Richard's Retreat Begins
Elonne Stockton writes about Richard Freeman at Samahita Retreat
July 24-31, 2010
July 24-31, 2010
"Thank you very much. It wouldn't have been the same without you. Thank you, Paul. You have a beautiful space here. May it flourish and become a great center for the dharma of interconnectedness."
Richard Freeman's goodbye echoes in my head. He left Samahita Retreat nearly two weeks ago, and I am still struggling to write about what happened. I cannot manage to string a few, measly words together that could possibly do justice to his visit. My efforts are futile; anything I write is insipid compared to the delightfully eloquent words that flow like amrita from the back of the man's palate.
Like a tragic hero, I fail to recognize my own fate. I have yet to fully grasp the concept that there is actually no message to be shared, no major theme with which I can summarily encapsulate Richard's visit. My story may end here with no real catharsis, no grand realization of any kind.
However, the fact that there is nothing to be taken away from our week with Richard in itself captures the beauty of his presence. Richard wants nothing more than to share with us the simple truth of being, to share the unadorned beauty of Yoga. Through deadpan humor and metaphors that would melt the heart of any man, woman or dog alike, he tries to show us that Yoga is more than - and really nothing -- we could ever imagine.
"Practice with compassion and humor," Richard cautioned. "Because there is always a lot more to this than you think there is. If Yoga is 'Chitta Vritti Nirodhah,' then it cannot be what you think it is. It has to be a lot more interesting."
Whatever we think is merely theorizing, hypothesizing. Inevitably, it falls short of the actual experience of Yoga, which we must go through ourselves to understand completely. Until we do, we will continue to talk nonsense and absurdities. And until we do, we will just have to keep practicing, until the "all" in the "all is coming" actually arrives.
Paradoxically, it is in this not knowing that I find a deep sense of comfort. In Richard's presence, I cannot help but smile. Everything is all right because nothing is actually wrong. Nothing is good or bad, right or wrong.
It all just is, and we are all helplessly human, working on ourselves, blundering foolishly:
I like it when you make mistakes. I shouldn't but I do, because it is funny. And why is that? Because the endeavor to be perfect is a game. And so it is just a game we are playing, like cards or chess. But it is a high stakes game we are playing, this religious game. Or we think it is a high stakes game. But it is all pretend money. So if you were to blow the ritual, if you were extremely orthodox you would have to contemplate suicide. It is like the shesha slides out of the little boundary of the game and lets you know what is really going on here. And it is kind of delightful. I think, but I could be in big trouble.
In Richard, I see Voltaire, I see Swift, I see Becket, I see Ionesco, and I see a host of modern comedians. They have all inspired him as he inspires me. This time I felt the comedy quite profoundly. Through their comedy, Voltaire and his contemporaries tried to explain the great secret of the universe, which, as Richard puts it:
The great secret of the universe is that there is no secret, but nobody seems to get that there is no secret because they are always looking for a secret. So it is a paradox. To say that the secret is that there is no secret is obviously a self-reference paradox, which is kind of funny.
And why humor? Laura Linney was on The Daily Show this week and she said of humor:
Humor is a way to survive; it is a way to make sense. There is something about the voice of comedy that clarifies things. If you touch truth it will either be so refreshing or astounding that people will just start to laugh.
And it is humor that allows us to deal with the truth of existence, the truth of impermanence. Although the truth is actually quite liberating, it also terrifies us, so we need the coping mechanism of comedy and laughter.
I asked Richard about the importance of humor, and he said:
Why is humor so funny? Humor is so funny because it is so tragic. Humor reveals the real tragedy of existence, which is that existence is totally impermanent and there are no absolute reference points. And actually that is delightful news, but it is such a scary thing that your mind actually knows it, but is too afraid to admit it.
So humor is there when two things are juxtaposed in such a way that reveals both of them are not true absolutely, and you get really nervous and you say 'heeheehee.' And your palate starts to let go, and that is humor.
Certainly the importance of humor in life, in practice, is a message of Richard's. He continues to encourage us to lighten up and let go of our rigid ways of thinking. But it is not solely what he was trying to have us take away from our week together.
"So I am not sure what the message is here, or what you will take from this retreat," Richard concluded. "But then once the retreat is over you will see that the retreat is just beginning because you will be walking out of here going 'What happened?'"
What did happen, anyway? Now Richard's retreat begins!