Friday, September 01, 2006
Last night, I stumbled cross a 2002 article, “Waiting. Waiting. For What?” by Reginald Ray in the Shambhala Sun. Ray was describing the stages one goes through on a 30 day Buddhist retreat. The stages seem remarkably universal to me.
You also pass this way if you maintain a practice through the years. And if you don’t have a regular practice, perhaps you’ll see how life is pushing you along anyway, down this common path… that can look so different in its personal particulars.
So, I am excerpting Reginald Ray here. Deleting ellipsis for clarity and trusting that I do not distort his words or intentions too much in the process.
The First Dharma.
The first experience is one of apprehensive uncertainty and the first dharma or teaching is trying to establish one’s ground and security within a new situation. [Once] our physical space was established, we began to meditate and found ourselves setting up our psychological ground- our customary preoccupations, our familiar hopes and fears, our habitual patterns of experiencing (and avoiding) our world.
The last aspect of finding our ground was wanting to know what was expected of us and wanting to “get it right.”
The Second Dharma.
But security, when it is well established, can quickly turn into a claustrophobic prison. At times we felt unbearably confined: just this aching body, just this room, just this mat, just this breath, just this discomfort. Periodically overcome by resistance to our experience, we might momentarily escape by thinking, “I could leave right now.”
The Third Dharma.
After a certain period of time- a subtle shift occurred. This grew is stages. In the beginning when we entered the room for the first morning sit, we might sense the utter stillness of the place. Later, we might suddenly become aware of the silence surrounding our mental activity. Later still, worn out by the compulsive activity of the mind, we might give up and find ourselves sitting in perfect stillness.
This was not ordinary silence. Usually silence is an uncomfortable gab between thoughts, an awkward hiatus between words, an irritating interruption of our projects. But the silence in this room was different: in depth and completeness. Within this profound stillness, nothing had ever happened and nothing needed to happen. It was open and unobstructed. The silence was not ordinary in another way: it was not an absence of anything, but rather alive, vibrant, and awake. It seemed inseparable from awareness itself.
The Fourth Dharma.
Within the boundless, empty space of this room, periodically laughter would erupt. Perhaps someone could not bear the endless silence any more.
Perhaps a bird might perch momentarily on a window, tap the pane as if to say, “Is anyone in there?” Then laughter would be joyous.
The Buddha’s dharma is also tears. Someone across the room would fall into barely audible weeping. At such a moment I thought of Buddha, who after his enlightenment, surveyed the world and saw beings everywhere wailing with the misery and torment of their condition.
The Fifth Dharma.
In the silence we discovered another way to live. Here we found the truth, at first unwelcome, that the central experience of the retreat was waiting. Waiting for what? Just waiting, waiting without end, as a way of being.
Over the course of the month, one could not help suspecting that the kind of waiting we were experiencing was somehow a gateway to our lives. By waiting, our unexpected life, our true life, could make itself known. We realize the inapplicability of our ideas about who we are and what we need to be- then our genuine life can disclose itself unimpeded.
How profound and intense our life wants to be. Utterly beyond sentimentality, beyond anything special or specific.
Retreats push us to a nakedness of experience that we ordinarily fear. Attempting to secure one’s ground, the receding horizon of the “healthy ego” everyone talks about, is not to be abhorred; it is the first stage of practice.
This leads gradually to an experience of stillness and space that surrounds and holds our neurotic struggling. We come to discover this underlying silence as awareness itself, and we begin to identify with it more and more.
We begin to learn how to wait, in emptiness, for the emergence of our true life.