Let me start off by telling you that things last week were a bit crappy. I have a lot of work stress right now and that was compounded by 3 days of union-related meetings which made me feel frantic and behind at every step. On top of that, I was disrespectful to someone in a meeting because I had lost my patience with them – which is not how I want to be as a meeting chair – and so that resulted in an apology to everyone at the meeting. (I always figure it’s better to apologize right away and meaningfully rather than dig in.)
So yeah, I’ve been pretty stressed lately about work – and last week didn’t help – and then I was even more stressed because I had to leave my little paradise of an island to go to the city for a weekend meditation retreat. Can you imagine this? Stressed and then getting more stressed about meditation!
Glad to say that my misgivings about the trip were relieved the moment I walked in the door to receive a big, smiling hug from one of my teachers! It’s been three years since I started sitting with Mountain Rain and if nothing else, I can always count on feeling right at home when I show up. That was what I needed, a feeling of being where I belonged without a lot expected of me. (A lot of my stress right now is due to overwork which is all about what I let people expect of me – I need to lessen those expectations because I’m not getting rewarded for doing *everything all the time*)
So, I sat for the weekend with my fellow meditators and it was good. I had meetings with my teachers, I did some tonglen practice focused on equanimity, I felt each step in walking meditation as a grounding and an ease of being supported by the earth – and in addition to the time sitting, I rose early both days for a long walk, and brought simple healthy food to keep me going without having to dip into restaurants or shops at all. I ate mindfully, without distractions, kept phone and internet use at a minimum, and didn’t even read any books! In this way it was the most intensive effort I have ever made at a non-residential retreat – though I can’t say it was any effort because it was what my body and mind were deeply craving – some time to be quiet and alone.
By the end of the weekend the bad feeling in my gut and the tension in my neck had abated, and though I’m not fooled into thinking that the stress is all gone – I feel like I’ve got some new strategies to work with the internal resistance I have been feeling around some projects. I am feeling a bit low and quiet today – processing everything after a long evening of travel that involved traffic jams and late ferries – but also filled with the deep gratitude for my zen community, those people who show up and sit so that we may all experience our full human condition together. Without them, I would just be sitting alone; in a retreat or meditation hall I am part of a large and supportive body and after weeks of feeling under appreciated at work and in my union – I really did need that positive contact.
When I rose this morning I didn’t meditate as normal for I was a bit behind my schedule – and instead I took time to sit outside and eat my simple breakfast while watching the birds flit around the yard. It’s still grey here, but not too cold – and eating outside always feels like a picnic doesn’t it? I had forgotten that until the weekend when I ate my breakfast outside on a different bench both days (one day on the beach, one day on the UBC campus). I think this will be my practice for the next little while – as much as the weather and my schedule allows it – to eat outside in the mornings without distractions other than birds and the occasional insect.
Suzuki Roshi says that to find still mind in stillness is the easy part – it’s finding still mind in choppy waters that’s the real mastery of zen practice. This work is long and subtle – but each time I encounter a rough patch I become aware that whatever I am doing, it is working. I am more aware of my mind states, I am calmer in the face of difficulty – but at the same time, I also recognize how very far I have to go before I can navigate without tipping the kayak every once and awhile.
A beginner might not even realize the water they are in is choppy.