I am here at Southern Dharma for my second visit with many first time retreaters. We are an effervescent group. I am not sure what we are hoping for? But we are hopeful. There is an older couple I speak with who seems comtemplative albeit nervous about four days of silence. I reassure the wife, “you will be fine.” Another couple, a mother and grown daughter have already done a few retreats together and are looking forward to this one. They are sharing a room even though they will be in noble silence. Sometimes our closeness with another is deeper when we are not speaking or looking at one another. We eat our nightly meal of soup and salad as we chat openly.
After dinner we meet with Ronya who will be running the retreat. We are being readied for the next few days. We introduce ourselves and share with the group our level of experience. Do I say that this is my second retreat to Southern Dharma or that I have 20 years of an off and on meditation practice that includes many sits, trainings and classes that I have both taken and taught. I end up saying little beyond a stammer.
Right before our break, she informs us that we are now in noble silence. Oddly without thinking, I end up asking a man as we leave, “what is the New Year’s meditation retreat like?” He looks at me long enough to communicate through his eyes that it was good, but we are in silence! his eyes both stern and pleading, as he looks first at me and then pointedly at the teacher. Oh my! I cannot believe I have broken silence as soon as we have begun! I am slightly embarrassed. Oh well. I am human. I have made a mistake. I forgive myself as we leave and then silence begins again.
After the break we have our first sit. The sits are in 45-minute intervals. We are a large group of 26 people so invariably there are noises.
A man’s snore takes me out of stillness followed by a dog’s bark. There are two dogs on the premise and they almost never bark so I wonder what is out there that they see. Later, mid Dharma talk, Ronya stops to notice a feather coming down from mid air.
It is Thursday and I didn’t sleep well. Even though I am alone I am still with my thoughts and they are busy. I am relieved to hear the 6a morning bell. I quickly make my way for the coffee. It tastes good but I am jacked up on it during the meditation.
I find that my thoughts enter hell. I see frozen body parts in a cellar. I am not frightened by these thoughts, but feel that my guides are pulling me out of there telling me I need to leave. I start to have worrisome thoughts, I say prayers for protection for me and loved ones. Ronya reads something at the end about hell. She says that the Buddha meditated on 40 things. One is on dead bodies. This represents the greed that we need to work through. Hmm…
We go into our (second) meditation and I think I see a vision of Marahaji He is handing me his blanket to keep warm as he offers me grapes and then pats me on the head.
There is a Dhama talk and we are told that there are three facets of meditation. Concentration, mindful awareness and investigation. I think of my practice at home which I do by staring at a candle (concentration), from above my head (mindful awareness) with a curious open- hearted nature as my thoughts float by (investigation).
- Ronya tells us about R.A.I.N. Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-attachment when negative thoughts or any thought comes up.
- R – Recognize what is happening
- A – Allow life to be just as it is
- I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
- N – Non-Identification. (non-attachment)
Overall today is tough. I have disturbing thoughts. I stay with them as best as I can. I crawl through dead bodies and shit (literally). She tells us that there are three levels of hells and I wonder if I have traversed all three. Greed, anger/hate, and delusions.
We break into small groups and have an interview with Ronya. I am with a bunch of people who have just recently started to meditate. They bring up ordinary things like, how slow do we need to walk in the walking meditations. I will never be able to walk as slowly as some of these people" says one woman who works in a psychiatric crisis cente ER in Florida. Ronya pauses to answer their questions. I am second to last and tell about my nightmare, hellish meditations today. I notice my peers recoiling in unison and I apologize. I look at Ronya. She tries to answer my question as best as she is able to. She tells me to send myself Loving Kindness.
I slept somewhat better last night but wake up with a headache. I might not of had enough caffeine yesterday and maybe am going through withdrawal. I find that it is cold out as I make my way from the one-person cabin to the main hall. I gulp down a ½ of cup of coffee before morning meditation. We chant and then meditate before a breakfast of oatmeal, hemp-like seeds, fruit and yogurt. After breakfast I take a vigorous walk with the wind against me. The outdoor shower that I had this morning was shared with a large black spider. The spider and I don’t bother each other but I do think of my daughter and her fear of spiders. I feel tired but the walk and shower have helped.
I see a downed tree later in the day. I ponder on it and when I touch it I am surprised not to feel sadness, Instead feel its message. Death is a part of life. “Be Here Now” this is it.
During the first meditation I move to the front of the room that has been cleared out as now most of the meditators are sitting in the back in chairs.
My intention today is about finding the path to Enlightenment.
I see Mother Mary and then Maharaji, and then travel to the hardest of times in history, slavery and the holocaust. I feel its pain in an abstract, impersonal way. I see people who are now in my life. Women that I am friends’with and people in herbal school. My husband and children float by, and my husband says to me, you don’t have to do this. I hand him the keys to my heart as I keep traveling. I flow to the heavens where I see a bed made out of feathers and straw, and then feel this lightness. Then Skaktipat my forehead is hit three times as the bell ring.
I try to stay with the open-eyed meditation as I stare at a rock that I have found on my walk. It is crystal like and I am glad for its presence, as I don’t have a lite candle in front of me like I do when I sit at home. I focus on the small rock but the lighting in the room is so dim that I am sleepy. I add another drishti (fixed point) to stay focused by counting my breaths. Breath in, breath out one, breath in and breath out two, I reach 20 and then I count down. The spot on my upper right side of my back hurts (the spot that always seems to hurt when I sit upright and still). I wish for a hard ball to push against it. At the end I say prayers, A Hail Mary and then an Our Father. I feel that I am being rushed to complete the Our Father so I say the prayer faster and faster hurrying to finish it and as I do I feel this rush of energy at my third eye as the bell rings.
My focus for this meditation is Eagle. I have a hard time picturing an Eagle and wonder if what I am looking at is a hawk. I have been calling in Eagle lately. The animal that represents Great Spirit. The animal that eats snakes. (It seems to be working as the last hike I called its energy in as my husband and I started a hike at Looking Glass. By the end of the hike, we heard its call confirmed by another hiker.) I think of how Eagle represents our national bird and how Benjamin Franklin wanted it to be a turkey. instead Why do we try to play God with other nations and why do we think we know better than they do? I ponder this as I focus on the Great Bird.
Later on a walk I find a large dark and light striped brown feather. I wonder what type of bird it is from. I doubt that it is an Eagle’s feather. Maybe a hawk?I also see a small turtle with orange coloring around its head and three deer that pass me by. They all seem to stop and stare when I say to them, Om Namaha Shivaya over and over again.
(Afternoon) Sitting meditation
I sit and focus on my breath. No drama. Just sitting. The meditation feels long but I get through it. No-thing and this is what I am looking for. Nothing but sitting Za-zen.
During the Dharma talk Ronya tells us that we are to turn toward our experience and the habits of the mind. When we fulfill our hungry desires then we make them stronger. Hungry Ghost. Samsara. The wisdom view is to see things clearly with out delusions. When we don’t attach to things, then we don’t suffer. Renunciation is to let go of cravings and to have good will by wishing people well and to practice harmlessness. To not try to harm ourself or others. It seems to me the same tenets in all religion’s even thought Buddhism isn’t a religion but a philosophy.
We talked about speech and abstaining from lying. Abstaining from slanderous speech, gossip and idle chatter. Before speaking we should think first, if it is true, the right time to say it, beneficial and spoken with kindness and good will. In livelihood we should avoid making money from weapons, animals, prostitution, slaves, meat production (butchery), poisons and intoxicates, pesticides. A discussion with questions and answers ensues and I half listen. I wonder if it is better to own a butcher shop and be kind and considerate of the patrons and employees or to own a yoga studio and be a hypocritical person? I guess these answers have to come from within.
I wake up this morning and think that I am over snake medicine. That I have moved on. I have dealt with my shadow and now I am open to the light. I am protected by Great Eagle. I have a feather to prove it. It is early and I glance at the clock in the dark 4:38a. I get up and and fumble around for my glasses in the dark. I turn the lantern on but the light in the room is still dim. My hand rests on my bed and I feel movement on my pinkie finger. I glance down and see what appears to be my hair tie. But the hair tie is moving! I let out a muffled scream. A snake?!
I bring the lantern down and take a better look. It isn’t a worm but it is too small to be a snake. It is a millipede. The Universe has a sense of humor. I bring the critter outside. I need to stay humble.
The morning meditation is long. I am focused and still. Lots of sounds reverberate. Someone is sniffling, another stomach is grumbling and yet still many intermittent coughs.
After breakfast I think about the amazing food. Curry dishes and creamy vegan soup, raw chocolate nut bars, an apple crisp, salads with all kinds of accouterments, a blueberry rosemary cornbread. Yum. I remind myself to stay present. There is no place to be but here, there is nothing to do but this. I take one mindful step after another one…I then sit on the large rock that faces the one-person cabins and glance at the sun as it warms me and think, these words from history. Upon this rock let me build thy church…
This afternoon I enter the meditation hall. I look over at the Buddha statue and for whatever reason I feel this surge of anger at him. I get the sense that instead of judging me, he is laughing at me. The laughing Buddha. It defuses my anger.
I think of my cousin who died in a boating accident several years ago. He and his girlfriend were killed by a hit and run boat, a careless drunk boater. They were hit so hard their boat shattered in two. It had been a night that my cousin was going to propose to her. He went back to his hometown to do it on the lake that he grew up on, even though he was living in Virginia. I get the sense during the meditation that he is now reunited with his mother who recently died. He has finally moved on and maybe his mom has helped him to do so. I remember how much we all loved his fun, playful spirit. How one Christmas at church he was invited up to be the littlest angel when he was five or six. How he scowled and shook his head, “No that would be too fucking embarrassing” he loudly announced in church as everyone roared laughing.
At another point, the Buddha comes through again to me and tells me that suffering is necessary for the evolution of the soul, that impermanence is ever present in everything and that I need to follow Jesus as Christianity is my chosen religion in this lifetime. (Towards the end of the meditation the top of my head starts to feel like it has something moving on it. It is a strange feeling. I try to resist the urge to reach up and touch it. It feels like bugs are crawling there. Finally I reach up and nothing. I wonder if this has to do with my crown chakra?)
It is a relief and fun to break noble silence and chat with everyone. I think we may have been even more bonded at the end, than if we had talked the whole time. I compare animals with a woman who also had seen a few. She tells me about a flock of turkeys that she saw and I feel a pang of jealousy when she tells me this. (When you see a turkey, it means you have won the lottery. They are a fortuitous creature.)
As I am driving away I examine my jealousy and greed. Don’t I have everything I could ever want? Why be greedy?? As I am thinking this I see a turkey pass before my car as I make my way out through the gravel path. Later I find out the feather that I found, isn't that of Eagle nor hawk but rather a turkey's feather. As I reflect back, it was a beautiful weekend. One I am very grateful for.
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”…