Last week at Bhavana I got a nasty insect bite on my thigh. I have no clue what bit me -- I was sitting on the deck of my little kuti reading when it began itching. When I scratched, I could already feel the welt of swelling. Over the next day or so the welt and swelling grew to about a 3-inch diameter spread of angry redness and itchiness, with a little pimple-like center. I kept my eye on it, determined not to say anything or let it impact my retreat. Thankfully, it reached a point where I could tell it wasn't getting worse. Since I've been home the redness and swelling have subsided, leaving that big circle of ugly yellow bruising in its place. Whatever bit me was a nasty little creature.
Then, not long before I left Bhavana, I noticed an itching on my calf -- which has progressed to an angry, itchy cluster of blisters that reek of poison ivy or poison sumac, all of which are rife in those woods. I didn't stray off paths often, but all it takes is once, and there were a couple of times when I might have brushed against something. I'm not usually allergic -- must have been potent.
Both these things have been great objects of mindfulness. Constant companions, bodily sensations to observe. Merely observe with equanimity, without drifting off into either grasping or aversion. Knowing they are impermanent. Trying not to scratch (although in both cases I admit to occasionally scratching the skin surrounding the bite and the blisters). Certainly not letting myself whine and moan and get all caught up in a sense of unpleasantness or reactions around all that itching. It just is. And it will pass.
Life throws us (me, anyway) opportunities of this kind for mindfulness constantly. All we have to do is be aware as they arise, and stay aware until they recede. It just takes training the mind. And if I can do it, anyone can do it. It just takes effort.
Naturally, I learned a great deal more during this retreat and eventually as thoughts reach coherence I'll write about them. But, probably the best moment for me was being asked to help the monks with the Eight Lifetime Precepts ceremony that closed the retreat. When they asked, I was so surprised and honored that my eyes got a little damp. But even then, I understood that I wasn't singled out for any reason other than that the job requires a female and I was the only female on the premises who had already taken these precepts. Normally, a nun would do the honors for the women taking them (Sayalay Susila did the honors for me, two years ago), but this time no nun was available. Another good moment for mindfulness -- no attaching of pride or ego to the selection! Still, I have to say that it was really, really cool to sit up front next to Bhante G and take part in this ceremony.
|All of the people in white in the first couple of rows took the precepts. It's a fun event, filled with laughter and happiness (particularly when Bhante G's aim with the water is especially good!).|
|The women who took the precepts.|
|It's really hard to find words for how good this felt, especially for the two women in the group that I had known before this retreat. This woman sat the retreat taught by Sister Susila at Southern Dharma in April.|
I was out of my element in some ways, totally aware of Bhante G watching my every move and hoping I was doing everything right, but I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime happening for me, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Many thanks to the resident who used my camera to take these photos.