|Picture this ---but covered in snow and ice.....welcome to February in Canada in 2014|
I had also experienced a physical flood of disbelief and then awe at the thought that I could just show up somewhere, and be welcomed and offered a space among people I did not know, all in the name of sharing, growing and learning. All I had to do was show up. There was no other prerequisite. Ka-POW!
I invited my Sista Perfectionista who metaphysically lunged through the phone to accept. It was something she had always wanted to do. Sharing this with her would be wonderful. We were at a place where we could be ourselves -- we wouldn't have to be "on" or pretending this was all "whoo-hooo out there" stuff.
Upon arrival, we were guided to take off our shoes, store them and enter the temple. Rectangles of sunlight illuminated the giant white, stone Buddha who sat on a pedestal covered in flowers at one end of the room. Soft square mats and pillows checkered the pine wooden floor that reminded me of so many school gymnasiums. Four white pillars supported a recessed rectangular ceiling where a gallery of windows framed the blue sky outside. Warmth from the sun conducted a symphony of fragrances ---lilies, rose, carnations, candles, wood---honoring nature, as the sound of police cars and urban sprawl echoed outside.
We found spots on the floor and reviewed the agenda for the day. The room slowly filled in front, beside and behind us, with people of all ages, shapes, sizes and colors. I was worried we would stand out in our "white-ness", in our wide eyed, awkward, you-are-clearly-not-meant-to-be-here-who-do-you-think-you-are-kidding" WASP-Y ways. Diversity --- it was evident in the flowers surrounding the Buddha---there was no "right" flower; there was no "right" way to come to this place; there was no "right" person.
We sat and absorbed the atmosphere. Time passed.
My Sista leaned over after awhile, gestured to her wrist and mouthed: do you know the time?
Feeling particularly at peace, I whispered back: "Here, you only need to know when it is four and it is over. In here, there is no time."
She sighed, but nodded. "I think you are further along on this than me. Not that it is a contest, but I think you are going to be better than me at this whole thing."
The day started with our day listening to a cherubic faced, young Buddhist, orange robed, monk named Bhikkhu Saranapala, who is the Buddhist Chaplain to the University of Toronto and lives in the monastic community of the West End Buddhist Monastery in Mississauga, Ontario. He captured my attention with his smile. His words were measured and meaningful. There was no rush. We had nowhere to be. Today was about just being. Nothing else.
He talked of mindfulness, about anger, about pain and suffering and about letting go. We meditated in silence for an hour and other than my knees and back causing ME suffering and pain, the hour flew by and I was lost in the silence and warmth of the space and energy.
At 11:30 we stopped for lunch. It was part of the retreat and the goal was to continue to practice what we were learning. So we ate lunch, lentils, rice, salad, pasta, noodles, chickpeas, all in mindful silence; recognizing hunger, reaching for flavor and aroma and texture. We scooped, lifted, chewed and swallowed in mindful reflection. We sipped tea. We keep our eyes to ourselves to remain with ourselves.
Once, I caught myself following a particularly pretty woman as she moved toward our table. Her plate was overflowing with food and instantly I judged her: she is SO pretty---and look--she eats so much---how come she can look like that and eat like that and I can't.
It doesn't form like that; a complete judgey sentence that I can grasp onto and wrestle to the floor into mindful submission. It happens lightning fast. An image. A flash.
Still, it happened and I recognized that if that was happening once, it would happen again if I looked around. I needed to focus on my plate, on my food, on my eating. It was way too easy to get distracted and lost in the what ifs...and if onlys that flood your mind. We heard that morning that the average person has 85,000 thoughts in a day and 75,000 of them were negative. I now saw how this could happen and I judged myself for judging others. Geeze this was a lot to take in.
I could not believe how difficult it was to no look around; my mind reaching out to find something to focus on other than me. Wow. We are such a distracted society. My fingers itched for my cel phone. Facebook. E-mail. Anything.
Every now and again my eyes would wander....slightly to the right....to my Sista Perfectionista's plate. Did she like the food? What was her favorite? I wasn't even sure I knew what I was eating but I knew she would know and I wanted to ask her.
Across the table, an elderly woman scooped forkfuls of noodles into her sunken mouth. Dentures absent, she stared straight ahead. I watched her lips and tongue try to capture stray pieces that dropped from her trembling fork, onto her lips. Someone brought her tea.
When I finished my meal I got a handful of grapes and sprinkled them in a bowl of Greek yogurt. It tasted divine, each grape a snap explosion of flavor. I was able to close my eyes and enjoy.
There was so much to take it and only half the day had passed. It is only now, almost a week later, that I can put the pieces together from my morning.
The Temple offers a full day retreat the last Saturday of each month. Everyone is welcome.
I remember thinking: now if I come back...am I going to hear the same information? The same introduction to Buddhism? The same food? The same message? Why would anyone want to do that? It would be boring.
But over lunch, in quiet contemplation, I realized that a month is a long time. I am evolving and changing every moment, every second, and so if I come back in a month, to do this retreat again, it will not be the same message, because I will not be the same person. What I can hear and process now will be very different then.
I came home from the retreat, back muscles seized and screaming from sitting on the floor too long. I had a headache and was grumpy. The Spouse even commented: This is not what I expect someone to be like after an all day meditation retreat. Maybe you need to go back and get a refund or something.
I slept horribly. My joints ached. My hands felt swollen and each finger was stiff and hot. My back could hardly support me. I felt like the tin man left out in the rain. A little kitchen yoga while I made my coffee and a hot shower and more stretching helped and I was able to get things done during the day that I had wanted to.
How much of my pain was the cold, COLD weather and how much of it was because I had taken in so much and had nowhere to hold it....I don't know.
Today, six days later. I can finally unpack the bulging suitcase of my experience. One peek at a time, and share what I am learning.
As always, I am a Work in Progress.....