Carrying the Weight

By Linda Oshins

I embarked on some of my wildest and biggest learning journeys on a whim. Often huffily.  Something wasn’t quite right in my life and I responded by marching off in a random direction without a lot of forethought. I did an Outward Bound that way. My couch potato husband wouldn’t hike with me, my college-age son left an Outward Bound brochure in my line of sight, and I signed up. I had no idea what I was doing. I thought it was a regular guided hike. I didn’t know that Outward Bound courses are carefully planned to take the group beyond its comfort zone. I was 41 years old and weighed 105 pounds at the time. When we hoisted those 60-pound packs on our backs, and one of us fell over and couldn’t get up, I got the idea. During that wonderful and dreadful 10 days, all of us looked our habits in the face. When faced with adversity, some of us got angry and blamed the guides, who were not present at the time (too dangerous to blame each other). And some of us looked inward, blamed ourselves and got depressed.  Or were overwhelmed by fear, confused and hating our weakness. Some of us rose to the occasion, really shining in an emergency, but struggling testily through the tedious tasks.  And we were true to our habits. Stretched beyond our tolerance levels we always reacted in the same way. We had a view of the world and we stuck to it. Outward  Bound gave us a glimpse into ourselves and taught us our limitations are self imposed.

Outward Bound is like a yoga retreat in some ways. The adversaries are external—hard stone, heat and cold, physical exhaustion, the frightening drop from the canyon’s lip to its floor, reliance on strangers. But all the external challenges are internally met.

We are going on silent retreat at Hope Springs Institute again this year, where physical comfort of every kind abounds.  We have gorgeous views, great food, comfy bedrooms and all the time we want to practice yoga. We are on vacation from our usual obligations. Retreatants even have the option of sitting out practices and spending their time as they like. Some people on retreat are joyous from the first moment to the last, and they never complain. But most people meet themselves in the silence and find adversaries of all sorts lurking there, habits of thought and belief that are overlooked or swept aside in the course of a busy life. And they meet periods of discomfort or distress in a manner that’s typical for them.

Wouldn’t you want to know yourself more intimately? To know how your personality, the story you tell about yourself, is carefully protected, even if it’s painful to you? To know how the ego works?  (It’s not a bad thing, the ego.) Retreat offers that possibility and the greater possibility of freedom from habit, conditioning, and the unintended, unexamined knee-jerk reaction to adversity. Come with an open mind and watch it all, everything that arises in you, the whole circus, the whole opera. Welcome everything, fully human. At the end, the pack may be lighter or just more knowingly carried.

These cartoons were drawn on retreat by Angie Hay and posted with her permission



















Come, come, whoever you are,
wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.

—Inscription on the tombstone of Jelaluddin Rumi