Where: Wat Chom Thong Meditation Centre, near Chiang Mai, Thailand
When: February 21st - March 2nd, 2007
Meditation: Anger, insight, let go
As I wrote in my previous blog, it is easy to write many many blogs on my retreat. So much always happens. So I make a start in this blog with a general overview. In case you have any specific questions or things you'd like to know more about. Please ask so I can focus what I write on what you'd like to read about.
I continue to be amazed to see what an intense and amazing experience a meditation retreat can be. It was the previous two times and it was an amazing experience again.
Experienced: so now it is going to be easy?
I went into my retreat relatively open-minded and with few expectations, but I did have some (more or less conscious) expectations, nevertheless. One was that it was predominantly going to be a nice experience. As in my second retreat the sitting was getting easier (after more practice) and after practicing (that is: meditating) most days since my last retreat in April 2006, I expected less pain while sitting.
Also I had been longing for a good time-out for my mind almost since I arrived in Thailand in December 2006, that I kind of expected to just enjoy.
Meeting myself full-on
It wasn't going to be like that! Not just easy. No, meditation is the most intense and confronting encounter with yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your preconceptions, whatever there is.
So definitely, mostly later in the retreat, I again experienced these blissful moments of no-mind kick, but not after going through a lot of shit again.
Meditation is the best psychotherapy there is. There is no hiding. No psychotherapist to fool, no ego to protect. When you really meditate you are your own healer and therapist and you watch everything that arises.
So what came up? First and foremost my anger towards Christianity in particular and religious fundamentalism and dogmatism in general. That was no news, as the issue had bothered me quite a bit over the last few months, but no there was no place to hide. What you do in the meditation, or what you should do, is when a thought comes up is saying (in your head) "thinking, thinking, thinking" and when it is not a very important or emotionally charged thought the thought will go. But when there is attachment to the thought, the idea that it is important to think this or that "I have great insights" or just when you get caught in a train of thougts, it can be very hard to let go of the thought. Often enough you don't even notice that you are caught up in it when you are already thinking for a while. I have a tendency to get passionate (both in my anger and my enthusiasm) and then there is a lot of energy in the thought. Little detachment. So hard to let go of.
And how do these thoughts arise? Often out of nowhere. But often enough there is a trigger. One was the photo of a Buddhist monk greeting the pope just where I was doing my walking meditation (the rest of the room was full). That was a nice trick of the universe! There was a lesson of compassion and detachment I had to learn!
Another example how I ended up at the same theme. During lunch (no talking!) I see a cute, bowing, wai-ing (hands together) Thai girl (not a nun) trying to pass through a group of people.
A very nice and positive
thing you might say. Yes, but as the Buddha taught, any attachment, also to nice things, leads to Dhukkha, to suffering (see four noble truths
). And so it did. My thought-train went as follows:
"Wow, so nice, this young girl is so respectful."
--> Attachment and positive judgment of what I saw)
then: "I wish people were so respectful at home in Holland"
--> Now there is comparing, I am not alone observing and watching what happens, but my mind runs riot)
"If only Buddhism had travelled West as well as east from India, life would be so much nicer in Europe than it currently is"
--> Now there is simply judgement and a lot of assumptions.
(Of course the underlying assumption/preconception again was that Christianity and the church is to blame for so much that is wrong in the West and the world. And even though for some things that is definitely the case, for others it is not. And of course I did not enter into the good things that all religions, including Christianity, also have brought to mankind or into the fact that I have met many respectful Christians, be it not with the same humility I find so typically Buddhist. )
The main thing here is not to go into analysing the issue, but to realise (and I did: auwww!) that if you have a certain belief and conditioning, something that is not questioned anymore, you will always observe things that confirm your belief. You don't observe reality as it is, but you filter it through your believe-system and anything that does not fit with your believe-system will simply be ignored or distorted so that you can tell yourself that, yes again, you were right.
Also, these kinds of generalisations never hold ground when analysed with scrutiny, because they are nothing more than mental concepts that try to fit the world into easy good-bad,right-wrong boxes that do not much more than simplifying things for the sake of "having an opinion that is the truth".
If it is really bad, your mind (or ego), who wants to be right, will always lead you back to the same issue. I've had that problem over the last couple of months and it is very annoying.
Instead of insight, that is what Vipassana means, you end up with blind belief and little chance for wisdom to arise. But also: with a lot of suffering, since the world is not as you would like it to be. "Why can't everyone be Buddhist? or Christian? or whatever..........
So there I was, mercilessly confronted with my own beliefs and even though I was not exposed to Christianity in any way, I was stupid enough (Buddhism generally uses the word "ignorant") to let my mind go riot and spoil my good mood and pleasant observations.
So what then in short is the goal of the meditation? To be able to just observe that "very respectful girl", smile, stay in the here and now without attaching and and leave it at that.
So did I manage to get rid of this "devil" (defilements such as anger and judgmental thinking are the demons in Buddhism) in my head? During the cause of the retreat I did. But not after a lot of, unneccessary, suffering. "Thinking, thinking, thinking. Knowing, knowing, knowing". As in "I know where this thought is leading me. No new insights are going to arise from this, just a repetition of incompassionate, judgmental thinking that will make me angry and miserable."
For my teachers tip to acknowledge "knowing", rather than just thinking, really helped as it made me see how stupid I was behaving and it enabled me to let go as nothing positive, good or wise was going to arise from following these thoughts.
And of course, during the retreat you simply get more mindful and the virtues (positive characteristics such as compassion and wisdom) grow while the defilements (greed, anger, hatred, ignorance, etc.) get less and less grip on you.
Good. I leave it at that for the moment. In two hours my plane leaves to India. A new country and a new religion (Hinduism) that I know very little about. I will have no problems meeting that with an open mind as I have no bad experiences nor many preconceptions about that religion. I am just really curious (and not just about that......).
Take care and metta (that is Buddhist language for loving-kindness and compassion) to you,