Silent? Illumination

At the end of a nine day Silent Illumination meditation retreat l attended recently the instructor, Simon Child alerted us that many people think of meditation retreats as semi-luxurious vacations from the stress of the world. “Don’t be surprised,” he warned us, “when folks ask you ‘did you have a good time?’ or ‘How was the Jacuzzi?’ He also asked we write a report on our experience. I hope the below is an appropriate response to both the warning and the request.

 

Silent Illumination Retreat Report

 

After the storm

Sunlight streams

Over the spillway

 

For the first four days of this late spring nine day retreat in the Catskills the only times I’d take off my jacket would be to step into the shower or slide into my sleeping bag. By the middle of the fifth day, however, temperature was no longer an issue, that consideration having been obliterated by the merciless throbbing in both my left and right calf muscles. I meditate astride a seiza, the Japanese kneeling bench much more comfortable for me than a traditional cushion—at least until now. Behind me I could see, first with anger then jealousy, a few other retreatants sitting in chairs.

Fine for them,” the self-righteous voice in my head spoke thru the pain.  “I would never begrudge anyone that which they needed.” But I knew—deep down, truly knew—not for me. In my book chairing was the revelation of a weakness in no way mine. I could not be a wimp and still expect a successful retreat.

I was sweating. Simon had instructed us that Silent Illumination begins with locating the mind within the body, but not like this. This wasn’t observation and investigation. This was hell. This was suffering and suffering well beyond any conceivable strategy to end it. I sat tortured in my seventy-five year old body, steeped in self-pity and on the verge of tears while Suffering screamed brilliantly loud and clear that I was in the wrong place and, yes, at the wrong time and that my only sensible option was escape.

“Get up! Take the seiza, fold the towel, slink out the Chan Hall door, return to the dorm, pack and hitchhike to the nearest train station. Do it now!”

Pain and panic flooded my mind as I leaned forward to make my exit. It was then that Awareness—blessed Awareness–spoke:

Danger! Danger!

Great Doubt! Great Doubt!  Great Doubt!

Danger! Danger!

Aha! Moment of insight: My suffering was not being created by my legs but by my mind in the guise of male ego. This filter of judgements and commandments interposed between the world and my awareness of it was keeping me from responding appropriately to the situation at hand. Simon had mentioned the rulebooks we write or adopt and then force ourselves to live by, and here mine was—titled in bright gold script on its shiny red jacket:

Do’s and Don’ts of Real Men!

I rose, folded the seiza and, rather than slink out the door, I placed myself on a chair!  A brief smile and I returned gratefully to Silent Illumination practice.

*   *   *

For the remainder of the retreat my body continued as the entry point for more investigations. Each would be accompanied by sensations I would have previously identified as pains. None came with drama.  Never again did it occur to me that I might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Right here-right now was just fine.

 

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Published in: on June 17, 2017 at 11:30 am  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A beautiful story of being the willow.
    Sandy

    Like

  2. Dear Dick,

    Pain is such a distraction. Glad you eliminated the pain and the thoughts of failure that accompany it. You did what was necessary to accomplish your goal.

    Barbara

    Like

  3. Thank you Richard, very interesting blog post.
    sincerely,
    Dictelio Cepeda

    Like

  4. Through your choice of descriptive adjectives you offered me illumination for which I thank you.

    Micki

    Like

  5. As always, interesting introspection.

    Like

  6. It is better to bend than to snap.

    Like

  7. From Annie:
    You’re a better man than I, Charlie Brown ❤️

    Like

  8. Dude! There was an empty chair there the whole time?!?

    Guess I’m not spiritual/male/introspective enough to get the problem here. 😉

    Like

  9. Vuong Nguyen

    to richsgold
    It is great to hear from you Richard.

    Today, at last I had a chance to read your loooooooooong blog completely.

    Very impressive it is. A multi talented person you are ! 👏👏👏👏👌👌👌

    Thanks for sharing and I would certainly sharing good things to others whom I am considering would enjoy your blog as I do. 🙏🏼

    Keep on blogging !

    Cheers,

    VN

    Like

  10. Thank you very much Richard ~
    Letitia

    Like


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