Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cosmic explosions of the mind

Springtime at Southern Dharma, a few days ago
This is one of those times where I literally don't know where to begin. There is so much I want to say, but where to begin? It doesn't help that my mind is still reeling a bit from having attended two intense retreats with a week-long break between the two. In all honesty, I can't say that I had fully assimilated the first one before it was time to turn around and drive back to Southern Dharma. And I certainly haven't assimilated either at this point -- only a  couple of days after leaving Southern Dharma the second time. When the mind is so fully affected, it feels as if it's almost had a little cosmic explosion and the pieces are settling down again in a different pattern. I'm sure a neurologist could explain it, but that little description is the best I can do.

I can, however, say one thing with full certainty: I am even more fully drawn to living in a monastic setting where I can meditate and learn. The only question now is, which one?  And that answer will need to wait for a couple of months, until I've visited the two remaining locations, and explored options at each.

Ayya Sobhana on the land at Aranya Bodhi

I also know with the deepest part of my heart that I am truly blessed to know these two extraordinary women, to have them as teachers and even as friends.  The two couldn't be more different -- Ayya Sobhana is as American as the proverbial apple pie, outgoing and no-nonsense but kind and patient and certainly well-trained by Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society. She is filled with wisdom, an excellent teacher with a wonderful sense of humor. Sayalay Susila, on the other hand, is Asian through-and-through. More reserved, quieter, very much an inner person whose years of deep meditation in a Burmese forest monastery under the training of Pa Auk Sayadaw are reflected in her wisdom, her demeanor and bearing. Her knowledge of the Abhidhamma and higher absorptions seems limitless. She is a truly gifted teacher.
Sayalay Susila at Bhavana, August 2011

Between these two retreats and teachers, many of the questions I've posed in previous posts here have been answered. That's no doubt why my mind feels slightly discombobulated. It really has been tossed around and reassembled.

When I mentioned my realization of dissatisfaction and that I had begun accepting and being content with whatever happens (saying 'yes') to Sister Susila, she said that was falling away of ego -- something very much to be desired in Buddhism. It certainly continues to feel good. Much of the time we spent together was spent in catching up, more than discussing the current retreat, which was fine. I really didn't have any questions -- I just needed the time and perhaps her presence to let the mind settle down and attain concentration, which it did. I just wanted to talk to her, ask questions unrelated to the retreat. There was not enough time, of course, but hours and days would not have been enough time. I am overjoyed with the amount of time I did have, and overjoyed that I am able to continue to work with her, help her with transcriptions and editing, and am able to ask her a question anytime there is something I feel is important enough to bother her. She will always answer, although I rarely ask.

From a practice standpoint, I gained deeply from both retreats. However, there were more 'breakthroughs' at the one taught by Ayya Sobhana, the subject of which was handling emotions the Buddha's way. Through her teaching I finally, finally found that spot deep inside where the lack of love and caring for myself dwelt, and the door opened, the answer revealed with a big rush of love and acceptance.  On another evening in deep concentration of an unusual sort my entire body 'disappeared'. I've had several occasions over the past 2 or more years where the inside of the body changed into something entirely different. The first time it was masses of tiny bubbles, moving around and popping. The next two times were last fall at Goenka, with different manifestations. In all three of these cases, I still 'saw' the shape of the body, the form, the skin. Only the inside disappeared. On this recent occasion, however, it all disappeared. Kind of faded away bit by random bit until nothing was left. This sounds strange if you  haven't experienced it, but as Sister Susila has said, the concentrated mind does some very strange things and these experiences are not unusual for those who practice concentration. She wanted to know exactly what I was practicing when that happened, because it was truly relevant.

The third big event to happen at Ayya Sobhana's retreat was the arising of compassion. All at once, in a huge rush, at the moment she told us about the bombing in Boston. I recognized it in the moment for what it was, knowing fully that it was more profound than mere reaction to the news. It has lasted, and grown, and is clearly a double-edged sword. When I saw others at the last retreat through the eyes of compassion, at times I could feel their suffering, and feel it deeply. That really changed how I regarded these people, and made me wonder if I could even handle feeling that much suffering, if I even wanted to feel the suffering of others so deeply. I don't think I have much choice in that matter, so it simply has to be accepted.

Two different teachers. Two different retreat subjects. Mind-boggling results for me in both cases.