I am recently back from my first silent meditation retreat at True North Insight in Guelph.
I’ve been a meditator for a while, many years, in & out of a daily practice. So in some ways the experience was familiar & I have been to Sanghas & attended Dharma talks, sat for a day & then another day. I have used mantras & sounds. I have repeated the metta phrases of lovingkindness, I have gazed down at the light of a candle through barely open eyes. I have focussed on the delicate beauty of my own breath.
And the retreat was the Hardest Work I have Ever Done.
Or at least that was the thought I entertained as I unfolded myself slowly & somewhat painfully back into the real world afterwards.
I had my own sweet room as all the participants did.
And a big red armchair in that room, where I curled up with great muscle fatigue (including my heart), snuggling into it begging for a loving hug, legs over one fat arm, back supported by the other.
A gorgeous mostly vegan, always vegetarian buffet to turn up for 3x a day, made with attention & care by the kitchen staff.
And farm land & woods with a stream, to walk through under a hovering November sky.
Everything in silence but for dharma talks each evening & some small additions to that.
I LOVE silence.
I cannot always tolerate it however. On the retreat that was the least of my problems.
Sitting in the thick soup of one’s self, therein lies the rub. You can’t help but contemplate the variety of vegetables that went into the soup… which ones you wish weren’t there.
At times I wanted more retreats, several a year!
at times I wanted to order pizza or a taxi outta there.
Acceptance of Nowness (not a quick trip to planned-land & a voyage back to whatever of the past clings). Non-judgment (can I even have that am I not hard-wired to judge?).
Sit with Sadness (tears streaming make for itchy cheeks). Sit with Joy (tears streaming make for itchy cheeks).
Physical Discomfort. Did I mention achy breaky parts.
Sit bones begging for mercy, until it finally arrives with walking meditation, Slow, placing each foot on the ground, Caressing the earth as the foot Rolls forward, heel to arch, to ball, to toes. Sit again.
Repeating the metta phrases, extending love to Yourself, to an Unknown person, to a person with whom you have Difficulty, to everyone, to everyone everywhere.
I did battle with that last one.
I do battle.
Battle against the very concept of this acceptance piece, never mind extending love to all beings. It’s easy to love a park squirrel if you’re an animal lover & they’re not eating your roof.
It’s completely impossible for this sitter to love disseminators of hate & terror.
That is not something I can accept whether you’re a person who abuses your partner, or a person who shoots into a crowd with a bomb strapped to your chest.
But an odd thing happens.
Compassion starts to appear. It puffs through the split dough of armour, it drips from your leaky faucet, it begins to activate like yeast with warm water & sugar… (I’ve been baking). It glows through your heart & outward. It glows through your heart & inward.
It’s complicated & I am quite capable of making it more so.
The take-away was the new calm in sitting. The new depth & more instant release.
The take-away is the need for that calm shallow breathing cushion time, where all that exists for an infinite moment is this tiny nucleus of now.