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On Friday last week I was running around. It was just a normal day at work: my new office is still not entirely sorted, and I don’t have a phone. This isn’t ideal when you are trying to chase up things for students. It’s even worse when you lose your own mobile phone on the way to work. Thank God for colleagues with mobiles with unlimited minutes. Oh, and here’s the head of department, wanting to organise what needs organising while stopping by for two minutes. And here are students wanting to discuss their dissertations, and there’s my colleague, and here’s another email, and another and when did it become 2pm – time for our second session with our freshers?
Running around is my normal mode – and I am sure I am not the only one in this position as a working mum. Jobs have become busy, and at home there’s a household to run, not to speak of the toddler, cute and lovely, but asking for your limited attention. And limited it is. I feel guilty just thinking about this month of October: away on retreat for three days, then instantly away on a conference, an open day on one Saturday, then another conference the week after. What am I doing? And what am I doing to my child? And when do I have time to give him my attention? All these thoughts vibrate with their feelings of guilt and desperation somewhere in my body, as I run to catch a taxi to get the train, to go.
I meet my best friend at the next train station; then, we run for the train, then, get another one which is late, so we run for the taxi that takes us to Taraloka. Everyone is lovely on our way, but I still hum with the noises in my head of rushing, rushing, rushing, getting there, getting there, getting there. I am not the only one humming, I notice, as we return to the dining room for dinner: nervous excitement raises the tone of our voices. We are all a tiny bit worried, anxious, nervous, and split in our attention between being here, with each other, and at home, still sorting the lives out of our family members.
But after dinner things begin to shift. Amaragita introduces the topic of the retreat and urges us to stop. But she recognises that this is a heroic deed, and so gives us the permission to celebrate ourselves: we are here to stop so that we can look so that we can intervene in the momentum that keeps us going normally. And then she says something important: ‘there is no right way of doing this retreat’. No right way of doing – not having to do something in some way or another. That then becomes the key point of the short meditation that follows: it becomes about not doing, of stopping, of letting go. And gradually the outside world, the world of doing and running around, the world before the retreat, falls away, and I become one of the women who are there, there in the shrine room, with Tara and the Buddha sitting amongst us, and Tara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion in Action, stepping out into the world, amongst us. I become increasingly aware of the interconnectedness of the 29 women there which includes me, and the other parents out there, taking part in this. But for this short weekend, the rest of the world with its demands has stopped for me.