We spent the day doing sitting and walking meditation in alternating fashion with two hours of practice in the morning session and two hours in the afternoon. In between we talked about practice and the dharma.
Daily practice is crucial, of course, and there is another dimension that extended practice in a retreat environment provides. First is symbolic. We give our old conditioned habits of mind a clear message when we commit a day or part of our day to practice.
Next there is the continuity of practice. Extended time in silence is a magical opportunity to explore ourselves and the energy of the moment. Going on retreat, even a mini-retreat like this, closes some of the escape hatches where attention escapes. It creates a durable container — a crucible — for looking at ourselves.
Inside that crucible, old conditioned habits of mind arise, like fear. Fear of pain came up for one participant; fear of hunger came up for me. I had run out of the house that morning in a bit of a rush to get to the Studio to open the door for the retreat. In my haste, I forgot to eat. As I settled into the first sitting session I realized that I had not eaten. Enter stage left, the old conditioned habit of mind, manifesting in the automatic thought: “Oh no, I forgot to eat, I’m going to be wracked with hunger for the rest of the morning; this is awful!!!” Of course, it was not “awful.” It just was what it was. Here was an opportunity to deconstruct this old and irrational conditioning. What was present were sensations — energy in my belly. Clearly, I wasn’t about to starve, so there is no reason my emotional brain needs to be involved. There’s no threat here. Instead, I turned my attention to the energy itself and examined it with interest. After a short while the hunger pangs subsided into the background radiation of sensation.
When we move from this conditioned “story” to the energy of the body we are firmly in mindfulness. When we do this practice in a supportive group in a setting devoted to mindfulness, we have a chance to taste the three bodies metaphor (trikaya in Sanskrit).
The first body is the nirmanakaya or the emanation body. This is our physical body, the one that shows up to practice. Perhaps in the extended work (or play, as one participant suggested) of practice we have a chance to taste sambhogakaya — the bliss body. Practice can be pleasurable and even blissful. Of course if we aim for bliss we’ll miss it, but bliss can be a fairly reliable by-product of doing the practice. It shows up when we don’t strive for it.
The dharmakaya arises in brief glimpses each time we move from story to energy. There we experience the ultimate nature of things — the dharma — not as an intellectual appreciation but as a full body experience.
We’ll be holding these retreats on a monthly basis, either as a full-day or a half-day of practice. If you are local to Burlington check the Exquisite Mind Psychotherapy and Meditation Studio website for the schedule and plan to join us. If you are not local to Burlington there are places to practice mindfulness around the U.S. and the world.