Having just returned from the 10 day silent meditation retreat I can definitively say that silence is not the point. I can even say that as I suspected, it wasn’t even very hard. We got to talk every other day in our group meetings anyhow, and twice in the 10 days in meetings with the meditation teachers. Anyhow, I liked the silence. It is amazingly easy to get along with other human beings if you don’t have to talk to them.
What was not easy in any way was the meditation. We woke up every morning at 5:15am and the first 45 minute sitting meditation was at 5:45. I tried it once, got dizzy, left the hall, and went back to bed. But no worries. There was another sit at 8:15. And another at 10am. And another at 11:30. 2:15, 3:45, 6:15, Dharma talk at 7:30, chanting and another sit at 9pm. In between each 45 minute sitting meditation was a walking meditation. At 3pm every day was a movement/yoga meditation. There was a lot of meditation.
What to say about it? Well, the obvious. My back hurt. My shoulders hurt. My knees hurt. In between my should blades hurt. Sometimes my neck hurt. I twitched, fidgeted, did stretching on the stealth, listened to song lyrics in my head. (Steely Dan, in particular, seemed appropriate. Over and over again, “Bodhisattva, won’t you take me by the hand.” And then, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.” No other lyrics. Just those, over and over and over again.)
Eventually, I surrendered to sitting in a chair. So much for my Joe-Meditator-I-Can-Take-It status. Gone.
That might be the point.
I began to follow the meditation instructions. I sat as still as I could. I tried to get concurrent with my sense doors, to be inside my moment-to-moment experience. I experienced bodily sensations like tornadoes or swirls from Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. I heard cars passing, the unpredictable notes of birds chirping, lawn mowers, the breathing, sighs and stomach rumblings of other meditators’ stomachs, not to mention my own. I lay my awareness next to physical sensations that sent me whirling into grief. I watched my breath rise and fall and then take sudden dips. I licked my lips and felt my tongue like an unruly and slippery animal, my lips tingling, the back of my teeth smooth and hard. I breathed and breathed again. I watched images appear in my mind, frightening and nonsensical and amusing. I got lost in thoughts about work, or marriage, or the future, or the past and pulled out to start hearing the birds and cars again, or to start feeling the burning of my sit bones on the chair cushion.
I lay my awareness next to anger, and pain, and hurt, and grief. I watched them pass.
It wasn’t boring. It was amazingly difficult and suddenly peaceful. This uncomfortable body. This unruly and wild mind. This light inside.
The point, the Buddhists’ say, is to know the way things really are. To know the truth of things, which we can only know through our senses. That everything that lives, dies. That impermanence is the rule of life. That suffering is. That our mind constructs realities because that is its job, but its stories aren’t true stories. When we free our mind from stories and cravings and aversions, we can know liberation. We can be freed from suffering. We can know peace.
I would like peace.
Of course, to be a true Buddhist I would probably have to give up swearing, so I think ultimate enlightenment is out of the question. I mean, I really love the word fuck. I love it’s many uses as every possible part of speech. I mean, fucking coming on, you beautiful total fuck, are you really going to fuck up this lovely spiritual blog by fucking your way through this sentence?
It seems I am.
Seriously, I have never been so stirred up, felt so safe, been held in such kindness. I mean, I can’t wait to go back and suffer again. And contrary to any appearances in any above paragraphs, I do feel calmer. I mean, I actually chewed my food at both breakfast and lunch and have refrained from multi-tasking most of the day. I LOVED that retreat. Spiritual rigor, mental training, kindness, morality. Sign me up. Again, and again.
And, while I was gone, it seems the team went to Pride, created buzz, and talked to people about investing. This weekend, it’s the Provincetown Film Festival for more of the same.
I plan to meditate while the booth is slow. Come and see. You can place bets on whether it’s my knees or my back that’s giving me the greatest sensory experience of unbelievable and utter PAIN. You can bet on whether it’s my right foot or my left that’s currently fallen asleep.
Really. It will be fun.