The 8 Day Silent Meditation Retreat I went on over the summer with Michael Stone has provided many lessons . It also provided the opening I needed to create an overdue shift in my daily practice.
Since returning from retreat, I have not played a game on my phone, I have sparingly listened to music on my ipod. When I ride the subway home into Brooklyn I might read a book or listen to a podcast. Rides into the city, I am only present. When I first got back I neither listened to music, nor a podcast.
This is not because the subway has teaching moments I want to be awake to –although it does.
This is not because reading provides me with insights – although it does.
This is not because technology cleanses are necessary – although they are from time to time.
This is because that is how I contract – it is what I specifically contract around – it’s where and how I make my world small, disconnect from others, leave the moment, and lose touch with my embodied self. All of which are pretty much the opposite of what I want to cultivate. However and whenever we contract, this is what happens.
When I began to feel that I could listen to a podcast or music without contraction, I did so. Although I don’t listen to them nearly as much as before, and I go to them to learn, study and enjoy, not to tune out or avoid.
Clues for where you might contract:
1) When I’m deep in the mode of contracting – the discomfort is so strong that it can be almost painful not to contract, not to do that thing.
2) When I’m refreshed and nourished after a vacation, retreat, or deep workshop – I feel unattached, and that those things are not necessary.
When I came back from retreat, I was in just exactly that second mode. I realized that, in fact, the whole time I thought I had been turning up the ipod in order to maintain a pleasant state in the face of the literal ugliness of the subway – I was actually avoiding being with myself. I knew I wanted to be present, but who can be enjoyably present with the wet matted trash on the tracks? Being present isn’t being with that external object, it’s being with you, with your body, with your breath. That’s the main focus. I had been missing that point (avoiding it?) and chose to escape with audio. After the retreat, being with my breath and body was home, and I finally could see how I had been making my world small, turning not only the world out, but myself as well.
The less you contract, the more you’re able to be with your body – to embody, moment to moment to moment your practice. You can be awake with your whole body. You become the best transmitter, physically, energetically and emotionally, of what you most hope to express.
We contract around things in our practice as well – we can contract around our injuries, our desires for the class, our fellow yogis, our balance, the breath itself. How and when do you make your world small on the mat? How and when do you make your world small in life? Then make it easy on yourself – the next time you’re in the second mode – reflect on this and use that time to let go AND make your world expansive, connect with others, stay in the moment, and embody your life. Letting go is only ever the first step.
Even if you obliterate your meditation seat with tireless sitting (you’re really fierce), and if your conduct is immaculate (like you know how it’s done), even if you’re eloquent dharma teaching astounds heaven and earth causing flowers to rain miraculously from the blue sky, even if you annihilate all thoughts and emotions and your body is like a dry tree, even if you never loose mindfulness though confronted by disaster, even if you die while sitting zazen and appear to have gained great realization and liberation; if you’ve not reached intimacy, it is all without value (From Dharma Talk by Koshin)
Kaisen is a dharma heir of Dogen – who was really big on intimacy. Intimacy with the breath, with the moment, with oneself. And nowadays we think also of intimacy with the sangha, with the teachings, etc. Let go and be intimate.