Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Experiencing Meditation and Life at the Retreat Center

Three hours in the state of deep, breath-by-breath, concentration....

During the afternoon of the seventh day of the retreat.... at the very beginning of the hour long standing meditation.... I suddenly found myself in very deep state of concentration ... as every breath rose, I followed it in.... as every breath left, I followed it out. If a thought came into my brain, I'd zap it by saying "thinking, thinking, thinking" and the thought would "puff" disappear. As I watched my breathing, it became a blue-green oblongish flow or air moving in and out. My mind was totally fixed on follwing my breath and only my breath. This continued the whole hour!

When the hour ended and we were to move outside of the meditation hall and begin our walking meditation, the deep concentration state continued .... until.... a mosquito came along and began singing in my ear. Had I been mindful enough to have said "hearing, hearing, hearing" instead of allowing the mosquito to bring up all sorts of aversions.... well... the spell broke.... darn mosquito!

But then... following 45 minutes of walking meditation, we moved back into the meditation hall for sitting meditation, and suddenly, there I was, again deep into following my breath and only my breath.... for another 45 minutes, I thought of nothing and I mean NOTHING, other than observing each breath as it came in and as it went out. It felt so, so, sooooooooooooooooooooo good! I was in total and absolute bliss ....

The bell rang for the evening meal which consisted each day of a fruit salad ... chunks of fresh pineapple, slices of bananas, covered with grated coconut with a few roasted peanuts scattered around on the top. All through my silent evening meal.... I kept thinking... "I was in the Zone. I was in the Zone. Is that what Nirvana is like?"

Follwing dinner, the evening sitting meditation brought me smoothly and easily back into the same deep state of concentration. By now the experience had brought with it a mellowing effect, where I did not struggle in the least to follow my breath.... rising... falling.... rising.... falling.... for another hour!

That night when I went to sleep... I set my alarm to make sure I'd be in the meditation hall early for the 4:45 a.m. sitting! I could not wait to get back into the "Zone!"

Next morning however,.... nothing.... nothing... I could not concentrate... I felt frustrated. Later that day, I met with Rosemary for one of my interviews with her, and told her about my experience from the day before and how I could not recapture the experience again at the morning sitting. She looked at me... sat back and laughed! "Everything is impermanent," Rosemary exclaimed! "You wanted that feeling back so badly this morning, your desire was so strong that it kept it away!

Rosemary went on to explain to me that in Theravadan Buddhism, the objective is not to crave the past or desire the future, but to investigate objects (thoughts) arising in the mind on a moment by moment basis. "Remember everything is impermanent, constantly changing," Rosemary reminded me again. "Try to deal only with the situation you experience at any one moment. Don't let your desire try to re-create a blissful experience from the past." I knew Rosemary was right.... but that blissful experience I'd had... well, it sure was nice!

The laundry area and bathrooms at the meditation center.

On the retreat registration day, I found that I'd been assigned to a small, rustic wooden cabin built on stilts in the jungle. A building with wooden planks for a floor that shifted and groaned when anyone walked across it. It was a really cozy little place, with built-in wooden bunks to accommodate up to six people. Luckily there were only four of us..... but as I was to find out my first night.... that was about three too many!

Everything was peace and calm that first night... until I was jolted out f my sleep by what sounded like a ruff running 747 jet landing right next to my bottom bunk! The guy next to me was snoring so loud, the noise made the floor vibrate! Mentally, I began packing my bags. No way was I going to lay on a hard wooden floor for 19 days and listened to this guy every night! I mean, in my California home, I have two white noise machines to block out any noise while I sleep.

Next day I asked one of the retreat assistants if she had any thoughts on how to deal with snoring. She replied.... that when the snoring started, for me to just keep saying "hearing, hearing, hearing" and NOT "snoring, snoring, snoring" since the word snoring makes the brain all agitated with aversion (why is he so loud! doesn't he have any consideration for me?, etc.) while the word "hearing" just notes, without any aversion, what's going on.

Well... I'd heard of this technique before, and had actually used it.... But only when, during a weekend meditation retreat there was a little bird singing while I was meditating..... NOT when a loud 747 was lumbering down the runway next to my bed!

So that night, as soon as the snoring started, I began repeating "hearing, hearing, hearing" and to my amazement, I did eventually fall asleep! Now that did not mean I was able to stay asleep, for when the snoring came back in full force, I'd wake up and repeat "hearing, hearing, hearing." Funny thing was that when I used that word "hearing" no aversion arose in my mind, so there was not the typical tightening of my muscles and racing of my brain that I had grown so use to in the past.... no none of that.

I was a little shaken to notice one day however, that even this snoring guy wore ear plugs! So every time when the big jumbo jet would begin its lumbering take off, I'd just say to myself... "hearing, hearing, hearing" and I'd fall off to sleep. Of course,, the little blue ear plugs I brought along and the two heavy pillows I placed over my ears... well.... they helped too!

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