I yearn for the routines of a day at the retreat center. Now the Buddha would say that I am thus attached, and that attachment causes suffering. Fair enough. But a bit of clinging has its upside.
We wake up at 5:15 to the sound of a gong that a yogi (retreatant, such as me!) carries through the dormitories. The gong marks transition times during our day. There’s no need for a timepiece.
From moment one, I have choices. Do I zoom to the communal bathroom, hoping to catch one of the shower stalls? Naw, that’s just more societal rushing. So I begin by shaving in my room. (As I now reflect on removing hair from skin, my right hand goes to my head. Yesterday, Julia, my hairstylist took it all off. No … I don’t mean that she’s a salon stripper – it was my hair that disappeared. I had her do the shaving not because I’m a nice little Buddhist guy, but rather as an issue of practicality. During my three months at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), I have no way to get my hair cut. So I’ll start from zero and let it grow.)
After the emergence of upper cheek smoothness, I then saunter over to the bathroom for a shower. If the stalls are all taken, oh well. I’ll get clean after breakfast.
The first sitting in the meditation hall is at 5:45. One hundred bleary-eyed folks sitting basically upright. Over the years, I’ve had thoughts of looking good in the hall. You know, the full lotus position on the cushion. Well, you’ll be happy to know that I find the full lotus impossible and even the half lotus is a massive pain in the knee. So I sit in a chair. So much for appearances.
In the warmer months (like right now), I wear traditional Buddhist garments – T-shirt and shorts. In such circumstance, I just love walking into the hall for the first sitting. (Oops, I feel ego flaring!) All my shirts have something to say and past retreats have taught me one thing: yogis experience inner laughter at 5:45 when they read my shirt-of-the-day. I suppose a true Buddhist wears plain shirts. Maybe I’m a fake Buddhist.
The sittings range from 30 to 45 minutes, with another gong marking the conclusion. I go into a instant place of bliss and remain there eternally (Not). Thoughts of a lovely or morose nature just show up. I’m getting good at waving and wishing them a good day. They wave back and sooner or later just mosey away. Sadness and joy come easily, usually not at the same time. My back lets me know that it wants to be included in the fun.
Breakfast is cool. One hundred of us in the dining room, with the only sounds being the clittering of cutlery and the shuffling of feet. No eye contact with the human across the table. Mostly, my head is down and I look at my food, which I taste with slow pleasure (usually).
After breakie, one of the teachers will talk to us in the hall about what the Buddha had to say about leading a good life. I’ve always hoped that I’d hear a recommendation for chocolate peanut butter waffle cones, but that must happen in the advanced class.
Then there’s the 45-minute work period … dishes, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms – whatever task I’ve been assigned. The commitment of the yogis includes “taking what is given”. So I do my job without complaint and hopefully without leaning towards a job I’d like better. On one retreat, part of my responsibility was to vacuum the office. I moved slowly and did the work thoroughly. So thoroughly, in fact, that I used the long wand to clean the window sills, upon which sat a tiny clay Buddha. I sucked it up, you might say, resulting in little Buddha bits on the floor. It hadn’t been fired. Oh, the guilt! The totally useless guilt. Later that morning, breaking the code of silence, I apologized profusely to the staff member whose sill was now empty. What fury did I receive in response? None. “Life is impermanent, Bruce. No worries.” (Sigh)
I could keep going here, and I will tomorrow, but I have about 1.5 million tasks to complete today, and it’s time for vroom … vroom … in a meditative way, of course.