While on retreat during one of our afternoon discussion groups I was reflecting on my first few retreat experiences years ago. The first few retreats I attended were difficult. I was constantly irritated by one thing or another and it was not uncommon for me to be crying about things I didn’t even fully understand. My past would surface at unexpected moments and oftentimes I was filled with internal heaviness and sorrow. For reasons I don’t recall, but am wonderfully grateful for, I kept going to retreats. I suspect it had to do with knowing that despite the challenges I was facing deep down I understood it was part of the transformation process that needed to happen.
I don’t know how many retreats I’ve been on now and it really doesn’t matter. What I do know is that I am filled with an immense gratitude and reverence for life and I fully credit this beautiful mindfulness practice for that. Sometimes we need to trust that our inner guide will take us where we need to go, even when it seems we have no idea where the heck we’re heading.
These are some notes I took from the last dharma talk by Cheri Maples on Sunday September 29th:
Does our mental state move us toward or away from struggle? We need to learn how not to be seduced by our likes and dislikes, to investigate. There is no one truth, it is many sided. Before investigation we need to develop stability in concentration. If our mind is racing more questions will not be helpful. If we get caught in questions we need to let it go and come back to our breathing.
When asking ourselves questions in meditation we want to avoid ones that reinforce conditioning, such as: why is this happening to me, how can I fix it, and what is wrong with me. The basis of these questions is: if I can figure it out it will go away. We also want to avoid asking questions that feed the intellect, ones that masquerade as noble and reasonable but that lead to greater agitation and more thinking. Skillful questions are ones that invite us to look at the self in the present moment and ask: What am I practicing in this moment? What’s the quality of my heart right now? Where is kindness right now? What would be needed to be at peace right now?
Self is a verb. What is a wooden cart when you take it apart? What part(s) are the cart? Each part put together comprises the cart. Just as we are all a stream of conditions that come together to form the self. Before awakening there is the self – after awakening there is the self – what changes is the view. It is like mistakingly thinking that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun circles around us and then discovering the truth. We are like a drop of water in a lake – one with the body of water around us.
This practice is about non-duality – effort and non-effort. One foot is in the historical dimension and one foot is in the ultimate dimension – one foot rooted in compassion and one foot in equanimity. We don’t have to differentiate between one or other.
When we are locked into the self it leads to ill will. It isn’t about detaching in passivity, it’s about relinquishing self power, that in which is confining and creates separation. What is possible expands with awareness and extends and receives the world.