Amaravati weekend retreat report (part two)

Did I mention this was a silent retreat, ‘noble silence’? No? Well here it is, mentioned.

From diary:
“Sat morning. 7.25am. Hard bed, work up many times during the first half of the night but started to get used to it by the second half. Still woke up every now and again but slept (with dreams) for longer periods.

I was the second person out of bed when the bell rang at 6.30am. First in the shower, turned it on and waited for hot water but none came. So took a cold shower and it was fine. Half an hour to breakfast. Go shrine room for 25 minute sit. Sat on the ‘wrong’ cushion (one to the right of mine), so after deciding ‘I won’t change place’ I changed place. Ha! Then constant noise of people shuffling into the room, then I realised my tee shirt wasn’t going to be adequate and began feeling cold. So left cushion at 7am.

Neither of my two sittings here have been particularly focused, deep or concentrated. But now feel more settled. I think it’s important to adopt a routine, so:

1. State intention (‘I will mediate for 30 minutes’)
2. Deep breaths x 5
3. Check body
4. Metta (5 minutes)
5. Watch breath

7.55am. Hmmm, that turned out to be a 20-minute sit thanks to retreatants on ‘working meditation’ coming through to tidy-up the shrine room. Gosh, this place is busier than Piccadilly Circus! So, so, so, what to do? How about go for a walk, come back, read, go sit in the shrine room? Ok, let’s do that.”
So I went for a lovely walk in a small wood across the road from the monastery. And how fitting that these monks, from the ‘Forest Tradition’ of Theravadan Buddhism, should have a forest (well, a small wood, as I said…) just over the road. There was even a little retreat shack that, I guess, monks and nuns go to for solitary retreats.

From diary:
10am. Walking meditation. Tiny, elderly, Burmese woman walking so amazingly slowly, taking each step with exceptional care and concentration. Later, she knelt and prostrated herself at the feet of the teacher nun. Very touching, also extremely noble….and inspiring

Me? Sleepy 30 minute meditation. Changed posture to kneeling (Zen style) helped but still very sleepy and hard to follow more than 1 breath at a time. Lunch smells good.”
I was looking forward to lunch with great anticipation. The question of food had been bugging me weeks before getting to the retreat. I really couldn’t face the prospect of poor quality food, it would have wrecked my retreat (or so mind kept on insisting). In the end, the food was a hearty veggie/vegan affair, the sort of stuff I used to be fed (and would cook) in well-organised squats back in my punk-rock anarchist days in the early 80s (and that’s meant as a compliment!)
13.05. Good lunch. Then sat and down with tea and a book. Eventually decide to go for a good 30 minutes sit. Which I did, though there was a lot of drowsiness. I’d announce my intention to follow the breath, then track one or even two before slipping into hypnogic images/thoughts. Then I’d break out of the dream-like state and force my way back to the breath. Have to be careful not to turn this into a battle, which would just lead to tension. Fact is I’m doing my hardest, doing the best I can.

13.20. Sri Lankan and Thai families wondering about with kiddies running around the cloisters. I sat in the main monastery meditation hall for a short while, a silent, peaceful place and I would have loved to spend more time there.

16.00. Spent most of the 40 minute sitting fighting off sleep. Oh dear. The nun then instructed us to take a 40 minute waling meditation. Instead, I went to the dorm and took a nap. So the next sitting (40 mins), oh dear again, I’m not drifting off to sleep but my mind feels like treacle and it’s so very hard to get focused or concentrated. No stick, no adhesive.”
I spent some time watching one of the monks in the room struggling against sleep, his head slowly dropping lower and lower until he’d jerk it back up again (or perhaps he had the shakes from some Jhanic bliss?). I felt a bit better seeing I wasn't the only one with sleep problems.

From diary:
“17.55. 30 min meditation. Not much concentration but also not worrying about it now. What’s the point? Worrying is completely contrary to everything this place stands for. It’s about non-attachment. I got myself into a state over not ‘attaining’ a concentrated mind (or even getting close to it), so then mind starts to worry - ‘oh, I’m wasting a precious opportunity here’ - but that is not important, almost nonsense in fact. What arises when I sit is just that. It is what arises, so let it arise. If I can’t concentrate then try looking at ‘can’t concentrate’.

Actually, the most profound insights so far have come at the persona/ego level. Like at the end of the last sit, the Thai woman next to me prostrated herself three times, and I, spontaneously, found myself going into a bow (from the sitting position). Immediately, mind comes up with - ‘ooh what will others think’? - and then, almost straight away, I think “to be free from caring what ‘others think’, for that not to be a reflexive response, imagine that!” Indeed, you know what that’s called? It’s called freedom.

21.00. 45 minutes. Letting go was the key. The 45 minutes went by really quick. I breathed in, thinking ‘open’ or ‘opening’ and breathed out, thinking ‘let go’ or ‘letting go’. And you know what? I did just that. Nothing special, no fancy tricks, just sticking with it without getting lost in thoughts.

I came across ‘letting go’ from a book in the reading room. The book is: ‘Cittaviveka, Teachings from the Silent Mind a collection of Dharma Talks by Ajahn Sumedho.' Here’s the quote:

“The practice of ‘letting go’ is very effective for minds obsessed by compulsive thinking. You simplify your meditation practice down to just two works – ‘letting go’ – rather than try to develop this practice and develop that; and achieve this and go on to that…” (p.42)

So, there you go.

Something interesting that popped up during the meditation. Just at the start of the sit, mind starts worrying – ‘oh, my legs are already feeling a bit heavy and achey, if only I had sat on a chair I wouldn’t be about to suffer so’ – then, almost immediately, the following insight: if I had sat on a chair, then within 5 minutes mind would be worrying about my buttocks aching – ‘oh, if only I had a nice cushion to sit on’ etc, ect, and so on and so forth. mind will always worry, that is its nature.