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My Weekend Retreat with Venerable Pannavati

I have never been on a Buddhist meditation retreat before, and I had no idea what to expect from it. I was nervous at first because the longest I had ever meditated in one sitting was 25 minutes straight, I could not imagine doing that on and off for 7 hours. However, Dr. Pannavati's retreat was so much more than meditative practice; it contained instruction, introspection, meditation, and interaction. I was only able to stay for the first day of the retreat, but I still took a lot away from my experience. 

Upon entering the main room where the retreat was held, I was greeted by several other members of the retreat, all of which were sitting on cushions on top of blankets, much like our normal meditation group does. However, Dr. Pannavati did not jump right into meditation, she spoke to us the majority of the time on Saturday about life, dealing with its issues, and how to overcome them.

One of the main topics that Dr. Pannavati covered was acceptance, of both self and negative experiences. She discussed her methodology by using her past experiences with abuse, and how she eventually overcame them. The main way that she did so was to acknowledge her own lack of responsibility in the events that took place, and understand that if she was in the right state of mind she would have been able to escape the abusive situation. I found this incredibly profound considering how sensitive we as a society have become in regards to reports of sexual assault and abusive relationships. There is such a strong movement against placing blame on the victim in these situations and the brunt of the bad press falls in the lap of the abuser. Dr. Pannavati did not blame herself for being abused, but I thought it was interesting how she acknowledged that her intoxication during the event was a primary reason for why it occurred. That did not make what her abuser did right by any means, but she did comment that it would have most likely not have occurred had she been sober.

Another point she made that stood out to me was that we tie our emotions, both good and bad, to storylines in our heads, rather than events or people. We did an exercise where we tried to conjure up an emotional response by just thinking of an event or person that we associate it with, and the result with the majority of the practitioners was that it was very difficult to do so. Without having the narrative in our head that we recreate to reinforce the emotions felt, we were unable to feel the same way about a specific thing the way that we thought we were. 

I did not know what to expect from this experience, and some of it surprised me. There was very little meditation that took place, and a lot more community engagement, and instruction. Dr. Pannavati was an extremely engaging speaker, and had a fascinating set of stories and anecdotes about life that she shared with the retreat's participants. I am so very happy that she was able to lead the discussion at the retreat at IDP, and that I was able to attend. 

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