Thursday, February 21, 2008
Notes from a 10-day silent meditation retreat
Haiku Smuggled out of Silent Retreat
swaying in the breeze:
bamboo and coconut palm
me, watching the breath
Vipassana is like . . .
- heavy-duty brainwashing for a mind set on permanent press
- going to the mother ship for a true human implant
- workshop for tools to hack the dominant paradigm
- mental asylum for normal people
- reformat and install new operating system
- training for human puppies: Sit. Stay.
- being reborn, learning to breathe, sit, stand, walk
- discovering timelessness within the structure of time
- boot camp for the revolution that starts within
- downloading code for an upgraded language of intelligence
Back to Reality
The assault to the senses is immediate as I walk from the monastery road onto the main road through Ban Tai. Taxi trucks, motorbikes, SUVs rumbling by. Signs and shops, drying fish, burning coconuts, the bustle of everyday activity ... it’s all perfectly normal, if you live there everyday; but I’ve just spent 10 days on the hill in silent seclusion with thirty other meditators and resident Thail monks. Our days have been punctuated by the slow resonant sound of the bells ringing time to awake or work or sit. The view of the island is from a high rock, where everything appears in minature, sounds and sights by distance into a peaceful blur.
The next morning, I awake in my bungalow back at Hat Salad, having slept in - three hours longer than usual - until 7:45. I resolve to keep my practice going by doing some yoga; but by the time I settle into a sitting posture for the first meditation “on my own,” the sensory assault of “the real world” has resumed full force. It’s still muted light inside with my door and shutters closed, but the sounds I cannot block out: hammers at work on the concrete road construction site; the humming groans of heavy machinery; and now a loud sprinkler beginning just behind the bungalow. Still I manage to sit peacefully for half an hour, with the aid of earplugs that still permit me to hear the programmed end of session rung from my BlackBerry with the “Qi Gong” tone.
I go to breakfast at my favorite beachside restaurant, but again the silence I have grown so fond of at the retreat is bombarded by the sounds of hammering on renovations just behind me; pounding of waves from an unusually active surf during this day of the full moon; and constant conversation from a couple sitting at the neighboring table. It is easy to shut one’s eyes from a rush of detail and color; to avoid taste and even to minimize touch. But to shut out the press of sounds or invasive odors is nearly impossible, as our human brains are wired like the minds of dogs to become immersed in these sensations.
In a recent blog I made a “crude and unapologetic” characterization of Americans as “obnoxious” in their role as modern conquistadors. One American friend responded with honest feelings of hurt from my overgeneralized remarks, and during my meditation retreat I had further opportunity to reflect on the unbeneficial effects of such speech. In painting with such a broad brush, it seems I put my foot in the bucket and lost my balance; and the result, instead of eloquence, was simply a smear.
A more accurate and objective statement might read as follows: Relishing their success with a reckless pursuit of materialism, some Americans take a shameless (one might say, crude and unapologetic) pride in their accomplishments and status as dominators.
Still the question arises: what is the benefit of sketching such a characterization? If the statement is true, how can it help someone to hear it?
It always helps to know the truth, however painful or uncomfortable it may be at first. Another principle is also important, however: to blend understanding with compassion. All humans are fallible; and all have also redeeming qualities and potential. Even if some actions - whether imperial militarism or careless speech - are hurtful to others, there is benefit in looking deeper to see the causes and remedies of such actions.
The problem of modern technological media is the same as the problem of modern technological warfare: we are removed and insulated from the results of our actions. I thank my readers for giving me any feedback as to the effects of my words. And I wish that any in positions of power and influence - a factor that could apply in general to citizens of affluent North America - will be open to understanding how our choices have actual impacts on the lives of others.
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