In the Company of the Buddha (written 2007)
Something miraculous happened tonight and it made me weep. Second day into retreat and a day of difficult sitting: still and obedient body, unruly and scattered mind. Not sure how to approach what I knew I needed: happiness and energy as the foundation of my practice...all but lost in these last months of depression, as I sank in the murk of dukkah...what did I say to a friend? “Existential angst.” I could see the truth of suffering, but felt stuck, unable to reach the raft of the other Noble Truths leading to its end.
I signed up for an interview but Bhante Pavaro had too many of us to get to and I took my name off the list, opting instead to put a question in the basket “Questions for the Monk”. I asked about skillful use of visualization to generate and develop energy and joy.
At the beginning of the evening sitting, Bhante addressed this and I appreciated his suggestions but the miracle followed when he introduced another monk, visiting for the evening. A younger but more senior monk just returned from Thailand and soon to be going to New Zealand but here, now. What complex khammic causalities brought me here to hear him? This is a small and ordinary miracle. I am grateful.
He opened by speaking of what brings us to spiritual seeking and he had me there. Thus the tears. Dukkah. Discontent. He mentioned the three paths people follow in seeking contentment: sensuality/pleasures; existence (goals and achievements, carving out a kind of life); and spiritual seeking for something more, for the truth. Yes!
And then he addressed my question with personal examples: Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. He described visualizing being in the presence of the Buddha...being the recipient of faith and calm. He talked of generating the feeling of a warm and open heart in the body (kindness, compassion, generosity) and how this can be the subject of meditation or the opening of one. I gratefully accepted this gift of his presence and teaching, the spark I'd hoped for in re-setting the fire. I have felt so cold and plodding and sad...but I simply broke open as he spoke with such gentle sincerity and kindness. I could feel the smile beginning in my heart.
The next day began with a calm mind and twitchy body...turning yesterday inside out. I had slept well, partly the joy at the close of the day and partly the more mundane fact that I had stuffed a face cloth in the door beside the frame to prevent the bumping that is incessant if I leave my window open a little. Still, in the first session I mostly walked, unable to switch off my physical body's rising energy.
After breakfast and a shower though, calm mind spread tendrils through this body. I settled in the next session and when I opened my eyes after a timeless time, blinking like a newly hatched chick, but moving my stiff legs like an old hen, I found an hour and a half had passed. I unwound and walked before sitting again.
I am using the Buddha reflection to begin and it is as if a hand is reaching through the fog of dukkha. Tranquility is possible and a firm and consistent return of the mind to breath and heart when it wanders. No falling away, but some distancing of sensation so bodily complaints come from far away and are not a bother for long stretches.
Walking the grounds at peace in the evening, and I catch a glimpse of one of Providence's huge rabbits, grooming himself in the courtyard, thoroughly white still against the black dirt of the newly turned spring flowerbed. Change often happens slowly, I am reminded. But I am in the company of the Buddha, of the Sangha and of the Dhamma. My feet are firm on the path.