My plane hits the runway at SFO and I twirl my ring nervously. I read the inscription embalmed on the band: “Be the Change You Wish to See in the World.” – Ghandi. After a long flight, I’m excited and exhausted all at the same time. I’ve traveled 18 hours to attend my first retreat with Mindful Schools. The first three days will be in silence, and then we will move into four days of workshops.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Ghandi
I’ve been a wellness teacher for over 30 years, and I’ve been practicing yoga, tai-chi and qi-gong for 15. I have always felt drawn to mindfulness, so I decided to apply to the Mindful Schools year-long Mindful Teacher Certification Program. While I’m not a traditional classroom teacher, I’m a teacher at heart (teaching anyone from teenagers to seniors) so the Mindful Schools program felt like the right fit for me.
I have been practicing mindfulness with the Mindful Schools community for many months leading up to this retreat, and yet I sit at the airport with so much anticipation. Will I actually be able to go almost three days without speaking and talking to other people? Me? The chatterbox in the family who could talk to a brick wall?
I realize that all my hours of practice on “just being” meant that I was, moment-by-moment, fully aware of “arriving” for a new adventure.
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The First Day
The retreat center is rustic and its views are stunning. High mountains with fluffy white clouds pasted on blue skies. Mommy deer and baby deer are everywhere. I feel expansive and so lucky. Those of us who arrive early are able to meet and greet and converse over a wonderful dinner. The food is yummy and the conversation, divine! Finally–I find what I have been yearning for: a community of like-minded people who find mindfulness as interesting and fascinating as I do. Hooray!
We have our first session with the Mindful Teacher faculty and are given the ground rules for the silence part of the retreat—no writing, no reading, no electronics, no phones, please look down instead of direct eye contact and no talking during meals. My first thought is, “How am I going to survive this?”
After the conclusion our first night’s session, I have five minutes to quickly meet my new roommate, then BOOM! The “silence” curtain goes down and we practice not communicating over the next two and a half days. During this time, I feel a range of emotions: I’m miserable. I’m sleepy. I’m tired. I’m bored. I’m excited. I’m relaxed. I’m tense. I’m every emotion that ever was, and then I’m back on my cushion again.
I break down after day one. I request a private session with Nicole Libin. Even though I’m with 90 other people, I feel so alone. I cry; I complain; I weep. I break the rules when I meet a dear friend, Josephine, who was triggered. And Debbie too. We all walk the labyrinth together. We all cry. We all complain. We all weep. I don’t feel so alone anymore.
While in silence, Oren Jay Sofer gives a heartfelt talk about trees communicating and how they “speak” to each other through their root systems. I feel like that is what I am silently doing with my fellow teachers.
After the initial adjustment into silence, the “settling in” was a magical space for me. It was as if my nervous system was able to calm down for the first time ever. I was actually “grounded” and “rooted” with my fellow practitioners. I’d been teaching “rootedness” in tai-chi for many years, but never before had I experienced it with my body, mind and spirit.
Finally, after breaking silence, Julie Merrick, a fellow participant, shares a profound observation. “In the silence, I could hear the sound of the drop of one leaf as it touched the ground.” Julie’s observation touches me deeply.
I do tai-chi one morning on top of a hill and I see one majestic tree and a grove of trees in the distance. It is a magical view. I am so inspired that I write a poem.
The next four days are delightful. After silence, our retreat moves into workshops, discussions and facilitation demonstrations from fellow participants.
I present about Getting Over Your Fears: Research & Mindfulness, based on my work at the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. I want to teach others that research is really not that daunting. It’s a mindset. My intention is to help others get over their fears and realize in 10 “easy” steps that it really can be done, honest! Fellow participants approach me afterward and say they appreciated how I broke down research into “manageable chunks.”
I connect with the three people in my working group and I don’t ever want to leave them. I sit at the “elder” table one evening and we all remark that we don’t feel “elderly;” but perhaps it is the white hairs that place us in this category! I meet a male teacher from the South who teaches martial-arts to kids and learn to see the retreat from a male perspective.
As a lifelong learner, I can’t recall a time when I had so much fun learning with such a diverse group of people. Each interaction helped me to be present with the magic of each moment.
At the end of the week, I feel a profound shift. I finally found the community, the grove of trees, the tribe I had been seeking.
The Mindful Teacher program came alive for me in that retreat. It was the culmination of, and also the beginning of, a journey of self-discovery, self-work and self-love. I feel a debt of gratitude to the teachers, the moderators, the support staff and everyone at Mindful Schools for helping me in those profound moments of silence. I believe that in the silence, we can all listen and we can all learn how to be the change that WE wish to see in the world.
Grace Tsai Tsuyuki, Ph.D is a holistic, meditative arts practitioner and owns WabiSabi Wellness, a company which teaches others to “embrace the imperfections of their lives.” She has been teaching wellness classes which include yoga, tai-chi and qi-gong for over 30 years. Mindfulness has been an ongoing journey of self-discovery. Grace completed the Mindful Schools Mindful Teacher Certification Program in 2018. She has 4 beautiful daughters ages 11 to 17 and her greatest aspiration in this lifetime is to be a kind mother and loving wife.
Julie Merrick has been kind enough to jump start the Majestic Tree Project whereby the proceeds from the sale of Grace’s poem mentioned in the blog benefits the Mindful Schools Scholarship Fund. If you are interested in getting a copy of the Calligraphy Poem please contact Julie Merrick at email@example.com with your mailing address. $24.99 includes one print and shipping costs.