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.