My Most Memorial Retreat
I attended the DDM retreat in Sydney from Saturday 1 October to 3 October 2011. This is the first Buddhist retreat I have been on and am very thankful for the good guidance I received from three very kind and insightful Dharma teachers.
I went along to this retreat wanting to take a holiday, I didn’t have many expectations, I simply wanted to see what I would learn. Now, as I sit at home reflecting on the retreat, I’m happy to say I have brought home a mind that is more at peace and a heart that finds solace in silence. In this story, I would like to share my reflection of the retreat.
At the beginning of the retreat, Fashi explained to us specific etiquette we were to follow during the retreat. We were to observe Noble silence and to turn our attention inwardly towards ourselves as to gain a better understanding of our own mind and heart. We were to keep eye contact and other facial greetings with others at a minimum. As a primary school teacher, I spend most of my working hours connecting and communicating with people; students, parents and teachers. I also take great delight in socialising and liaising with others, and thus found abiding by Noble silence and no eye contact with others quite awkward at first. However, as time went on, by turning my attention inwards, I was able to see how busy my mind was, I could hear my haphazard thoughts loud and clear. ‘Dinner smells nice, I wonder what we are having.’, ‘Got to eat up quick so I don’t lose shower time.’, ‘How long until the next break?’ Not only did my mind work fast, my body did too, I ate my meals very quickly. I brought the busyness of my everyday life to this retreat. Only, during everyday life, I didn’t have the awareness of what it actually felt like to be so mentally busy. During one Dharma talk, Fashi mentioned that this retreat is like going on a date with our self, we have the opportunity to see what it is like to be in the company of our self. Fashi left me a question to think about: ‘Do I like being with myself?’
The part of the retreat I found most challenging was sitting meditation. We were shown different ways to sit and the warm up and warm down exercises to do for each sitting. We were also taught a method to use for our mediation. This method was to count our breath on the exhalation. Fashi explained that the method we use is a way for us to keep focused, when thoughts, feelings or sensations arise, we ignore them (not fight them) and continue to concentrate on our breathing. This was easier said than done, my first sitting was painful. My mind was unfocused and my thoughts seemed to be very loud. My legs and ankles were going numb and I couldn’t ignore all the discomfort I was feeling, I tried to focus on my breathing but this gave me no comfort. I kept looking at the clock, wondering when the next break was coming. Time seemed to be moving very, very, very slowly. The first sitting was the most difficult, the more we practiced, the easier it was to sit for longer periods of time. Sitting also became more pleasant, and I was able to experience glimpses of being in the present moment with my body and mind in unison. During question time, I was relieved to hear leg pain is normal and that Fashi also experiences this. I was later told that we feel discomfort in the area where there is a blockage in our circulation. The more we sit and focus on our method, the more we are able to help the circulation in our whole body flow. I can see how this practice can be beneficial for me if I did it regularly. It would help me to keep my mind focused while dealing effectively with interferences.
‘Relax your body and relax your mind.’ Fashi said during one Dharma talk. This was indeed easy to do during tea meditation. Fashi made tea for the group, he was completely in the moment and each move he made was made with all his attention and awareness. There was nothing else in Fashi’s mind except for making tea. This was the impression I got from watching Fashi prepare tea. Holding my tiny tea cup in my hands, the aroma of the tea was blissfully fragrant, we were asked to uses our senses; to look at the colour of the tea, to smell the scent of the tea and then to finally taste the tea. This was a pleasant exercise and I noticed through this meditation, both my body and mind were truly relaxed and in the present moment. This is a direct juxtaposition to how I was feeling during my first sitting where I felt discomfort in both my body and mind. It occurs to me that during pleasant moments, it is easy to be present, our senses are appeased and our minds relax. Perhaps that is precisely how attachment is formed, we seek that which seems to be pleasant. It also occurs to me, if I were to spend all my time preparing tea and enjoying tea, I would find my life to be rather meaningless, it would be pleasant no doubt but it would lack satisfaction. The satisfaction that comes from enjoying life and doing something that helps others. Fashi looked satisfied to me, making tea and teaching the Dharma.
(By Jessie Chang)