I completed a 5-day meditation retreat at Karme Choling here in Vermont last week. Karme Choling, www.karmecholing.org, is the oldest Tibetan Buddhist retreat center in North America. It was a farm owned by students of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. They invited him to teach, and so, in 1970, it was the first place he visited upon arriving in the United States. From then, Karme Choling’s mission has been to present the profound teachings of this luminary whose life work was devoted to giving people a means of creating enlightened society and experiencing sacred world. The old farm now melds into buildings that house glorious shrine rooms and dormitories for participants. Delicious, organic food is still grown and prepared. It is a jewel in the quiet, prosaic hills of Vermont.
At retreat end, snow was softly falling as I made my way back to my car in the dark. My mind had expanded into such stillness over the course of the retreat that it took many moments sitting in the car to remember how cars work and what they accomplish. Normally, I am a confident and competent driver. However, I had to re-accustom to the experience of hurtling down rural Vermont roads at 33 miles an hour on a snowy night without being utterly terrified.
After many retreats, I am used to this experience: the gradually shift from big, clear, quiet, awake mind - and heart - to the everyday mind we use in ordinary life. If meditation progresses, these two minds integrate, the former trumping the later. To hang onto retreat mind is to stay in a bubble, which does nothing for any kind of good society. That’s a hangover.
Two hours later, back in driving mode, almost home, a snowy owl came down out of the dark night sky directly in front of my car. With white wings expanded, it stayed traveling with me, just ahead of me, for three slow and graceful wing beats, then disappeared back up into the night. All joyful dharma joy.