22 December 2012

Enjoy the Silence?

A fresco depicting an analogy about meditation - chasing monkeys and elephants.
I am cheating on my silence.

See, I told myself that I would keep silence for the whole week, and my strict definition includes reading, writing and eye contact. "Noble silence."

Noble silence can be a blessing, a welcome reprieve from the constant expectations of others. There is never any need to break out of one’s private little bubble and interact in any way, and the idea is that it allows all of the mind’s time and energy to go inward.

Let’s face it: I have been sucking at inward. First of all, when I arrived from my three days off in Thamel, I didn’t lock up my laptop or iPhone behind the front desk. Ani Karin, the nun in charge of the course, made it clear on day one that this retreat, while entirely silent, would be less strict than the November course on things like internet usage and portable electronics. I decided to keep my gadgets for the first night, at least until official silence started the next morning. That ‘first night’ has stretched into the whole week.

My laptop has taunted me. By day two my pudgy little fingers were aching for the keyboard, just inches away from me, and I decided that a little editing couldn’t hurt…. and maybe a little music? If it is quiet and folky, surely that is acceptable, right? A little Kate Bush? Maybe some Sufjan?

By the next afternoon I was listening to Xiu Xiu on my headphones as I did kora around the monastery. “Dear,” I frowned at myself, “this is getting a bit ridiculous.” At least I’m back to folk music and Dharma podcasts.

But that isn’t all. I have been having lengthy conversations with the dogs and cats, in which I usually ask them things like, “whose leg is this? Is this your leg? What a nice leg. Look at dis leg!” I have been reading Ayya Khema’s autobiography in 60 minute chunks, and earlier today I nearly ran out of a meditation on samsara in order to write an apology letter to some people I pissed off a long time ago. Ironic.

This silence is fraught with complications.

I guess I am in retreat doubt. It’s this weird complex in which I become convinced that I am retreat-ing wrong and that there is some magical key or wish fulfilling jewel that other people have access to that I somehow cannot find. I look at the beatific faces around me and decide that those people are a) better Buddhists than me b) getting the “right” answer out of all of this and c) kind of in need of me to hit them in their smug mouths.

Whoa, did I type that? K, promise I didn’t mean it. Ish… It’s just that I vacillate between contentment and angst on the cushion. Some sessions things are so calm and productive that I become convinced that I should become a nun, or at the very least a Dharma teacher. (I can picture it now – I’d be kind of a straight-talkin’ mix between Oprah, Wendy O Williams and Sylvia Plath.) Other times I am a jittery, twitching mess convinced that my spastic fidgeting and chronic candy-eating is annoying all within a ten foot radius. And then there are the times that I miraculously sleep, sitting upright, through an entire meditation and wake up just as the nun chimes the singing bowl, unsure of where I am and actually kind of proud of the fact I didn’t fall over. Worst. Meditator. Ever.

Knowing this about myself at the beginning, I told myself that even if the cushion was a battleground, at least I would keep my silence. Right?

Oh, no? Wrong? Ugh…

Part of my serious commitment to this retreat was that I WOULD NOT WRITE. I would not give license to the random and distracting bullshit that my mind produces at a breakneck speed and during all of the break times I would just sit in silence and stare out over the Kathmandu Valley and meditate on emptiness. To be fair, sometimes I do sit and stare out over the Kathmandu Valley, but I am usually thinking of RuPaul’s Drag Race, sex or poutine while I do – and sometimes all three (don’t ask) – can we call that emptiness? And while I threw out my pens so that I would not be tempted to write in my moleskine, I kept my laptop within arms reach. Convenient, Dear. You’re doing it wrong. 

I should mention that I am currently in the MS stage of some pretty virulent PMS and so I need to cut myself some slack. I haven’t actually had a conversation with anyone for 4 days, and that surely has to mean something, right? It’s especially difficult when my brother from another mother, Aritro, is like, two tables over from me and we intentionally don’t make eye contact because I know I will explode into a neutron bomb of gossip and random pop culture facts if I catch his gaze. My steely resolve must say something about my commitment to inner growth, right?

There are three days left, Dear. And so maybe you should put the laptop away, stop narrating your experience, ignore the dogs (but who will compliment them?!) and get back on that cushion. Remember that even when everyone else looks positively Buddha-like, their monkey minds are as crazed as yours (well, maybe not as crazed as yours, just sayin’). Turn off your iPod and go and sit and stare out over the Kathmandu Valley and meditate on emptiness - if that’s what you’re calling it…

1 comment:

Lucyk said...

Hey violet, thanks for blogging about this. Considering it has been a few months, just wondering what your general feelings/thoughts towards the whole 6 weeks are on reflection? Do you feel it has had a lasting impact?