I have recently returned from my post ordination reunion retreat at Tiratanaloka in Wales. It was a delight to see all the women I was ordained with. Having lived in isolation in the Spanish mountains for there months together meant that we could slip into a natural way of being with each other.
We had a very simple and quiet programme. Our mornings were silent and meditative giving us all a chance to connect with our bodies and meditation. In the afternoon there was an opportunity to go for a walk or have some free time. Then there were discussion groups, which gave us an opportunity to talk about any area of being new Order member.
I felt very inspired, spacious and open hearted coming back and felt I carried some of that experience with me when returning to work. After only a week of being back I can feel that open hearted dimension slipping away. The question is how can stay connected with that more open hearted dimension during everyday life – it won’t just happen by chance. So conditions are important making time for meditation, reading poetry, quiet reflection or just simply less input will all help.
I am reminded of a story I read in Jack Kornfields book After the Ecstasy the Laundry which starts;
“My meditation had always been very difficult. There was usually a great deal of tension and pain that I carried in my body as well as my heart. As an environmentalist I had struggled for years with the suffering of the world, and all these images and sorrows would come flooding past as I sat. It was as if I was in the midst of the rain forests being burned and bulldozed. I saw warfare and pollutions, all the images of what we are doing to the earth. I sat and wept, but I stuck with it even when it got intense. I did not believe in running away from the world. I had to face it, go into it. Then a shift happened.
I was in the ashram practising with a small number of senior students. I had felt a lot of physical pain in the past few weeks, but I sat and sat in the midst of it all, unmoving, and my mind became very focused and very still. My thoughts became fewer until they almost disappeared and my consciousness dropped to the centre of my heart. When any sound or sensation or thought would arise, I would feel it immediately as a subtle vibration moving through the space of my heart. That’s all I felt. It’s as though the stillness in my heart expanded until it was the world. All experience became like tiny vibrations, waves subtly moving through this vast, peaceful heart.
Then somehow I let go further and entered the deepest peace imaginable, without even the subtlest sound or sensation. It was utterly silent and empty. I felt nothing in the world could compare with this peace. Any sight, sound or thought, no matter how pleasurable, was a disturbance, was painful,compared to this silence. I understood what the Buddha meant about suffering; how every birth leads to death, how the struggle of the opposites – night and day – joy and sorrow, all that arises and passes is inherently painful.
I remember that shortly afterward walking down the road in India I saw a lamb being born. It just knocked me over, seeing the struggle of birth as the lamb came out. I realised that any identification with this life – holding onto the process of birth, ageing, death is suffering. I just stood there and wept for the suffering of this world. I could feel it with so much compassion. I knew I’d never forget it.
But it’s amazing how strong desire is too, the roots of wanting pleasure and stimulation. In a few months I was back in the West looking for music and fine wine. The force of wanting and indulgence came back in the most outrageous ways, like a backlash to what I’d seen. But still I have followed my spiritual practice too, because some part of you always knows when you see the truth; somehow you can’t forget”
What helps you remember?