During my retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, I’ve really enjoyed walking a three-mile loop road past old stone walls, farmers’ fields and acres of woods. We had an hour-and-a-half of free time after lunch and many retreatants chose the same walk, some doing the loop in my direction and some the other way.
At the retreat centre, we were encouraged to avoid eye contact with other yogis, but on the road I decided to cheat. As I was approaching someone, I’d look at them for an instant, smile and bow as we passed each other. Most people smiled back. All in silence of course.
A pure spiritual act, wouldn’t you say? Mostly yes. But a big slice of me would sometimes take over, and I let it happen. I remember one woman who didn’t make eye contact and looked very uncomfortable as I bowed to her. The next day, here she comes again, and instead of letting go of my ritual, I bowed again. Same reaction. I was pushing, and I did it again the day after that. Nothing. Finally, on day four or five, I walked by her with head down. A very reluctant letting go. I wanted so much to say hi. (Bruce, please learn from this.)
One day, after breakfast, I headed off to visit a sister organization, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. I walked part of my usual loop road and then ventured down an intersecting street to get to BCBS. On my way back, nearing the intersection, I saw a woman I knew from a past retreat heading towards me on the loop. She got to the intersection before me and turned left to continue the loop. At the intersection, I turned right, back onto the loop, and there was Mary about fifty yards ahead of me. Did I stay centred, continuing to flow along at my moderate pace? No. I sped up. I had to catch her and bow to her. (Ouch) I went faster. She went faster, but I was gaining. Closer, ever closer, … And I zoomed up on her right, turned sharply left and jerked a quick bow that was more weapon than blessing. I think I saw a grimace on Mary’s face. From spaciousness to the contraction of a race, for both of us.
Let them go. Let them all go. Let them do what they need to do. If there’s a natural opportunity for a bow on the road, take it. And don’t press if there’s no reaction. Surely my mind can absorb such simple thoughts.
Life keeps teaching and sometimes I listen, sometimes not. No saint in these shoes.