Anger was my open door.
Let me explain. This all has to do with a Silent Illumination (shikentaza) retreat, 10 days of silent (no talking, no “Hi ya’s, no “Pass the salt,” no “Watch out!s”) meditation at Dharma Drum Retreat Center up in Pine Bush, NY. Pine Bush, BTW, is the UFO capital of New York state, and I could write about that part of it if what I really want to write about gets too difficult. You see, on the drive up to Pine Bush from East Elmhurst, Queens there was another passenger, a woman of both Serbian and Croatian heritage who was quite knowledgeable about this UFO business and was–but I digress.
In Silent Meditation practice there is no object of focus other than just paying attention to what shows up through the senses (mind included) and noting without identifying. Sound easy? It’s not. Basically you’re inviting everything you’ve been avoiding for the last several lifetimes to come creeping out of the muck that is you into full blown consciousness. Yeech!
And that’s just what happened. Now it’s up to you. If you actually want to read about it, read on. If not, you know…
There were a bunch of us at this retreat. I’d ridden up in the van with 5 of them and learned their names and found them all to be decent human beings not unlike myself. The others, since we didn’t speak and hadn’t met before, remained anonymous although I felt sure they, too, were not unlike us van folk. One exception, a woman I’d met on retreat back in October, had gone through such extraordinary changes since then that I felt that, while I cared a great deal for her, at this moment I didn’t know her either. Nonetheless she, too, could be listed as not significantly different from the rest of us.
Cut to day seven: OK, so here we are in walking meditation, a nice bunch of people on retreat, at this particular moment walking around the meditation hall in “natural walking,” silent to be sure, anticipating being directed to walk faster and faster and faster and then slower and slower, and then virtually not at all, hands clasped in front of us navel high and I’m angry at all of them. Sure, when we fast walk, they all pass me. And when we slow down, they don’t wobble as much as I do. And when I finally can get up some speed, they seem to line up across the route and block me. As if that’s not enough, my mind is racing to create a rap sheet for each meditator, a list of imagined offenses committed in the past, present and anticipated for the future. Huh?
What’s going on? Isn’t it enough that my left heel and thigh ache with every step and the ball of my right foot–O Christ! Why am I here torturing myself in this hellhole? I can’t sleep. I can’t swallow food with this miserable pouch growing off my esophagus, and now I’ve got a guy in the next room whose snoring is gonna break down the wall between us and I don’t even have enough vacation time to cover this and what are they gonna do to me at work when they find that out and I’ll probably need surgery on the flipppin’ esophagus if I’m ever gonna be able to kick this Ensure habit and I’d really love some baby back ribs tonight and, and, and…and…oh
Oooh…oh, dear God, it’s not about them. It’s about me. New Mind kicks in, imitating the mind I use when I’m teaching anger management to others.
“Anger, you see, is what we call a secondary emotion. Before we get angry, we feel either hurt or fearful. These are feelings we associate with weakness. No one wants to feel week, do we? Of course not. We’d rather feel powerful, invulnerable, in control. Anger gives us that rush of adrenalin that makes us feel just the way we want to feel. Instead of, ‘O please don’t hurt me,’ we feel ‘I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ ass, you miserable chump’!'”
OK, New Mind continues, “so whatcha afraid of? What hurts?”
“You know damn’ well what hurts,” I scream back at peaceful, self-satisfied New Mind.
“Don’t try to tell me about them,” New Mind responds softly.
“OK, I won’t. My feet hurt. My hip hurts. Yes, damn it, my ego hurts. I useta walk like the wind. Now old ladies with shopping carts pass me on their way to sit on park benches for an hour or two talking about what hurts them, and how their children won’t let their grandchildren come for a visit and they fall asleep in front of the tv and then can’t sleep past 4:35 in the morning.”
“Oh yeah?” New Mind has the hint of a smile in his voice.
“Yeah…yeah,” I respond. “And what are you driving at?”
New Mind is silent. New Mind knows something. I feel it. I feel it. “What?! You think…what? That I’m afraid of something? Afraid of getting older? Afraid of growing old? Huh?! Is that what you think, you miserable piece of shit!”
New Mind stays silent. New Mind smiles again.
I take a deep breath. Exhaling, my shoulders come down from just below my ears. My chest relaxes, belly presses outward against my belt. Even my cheeks relax and my jaw droops. Almost a smile. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
* * * * *
Cut to the woods…
…and here I am, walking along alone in the woods, all the usual aches and my mind unable to put them down to enjoy either the scenery or the serenity when–and I have no idea of how this happened–I feel myself bending forward from the waist, stepping even more slowly and with far greater difficulty. I feel my skin growing dry and wrinkled and mottled. My eyesight blurs. My voice, even though I’m not speaking, thins and cracks and I can’t remember the words I wish to speak. I’m…old. I’m old! Right here, right now, Oh my God, I’m old! My mind–and this isn’t even New Mind–this is Another Mind Altogether. This mind has cut and pasted all my worst fears right into my consciousness. I look at my baggy clothing, drool stains on the shirt and skin like last years leaves. I listen to that voice that both is and isn’t mine. I feel my fear that I’ll never walk out of these woods alive.
“No! No,” I actually scream and cry out loud and just as quickly return to the being I had been two moments earlier. But not quite. I’m lighter of step now, powerful enough and delighted. Fear and pain are out of the spotlight and buried somewhere in the chorus line. Cautiously, yet confidently, I continue on my journey.
* * * * *
There’s more, but this is enough for right now.