Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Notes Before a Summer Retreat


I arrived back in New York City this afternoon at rush hour.  It's been 25 days since I had seen the city. I was away in the woods of Pennsylvania on a meditation retreat. Surprisingly I wasn't frazzled or overwhelmed. But my eyes were constantly jumping around at all the shiny, sweaty, yelling, vibrant people bustling down the streets.

I was fortunate enough to finish another month-long retreat this summer. In my particular Buddhist tradition, there is no talking about the meditation experiences -whether they be amazing or mundane- that happen during the actual retreat. This is difficult for me because I write as a way of processing and remembering. The past two summers I've had to keep a private journal for my own thoughts and experiences in retreat.

There is, however, nothing wrong with talking about what happens before and after the actual retreat. Here are some notes on the before and after.

BEFORE RETREAT
-I passed by a Zen rock maze overgrown with weeds that was in front of my cabin. It bothered me that this was/is a holy labyrinth blessed by Dalai Lama and his monks and now it has been taken over by wild weeds and daisies. It felt like it was calling me to do something. But there was no time.

-On the way to the cabin a black snake slithered across my path. It appeared out of nowhere and seemed to disappear just as quickly. Afterward I asked the Retreat Master about snakes. She said they mean growth and power of some sort. I never saw that snake or any snake again.

-I get sick the first night there. I'm anxious and very nervous. My mind was racing with all the possible catastrophes that could happen. Coughing, sore throat, congestion, wheezing in my lungs. The wheezing would disappear and re-appear throughout, some times dependent on time of day or emotional state. I've decided not to take any medicine for the time being, although I've brought along aspirin. Not trying to be a hero, but interested in exploring further. If it gets too bad, I'll take medicine.

-The cabin has an unusual vibration/frequency thing going on in the air. I think I might be imagining this but I'm not sure. I go outside to check the electrical lines. Nothing appears out of sorts.

- I decided and then un-decided on where the altar was going to be, where my meditation seat was going to be, and where my bed was going to be in the cabin. I switched around the room a couple of times before settling on what seemed like something reasonable.

-I noticed that the cabin was surrounded by wild blueberries, black berries, and raspberry bushes. I've never seen so many berries growing naturally in such close vicinity.

-Ducks live and sleep in the grove beyond the trees. They sleep there at night. Apparently ducks snore and do some sort of quack-babble in their sleep (perhaps in duck REM sleep reliving some trauma or happy days).  A snoring duck sounds exactly like you think they would.

-I'm trying to catch a fly with a drinking glass. I accidentally chop it in half and feel sad. I set the glass down on a table and clean up. The frequency/vibration things intensifies in the air for a moment and then the drinking glass explodes. There was nothing in it, it was not on a hot surface, and all the other items surrounding the glass remain undisturbed. The empty, perfectly sculpted glass just exploded into a thousand different shards. And then my bed breaks! I apologized and purified for the 'fly chopping incident. Then I cleaned up the glass, replaced the bed with just two mattresses stacked on top of each other, and continued cleaning. I catch a few more flying insects and spiders that day. I am very careful and nothing gets chopped in half. The bed doesn't break again and no more glasses explode for the rest of the retreat.

-I have one last dinner with the retreat family in the  main house and then say goodbye to everyone. No more talking, sitting, or being with them until the end of the retreat.

- I went down to the lake and looked at all the lotus flowers blossoming along the muddy shores. I took two pictures and sent to my facebook.

-I can technically check my email and phone but can't even muster the effort on the last day before going in. I was also afraid of getting that 'one last email' about something that would haunt me into the retreat. Turned off the phone and put it in suitcase in the basement of the main house. Feel relieved.


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