Reflections from Western Zen Retreat October 11th – 16th 2019 Dharma Drum Retreat Center
“Nothing matters, and everything must go, Yet love is having the heart touched in the valleys of suffering”
These words which were part of the liturgy recited at the retreat really sum up how I am post-retreat. I also cannot help but recite these words and I cannot remember exactly where they are from but
“When I close my eyes and look within I know I am no-thing and this is wisdom, when I open my eyes and look outside I know I am everything and this is love”
As I’ve said to yourselves and to many other people since, this retreat with its very special format should be compulsory for everyone who considers themselves “a meditator”. I have been practising so called meditation for embarrassingly many years yet I now feel I know what it really means to meditate properly and to understand the simple truth of when I’m not meditating. The insistence on moment by moment mindfulness of everything going on in the body, mind and environment yet remaining completely relaxed was compelling. I realise I’ve been pretty good at the body sensations and the environment but tracking my own mind/emotions on a moment by moment basis has really opened me to my denied and disowned suffering and given me the ability to really empathise with others, developing compassion with the listening exercise repeated over and over and over again. I was so amused and guilty on the second day when Rebecca spoke of how “Buddhists” struggle with this retreat more than others because of our “Buddhist concepts” which of course, I was naively spouting after a few rounds of the “Who are you?” – “well I’m pure awareness” “I’m empty”- hee hee! Instead of being prepared to go in to the 100,000 caves in the dark mountains (a reference back to my koan on my first Chan retreat) and shine light on that which I have not explored.
There were revelations of course, regarding my childhood, my behaviour, relationships, emotional baggage and more but all happening in the now and passing through, bringing me to a deeper understanding of the Rumi poem – The Guest House. I noticed my constant rehearsing of conversations! I do this all the time, I mean all the time. Is this as a result of my fear of rejection, reprimand, confrontations? – I seem to be treading on eggshells so often around men in particular, no wonder my throat chakra and surrounding areas (shoulders) are suffering! And then Rebecca’s reminder to be careful of “I already know” – constantly reminding us to stay curious, explore, allow and taste and check. Tenderly caring for our suffering, tenderly care for the grief, loss, sadness etc. It was moving and painful to hear others whose suffering was great and to feel in others their inability to “open” and as such block themselves, but as Rebecca taught us, everyone does this at their own pace and in their own time. Reminding me of the word “titrating” which we often use in our Sangha.
This all lead to a renewed appreciation and understanding and I could even say embodied experience of impermanence. Drilling the fact of the coming and going of everything except this always present, available and unmovable silence. What more is there to say?
Words cannot quite .………………………………………