Silent Retreat of August 2014
I have been attending a silent meditation retreat all this week. There is no outward speech, but by no means is it silent.
When Jesus got together with his disciples he said, “Whenever two or more are gathered in My name there is…” The end of the sentence should have said , “there is disagreement, doubt, fear, animosity, and lots of projection.” I am right and you, (whoever you are,) are wrong. And in retreat, not one of you says a word!
In silence with others you see the contents of your garbage-y mind. You begin by being unaware that you are commenting about everything and everyone. The background mutterance (barely detected), contains all your continuing assessments and judgements.
A week of silence is a whole week where you look at and own your inner crap you project onto others (and yourself) every minute of every day. All the time. Constantly.
You might be the kind of person who placates, ameliorates, ingratiates– a beta dog crawling around on your stomach. “Don’t reject me, don’t hurt me. Please,” with a winsome, winning, smiley whine. In silence, this behavior is more visible, and harder to bear.
Or, possibly, you are the kind of person who ‘judges unto others’. You might implode instead. ’God, these people are so weird. Look, this guy is taking up all the cushion space! He breathes so loud when he meditates! Sheesh! Some people!’
If you are not rendering the verdict or punishing yourself, you are mentally flipping someone else the bird.
In silence, in a retreat, you get to see every one of these moment to moment judgements, thoughts and boy, oh, boy. mmm. Some are quite astounding. And with no speaking, they lay where they lay. In your mind, not on others.
For example, I see this woman and just by what she wears I type her in less than two seconds. Wealthy, divorced, conservative.Even though we are on retreat, she is wearing Eileen Fisher quality, beautiful haircut. I have her pegged. Marin, or San Francisco. Or Santa Fe.
Then just before she eats her food, she bows her head. A softening of her face, and a long moment passes before she picks up her fork to eat. The projection I have held of her is blown.
I may have been right about all the externals. I might be right that she is privileged and monied. That simple act of grace and bowing before she ate made those judgements irrelevant.
But maybe that is a projection, too. It’s a hall of mirrors guys.
As someone new walks by, the radar says: Straight or gay? Married or single? Holy or holier than thou? If I like them, I smile. If I don’t like them, I imagine that they don’t like me. I wonder if I did something wrong. I cringe.
And how would I know the meaning of any of these projections anyway? It’s a moment by moment play of how my mind sees, filters, imagines, and daydreams.
And this is going on all day, every day, as the cast of characters at the retreat walk about on the conference center grounds, in silence.
It is as Rinpoche says, “See the monkey mind, doing what it does.”
There are also my inner projections: “This was smart, that was dumb,” cringing with self- loathing at the ineptitude of this being called me.
Or … congratulating myself for being brilliant, insightful, having special effects like kriyas, or bliss bombs showering all over me and up and down my spine. This means I must be very highly evolved. Or it just may be that my kundalini is out of whack and needs reé´alignment and I have gas. Who knows what it means? You sit and see all of it. The fantasies of how I can be noticed by the teacher, or the flaws of the teacher or the teaching. Pay your ticket and you too can go to the movies. What’s playing? “The Life of Me”, starring me and everyone I know.
I – you– the drama unfolding– can be funny, sad, nervous, death-defying, all of it. The circus is in town.
That is why you may go (even though you don’t want to) on a silent retreat.
My knees are killing me, and I am falling asleep in half the meditation sessions. And there is something so important about getting close enough to your own inner landfill that makes all the discomfort worth it.
But I am not going to sign up for another retreat next week. I will wait until my knees heal. It make take a few years.
Meanwhile, back at the mindfulness ranch, awareness is corralling random projections into a big pen. The monkeys have crawled out of the mind and are serving the projections as left-overs, and they are all as happy as pigs in shit.