By Katherine Kaufman
Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained in the Soto Zen lineage of Kobun Chino Roshi. She taught and practiced yoga for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and has studied in India. Below she shares the inspiration for her annual winter women’s yoga and meditation retreat “Precious Knowing.”
I have the good fortune to be at the Shambhala Mountain Center at this moment so I can tell you what it is like in the winter here — at least right now. Still & quiet. Today I walked up to the ridge — maybe to get nearer to the sun. There was some trudging through snow and also big patches with no snow. I rested on an outcropping of rocks. A group of deer were close to the Stupa. They looked up at me and leapt away as if gravity were no problem. Inside the Stupa I was struck by what feels like the thickness of many years of people practicing. The good humored gentleness and authentic way of the staff feels so warming. I am called back to this place. This is one of my homes.
My idea for the women’s retreats began from my sense that it would be great to gather, and do practices on the coldest day of the winter and the hottest day of the summer and that the retreats would reflect the seasons they are in somehow. Women particularly need gaps in routine to pause, leave their responsibilities, and have a time to reconsider where they are in their lives, and be with other women. That this is a retreat for women with emphasis on formal practices, is a big part of the title, “precious knowing.”
Even though I have had many years to refine these retreats it still amazes me that something happens — it feels magical. We are very simply practicing together: gentle yoga, meditation, and a little improvisational movement in the afternoons. We take our naps, bundle up and walk in the forest and up to the Stupa alone and together. The group is small enough so that we can sit around a table for meals. We discuss things that are important to us, and begin to know each other in a way that is different perhaps, from our usual knowing another. In certain ways I feel like this must be how women in small villages live. It feels so natural, for women to join and support each other this way.
This particular retreat is one where I facilitate rather than impart knowledge and I also don’t see it as a training program. Although there is instruction and we are practicing ancient forms this retreat is really about participating in practices all together, as well as sharing our combined wisdom. On some level we each know what we need already. The practices of sitting, yoga, movement, and sharing help facilitate our inner knowing. Sometimes our practice requires silence, sometimes questions, sharing, laughter or an evening by the fire. Most evenings we listen as each woman has her time to share. We acknowledge our differences and find a sense of acceptance and kindness. So we do this for a few days — simple and basic. Time slows — or we — by our practice — slow time.
And from this work, and play combined with being on the land we begin to feel more of our inner experiences — something shifts in us — a crack in the view. Something that has been propped up melts, and underneath a sense of relaxation occurs. Our desire for some rest, connection, realization is simply exchanged for actual practice. We experience something tender. When we return to our homes, our ways and days, the practice and the precious knowing continues.