I went to my first silent meditation retreat in early December. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I attended a non-residential silent vipassana retreat at UBC one summer…but it was terrible. The teachings were entirely beyond me and I talked and texted in the evenings when I got home. So, to rephrase, I successfully attended my first residential, silent meditation retreat in early December. And the silence and the stillness were beautiful.
The teacher, Cheryl Fraser, was humourous, humble, accessible and quite entertaining. The subject for the retreat was the Four Brahamviharas. The Brahmaviharas are a Buddhist concept representing the four “Divine Abodes.” These are the 4 enlightened mind states that we all aspire to dwell in. They are Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (empathetic joy) and Uppekha (equanimity). I love this concept. They are abodes I rarely get to dwell in due to my human condition, but I have had glimpses of them. The idea of being able to genuinely feel loving kindness, or at least loving friendliness, to all beings is admirable. The idea of being able to access compassion for each being, even the ones I really can’t stand to be in the same room with, feels like a relief. The idea of being able to be truly joyful for others’ successes, good luck, true love, happy family, thick hair, athletic body, etc….seems saintly. And of course, the idea of being able to stay calm, grounded and centred in every day, every moment, no matter what is thrown at me…well, that still seems impossible. However, the Buddha stated that he would not teach these lessons if they were not attainable. It must be possible then, yes?
So, at the end of the 3 days, did I come out with a greater understanding of these Brahmaviharas? I think so. Did I come home and manage to stay equanimous no matter what happened. Um, shockingly no. Thrown right back into suffering within 6 hours of returning to “the real world.” Ahhhhh. So why write about it? To share my failure. No. I wanted to share the gems that I got out of the retreat and the nuggets I am remembering going through my days. And trying to do it more “skillfully,” as the Buddhists say.
The first gem that I came home with was “idiot compassion.” I just love that as a Buddhist (which I do not claim to be) you can say idiot and it’s actually a spiritual term. As I understand it, “idiot compassion” is the compassion or life energy that we extend to another that is not ready to accept it. It is a waste of time. Cheryl explained that we, in this lifetime, have a limited amount of life energy to give away and therefore, we should spend it skillfully. It basically means pick your battles. Save your energy for those who want it and can accept it. It’s ok to let some people go. And thank Buddha…what a relief. And this doesn’t mean that the particular person that is a waste of my time, is simply a waste. Another person may be able to reach them, touch them, move them. It just doesn’t have to be me for everyone in my life. Again, phew. Weight unloaded.
The second gem that I came home with is that the light is always shining. Anyone who is reading this now, and was present over the weekend will remember this. If a Buddhist Dharma teacher is at all capable of “drilling” something into you, it was this message. The light is always shining. In the context of this retreat, Cheryl meant that no matter how confused we become, how caught up in anger, grief, loneliness and discontent, there is always a light shining. She used the fog that occurred during the week as an analogy for this concept. She walked in on Friday morning declaring that it was a beautiful sunny day! At the top of her voice…”What a beautiful sunny day!” We all looked outside and could barely see 20 feet through the fog. The lake was non-existent from where we sat and the trees on the edge of the property were completely obscured by it. The fog was “pea soup” thick. She explained that the fog represents our mind when we are suffering. It is clouded. It is obscured. And that our bright, shining, true nature is ever present, even when it’s layered thick with confusion. The light is always shining. Above the fog, above the clouds, even in the darkness of night the sun is still shining. Just because we cannot see it and cannot feel it on our skin, does not mean it is not there. That bright orb in the sky is always hot, fiery and glowing. It never takes a day off to crawl under the covers and feel sorry for itself. It never locks itself inside a dark room (impossible…cuz the room would be illuminated simply by it’s presence). It never takes a day and mopes while deep in a Netflix and red wine binge. It is always shining.
So today, I again find myself in the fog of my suffering. I am writing this and attempting to remember the light. I went for a run to clear my mind, and witnessed the crazy things that this mind does when left untended…yikes! I sat for 30 minutes and meditated focussing solely on the light. In today’s case, the sunlight filtering through the blinds. The literal light. I cried and let all the emotions move through me. I placed my hand on my heart and acknowledged that today was hard. Sometimes it is just difficult. Sometimes it feels lonely. Sometimes it feels dark. I practiced loving-kindness toward myself in the hopes of finding my way to the light. I practiced compassion toward myself in hopes of feeling the clouds part, even just a little. I practiced joy today when out in nature appreciating the layer of mist across the lake, the waxing moon that was out, the lack of rain and the beautiful group of women that I was with! And equanimity…well, you still seem impossible. But this is the practice, life is the practice. Everyday is a new test. I heard Ram Dass quoted as saying that he has often “failed the exam.” The good news is that there is always a retake scheduled.
So I invite you, today, whether it’s foggy or bright in your heart and mind, to practice loving-kindness and compassion toward yourself. Turn it inward so that you can feel your beautiful shining, perfect Buddha heart and feel the lifting of the fog. From my light to yours. xo