A Better Self (written 2009)
After so many monastery retreats it is interesting to be at Providence again. A lay teacher here I've not connected with before. A few familiar faces in the crowd. The simple and familiar room and the rituals of making it home for awhile.
The first evening a brief whiff of loneliness when my eyes opened to the dusky day beyond the window, a time for supper and gathering at home. This was palpable for a breath, then I was back, savoring the silence, the freedom from the need to interact for awhile, to turn inward and thus more fully outward to all I am part of.
No Dhamma talk and no chants. Alas. I find myself missing the structure, the rituals, though the group sitting is welcome. Tonight we focus on bare awareness of sound and then move into a compassion meditation. It is soothing, centering, heart opening.
The format for the compassion meditation is taken from teachings by Jack Kornfield in his book The Wise Heart. Beginning by thinking of loved ones, allowing thoughts of their unique situations and suffering to arise and following these with heartfelt assurances. “You are held in compassion. You are loved. May your sorrow and pain be eased.”
I have used this form before when someone dear is on my mind. But also when some event in the world has sidelined my heart in grieving or sorrow. A headline on the news. A natural disaster. A loss. It is a deep reminder to me of the universality of suffering. Of Bhante Pavaro's wise mantra “Nothing unusual here.” And it allows me to open to the suffering that comes home to me in recognizing and fearing pain in the world, in wishing it were otherwise, while merging this pain response with something that is good for the heart. Not just a fear and turning away then, but a recognition and a feeling with and for others. This is so. It hurts. May you know you are not alone. May you know that this too will pass.
I had not planned to seek an interview this time. Thought I would take the solitude deeper, but at breakfast on the second morning, Christopher, the retreat leader, stops me. “You and I should chat today.” And so I go. We talk a long time. About lay practice, about marriage and children and aging parents and loss and relationships through the changes life brings, all in the context of Dhamma. When at day's end, I come to write in this pretty journal, a gift from my sister, I find this quote gracing the page in pastels: I want first of all to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life...” The words, as all the quotes in the journal are, are from A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,and reflecting on my interview conversation with Christopher, I find them apt. The work begins here. At peace with myself.
This does not involve “fixing” myself. But rather developing a kindness, a being and not a doing, observing with care, remaining mindful, exerting right effort. See the unwholesome states and stop them. See the wholesome states and nurture them. And the kindness I show myself does its work without my needing to take control. Thus, through right intention, right effort, and compassion, this better self is something positive I offer my family, my friends and the world.