This years Buddhafield South East – Ashdown Forest retreat was titled ‘Spinning Yarns and Telling Tales’. It was an exploration of our dependence upon stories, both for our betterment and detriment and how that, ultimately, Buddhist practise is to go beyond them.
There is an unmediated experience of reality, then we start to close that experience down by filtering it through our generally accepted notion of the senses, then shut off still further as we label our experience and then complete the illusion by the fabrication of mental stories. Whilst the experience of a thought is real the content is at best poetry and yet we become fixed on the story rather than the experience.
Plato’s parable of the cave gives us one of the greatest metaphors of enlightenment, contrasting the dreamlike shadow play of those who still slumber with the world of sunlight and colour once we step out of the cave into the light of a new reality…
Parable of the Cave
“There once was a people who lived their entire lives within a Cave of Illusions. After generations, they came to believe that their own shadows, cast upon the walls, were the substance of reality. Only the myths and tales spoke of a brighter possibility. Obsessed with the shadow play, the people became accustomed to and imprisoned by their dark reality.
There were those who became tired of the shadow play, who began to doubt it, who were no longer fulfilled by shadows no matter how high they leaped. They became seekers of light. A fortunate few found a guide who prepared them and who took them beyond all illusion into the sunlight.”
If we are to leave the cave of our minds we need to recognise thoughts for what they are. Body work such as Tai Chi, Qigong, yoga etc help us move from the partial experience of the mind into the body which takes us to the very boundary of the cave but even that isn’t enough. We need to go still further and take a step into the unknown, into the sunlight.
We don’t cease to exist just because we no longer identify with our thoughts and yet it appears its difficult for individuals to imagine an alternative. It seems a few people might have glimpsed another way to be over the course of the weekend retreat in what may be called the ‘Way Of Energy’.
In the Way Of Energy we foster a habit of being grounded, balanced and centred in the body which has the corresponding effect on the mind. In this way we move towards and possibly open the gateway to a larger perspective and try to sense rather than think of what is needed. In this way we become increasingly sensitive, increasingly receptive and increasingly creative to and with energetic forces.
Being on retreat in Nature is a great way to experience the ‘Way Of Energy’ where our senses are heightened, sharpened and less distracted. We can tune in to the deeper currents of life rather than stories and memories about life.
Thanks to all those who helped to create such a wonderful retreat.
I feel like going on my knees
To this old mountain and these trees.
Three or four thousand years ago
I could have worshipped them, I know.
But if one did so in this age
They’d lock him in a padded cage.
We’ve made the world look mean and small
And lost the wonder of it all
Animist by Sangharakshita