Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Damn it, where IS my Mind?

I've been on a quest to find my mind this last weekend. I wish I'd known how hard it would be. I wish they'd named the Retreat a "highly concentrated and mentally demanding weekend", because then I'd have rested-up first and not chosen THIS weekend to finally give up coffee (again).

At the new and rather glitzy Buddhist Kadampa Center about two hours north-west of New York, deer roam free, frogs grunt happily and a proliferation of bugs of various types celebrate their unassailability. Our group of around 70 enlightenment-seekers drove up in our various 4x4s and Fords, and set up our beds in a 'barn', which was more like an upper-class hostel, or a low grade motel without the mini-bar. My new friend Enny, a psychologist, perceptively pointed out that there no Jackie Collins books on the bookshelves.

Briefly, and far too glibly, were we here to embark on the path to enlightenment through a practice known as Heart Jewel. In essence, we were looking to be on a more intimate basis with our mind, to understand the nature of reality, and begin Tantric study. (No, this isn't an orgy retreat; "tantric" is just one of those oft-maligned words) This practice builds a foundation on which to layer the Dharma - the "right way of living"- through kindness, generosity, confidence, wisdom and love - so as to benefit ourselves and others.

This is a tough course - some Buddhist groups never bring up the subject with all but the most experienced practitioners. It's relatively easy to 'watch the mind' during meditation. For instance, realize the breath, note the thoughts, experience feelings all as being from the mind - being mindful. Now, take a step back. Watch the watcher. Change perception from the perceiver to the perceived. Find the mind itself; a clarity in which perception drops like water into an ocean, or clouds dissipate into a clear sky.

While I brought my best mind to proceedings, my best mind was not in very good shape. It was tired. It was annoyed at itself for not being able to find itself. It was trying very hard to at once relax, and seek itself out. It was me, I am it, it was in there/me somewhere!

In between two-hour sessions we ate fresh vege stir-fries, curries and for breakfast, cereals with fresh fruit and yogurt. The food was good; cookbooks lined the shelves in the dining room. I played with the cat and listened to the frogs.

I brought my frustrations at my lack of Mind to the Minds of a lot of patient people. And it became very clear that my frustration was natural - for many people it takes years rather than days to achieve that peaceful, clear state. One new friend even said he found the process joyful (at which point I realized I was probably mucking the whole thing up right from the beginning!) I still hadn't had a coffee.

So, the rest of the day I concentrated, and eased off on myself. It was a whole lot better. I brought in other aspects of the teachings to my meditation, visualizing my highest potential, even joining in some of the singing. Letting go the bag of up-tight-ness I didn't even realize I'd brought with me.

Additionally, I learned that our teacher, Kadam Morton, (a most eloquent, funny and humble teacher who mixes Dharma teaching with Beck lyrics) is a roller-blader! In fact, he roller-blades to each teaching in the city, cross-town in Manhattan. Now I'm even more impressed with his spiritual audacity!

Sunday rolls around and I'm starting to recover from the week... my concentration is improving as I let myself relax, my visualisations carry me through the next few hours. I'm more aware of how I respond to people, I'm more aware of my thoughts. But it feels like just the beginning. And I have to leave early.

I say good bye to the frogs and the cat and the monks and all my new friends who, if you put them together anywhere else you'd be mighty confused as to how they knew each other. Unless it was in an airport.

Ironically, I'm leaving early to attend the "glamoros" TONY Awards - and wishing I had more time..... YET absolutely certain that I should leave now, instead of staying for one last sessions and cutting it fine on the way back. That's one benefit of meditation for me - better, quickly and more concise decision-making.

I'm writing this with one mind and many memories. If I wrote it tomorrow it'd be different (and maybe better). If you're reading it, you're reading it with your mind of today, which is different from your mind of yesterday and yet is also the basis of your mind tomorrow. How well do you know your mind?

I'm definitely far from enlightened, except to the fact that hippie retreats are damn hard work.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping this blog - you have already inspired me to be more active in establishing a daily practice of meditation!

Anonymous said...

Your comments on todays mind/yesterdays mind reminded me (no pun intended) of this: Ship of Theseus, enjoy. I think you'll like the river part but not the 4th dimension of time stuff but who am I to judge?

Anonymous said...

wYeah but when was the ship rebuilt? And can you ever step into the same river twice?

Saw a great t-shirt once: "I choose to ignore your reality and instead substitute it with my own".