Meet Gary, a YA from Santa Cruz, CA. Since his post last year, Gary participated in the Cohort Program, consisting of video workshops over six months and ending with a weeklong retreat in July. Here Gary shares his experiences at his first weeklong retreat and how it impacted his practice.
After my first or second retreat I remember having reservations about the weeklong, a whole week! It seemed like a marathon, could I stay focused and practice with the intensity of a weekend for a whole week? Would I buckle and want to get out of there?! At some point before the YA cohort program, after experiencing the positive effects of the YA weekends, and from what I've heard from other retreatants and my satsang coordinator, the weeklong seemed like the next natural step, and boy was it ever!
Going into the weeklong retreat in July, because it was the "finale" of this year’s YA cohort program, I thought (for some reason) it was a YA weeklong retreat. I've never been opposed to attending an all ages retreat, I just started with the YAs and have happened to stick with those thus far. To my surprise when I entered the St. Francis room (a little late I might add), I saw a lot of different aged people, and it immediately dawned on me that this was not a YA retreat. Would I be able to connect with the older passage meditators as much as I was able to with the YAs? I don't know if this was a sudden juggling of likes and dislikes, but I instantly took the perspective of looking forward to sharing with passage meditators of all ages.
What stands out to me the most as what I think is a benefit for YAs to attend an all ages retreat, and a weeklong for that matter, is the depth of experience you get from the older retreatants. This especially includes spending more time with the residents at and around the ashram, which there is much more opportunity for during the weeklong. It’s been a hard thing for me to rap my head around, but I believe I felt as close as I ever had to Easwaran during the weeklong. A lot of these folks were around the man, some of them a lot, and are living embodiments of his practice. Even the ones that weren’t, their many years of practice reflect Easwaran. We actually discussed not having your spiritual teacher in the body and how he still is a living force that influences all of our lives. It seems that this has come up as an important way for me to experience and learn from him, by being with people who practice his program, and in the case of the weeklong, especially with individuals who have been for many years.
The weekends also have, but the weeklong gave me what I feel like was a more lasting sense of purpose with my practice, security with who I am and belief in Easwaran's teachings, a total affirmation of the eight points.
I can't recommend these retreats enough. More than any of the other eight points, spiritual fellowship, specifically the retreats, has proven for me (to this point) the most positively transformative point of the practice. If you've benefited from a YA weekend retreat and believe in Easwaran's teachings, the weeklong retreat may be waiting to be the most positively uplifting week of your life, as it was for me.
Gary (back row, 2nd from left) with Christine Easwaran and the other YA Cohorts.