I returned yesterday from five days with John Prendergast at Santa Sabina Retreat Centre in San Rafael, not far from San Francisco. What is alive for me as a result of this transformative experience is deep gratitude, vast love, sweet gentleness, and a felt sense of landing more fully than ever in the trustworthy ‘ground of being’.

There were about 50 of us gathered from near and far, our daily schedule began at 8am and ended at 8:30pm, and the times outside of sessions were held in silence with the invitation to ‘dive deep’ and ‘attune with silence’ . We were also invited to let in a deep trust in ‘not knowing’ with the ordinary mind.  “Trying to grasp reality with your mind is like trying to grasp the sky with your hand,” John said.

In true sutra style our first full day began ‘at the end’ with the assertion that each of us is already whole, nothing can be taken away from our wholeness, and nothing can be added to it. Knowing this directly (which is not about the mind) is profoundly liberating, regardless of our conditioning and human lacks and flaws, regardless of our limitations, regardless of our wounding (and we are all wounded). As many a wise teacher has said, we are already what we are seeking. The process then is to let go of what is in the way of this embodied knowing of our wholeness. Nisargadatta said, “it is enough to see what is untrue.” This is definitely not the endless and exhausting self- improvement project. This is letting what is in the way simply fall away.

In Kashmir Shaivite philosophy the concept of veils obscuring our true nature, our wholeness, and how we might see through them, has been an ongoing enquiry for me and one which has been the theme of many a yoga class I’ve offered over the decades. These veils can be seen through and can also be felt through when the ‘grip’ or ‘contraction’ lets go. This grip has psychological, somatic and existential components, and we organise our lives around it. We unknowingly take ourselves to be the contraction.

Sitting with the question, “What may be veiling the recognition of your true nature?” and letting the answer come, not from the mind, but from a deeper knowing, can be a revealing experience of just what the grip or the contraction may be for each of us. We lingered with this question and welcomed what arose with kindness and love.

I invite you to pause, take a few deep, slow breaths, allow your awareness to descend from your head to your heart, to your belly, to the ground. Soften your eyes, and feel the quesion ‘what may be veiling the recognition of your true nature’ drop in. Wait for the answer that arises, settle more deeply, let the question drop in, wait again, recieve your inner knowing, repeat this inquiry until all that is present in response is welcomed.. and maybe take a moment to write down what you heard or felt.

The next day we engaged in an inquiry into “What happens when your inner grip releases and relaxes?” Everyone in the group who spoke shared the common experience that releasing of the grip brings a sense of limitless radiance and allows qualities of love, wisdom, kindness, compassion, courage, and gratitude to spontaneously share themselves through us, without any attachment to outcome.

How does this question land for you? What happens when your inner grip releases and relaxes. Imagine recieving the question a number of times letting the deepest responses be heard.

So how does one live a life free of the grip of conditioned mind? John said, “A life of embodied awareness looks just like you living your life authentically and congruently … A life illumined with the understanding of what is most important … It looks like nothing special or flashy … It is simple, intimate living, with a wholehearted, whole bodied embrace of life as it is.”

As this was my first in person retreat with John. I was unaware, until a frequent retreatant pointed out at the end of our time together, that this was an exceptional group of people who had come together. They were deeply practiced, open to being honest and vulnerable, and passionate about inquiry. The field created by such a group opened possibilities and portals for the deepest presence in each of us to be revealed, held and welcomed. John noted, “we are all doing each other’s work here.”

This trip has been the biggest next decade birthday gift for me I could have hoped for and I sense will enable me to contribute more freely and fully in service to family, friends, those I work with, animals, plants, and the earth itself. I feel excited to deepen my listening for what wants to arise as life lives through me in this next phase.