Three years ago, I joined my first SI retreat. The experience of the first retreat is like to be locked in a solitary confinement. I was struggling in enduring both physical pain and emotional stress. But I did get a breakthrough of a complex that had been bothering me for years. This time, I’m more adapting to the scale of sitting sessions. There is less resistance from the body or the mind. But there’s also an added layer of expectation and fear. Am I going to have an emotional meltdown? Am I able to face the truth of my imbalance? Even after the registration, I’m still hesitating whether I have the courage to face my own shame and insecurity.
Surprisingly, on the first full-day of the retreat, I have a serene experience of sitting after Simon’s guided relaxation. It is simply peaceful. My heart is filled with joy and I feel in harmony with the body and the surrounding during the sitting. I was expecting a teary journey for the nine-day retreat. And I have a complete opposite experience on the first day. Really? Can the mind really be at ease and peace? Can it be so simple to get rid of the perpetuating suffering in life? I’m so grateful I have a taste of peace and joy from Silent Illumination. In the interview, Simon points out that there is no involvement from the mind.
For the next two days, I want to have the “happy” experience again. It seems like the correct outcome matching with the description from Shifu’s book of Silent Illumination. But, of course, with the wanting, I’m falling into the secondary. In the interview, Rebecca reminds me that there is no judging the good experience vs the bad. Coming back from the interview, I stop trying to cut off the “irrelevant” thoughts any more. The mind is not focused; thoughts about work, family, conversations, and memories just come up randomly. I’m just in this messy state one sitting session after another for few days.
On the 6th night, the meditation session is extended from 40 minutes to 1 hour. After settling down on the cushion, I catch myself getting worried that I can’t make it through the whole session. It’s shocking to know that I’m so deeply concerned about being labeled as a failure even just for a sitting session. I can almost hear my mother’s disapproving remarks if she knows about this. I’ve been conditioned to prove myself over and over again in the race of accomplishments. I have to come out on top in getting good grades, going to good schools, grabbing promotions at work, and making my children getting good grades, good schools, good jobs also. I put unnecessary pressure on myself and my children. I always feel that I’m not good enough and I make my children feel the same way. The one-hour sitting goes by smoothly as the mind is engaged in the investigation and getting deeper insight.
During the interview on the 7th day, Simon mentions 3 steps in facing my fear. First is to recognize I was trapped in this mode of fearing my mother’s judgment. Second is to be aware of my emotions when I face the judgment. Third is to communicate with her about my true feelings. The mind is focused on the investigation for the rest of the retreat.
In the afternoon of the 8th day, we have a meditation session in free format for the entire afternoon. I choose to sit by the window feeling both relaxed and motivated. In the investigation, I keep on repeating a comment “you are just so-so in your life” to see how I take it. I try to think of something positive of myself to refute the criticism but I find it extremely uncomfortable in doing so. I’m just a mediocre, I’m just a faker. Nothing is worthy of recognition. It is I who label me as a failure. I accept that I am a disappointment and I think I deserve the shame. I put the curse on myself. It is an overwhelming realization and tears start coming down. I find the root that causes me so much pain; and it is all generated by my own mind.
In one of the Dharma talks, Simon mentions that we often practice the First Great Vow as to deliver innumerable minus one sentient beings. We tend to put our own self as the last one to pay attention to. I realize that, if I don’t build myself up, I’ll continue to inflict the same harms I felt to people around me. I’m a victim and a persecutor as the same time. The vicious cycle will continue to the next generation; and the harm can spread to innumerous sentient beings. I have to work on it, accepting myself and catching myself falling into the trap of shame.
I have strong faith in using the method of Silent Illumination now. It has helped me resolve some perplexing issues at both retreats. I also have better understanding of how to use the method, dropping the controls and simply being aware of the presence. It is a valuable journey to get to know myself and to strengthen myself. I’m grateful for our teachers, Simon and Rebecca, in clearly explaining the subtleties of “the method of no method”, and in guiding us applying the method for our life investigation.