Quiet (written 2018)
Outside my window the wide springy branches of a spruce tree bounce and jostle in the wind. From time to time this afternoon rain has fallen as well. Inside, I'm warm and dry, steeped in the silence of my home such that only the click of my fingers on the keyboard, and occasionally the shuffle of my husband's feet moving in the kitchen fall on my ears, always against the low buzzing white-noise of computer and appliances.
I've been wondering why I think sometimes that I need a retreat. My home is often quieter than the monastery. But in the midst of the quiet and the yearning that can come into it (for something else, for retreat) I'm learning about preferences.
Examine what arises, teachers say. There's a space of silence and peace arises, but wishing and yearning arrive too. And where do these lead? The peace is good. But something about it draws out the wishing...for escape from the conditions of the way things are. Today I listened to a teacher who talked about a greater ability to be in the world as it is that grows from practice. So I back up here. What is at the root of the yearning? Clinging. Holding onto the way things are when they momentarily reflect the way I want them to be. This sense of quiet and safety and open space then. That is my preference. And so, the seed of unease, disquiet inside, the opposite of what I want, is created by that preference itself.
I'm sipping green tea. Pausing often here. Looking inward. Ajahn Sucitto, in a book of his that I'm reading, talks about understanding future and past as being only “penciled in”, not given substance in the moment. The memory, the plan, the wish lifts itself into the moment via the mind in the same way that the shushing of feet on the floor, the tapping of fingers on the keys, lift into this moment via the ears. The tang of tea on the tongue, pressure of back into the chair, itch of the mosquito bite on my ankle. Not a full blown reenactment or creation, but suggestions that touch mind and fall again. When I see this penciled notation of yearning for what it is, nothing there has the capacity to drag me in. It's ephemeral, fleeting and harmless. When I forget...and lean into this, the pencil lead breaks through and mars the paper, a preference is created whole and dark, a vessel substantial and deep enough to fill with discontent and lack.
So these sweet moments of safety and quiet can be a gift. Or they can, instead, give rise to unhappiness. It depends on my vigilance in keeping watch, and intention to keep the mind open and not clenched around any one thing that lifts from the array of what consciousness touches. It depends on allowing the natural flow of time and the stream of experience, relaxing in the freefall.
A retreat would be nice. A space where conditions are more controlled and directed toward cultivation of a quiet mind. But quiet mind arises here and now as well. When conditions are right. Right effort takes me in the direction of contributing more often to more conducive conditions, while maintaining greater awareness of the possibilities that arise when this is so.