I recently spent 9 days at a Buddhist Retreat in a magnificent part of New Zealand. It was hours and hours every day in meditation and listening to teachings. It was a fairly gruelling schedule that pulled me right out of my comfort zone. Sitting in lotus or half lotus for so many hours every day proved to be my biggest challenge. My knees, neck and back shouted at me pretty consistently, but I had set the goal to remain on the cushion throughout the entire retreat. It wasn’t because the cushion is the fast-track to enlightenment or anything. I could have meditated and received teachings in a comfy chair, but I was determined to achieve my goal.
The primary purpose of my goal was to sit with the discomfort and use it as an anchor for mindfulness… to keep me alert and present. Pain of any kind is the best tool for awareness that I know of. When we’re in pain, whether physical or mental, we are highly present and, usually, single-pointedly focused on it. So, I decided to use it as a meditation tool.
I sat dutifully on my cushion for too many hours to count over the course of 9 days. While I outwardly appeared to be peaceful and content, providing a source of strength and inspiration for a couple of my fellow retreatants, who were kind enough to tell me this, on the inside I was suffering. I felt obligated to let them know the extent of my pain, not to complain, but merely to let them know that looks can be deceiving.
And then came the instruction from Venerable Robina that we were to remain in strict silence for 2 full days. I actually welcomed this as I often engage in pointless chatter to fill the silence instead of embracing it. This proved to be so incredibly beneficial that I found coming back to my normal life difficult. I never fully realised how loud it is.
For a while before the retreat, I was feeling the pull to move toward peace and quiet and away from negativity and drama. I was finding the constant noise of others and my own mind to be too much and needed to reach inward to my monastic nature for refuge.
In silence I more easily find my bliss. Creating a protective bubble of serenity was enabling me to move through the difficult changes I have been going through with much more grace and acceptance. Trying to tackle the bigger issues with so much negative energy swirling around me proved too hard. I had become increasingly discontent. My experience reminded me that I am much more effective in solving my problems, as well as being there for others, when I am in a peaceful and more balanced place. Joining others in their negativity and suffering doesn’t benefit anyone. It only creates more negativity and suffering. Working towards creating a stable mind became my calling, knowing it will bring innumerable benefits.
So, I continue to observe my mind and endeavour to embrace all its crazy story telling and habitual negative patterns so I may one day create a state of equanimity. I’m already feeling the benefits of moving away from negativity with an increased spaciousness and sense of peace. I feel more openness to and appreciation for all the profound gifts in my life. These past few months have given me a deepening gratitude for the abundance and joy all around me when I choose the higher vibration of blissful awareness.
I have a long way to go to remove my habitual responses, as I can still so easily be drawn back into my negative patterns. However, I already feel so empowered by the changes I have made so far this year, that I’m dedicated to continuing to study the Dharma, along with my mind in meditation, and to strive to repair my karmic debts, which block me from enjoying a long-lasting happiness. After all, I believe that finding sustainable joy, loving kindness and compassion is the whole point of our existence.
In the words of John Lennon:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”