Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An unusually strong cold front is coming this way.  Temperatures below 20 degrees are predicted, brrrr!  The winds have already begun to tear off the last of the crimson maple leaves and send the golden larch needles spinning in the twilight sky.  Autumn lasted long and lovely over the past couple of months.  Now winter is flying in with snow, short dark days, and a soon to be frozen landscape.  
Seems to me this time of year invites us deeper into Stillness.  
     Before I started waking up and learning to just "be" in the present moment,  I would bemoan the loss of sunshine, time in the garden, the sound of crickets and frogs, etc.  Before I realized that "now" is all one can ever truly know (and even that is tricky business), I used to begrudgingly put on my fleece and down and feel put upon by the ceiling of clouds.  
     These days I have an acceptance of the season of dirty snow and slushy sidewalks.  Not love, but tolerance and even acceptance!  How did this happen?  What would I say to reorient my 14 year old self who slid into depression with the onset of winter?
     No quick fix.  I would probably validate her sensory conclusions about the dark and cold, and then ask her to notice her internal world...breath, body, thoughts.  Ask her if she had internal seasons and how did she feel about that?   I remember back to my candle meditations which I started when I was about 18 years old.  I began to see then the impermanence and fluctuations of that simple reality of the flame.  The seasons give one a larger illustration of that same changeability of all things.  
     My meditation practice awakened me to the changeability of the inner world of my moods and ideas.  Slowly it dawned on me that I didn't have to listen to the mind drama!  As my attention moved away from monkey mind and returned to breath and body over and over again, the mental script began to soften and even fade.  Like a snowflake in my palm.
      But then, my teenage self would have been more moved by this poem by Wu Men:

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

 from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell

Friday, April 4, 2014

Barre Retreat, part 1


 The first two weeks of March this year I went on a silent retreat at Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Mass.  Not my typical vacation to sunny Mexico or sea kayaking in Canada or skiing in Utah powder; this was a drop into doing nothing.  Really...nothing.

  Just sitting, walking, no talking or socializing, minimal reading and writing (related to the intention of my retreat), simple meals -- basically, no escape from the monkey-like antics of mind.  This was to be a tough trek into the terrain of emptiness. 

  My path was to deepen my understanding via the teachings of Buddha and non-dualism on anatta, non-self.  My guide was Rodney Smith, a Seattle teacher whom I have studied with for well over a decade.  Rodney is practical and poetic and although trained as a monk, he steers clear of making Buddhism a religious institution.  I had a 15 minute interview each week with him and a few dharma talks in the evening for support.  I chose the Forest Refuge at IMS to avoid the scheduled format of typical retreats.  My "sits" and "walks" were at my own discretion.

  As I turned off my android phone I felt relief tinged with the anxiety of being out of touch.  No calls, no email, virtually no communication for 15 days!  Outside the ground was covered with snow and more was in the forecast, increasing the sense of isolation. 

  Hours passed, days passed and I relaxed into a routine:

-awaken about 5am, shower, sip a cup of tea in the rocking chair in the dining room while witnessing the tawny peach light of pre-dawn silhouette the trees.

-dawn meditation in the quiet and cozy sitting hall.  Wake up!  Some hauntingly beautiful chanting.

-breakfast of hot cereal or grains piled with raisins, nuts and yogurt.  More tea.

-cleaning the bathroom with three toilet stalls, three  shower stalls , and a bathtub and laundry room.  This was my community chore which took a minimum of 45 minutes. Noticed myself thinking I should keep my house this clean!

-short brisk walk down and back up the hill, greeted by bird-call and breeze.

-mid-morning meditation.  Attention to breath and attention to body, while letting memories of cleaning toilets, or hilarious chipmunk behavior during my walk, drop away.

-lunch, the main meal of the day.  Eating mindfully and recognizing the remarkable inter-connections between plants, farmers, roads and trains and planes, grocery stores and the myriad beings involved in each fork load of food into my mouth!

-naptime, meditative rest which allowed me to enjoy a floating state of openness.  Highly recommended.

-long walk.  Every day I walked three miles along back-country roads.  Ice, snow, and early spring hints -- the walk was an acceptance of the Eden this Earth offers us just for slowing down to watch and listen.  The way childhood was (for some of us).

-afternoon meditation.  Wake up!  Mind usually most active during this time of day.

-yoga.  Slow mindful movement priming the mind to release and relax.

-late afternoon meditation.  Wake up!

-light supper.  Crackers and nut butters,  sometimes soup.

-standing meditation outside watching the moon wax or the clouds fly by.

-evening meditation, maybe a dharma talk.  Wake up!

-spiritual reading before going to bed.  Used my mala beads as I fell asleep.  Deep dreams.  Dying dreams.  OK.

  My steady intention with this routine was to release the thinking mind.  Drop the musings on this and that of the past and all my planning for the future.   Be in the present, here and now.  Much like mud that settles to the bottom of the rain puddle after being stirred, revealing the clarity that is reflecting the world;  I could see the cloudy nature of my views and opinions, my ideas about myself and my "should's" about so many things.

  The delight of moving slowly in silence increased each day.  Thoughts, feelings, body sensations would appear and disappear.  A deeper silence between those blips would reveal itself, a silence that held everything within its very emptiness.  Unable to describe those glimpses in words, I remember some lines from a William Stafford poem:

  "...But it is Now;
  It is what happens, the moment,
  the stare of the moon, an
  opening birds call out of,
  anything true.  We have it."

  This retreat gave me a refuge for exploring and letting go the strongholds of my identity and my mind.  A great gift.  Perhaps more reminiscing on my experience there will happen in future posts...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

To love is to listen

  So many legends about how St. Valentine got hooked up with lovers, the one I like best being that he "secretly married couples so that the husbands wouldn’t have to go to war." (Wikipedia)  Regardless, the wonderful result has been the celebration of love, the quality that makes the world go round.  If we bypass the commercialization of this holiday (as we try to do for all the other holidays that  the consumption model of economics has tried to undermine with monetary meaning), we can actually enjoy a day when we stop to honor love, in and of itself.  Love is here right now if we listen carefully, watch without judgment and comparison.  Even if a person is alone, by quiet listening to the beating of the heart, feeling the whisper of the breath, one can tune into the infinite connections between the body and the earth.   Air, food, clothes, shelter, fuel...these components of life hook us into the larger picture of other human beings and our planet no matter how "local" we may try to be.  Our necessities make us necessary to each other.  Love is this web of conditions which inextricably link every molecule. We are in relationship every moment.  So, let's relax into the celebration.  Love the one you're with, even if it's just you, or the birds in the yard, or the clerk at the store, or your significant other, or the unlimited number of beings who make your life possible in this very moment.