This past weekend (Aug 2-5) we had our sangha summer campout with our meditation community Be Here Now – it was our 6th annual! We’ve been using the same campground each summer: Big Arm State Park on the Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. For the past 3 years, we’ve been managing to reserve their one and only group site, which wonderfully allows us to be all together in one spot AND right on the water! So great!!
Each campout is a nice social/community building/relaxing hang-time on the lake opportunity for our sangha. It allows us to be joyfuly together, whilst revelling in the lake, each others company, and the practice of having nowhere to go and nothing to do. We spend our time: reading, floating/paddling/swimming, conversing, laughing, playing games, drinking tea/coffee, sharing community meals, napping, and hanging out around the fire at night. Given that we had a smaller group than usual, and Saturday afternoon was a bit blustery, we even took a field trip this year during our campout: cherry picking!
This year we decided to add an optional sitting meditation session in the mornings on Saturday and Sunday. As we were sitting on Sunday morning, we were visited by a particularly vocal squirrel friend perched in a nearby tree. See video I took:
This little guy went on long enough for me to utilize his shrill chatterings in my meditation, as a medium in which to practice two very important skills:
- Not layering my own thoughts onto what someone else is doing, in such a way where I think I KNOW where they’re coming from
- Not taking on someone else’s energy as my own
Not layering my thoughts onto someone else: While I was sitting in meditation and this squirrel was going to town vocalizing whatever it was he was trying to convey, I found myself thinking: Man, he must be really unhappy. He sounds stressed out! Maybe we’re cramping his style and he’s trying to let us know. Whether it’s in regards to a person or an animal, I can never truly know what’s going on for someone. It’s so very common to mis-translate a look or a tone of voice or a subtle body movement or even something someone says under the guise of thinking we know FOR SURE what’s going on for them. The truth is, we have very little idea of what someone else is thinking, feeling, and experiencing. It’s an incredibly important skill to be able to recognize when we’re layering our own stuff onto others – which we do ALL OF THE TIME. I don’t think it’s realistic to think we can stop doing this, it’s human nature. But we can practice to infuse Thay’s teaching of: Am I sure? which will help us to start loosening our grip on our own perceptions, which as Thay teaches are 99% of the time incorrect.
Not taking on someone’s energy as my own: As time went on and the squirrel continued his persistent squeaking, I started noticing that I was feeling mild pangs of stress. I was taking on the feelings of what I regarded the squirrel to be experiencing, which was stress. Once I had this awareness, my practice while sitting was to let go of that story, so that I could then transform what I was feeling, and move from a state of stress to one of ease. We are not separate beings. We are each affected by the energy around us. In order to move with skillfulness, we need to know how to work with that energy in such a way that is beneficial to both ourselves and others. There are ways to absorb a collective energy that will enable us to stay well-balanced and grounded in the practice of mindfulness and heartfulness, and there are ways to do so where we become totally overwhelmed, incapable of keeping our mental and emotional well-being strong and supported.
Recounting my squirrel meditation puts me in mind of a line I recently read in Ethan Nichtern’s new book The Dharma of the Princess Bride: “Mindfulness allows us to see that more moments matter than we previously were willing to acknowledge. Maybe, just maybe, all the moments matter.” Ethan’s offering parallels well to my own often used mantra: There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.
The more my mindfulness practice grows, the more I come to see just how true this teaching is. Every moment matters. Truly. There really is no such thing as an insignificant moment – meaning one so small that there is no impact or effect being made. And we can choose to let this reality be stiffling and terrifying OR we can choose to to let it inspire us to start anew in each moment. It is a choice. And it’s one only we ourselves can make in whatever here and now we find ourselves amid. Choose well, dear friends. Our lives depend on it; the quality of our future is created by how well we’re tending to the present moment.