The silence in the hall is almost palpable. I breathe in and breathe out imagining my breath is a soothing balm easing my tiredness and frayed nerves. The physicality of the ground and the meditation stool beneath me are reassuringly supportive as too is the silence which acts as a comfortable, comforting cushion of air I can lean in to. Thirty other souls are here too, sitting, breathing, being. Nothing to do and nowhere to go, just sharing a silent space. I like this too, this sense of belonging and connection.
Oh, what sweet relief!
After many weeks of working and traveling in India I am in need of a safe haven to stop, to reflect and replenish my resources.
So it is that I find myself in the Thai Monastery at Sarnath, 10 miles north of the holy city of Varanasi, and the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon after he became enlightened. I have no lofty ideals of enlightenment, I simply want to be quiet and still. Indeed rather than awakening, for the first 24 hours of this week long retreat I mainly slept! Generally I keep to the simple structure and timetable of meditating, eating and sleeping but I let go of trying to do it all and to do it well, which I realise has been part of my MO when travelling. I take to heart the meditation teaching of expending just enough effort to hold a petal in the palm of my hand. I love the idea of this. Too much effort and the petal is crushed, the shoulder and arm muscles ache. Too little effort and the petals fall, the limb soft, limp and useless. The “right” effort keeps me gently alert and aware without force – here and now.
My time in India has been rich and varied. It has been challenging, gruelling, frustrating, uplifting, inspiring and wonderful. The energy and effort this has taken has left me feeling tender and weary. It would be easy to apportion all of this on to india. Particularly to blame India and Indians for the irritating and difficult times, but I recognise it’s not all India’s doing. I have been a willing if sometimes unaware participant, so I need time to reflect on the conditions I bring to this complex dance of traveling and how they influence my experience of India.
This retreat has allowed me to step out of the storm where I was beginning to feel buffeted and bruised. My thoughts which were like leaves swirling in the wind have had time to settle, bringing a sense of space, calm and openness and a greater capacity to see through my metaphorical trees to what is real.
I begin to gently unpick my hopes and expectations and look at how my attitudes and default moods influence how I interpret and respond to situations. Bringing conscious awareness to all this is not easy or comfortable but it does bring helpful insights and greater clarity and freedom. I enjoy the feeling of tension loosening and the sense of my mind, heart, body and spirit clicking and clunking, like the components of a complex lock, as they realign to enable an opening, allowing access to those parts of myself that I treasure. These are qualities we all have such as humour, compassion, openness, curiosity, acceptance, patience, love. It’s just that I find them much more difficult to access when I am tired, stressed or travel weary.
One of the five hindrances to realising enlightenment that the Buddha spoke of was that of desire. I have never considered myself to be someone who is desiring of things, but as I enquired more deeply I saw the subtleties and the truth. I have high expectations of myself, others and experiences. I want this trip to be “good”, worthwhile, interesting, fulfilling. I want to give and I want to receive. I want it to be worth the bold decisions that I took to do this and the risks and the costs (both personal and financial) that it has taken to get here. I want, I want, I want. Mmmmm ….. desire! All that effort and trying and of course disappointment when things don’t always meet my hopes. No wonder I’m tired!
The Buddha dharma teaches that suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.
So I simply practice being with each moment as it arises, noticing the tone of my experience and endeavouring to allow it to be felt and to move through. No clinging to that which feels good, no pushing away that which is uncomfortable, no boredom with that which is neutral.
“As it is, so it is”, becomes my mantra.
This hasn’t been a sparkling “Aha” moment. This is familiar territory, but experiencing it in this acute way as I travel and the perfect timing of the retreat has given me an opportunity to delve deeper in to the layers of myself and my understanding.
I feel freer and as though something has opened, offering a greater capacity to let go and flow with everything and anything. To truly allow each moment to unfold just as it does …… without too much force and effort!
As it is, so it is.
These words from Frederick Buechner are the perfect summation.
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”