The Buddha taught about three big problems people have: attachment, aversion and delusion. Over the nine days of the meditation retreat I just experienced, I learned how to be with these obstacles. Easier said than done, however. The teachers asked us to observe the eruptions of the mind as they emerged. And to hold them gently, as you would cradle a baby bird, rather than getting all ramped up with an issue, creating a big story about the topic, filled with distress. I found that if I was being quietly aware of, say, an attachment I was watching unfold, a telltale sign would be a tiny smile at the corners of my mouth.
I came to the retreat attached to a particular walking meditation route at the centre. On previous retreats, I did a big loop, walking the long, curving driveway and then on the lawn, next to the hedge that borders the road. When I arrived on Easter weekend, there were drifts of snow by the hedge, the temperature was about 5 degrees Celsius, and I was sick. Still, I had to walk my route, every day. Lips tight, leaning forward, I trudged on. Sometimes my boot would break through the crust and sink down 8 inches or so, and sometimes my foot would stay on top. I tried to convince myself that this just duplicated the ups and downs of life, and that it was therefore a good meditation. But it didn’t work. Mostly, it was just a pain in the ass.
Where, oh where, had vacated my meditative mind? I was covered in a blanket of “have to”, determined to do as I had done before. But the pressing doesn’t work.
By day three my cough had gotten worse, it was cold out, and I abandoned the great out-of-doors. I found a rectangular walking room in the centre and stepped on out, marginally at peace. The truth was though, at least to my addled brain, the smooth wooden floorboards were not good enough. I lusted for my hedge, lawn and driveway.
As the teachers continued their daily lessons about simply observing our attachments – our greed to have life turn out just the way we want it – I got to see the huge tension I had created for myself. I was sad, and tried to just let that be there. Glimpses of that tiny smile broke through for a moment here and a moment there, quickly to be replaced by a pout. That Buddha! What does he know?
More about that tomorrow.