By Michelleanne Bradley
My Buddhist practice saved my life.
Much like anything else that is life-saving, I have a relatively constant struggle with Buddhism. Even with my home monastery, which has provided the solid foundation of active practice from which I could jump and return time and time again, I still constantly struggle with my place and my relationship there.
I am very sarcastic by nature.
I have a proclivity to foul language. I come from a long line of very cynical people. When I first started going to what became my home monastery, there was a very loud tape running in my head saying, “yeah, these people can not be this authentic—cannot be this nice. They will never make it in the outside world…” (and that is the clean version). I have been practicing here since roughly 2003.
I am not awesome about going on retreats, but I love them. They are hard, and hard to come out of, and retreat rebound is a real thing. Plus, I have this crazy travel schedule, so confirming a time when my income is super dependent on being on the other side of the country occasionally is not as easy as it may seem. Please note that this does not mean that I do not have a very consistent daily practice, just that I find retreats difficult to plan for on a regular basis.
I went to the Facilitator Retreat at Deer Park in April.
I was not expecting what happened when we were there. We were scheduled for Bell training, Sitting meditation training and Walking meditation training. The sessions were interesting enough, and working with the nuns was amazing (working with the nuns is always amazing). I was expecting more people from our local Sanghas, but the new people I met really connected at the heart.
What really made the retreat amazing was not the trainings, although they provided great framework around the really juicy parts. But what made up the juicy parts was the way that everyone showed up—the imperfect bits, the privilege, holding the mirror and naming the parts that do not get brought out and spoken above a whisper in other places. What made this gathering beautiful was the way that we voiced our stories, with respect, and genuine questions that were not shamed, or silenced, because people had the space to speak their truth even when their voices shook.
One of the reasons that I have looked upon Deer Park as the solid platform from where I leap into practice is because I did not feel like I was free to express my edges here in ways that I could in other traditions, or other Sanghas. What I realize now is that the limitations were all boulders that I had placed in my own way, and that other people faced this same issue in this space.
What I saw here at this retreat is that a space actually exists where we can have a voice concerning race, gender, gender identity, sexuality and safe places for sexual energy.
There is a place where we can navigate these landscapes, where taking a breath and speaking aloud about where there is pain, where we have questions, and where we push the edges of our comfort. And we can meet those spaces with grace.
This retreat restored some long-lost faith in gaps in our communication that I see in our larger community. I needed this the way that I need the air to breathe. This is one facet of why Sangha is so important. This is where we face our edges with grace and a net.
Editor: Dana Gornall