February 14, 2013
A few years ago I decided to set aside the time to do a long retreat. I began setting the wheels in motion a year ahead—I decided I would take six months off, and spend four months in silence at the Forest Refuge. Over the course of that year, there were a series of unfortunate events in my personal and professional life: a global economic crisis forcing me to lay off staff, a car accident, my mom nearly dying, the water main bursting at my home office forcing us to shut down for a week…by the time the retreat arrived, I was in deep need. I was truly exhausted, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
I had begun to experience panic attacks and claustrophobia. In my work life I felt like a hologram—just show up and project. On the plus side, I remained confident that the anxiety could be resolved through dharma practice. I never wondered, “Why is this happening to me?” Each event simply occurred, and I did my best to meet it in the moment.
When I arrived at the retreat, I was very defensive. In the retreat environment, my few interactions with staff and teachers put my defensiveness in high relief. While I might be able to blame them on some level for not understanding my need, I could see very clearly that my defensiveness was not helping the situation. I could not blame anyone for my angry and fearful response.
Seeing this, I decided to cultivate compassion for myself and all beings. It seemed the only way out—or through—the mess of my mind. My energy was so low that I often had to lie down. Sitting was physically difficult as well. I felt as though I had been admitted to the hospital. The prescription for recovery was four months of solitude, breathing, and compassion.
The Buddhist Heart Replacement is a graphic representation of the potential for transforming our hearts and minds that came through sometime after that retreat. The potential to develop the heart-mind is truly limitless. Myths and ideas that limit us can fall away, and the heart opens to reveal love.
Cator Shachoy began the practices of vipassana, yoga, and craniosacral bodywork in 1990 to heal a chronic illness. She now lives in San Francisco, where she is in private practice as a craniosacral practitioner, and teaches yoga and meditation to adults and youth. She is the founder of Youth Yoga Dharma.