Day 10 – Meditation Retreat

⦿ I just realized that, in silence, no cliques formed—indeed, no groups of any kind. Each meal and each break saw a random shuffle of individuals in any one place.

⦿ At the 5am meditation in the pagoda, I sat upright on my kneeling bench. The back wanted to give up real soon, but I invoked “strong determination.” Not force, but unceasing vigilance in holding the spine upright. To look away, even for a moment, the spine imperceptibly slouches in pain.

I’ve seen this pattern innumerable times as I’ve tried to correct my posture while at the computer (where I have spent a good portion of my adult life). As soon as my attention leaves the spine, it slowly slouches until the next time I became aware that I’m bent.

Thanks to meditation, I am realizing that this isn’t purely musculature-related or physiological. The quickness with which the spine wants to release the upright form is connected to, if not a manifestation of, the desire for sleep/unconsciousness/forgetting, and not carrying the responsibility that has weighed heavy upon my journey.

⦿ Holding upright, constriction and pain arose. Correspondingly, a desire, if it can be so called, arose from the spine to give the effort up. It made my breath shallow and concentration a challenge. Yet, second after second, I held, and slowly, a breakthrough emerged: the spine held the form with less resistance, and I partially entered thought-less awareness again.

⦿ In that space of “no-mind,” I momentarily saw how self-imposed misery is. Though the thinking creates a pageantry of many voices and scenes within the mind—as if the self is remembering, anticipating, and actually living in an external world in the projected scenes—there is only ever one voice in here: my own. Remove that and what is there to cause misery? 

 ⦿ Breakfast, final silent meal. Closed eyes at the table and listened to the uncoordinated symphony of metal silverware clanking, feet shuffling, etc. What beautiful men. It encourages my spirit to see men seeking peace and healing. Incalculable pain and destruction on individual and collective levels has been rendered by the masculine principle that has gone out of balance with, and sought subjugation of, the feminine principle.

Noble Silence ends…

⦿ On Day 8’s nightly dhamma talk, Goenka said that we had one more day to do serious work (Day 9), because after the 8–9am group sit on Day 10, noble silence would end and noble chatter would begin. And once the talking starts, one cannot do serious work any longer. So on Day 9, Goenka’s recording exhorted us to work diligently, patiently, persistently….

That turned out to be accurate. Talking began at 9 am and by the next time I meditated, I could not resume the same work I had been doing previously. The 9.25 days of winding down the toy monkey smacking the cymbals together so that it was calm and quiet, was reversed; it resumed clashing those cymbals. I could still find focus and quiet, but short durations only, not the long spells of skating on a sheet of silence.

⦿ At 9am, the assistant teacher did not give his usual housekeeping notice of a break followed by where we could continue our meditation. Instead, oddly, the assistant teachers just walked out of the Dhamma Hall. This signaled the end to noble silence somehow?

The men gathered outside the hall and… wow… like Dorothy stepping out of her black & white world into a realm of vibrant color, all those formerly expression-less faces became alive and animated with expression in the eyes. And voices. And accents! And intelligence, sincerity, wit, humor, curiosity, story. It was all rather amazing, actually, but it overtook all that inner calm I had cultivated. My social issues arose to the fore as I felt… outside, different, lame.

⦿ It just so happened that N., the same fellow who was to pick me up from the airport when I first landed in Fresno (but didn’t due to my eight-hour flight delay), had been seated next to me the entire 10 days. Ha. I learned that early on, and he too apparently knew that, but due to Noble Silence I could not address him in acknowledgement of who he was and in gratitude for what would have been the ride. So we enjoyed a good chat now that we could talk.

When our conversation ended, I tried to stand with a group for a moment but after that quietude, navigating personal challenges was a bit much. I felt like an outsider, a not uncommon experience in my life, so I quietly returned to my room to meditate.

⦿ I arrived to lunch early to sit at one of the outside picnic tables in a strategy of letting someone choose to sit with me instead of vice versa. A couple of other tables formed, intensifying my sense of being on the outside, until a group of guys came up and asked to sit next to me. It was great. We enjoyed thoughtful and sincere conversation on a range of topics. I was asked the ever-challenging question of what I do for a living, and was met with genuine curiosity, if not total understanding. And the topic of Gandhi entered the conversation with one of the three, a fellow of Indian descent, I believe, which would lead to us re-connecting the next day and exchanging some email after the event, but that’s a personal story for me.

⦿ As much as the socializing scattered the quietude to the winds, it was a very ebullient atmosphere, similar to L/L’s events. And I loved hearing so many different stories. I was surprised to learn how many of the students were on their 3rd, 4th, or more(!) repeat of this exact course. I met three or four men whose female partners were on the women’s side as well.

⦿ I retrieved the phone but kept myself from looking. It was really weird having it again. It is funny how quickly we can adapt to our new environs such that what was decades native to us is suddenly weird to reintroduce.

2 thoughts on “Day 10 – Meditation Retreat

  1. Gary,. Thank-you so much for this open and honest account of your experiences here and for the opportunity to live inside your head for these 10 days.

    I can relate to the emotions you experienced if not the situation. The reading of this account, helped me have the discipline necessary to push through my own limited mediation failings and flailings and resulted in a unique experience for me ( I have emailed the team).

    Also day 4, 9:00pm. Seriously???

    Anyway thanks again for the telling of this account, the hardships, mental blocks and epiphanies. So glad and amazed your metaphysical teardrop became physical tangible evidence that cannot fade or be doubted like memories can.. Lots of Love ~Zenith~

    1. Hi Zenith, I appreciate this feedback, thank you! What occurred for me was, I believe, something of a mathematical function of effort—with enough of it, the inner channel was opened. Naturally there are a variety of ingredients that go into that stew, many on a subconscious level, I am sure, but consistency, quantity, and quality of effort seemed to be the key active ingredient.

      That’s awesome to hear it catalyzed your own renewed efforts in meditation, and that it resulted in a unique experience for you. I haven’t yet repeated at home the experiences I had at the retreat, and busyness has caused the practice to fall by the wayside for a moment, but it is a (multi-) lifelong journey.

      And lol, I saw your emails to Austin subsequently and realized that you run “The Spirit Channel” – so strange that the term was so vivid in my mind following the opening of the indigo center. Much love to you.

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