This year was the 5th community retreat for the evolving group now known affectionately as TES (Triratna East Surrey). This years retreat was held at Adhistana, in an area of outstanding beauty South of the Malvern Hills.
Adhisthana is certainly one of the more comfortable retreat centres with all the mod cons, fresh decor and a small number of people per bedroom. On this occasion we each had a room to ourselves as we where the only group using the space at this time and, consequently, had the run of the place.
There is an air of potentiality about the place if not a deep spiritual vibe. Being rather new to the movement and new to Buddhist practise it has yet to develop that lived and practised in feel such as one picks up in the more established centres.
This years theme was ‘Awareness of awareness’ and the retreat an attempt to go beneath the superficial and conditioned response to life to something infinitely more nourishing.
Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist, Practising Buddhist and Mindfulness teacher has this to say…
“our standard reaction to the conflicts and difficulties of every day life is fear and confusion but beneath the turbulence of our thoughts and emotions exists a profound stillness, a silent awareness”.
Based upon the schedule of a Seisin i.e. a silent retreat with alternating periods of moving (Walking, Chi Kung, Dao-in) and seated meditation we attempted to stay with our actual experience rather than the illusory thoughts, feelings and emotions that arise from it.
The weekend was further supported by personal and collective ritual, liturgy, poetry, readings and mantra… possibly, something for everyone.
Recognising that all experience arises within silent, illuminating awareness we can begin to see how we cause our own suffering by clinging to the impermanent such as thoughts and emotions rather than resting in our true nature, that of awareness.
The metaphor of a cinema screen was proffered.
A cinema screen is pure, brilliant, clear and upon it various projections appear. One moment horror, the next comedy. A moment later a drama, the next an action/adventure. Yet, amongst all this ephemeral phenomena arising and falling the screen remains pure, un tainted and infinitely receptive irrespective of the movie being played. Our true nature is like the screen not the personality and sense of self that is derived from the momentary flickering of phenomena that are played upon it.
The ‘Just Sitting’ (a.k.a, Dzogchen, Shikanza, Pure Awareness, Mahamudra, Formless meditation etc) is the easiest to describe but because of its subtlety far from easy to practise. The difference between watching the flow of phenomena and being caught up in it is thinner than a hair but is the difference between suffering and the cessation of suffering, of being unenlightened and enlightened, of the brightest day and the darkest night.
Even if one should arrive at the state of awareness of awareness it is but the beginning it is the ‘form’ but not the ‘function’ of the enlightened mind. It is not good enough to ‘see it’ you have to ‘live it’.
To see ‘it’ one needs to train the mind in one pointedness, to live from ‘it’ one needs emotional positivity. It is only where these ‘two’ meet, where they become ‘not two’, can one be said to be truly awake, truly and fully aware, truly and infinitely compassionate.
Thanks to all those who helped to co-create the conditions for this weekends exploration into Awareness of Awareness