraphrase Boot because she said it quite well: If you don’t believe Human beings are inherently caring and good creatures, think about how many of you poisoned the food tonight. The simple act of wanting to provide non harming food to each other shows we are inherently caring for each other. It’s a simple example and you might want to argue with me, however the truth is: we are born pure, innocent and loving creatures. Hate, illusion, and ignorance are things that we learn from our environments, no matter how much we actually demonstrate these traits to the outside world. His basically means: apparently evil people only do bad things because of the amount of suffering they have and do experience in their life.

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No matter what opinion one has to the above, it probably can be agreed upon that acts violence are one of the, if not the most discussed topics on the human information highways. However acts of violence against oneself are discussed very little in comparison. Boot gave us an article to read by Phillip Moffit, titled “Violence Against Self” published in Yoga Journal.
He writes:

Gradually I’ve come to realise that violence against oneself is one of the greatest denials of our time. People are very willing to talk about the violence that the world does to them, but they’re much less willing to own [up] to the violence that they do to themselves.

He continues to give very clear examples of how we are often violent to ourselves without even realising. We work through the night on study drugs to hand in that essay or pass that exam, whereby we put our body under extreme forms of stress and create a state of imbalance. We continuously say yes to every task we get set at work, we push our body over the limit at the gym, we judge and abuse our bodies according to an external ideal, we do and do and do. We are violent in so many ways and never actually listen to our body’s sensors or feelings. I cant believe how often I didn’t even care that I was ignoring the intense urge to sleep because of the desire to cram more information in.

Furthermore he explains that due to the strength of the mind-states of wanting (craving) and fear (both of which are the basis of all violence), we often identify with these states as “I” or the “self”. However these mind-states of fear and wanting are just as much conditioned and independent of intention, as is the mind-state of standing up when we try to sit on hot coals. Only when we attribute these fears to and hates as being ours, like we own them, do we allow ourselves us to get to the point that we can rationalize violence. Then surely, the only way gain freedom from violence against self, is to gain an understanding of thoughts, consciousness, feelings and the mind and how there is no real “self” as such to own these feelings in the first place.

Moffit writes:

This is the underlying purpose of yoga, mindfulness meditation, and selfless service, called karma yoga or seva.

My personal opinion is that the only way to ever understand the mind is by precise, objective, and calm observation of suffering and happiness alike. Frankly, nothing in the external world, no religion or belief system (including science) could ever help me gain a better understanding of all this than just focusing within.

Within. The source to contentment is always present there, one just needs to let it become the main contemplation.

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