The first days of my retreat in the Scottish Highlands, as I look out the window of my remote cabin, a beautiful deer was in the field eating the grass. I often see deer in the woods behind my house in Germany but they are mostly far away or moving quickly. I got to study this deer through the window as kept eating. I marveled at its powerful body with the slender legs. I found his face whimsical with funny tufts of white fur sticking out of its ears. Every once in a while the deep would look up, alert, listening, ready to run if needed. It came every day. I began to notice when the floor creaked under my foot, the deer would notice and look up. We often looked at each other through the window. Mostly the deer felt safe enough to continue picking the best grass to munch. I found myself watching this deer for a long time. It was so long I even felt a bit embarrassed although I was alone in my cabin with no one for miles around. Eventually, the deer and I settled into a more relaxed interaction, even allowing me to walk outside and sit on the porch while it continued eating.
A few days before the end of my retreat, I had a funny experience. When I opened the front door in the morning there were two sheep munching away in the yard. We were all a bit surprised. After some time they walked off. Later that day I went for a hike returning in the afternoon to discover the same two sheep, mother, and child, having a wonderful feast. They were more allowing of my presence. They loved the grass so much, they just hung around and kept eating, even returning the next days and munching from dawn to dusk. I had cleaning to do, then dinner at 5.00 and when finished noticed the sheep had been joined by a deer. It was the same deer who came every day to eat in the same field in front of the cabin. Now all three were eating the most delicious grass for miles, or so it seemed. I went about my work and then looked out the window at 7.30 and the three of them were still there and still eating. I felt a special blessing to be a witness to this simple activity.
The hike I took that day was a special experience in humility. The hiking in the Scottish Highlands is torturous at best and dangerous at worst. The ground is steep, uneven, wet, and unpredictable. I found myself stumbling quite a bit. Not wanting to fall, or break something, I started to make a conscious connection to the earth with each step. The more I remembered the earth as I walked on the ground, the more steady my feet were on the ground.
I began to notice the moments when I was distracted either visually or in thoughts, for I would immediately splash into a mud hole or take an unsteady step. It was a great exercise in paying attention which I believe is a great skill to master. On my way back to the cabin, the ground seemed to be especially difficult with more mud and deeper holes, with smaller places to step in between on the sloping terrain. I discovered if I kept remembering the earth with each step, it went well. I then made a mantra in my head thinking the earth with one step and then my foot with the other step. It became a rhythm with earth, foot, earth, foot….. It was going very well. I was so delighted in this arrangement I began to think how wonderful it was I discovered this technique. Then I began to imagine how I can teach others. And then I thought how wonderful it was that I knew this effective practice. And then I stepped into a very deep mud hole.
The entire right side of my body now covered in mud, from my shoe to my hip. My right arm was also covered in mud. I laughed at the silliness of my thoughts and how I got distracted by the pride of my great discovery. Lessons in humility seem to always come with some difficulty, pain, embarrassment, or all three. Even though I was alone, it was all three.
I did my best to wash off some of the mud, especially from my hands. I was not very successful. It was in this state that I returned to the cabin and discovered the same sheep in the yard eating grass. Perhaps because I was covered in mud they now found me no threat. I needed to clean my hiking shoes anyway for my journey home, but now the cleaning job was intense. It took a large bucket, a sturdy brush (I brought with me just for cleaning my hiking boots), and much effort, but finally, they were clean enough for travel. They just needed a day to dry. Traveling as much as I have over the years, I am mostly prepared for whatever is needed, but it was the years of meditating that most prepared me for an experience like this.
One more day on retreat and then back to a connected (internet) life. It is an interesting use of the word since the point of a retreat is to connect with the deeper self, purpose, truth, and beauty. People are better connected to the internet, mostly through social websites, than to their own souls. Recently I came across a quote that said, if we think anything is outside of us, we are delusional. And another that said, whatever happens in our lives, is a reflection of an inner state.