Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Private retreat

They say there are two basic plots - the hero goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.  But this is such Western thinking; a journey usually means a goal - even a pilgrimage has a purpose - and a stranger coming to town, change, upsetting the accepted way things are.  The trouble with that one is that things never are any one way, and something is upsetting us every day.

My recent hospital stay threw me into profound change, as did the illness (undiagnosed, maybe a particular virus that immune-suppressed people can come down with).  You go into the hospital like you do on retreat, carrying just the few things you think you will need, and some of those turn out to be extra.  It is not much like a vacation, it is not about being distracted or having fun.  I was by the windows (which I love) in a double room that housed two diabetics with serious kidney impairment, first a blind woman, then a woman who was in danger of losing a leg to a skin infection.  There were many things for me to learn there, believe me, about how painful and difficult the end of life can be. It made me resolve to eat in a way that's good for me, and to devote myself to my PT and the exercise program that lies beyond it.  Gail and Becky were more motivating to me than any dharma talk has ever been.

I came home to a relatively silent mind, still slowed down physically as well.  I love having that calm, quiet mind, thought trails dwindling away by themselves, no big deal about "getting things done."  Even my tinnitus was quiet.  If you go on retreats, you'll probably recognize that sensation.  Days or a week or longer with low stimulation.  A hospital is never quiet, and you are interrupted interrupted, no matter if you're sleeping or on the john with the door open because you couldn't figure out how to get the IV stand in there.  Still, you have left home.  I've always thought that Buddhism is very strong on that - it's called renunciation.  It's not just about fewer things, but fewer goals or none at all.  Breathe in, exhale, rest there.

In my highly verbal way I am saying I find myself wanting to talk less, write less, keep erasing those goals and desires that will all drop away when I die.  Like the many names on my Rolodex, meaningless to anyone else.

So I observed Sunday like I do, doing nothing I don't want to do, no obligations, no shoulds.  Then I thought it was a good idea to do Monday like that, and it was.  Today is looking pretty good, too.

I love to write this blog, and hear from people, close friends, people in parts of the world I've never visited, which is most of it.  But it is one thing that clutters my mind, which tries to turn every experience into meaning.  That is really the opposite of what I want my practice to do for me.  At the same time, this has been a practice.  But all my life I was pointed in this direction, to write, talk, perform, make art out of my experience, and I wonder what I will do if I have less to do, what I might want to do now.  I have no idea, and I'd like to keep it that way.  There's a lot more to this than that, but you get the idea.

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1 comment:

  1. Melanie G, Austin Zen Center practitionerApril 13, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    Music to my mind is your post. Here are some more apropos words from Dogen posted in the San Francisco Zen Center's Ino's blog: "Set aside all involvements and let the myriad things rest. Zazen is not thinking of good, not thinking of bad. It is not conscious endeavor. It is not introspection...
    Zazen is not learning to do concentration. It is the dharma gate of great ease and joy. It is undivided practice-realization".