I recently returned from a one-week meditation retreat for practitioners of color at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. I try to attend at least one meditation retreat annually – it’s such an important reset for me, as a practitioner living “in the world” (as opposed to living as a monastic).To unplug from day-to-day life for a period of time and delve deeply into practice is a kind of purification.
Every retreat experience is different and one never knows what will come up. I look forward to sharing reflections from this particular retreat with you in upcoming blog posts, but I wanted to start off with a little of my post-retreat experience.
It’s not uncommon for the transition back from a meditation retreat to be challenging. One can drop into a very deep, peaceful state during an extended period of practice, and being back in the world can feel quite jarring. Fortunately, I sometimes joke that “my life is a meditation retreat,” so it’s not as jarring as it could be!
Except — when listening to the news, upon my return — not only the content of what’s going on, but the tone of it as well. It’s hard to deny that the tone of public discourse (especially political discourse) has turned uglier and more hateful in the last year or two. But the conversations that we hear in mass media shapes our perception of “reality” – our understanding of what the world is about, how we feel we must engage in and with the world, and even what is possible.
In the title of this piece, the “Red Pill” is a reference from the movie The Matrix. By taking the red pill, the true nature of the matrix that humans are living in is revealed – one is awakened from delusion, the reality that is created by those in control and that masks what is truly going on, as well as how liberation may be possible.
Meditation retreats set the stage for creating particularly loving communities. Even though we are in silence, there’s a feeling of love and mutual support, of being in it together. Practicing mindfulness can be so heart-opening, and to be in that space as a community is quite beautiful. Being in such communities, I see the beauty and the healing that is possible for the world.
Coming back and being so jarred by the public discourse, I could see with renewed eyes the importance of not being immersed in that version of ‘reality.’ It can cause so much despair, to feel that this is the only ground we have to engage on. I want people to know they don’t have to exist and engage on that plane. We have a choice. The more people live outside that plane, the more hope we have as a species for our collective survival, growth, and evolution. How revolutionary would it be if more people could experience spaces and communities where there is great love, awareness of our interconnection, and basic sanity and goodness?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we have the concepts of both “fighting the pathogenic qi” and “supporting the righteous qi,” or the body’s own capacity to heal. Supporting the righteous, a very important aspect of TCM, is perhaps one of the biggest differences with modern biomedicine, which is more about waging war on disease. Rather than waging war on the public discourse, the more people can see and live outside the confusion and delusion of this view of ‘reality,’ the more we support our collective righteous qi – our love, our compassion, our understanding.
I am very grateful for practice and practice communities that have offered me this “red pill,” to see that the “matrix” of collective insanity that we live in is not the only reality that exists or is possible. And I recognize that for many people, the public discourse is the only conversation, the only version of reality, that they are aware of. In dedicating my practice to the benefit of all beings: I want people to know there is an escape hatch. That another way is possible, another world is possible. One can stay aware of what is happening, without immersing oneself in it. And certainly not buying into and thus reinforcing this world view.