How a Meditation Retreat Can Change Everything


By Daniel Hessey //

Acharya Bill McKeever and I led a dathün a few years ago, and at the beginning of the month–long retreat, he filled a glass of water and stirred some mud into it. It became murky and funky. You could not see through the glass, and you wouldn’t want to drink it. Even when the the water stopped swirling, the dirt remained suspended and the water opaque.

Bill put the glass on the shrine, where it sat untouched for four weeks. The first week, it didn’t seem to change all that much, but on the second week you could see some sediment accumulating at the bottom—though the water was not clear. The third week, you could see through the water much better, though it was still a little brown. Then, in the fourth week, Bill picked up the glass and drank from the clear water above all the mud that had settled to the bottom.

Daily meditation practice changes everything. We learn we can make friends with ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions, and discover that we can be stable, gentle and aware in the swirl and momentum of our life. Each day we practice, we are going to an oasis of nonaggression and simplicity.

Longer meditation retreats allow us to go deep into the vast world that opens when we don’t struggle with ourselves, but allow ourselves to simply be—just like the glass of muddy water on the shrine. It just takes time to settle, to open, to care for who and what we are.

In the Shambhala tradition, we know that no matter how muddy a person’s glass of water may be, the water itself can never be polluted, because it is inherently clear and pure. Even when there is pollution or garbage in the water, the water itself is intrinsically good. When we practice together with simplicity, and patience, we realize that we don’t have to be afraid of who we are, and so the swirling confusion suspended in the present moment can gradually resolve itself. Dathün is a month of not stirring the water.

In dathün we find ourselves in the company of other people who are taking the opportunity to trust themselves fundamentally, and to apply the techniques and disciplines used by 2,600 years of meditators to let the water clear.

Being with other brave people in community is an incredible encouragement for our practice. When we practice this way, we feel not just our goodness, but the goodness of our friends as well. Clear water is a perfect lens that reflects the hearts of all sentient beings.


About the Author

Acharya Daniel Hessey has been a student of Shambhala Buddhism since 1971 and has taught extensively throughout the U.S. and South America. Since 2004, he has studied the I Ching with Eva Wong, a Taoist Qigong lineage holder and translator of classical Chinese texts. Dan is also a former director of Shambhala Mountain Center.

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