I’ve hesitated to share reflections on the meditation retreat at Spirit Rock — Moment: A Retreat in Mindfulness, Metta and Morality — since so much of what I offer will sound like pabulum. Yet the three days were exceptionally powerful — alternatively touching, annoying, insightful, perplexing, frustrating and rewarding.
Silence was not a challenge personally except that I had no sense of how to navigate the days. I walked into the meditation center to find people diligently setting up their spots with items I had never seen before – arranging zabutons, zafus, knee cushions, blankets, benches, back jacks, block cushions, gomdens, . . . It was only half way through the retreat that I constructed a combination that would allow me to sit for extended sessions of meditation without cramps or aches.
Each day consisted of cycles of silent meditation, lessons, walking meditation, more lessons, eating vegetarian meals together (silently of course), personal hikes in the beautiful Sonoma hills, and work sessions. For my work, I was a pot washer. I clearly need some more practice since I would episodically (and accidentally) spray my colleague with the industrial strength hoses while he had to avoid the temptation to yell out.
Throughout the long weekend, there were two teachers for the 90 of us that had gathered. One looked like Yoda in Star Wars, Sylvia Boorstein, a diminutive 80 year-old Jewish grandmother who wrote (among many other books) That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist, and Matthew Brensilver, a forty year old solemn (perhaps even melancholy) man. I grew quite enamored with them both and took great joy when the quiet was broken by shared laughter as the teachers told stories to illustrate their points. (As she took delight in a memory or a reflection, Sylvia would often break out in a giggle that still reverberates in my ears.)
One of my favorite silent meditations was oriented around the phrases “May I meet this moment fully. May I meet it as a friend.” Each word became quite dear as I repeated it over-and-over again. There were also loving kindness meditation focusing on extending loving wishes to concentric circles of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. I found these attempts to quiet the mind and soften the heart were very moving if you opened yourself to the practice.
There were points however where my frustration boiled over as I got tired of sitting or my mind rebelled against the lesson. I have much to reflect upon since some of the things that were most vexing reflect aspects of myself that need attention. Other aspects deserved a little rebellion.
The solitary days on the road ahead in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas will offer me time to reflect further but it is clear that my time at Spirit Rock was a wonderful addition to the array of experiences I’m collecting on this ramble.