Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Back to square one

When I began this journey a few months back I wanted -- needed -- to be open to the process. Some doors would open, others would close, and the key was to accept whatever happened -- whether internal or external.

From mid-April until about a week ago, I was busily running hither and yon from one Buddhist location to another. As written previously, after the two extraordinary retreats in April I was left with a sense that everything inside had exploded and needed to resettle into some new pattern. Because of previous commitments in May and June, I never really had a chance to let that fully happen. The two scheduled monastery visits only compounded the confusion. I haven't written about either of these because nothing seemed willing or able to settle into anything coherent enough to write.  And truthfully, it still hasn't. Whether or not this post will be coherent remains to be seen, but I finally feel able to begin.

The Austin monastery was, as expected, extraordinary, even in the midst of construction noise and chaos. In a brief conversation with the contractor, he referred to it as a 'five-star monastery', and I have to agree. It's beautiful, and it's luxurious. My kuti was made of stone, with lots of windows, a walk-in closet with built-in drawers, a full bath with double shower, a big corner desk/shelving combo, a small refrigerator, a hot-water dispenser, plus electricity, wireless internet and heat/AC. None that I've ever had or seen elsewhere had any of these features, other than heat. The pagoda and meditation room are exquisite. Life could be good here and the door is open to me to return and stay if I wish. For reasons I haven't fully explored, I have a good bit of hesitancy and resistance to doing that.

Bhavana was as wonderful as always -- perhaps more so because I was there between retreats, as a visitor, and could envision and experience the life of a resident (and of course, that was the point). From past visits, and from speaking with a couple of people I know who have been long-term residents there in the past, I had doubts in the back of my mind going in that I would be physically able to handle the amount/kind of work required without exhaustion. One of these past residents told me 'the residents do all the work there', another told me 'after a day of work I was so tired I couldn't meditate in the evening'. So I was prepared for this -- and in that respect, not disappointed. Being me, I didn't really want to accept this -- thought that with time my body would adjust. On my last day I had a long talk with Bhante G and he said that we must always face reality in these things, and the reality is that they need 'strong, young bodies', particularly in the winter. He was open to me being a resident in the summer, but even then, my experience is that the work is tiring. So, while that door is not totally closed for me, it certainly is closed for any long-term residency. And I'm OK with that.

I found that I experienced similar reactions upon return from each visit -- fatigue (and I think, some deep inner disappointment/discouragement that I haven't fully explored) that was all-encompassing. In each case, I slept seemingly around the clock for a week or more, then emerged into whatever passes for normal.  Today is the first day of that emergence from the Bhavana visit.The good news in this is that even through the fatigue and laziness of these two experiences, my inner work continued (whether I wanted it to or not), and my long-established habit of inner awareness caught all the nuances of what was popping up in my mind. I've seen hints of things I don't necessarily want to -- but of course need to -- explore more deeply. Such explorations take more energy than I have yet, but eventually I will be driven to actually sit on my cushion and take a hard look. When my mind is ready for that, it'll happen.

The one thing I have learned is that my fantasy of being homeless, driving hither and yon across country, down into Mexico and back up here to spend time in various monasteries, is just not reality for me because I simply don't have the energy for it. I can drive long days (12 hours coming home from Bhavana), but even shorter days with overnight stops are tiring. I can't begin to envision doing this intentionally day after day, year-round. Even if there are periods of 6-months between trips. As Bhante G said, we must face reality in these things, and the reality for me is that my body is simply too old for such things. Not everyone at 70 is this 'old', and not everyone at 70 is this 'young', but this is clearly something I cannot do.

So -- back to square one. What do I do? Two monasteries are open to me, but I'm as yet not comfortable with long-term residency at either. There are compelling reasons to not stay where I am (as well as compelling reasons to do just that).

What I've decided for now is to just sit tight until all this settles down before making any decisions. I'm still open to any doors that open to me, but fortunately there's no need to rush into anything.