In 2010 I went to meditate for 3 months in northern India. As enlightenment seemed an awfully long away, I started visiting the library at the centre where I was staying for inspiration. One of the books I picked up told a story of a monk who took himself away from everyone to meditate. And the others mentioned this to Buddha and Buddha invited the monk to come and see him. Of course the monk went (imagine Buddha requesting you to come and see him!) and their conversation went something like this:
you’ve taken yourself away?
meditation is easier now?
there is another way.
And Buddha explains how meditation is not about sitting in a quiet, dark room and shushing at anyone who might sneeze or blow their nose, nor taking ourselves far away so that we can concentrate instead it has the potential to happen wherever we are, with whatever is going on. As a friend said to me: it’s not only something we do on our cushions.
This is my latest story...
On that same 2010 trip to India, I was lucky enough to travel with a group to Bodhgaya, the place where Buddha became enlightened. It was a trip where my jaw and the ground became quite good friends because sometimes moments happen in our lives, moments that our hearts have longed for for a while and so when they happen we go a little bit silent in awe.
One early morning, alongside a small but impressively loud group taking part in an aural Aerobics class right beside us, I sat underneath the Bodhi tree, doing my damnest to meditate.
We had come to Bodhgaya for a Buddhist festival. So that Bodhgaya was a place moving and rippling with monks and nuns and Buddhist practitioners from the many different denominations and schools of Buddhism. At that one particular moment as my friend and I sat by the Bodhi tree with the smells of India wafting around us; the sours and sweets and sweats a group of Vietnamese Buddhists honoured the Buddha in their own unique way. Unfortunately for me and my western idea of a quiet spirituality, it involved a cow horn. So I sat there but 4 feet away from the groups leader, whose voice stormed from his hand held speaker to the Southern Hemisphere of my brain as he led his group through their practice.
As the steam starting gushing from my ears and funnelling from my nose I turned to look at my friend, who sat amidst the chaos, utterly at ease. Not a false erect I will ignore them I am totally calm at ease, but just simply getting on with it.
I nearly passed out from the combustion of the whole thing.
So that eventually the appeal of taking a loo break (being alone) was too good to refuse and so I left. I did come back (eventually) and tried again. And that time was a little bit more successful, but given the dismal quality of my previous stint, that is a rather frugal claim.
Buddha said us humans have a fetish for moving towards what feels good and away from what doesn’t. This is not an inaccurate description of how I feel about being around people: some of the time it feels great and some of the time I'm looking for the exit.
Recently I read a book by the African elder Sobonfu Some. A lady I got to meet when she was in London recently and if you are curious about rituals, check out her books. In the book she describes how when a member of the Dagara Tribe from which she descends walks away to have alone time, there is something wrong and so the rest of the community seek them out. You go off alone when you are sick and it is through the community that one heals because healing is not just about one person; it involves everyone around that person taking responsibility.
what would it be if we could do more of this?
And yet as of today, this way is not yet our way. And so in the west we need our ‘alone’ time in order to come back to ourselves, our bodies, and to let our minds settle. And we have this funny game, or at least I play this funny game, of diving in deep and retracting. Diving in deep and retracting...
a great migration
Rilke said that love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other. And so as I move fro London to the country – a space where it feels quite wonderful to have moments to sit alone and listen to the birds cherrup and chirp and cheep and sing - I wonder at being able to find that space within and of the possibility of being able to carry it with me wherever I go. To expand our minds from the micro to the macro and then perhaps settle somewhere in between. This is the potential we have.
PS: Lfraser is sprouting! To help it bloom please share this story with all those whose solitudes you like to meet, protect & greet.
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