When ‘to do lists’ meet the meditation hall – my experience bridging the gap

Marjan shares her experience of coordinating the first module of Bodhi College’s Committed Practitioners Programme (CPP) in the Netherlands in March 2018.

By Marjan Ossebard, Committed Practitioners Programme (CPP) Module 1 Coordinator

So, there I was. The first time in my life to attend a retreat or course, not only as a participant, but also as the coordinator. I had my own ideas and expectations of what it would be like, but no experience at all.’

The first day was hectic. Getting everything in place, registering, making sure that participants travelling from abroad were picked up from the train station on time. Due to blizzards and extreme cold weather in Europe, many of them were delayed, among them our teachers. Akincano made it that evening; Christina was stranded somewhere along the way.

That evening in bed, I had a severe headache. Pain in all my muscles, and even though I was very tired, I wasn’t able to sleep for hours. A good moment for some reflection: what was my contribution to this state I was in? I concluded that that day a lot had been about my worries (will I be able to do this?) and about ‘me’ and ‘I’. I decided that a bit more mindfulness would do no harm, so I would give that a try the next day.

The next morning fortunately our teacher Christina made it to the centre. She stepped in with a big smile on her face, said she felt shattered and had slept for just three hours the last two nights. The fact that she still wore a huge smile was inspiring.

Although things were a little less hectic, there was still a lot to do. I decided that whenever people had questions for me, they could address me directly, so no notes-on-whiteboard procedures. Beforehand that idea freaked me out: what would become of the still moments  I needed so badly? Could my neurotic mind that usually cannot process to-do lists longer than two items cope with this? Amazingly it worked out quite well.

Gradually I noticed some relaxation, an increase in mindfulness and concentration and a fading away of worries. It became easy to distinguish between requests that were urgent and those that were not, and divide my attention properly. During the teachings, I was able to pay full attention, and keep track of the to-do list of the moment (for instance leaving the meditation hall to make sure the last lost participant was picked up on time). And to me the most impressive change was that after a few days the sense of ‘me’ in the story gradually decreased and the worries diminished. It wasn’t all about me anymore.

This was very interesting; what caused this change? It wasn’t just the mind set to being mindful, because honestly, I forgot about that quite often! It was also being surrounded by people with a well-trained mind. That is a blessing. The group asked a lot, but never in a demanding way. There was a shared sense of responsibility; requests were made and if not honoured that was respected. The teachers embody what they teach and being around them reduced the worry and anxiety in a very direct way. I come from a family where guilt-inducing behaviour was normal. Being around people who simple ask why something went wrong without blaming or judging it, was a very wholesome experience. And increases efficiency a lot!

I feel very grateful. I had an idea beforehand that coordinating a retreat (or course) would be about practice in action. Never had I expected it would be the missing link: bridging the gap between a silent retreat and returning to daily life.