Friday, July 01, 2005

Day 4 - Tuesday

Editorial note: Bear with my negativity folks. It begins to make sense as the week progresses...

Practice was rather blah today. I am trying to think why. I knew I had gatekeeper duty this morning. I woke up thinking I had the first shift. This means you call people in by blowing a conch 10 and 5 minutes prior to sitting. I noticed that someone else was blowing the conch - meaning someone else was performing that duty.

Here is a rundown of that duty:
There are 2 rooms I need to mention: This Shrine room and the Post-Meditation Hall (which is a rather foyerish area where we line up prior to entering the shrine room. Its a way of entering that space somewhat formally and without rushing in. The gatekeeper blows a conch to alert all those that practice that it will soon commence. For new initiates conch blowing is the least desireable duty. If you are rather new at the practice it sounds like a bad gastro-intestinal disorder. I am sure I kill braincells in the process by blowing too hard. I'd also poop my pants if I were not so constipatated.

In the Post Meditation hall, near the shrine room door, there is a rather auspicious looking gong. It meets all stereotypical images of Asian gongs. The gatekeeper sits beside it and counts 21 beads on a Mala (sort of like a rosary...and at this point I can say it is used for similar purposes...but I can be proven wrong!) The gong is struck and then silently the gatekeeper recites the Four Dharmas of Gampopa,

Grant your blessings so that my mind may be one with the Dharma
Grant your blessings so that Dharma may progress along the path
Grant your blessings so that the path may clarify confusion
Grant your blessings so that confusion may dawn as wisdom

and the gong is struck again and so forth 20 more times. When this is completed, there is some fancy gonging work - the Umdze opens the door (the Umdze is the chant leader, shrine opener, and meditation timer). The gatekeeper keeps a steady beat until everyone is seated and the umdze gives the official "nod" meaning - come on in.

So I thought this was my responsibility, then this other person is blowing the conch and then someone slipped me a note asking me to be gatekeeper...and with the noble silence and all I was so confused. As I was taking my seat by the gong, someone asked me if I was mistaken - which originally I was but now I wasn' get the picture -- utter discombobulation. That experience either influenced or became a metaphor for the rest of my day. I am not in a place to speak about causes.

Practice was pure torture. My back ached, and if it wasn't my back, it was my knees and if wasn't my knees, my feet were asleep and...always something. I was so stuck with it. In more than one sense - I was either wanting to keep the experience and unable to just let go or convinced that I could not let it go. I mean, this is pain you can deal with. It's not migraine or childbirth material here. I think sitting quietly just magnifies it. Being there on the cushion makes one so present to everything - whether you want to be or not. Thats the kicker with mediation folks. So far, I am not finding that I become reflective or insightful. Its more about just being there. That sounds kind of easy and idyllic - but when you have convinced yourself that you are in utter agony - it's tough to snap out of. Especially with pain. In our culture, we are given the impression that pain needs to be removed by outside sources. So, there I was sitting - knots in my back, hot burning achy sensations in my knees, and churning with utter frustration...wondering if now is the time to clear my mind or start to sort stuff out (intellectually) on the cushion. A mucky day.

Tomorrow Noble silence is extended through the entire day. Silence was relaxed somewhat today - there was no speaking in the morning, but Mindful speech was allowed throughout the remainder of the day. I know I could have polished up my mindful speaking practice - but my need to crack a joke became paramount.

Practice will not be so uncomfortable tomorrow. (I cannot remember the intention of this statement when I originally wrote it...I am not sure if was an affirmation, or if I decided thus would be so - or a sort of aspiration). Maybe if I try and mindfully start out my day - that will help. All that confusion this morning was not helping matters and somehow I allowed it to set some patterns (I changed my mind...I am going to project on causes!)

Anyway...I am concluding my writing for the night and I am going to snuggle up in my bed. Before you know it, I am going to be back on that cushion - which feels much like a cinderblock at times.

And then my brain will start buzzing around


and then

oh my fucking back


I think my back won that struggle today. Perhaps I should drop the idea that there is some competition between the aches and pains and the quiet mindfullness stuff. Perhaps tomorrow all will be quite empty of nature...oh yeah thats already is...


hotboy said...

That sounds awful, awful hard. I've done a lot of sitting stuff, but I've never stayed with the pain. Always moved. Never done it in a big organised retreat though. You've got to start having a better time soon! Hotboy

MC Etcher said...

It's cool that the retreat is not some panzy spa, but a place of discipline and order.

I could go for a few days of silence.

robmcj said...

Hope the back improves, do they let you go for walks sometimes? I find walks helpful with back pain, but everyone's back is different.

I once did a retreat in an unheated stone cottage in the middle of the Scottish winter. We kept warm by wrapping up in several blankets during the meditations, and going for lots of walks.

The cushion setup looks pretty nice in the photo.