The other day I stumbled upon the group photo you see here, taken at the 2015 Lion’s Roar retreat. I immediately felt a little tug on my heart as I recalled our time together. You get to know people during a meditation program—and I’m not talking about the usual resume stuff. A retreat provides a safe space for you to open your heart a little wider, to be a little more vulnerable and exposed.
I had a moment of exposure while coordinating last year’s retreat, just prior to a livestream of the event. It was my job to introduce the first teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, but as I waited for my cue I realized I was being overtaken by fear. Sylvia called out to me to come join her on stage while we waited, to which I responded (to her and a room full of participants) that I was dealing with a bit of stage fright.
Well, Sylvia immediately explained that this was going to be a practice for me then. And everyone got involved. She had me stand at the front of the room and do loving-kindness practice. While I can’t say my practice was wholly effective, the loving-kindness being offered back to me by participants was palpable. I got through the on-camera introduction just fine, even though I was still experiencing fear in my body.
In the sessions that followed, fear continued to arise for me every time I was to do an introduction during the livestream, but it was no longer a problem or something to beat myself up about. It had become a practice—and not just my practice. Each time, participants supported and encouraged me, making eye contact, offering warm smiles, even calling out “We love you!” At the end of the program, one person came up and thanked me for allowing everyone to share in my experience of stage fright and working through it. She said it had been very powerful for her.
We all have sides of ourselves that we’d rather keep hidden, and sometimes we don’t even know what those are until they’re staring us in the face or knocking us over. It’s a real gift to be able to explore those dark corners in a supportive environment—especially one that’s embraced by dharma.
This year’s Lion’s Roar retreat is once again being led by three outstanding Buddhist teachers: Karen Maezen Miller, Anyen Rinpoche, and Josh Korda. Together they will be exploring how to work with difficult emotions according to the teachings of their respective traditions: Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, and Vipassana. They bring a depth of practice and study as well as real life experience, making them excellent guides for navigating emotions. A special focus of these Lion’s Roar retreats is creating opportunities for practitioners from all traditions—and those with no particular affiliation—to come and sit together, contemplate together, and come to know one another. This year, our retreat is at the Garrison Institute, a bastion of calm set in 95 acres of woods and gardens, just 50 miles north of New York City and easily accessible by train or car. Our hope is that this proximity to New York and its transit hubs makes this as accessible as I’m sure it will be profound.
I hope those of you who are able to attend will welcome the opportunity to soften and open to whatever arises.