By Helen Felcey, Altrincham, UK
I attended a three-day webinar retreat, Radically Loving – Transcending Anxiety and Stress, with Erric Solomon.
I have just received the book, Radically Happy: A User’s Guide to the Mind (by Phakchok Rinpoche and Erric Solomon) in the post this morning. Before attending the retreat, I had begun listening to the audio book, which was great, but it is good to hold the book in my hand. It’s a beautiful book; solid feeling. Leafing through the pages, I find washes of deep turquoise, splattered with blue; brightly printed colour wheels, soft arcs and loopy lines – there is a freshness, lightness and joy – all qualities which I encountered during this weekend retreat.
The retreat began on a Friday morning. From my computer in Altrincham (UK), I could see Erric in his room in France, a soft morning light came from the window, Erric’s coffee steamed, and thangka paintings glowed on warm yellow walls. It’s nice to be in Erric’s room, and my own, at the same time. Despite the distance, I feel a sense of intimacy and togetherness within the webinar group, even from the early stages.
Whilst everything comes through the screen, I feel the ‘liveness’ of the retreat. The words that are spoken, come in that very moment, fresh from the heart. Erric said, “remember that this time is a special time and a possible inflection point in your life”. I feel fortunate to be here with everyone.
In the paragraphs that follow, I share a few short reflections on words and practices shared by Erric.
Our lives are based on love – Erric Solomon
Erric begins the retreat talking about love. I feel a sense of warmth, and appreciation for these words. It’s not often that you get to do this, to hear this – to be given time to contemplate love. Erric spoke about the interconnectedness of love, the wellspring of love all around us and within us. Such a wonderful place to start – the abundant source where it all begins.
Alongside this, Erric equally embraced our tendency to ‘focus on the ‘lack’, a feeling I know well, like many. Over the next hours and days, with Erric’s guidance, I would relax, feel a lightness in giving time to experiencing how my life is based on love.
“How do we relax? We create sparks of love, getting in touch and sharing that feeling with others.”
The basis of our discontentment is the constant evaluation of the quality of our experience – Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Erric describes how these words spoken to him by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche changed everything for him. I’ve brought these words to mind so many times since the retreat along with Erric’s description of the ‘CNN ticker at the bottom of the screen’, which constantly rates our experiences.
I am trying to become more aware of my own ‘CNN ticker’. It’s incredibly subtle and nimble – sometimes just a whisper somewhere in the shadows – always difficult to get a handle on.
As I am writing this, I am drawn to the light coming into my room, which is softly changing every few moments as clouds trace across the sun. A green hydrangea on my window sill illuminates, and I light up too, enjoying the bright lime mass of petals. It’s settling and warming. There is a moment of just feeling appreciation for this light – and in this moment, whilst brief, I feel that the ‘CNN ticker’ dies down, outshone by one hydrangea.
We need to be more like a lion – Erric Solomon
“When you throw a stone at a dog, what does a dog do, he chases it right? When you throw a stone at a lion, the lion doesn’t give a s**t about the stone. The lion turns to see who threw the stone. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we‘re like the dog. We need to be more like like a lion”
This analogy for the mind, is also serving me very well.
I’m a dog, of course. But even when I visualise being a lion, in a very basic way, I can sense the lion. Whilst this wasn’t a formal exercise (visualising the lion), I have tried this, inspired by Erric’s descriptions. There is a relaxed nature to Erric’s teachings which makes me feel I can explore them, have a little fun. I see myself, as a lion, sat in a relaxed pose, huge furry paws overlapping. I am relaxed, just enjoying the morning sun, blinking into the blue sky. I feel strong and stable. That moment a stone rebounds off the ground in front of me and jumps on to my paw. My paw doesn’t even twitch. I don’t even look even at the stone, but instead, I gently and firmly turn my gaze towards from where this stone came.
I would like to be this lion.
The dog is a far more tiring role. Chasing each stone, whilst also going back to examine others, I tie myself in knots inside, and feel confused. The reality is, I am frequently lost in thoughts, my mind setting off on small excursions – often in search of worries, something that it was ‘all over’ half an hour before, yesterday, or maybe even last month.
Erric went on to describe two steps to becoming a lion – 1) to stop chasing and 2) to be steadfast, be spacious. He took us through a number of exercises to support this, which I genuinely found helpful, accessible and meaningful. Each helped me to put my attention in a good place, a loving place.
Guided by Erric, we first tried the exercise Creating Space. Recalling the exercise and the sensations of this, I am taken to the first feeling of incredibly fresh air on a crisp autumn day, coupled with immersive blue – the immaculate blue, which pierces me gently and somehow ‘holds’ me in this place.
I’m happy with who I am (breath in), I’m happy with what I have (breath out)
So simple and surprisingly powerful – when I say the words ‘I’m happy with who I am, I’m happy with what I have’, and really feel them, I realise that these words do hold truth for me – a truth which bubbles up along with a feeling of gratitude and warmth.
“It’s so important to be a basic healthy human being.
To see how we are a product of kindness and love
To repeat again and again, I’m happy with who I am ..”
The sun is now streaming through my windows – the bright light is reaching all the way across the floor to my toes under the table. This makes me think of the exercise Remembering the Kindness we’ve received. On the shelf next to me is a small picture of my mum and I. We are on a beach, on a lilo, getting ‘washed up’ repeatedly, and just laughing – such a beautiful joy. When Erric said, remember that moment of joy – “an experience of carefree joy that you have felt before that you are re-experiencing now”, this was the joy I turned to; this was my wellspring.
“In the moment of love and being fully present we let go of the constant evaluation of experience and experience our world in a completely new way.”
Meeting the Group
On the final day of our retreat together, we were all promoted to webinar ‘panelists’, which meant we could all see one another on-screen. This felt great. Whilst I had enjoyed my time of not being seen, this felt like the right moment to connect with everybody in the visual – and it really was wonderful.
As our faces popped on the screen, it was heart-warming to see the people whom we had been journeying with these past two days, from all over the world – Mexico, Canada, Thailand, USA, UK and more. A little moment of love.
“When you’re filled with warm heartedness, what happened, you forget about yourself. What’s that moment like – its free, its alive, its authentic”.
In continuing to work with these exercises and reflect on the words of this retreat, I experience a feeling of gratitude, light and warmth. I think even a glimpse of radical love can somehow change everything.
About Helen Felcey
I’m a ceramics-based artist, educator and curator. My research interests blend craft, design and social wellbeing. Combined with my work in education, I’ve exhibited ceramics and worked collaboratively to curate projects and publish within the field. I have taught in academia since 2002, at Manchester School of Art and more recently at Liverpool Hope University. Since 2009, I’ve also worked with the British Ceramics Biennial, contributing to curatorial, community and educational programmes.