Enjoy the silence

Thoughts and Opinions

Yesterday I went to my third-ever all day meditation retreat. I have to admit, I was little anxious about going a few days before I went. And if I was being really honest with myself, I was a little cranky about going. The thought of spending an entire day doing nothing but sitting and breathing and not talking to anyone sounded excruciatingly boring. I could think of a million other things I wanted to do. I could think of a million things I probably should otherwise be doing on one of my days of the weekend.

But I went because I knew that I needed to go.

I practice Buddhism in the Sōtō Zen tradition, which focuses on zazen (sitting meditation). And this is what we did for most of the day. We sat for 20 minutes, and then we would do something else to break up the zazen, like walking meditation, or work practice (cleaning, gardening, etc). We had a formal lunch, and we even did a form of meditation called Mondo (which is really cool). These extra things broke up the day in-between periods of sitting. We were not to speak to each other the entire day unless it was to give very brief instructions during the periods between zazen.

It seems weird to not talk to other people, almost rude actually. However, once you are in this kind of setting you realize that you can communicate with other beings without words. No I don’t mean telepathic mind-meld. I am just saying that words are only one way we communicate. Maybe we don’t need to  constantly be speaking to one another.  It’s ok to explore not speaking to other humans who are in the same room with you. You know?

The first 20 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning I almost panicked because I sat there, bored and wondered if this is what I was going to be dealing with all day. Not a great way to start things off.

But then my mind settled and I fell into a groove of watching my breath and my thoughts.

At some point in the afternoon I realized that I was, very much, enjoying the silence. My life is full of chatter and noise. I work in a public library and noise comes at me from so many directions. And I am an introvert – so this chatter tends to tire me out. I have gotten used to living with this constant chatter that I don’t even notice it anymore. Until it isn’t there. So I was really grateful for the lack of chatter yesterday. It allowed me to really follow what was going on inside my head, and it allowed me to put  some space around all of the thoughts so I could watch them arise and fall as they drifted through my mind.

Interesting thing that happened: all of those things that I felt like “I should otherwise be doing” didn’t matter at the end of the day. And they still don’t matter.


Thoughts and Opinions

I mentioned that I would blog about my first zazenkai experience.

Since most of us in our little group are new to the practice of meditation it was decided that we would do a shorter version. So we planned for 6 hours. There was a very organized schedule. We, essentially, did zazen for 30 minutes followed by walking meditation for 30 minutes. We also had a lunch break scheduled as well. the idea is to spend the day without speaking or engaging anyone in any conversation. The point is to just be very mindful in everything that is done, from sitting and breathing, to walking around, even down to eating the meal. During the zazen we each took turns reading something out loud. I read that poem “The Guest House” that I shared earlier this month.

I was really nervous about going. I have never done anything like this. I was really leery about not being able to talk to anyone all day. I spend all day every day talking. I like talking and being sociable. So I wasn’t sure about how I would like being around my friends all day and not being sociable with them. But, I was willing to try it out. It kind of felt like the right thing to do.

It turned out to be an incredible experience.

The readings that were chosen by everyone were amazing. One of our group plays the native american flute and instead of reading something she thought she would play for us instead. I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it was. Seriously. There are no words to describe it. One of the guys pretty much nailed it when he said, “That was a Dharma teaching.” And he is so right. I love how music can just transcend our intellect and speak directly to our soul. that’s exactly what happened.

Since I sat there all day and had nothing else to do, my mind wandered a lot.  I sort of went through all kinds of emotions.  Everything that has been bothering me I had to deal with because there it was, bubbling up to the surface of my mind.  At one point I remember thinking, “wow. is this that still point everyone is talking about?” But no. I was just starting to doze off.  It was actually a very peaceful, lovely feeling. Do you ever notice how it feels when you drift off to sleep? That feeling right before you are asleep? I had never noticed it before. It’s a really lovely feeling.

My profound realization at the end of the day? this is it:

It was just me sitting on a cushion.

There was nothing weird or overly spiritual about at all.  It was a day spent looking outside at the water droplets on the leaves. Or tasting my chicken stew and picking out the flavors of the vegetables. Or feeling the way my foot moves across the carpet when I walk. It was just me sitting on a cushion. Breathing.