Sunday, May 16, 2021

Conflict on the Cushion

I went into my first meditation retreat thinking it would be a break from everyday life. I found a comfy place to put my cushion just beside a sliding door which opened to let in fresh air. How pleasant.

Not long after starting the first sitting, a silent sitting, a woman a couple of places ahead of me gestured to me to close the sliding door. I ignored her. The temperature was pleasant, the fresh air inviting, and we were supposed to be silent. But she persisted. She was determined to have me close the door. I kept ignoring her.

When we came back into the room after a break, I discovered that someone had closed the door completely. I glanced at her and she had a self-satisfied smile on her face. She meant war. Never one to back down, I cracked open the door a slit, just enough to affect me but nobody else in the hall. Yet it did affect her. Just knowing that I had done this bothered her. A lot. 

The next day, when I arrived at the morning sitting, the door was wide open, and the fresh air spilled into the hall. I chose to leave it that way. She couldn't. She hissed her demand that I close the door, in spite of the silence.

Well, I had lots of time to reflect on all this. I was on a meditation retreat after all. 

If we are lucky in meditation, an insight might rise up and free us from some struggle. 

I was lucky. In my light bulb moment, I realized that her conflict with me wasn't about whether or not the door was open or closed. It was about her desperation to be in charge of it. My heart opened with compassion for her suffering. In that moment I realized I didn't care about the fight any more. That tension to have things be the way I wanted evaporated. This quiet little moment of insight changed the energy completely. 

After that I didn't notice her at all, except to see her cushion gone a few days later. She had left the retreat early. To my surprise, I found I missed her. I'd hoped she could have a little insight like mine and feel better for it. 

Meditation retreats are not generally pleasant places to have rosy thoughts and get away from life. They can be very pleasant, but they can also be very uncomfortable. I've experienced both, mostly the latter. What they do, though, is make room for us to get to know ourselves better, to have the circumstances to not run away from life too easily. 

I went into the retreat thinking it would be a break from life. Thankfully, it was the opposite. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Bird Lessons

Twice one Spring day I learned something from the birds.

In the morning, a young starling, fledged but just beginning to learn to feed him/herself, harassed its parent relentlessly. Its parent kept running away until the youngster persisted so strongly that they raised their voices. The youngling got the message. I've seen this with cats. When my daughter's cat had kittens and they were weaned, the mother would turn away to avoid the kitten that wanted to suckle. If the kitten got too persistent, she give him a swat or a swift kick. No hard feelings. Just clearly set limits.

Later in the day I had an even stronger lesson. I rushed outside when I heard the frantic shrieking of a baby robin, being snatched up by a crow. The parents set up quite a fuss. I was angry. I had a quick fantasy about getting a badminton racket and using one of the crows as the birdie. But then I stopped myself and just observed what was happening. It turns out I was the only one who had an opinion about the proceedings. The birds were fully in the moment. They were roused to action the second that they needed to be. The baby shrieked its terror. And in the aftermath, the parents spoke their distress loudly for several minutes before their voices settled and they could move on.

There's a purity to the responses of the robins in their loss. The loss is keenly felt, but nothing is added to it. There is a purity in the way that the starlings set their limits. None of it was about good parenting or bad parenting. None of it was about "This should not have happened." In their own clean and natural way, the animals and birds know exactly what to do.