06:59 Woke up around 05:20 to the sound of repetitive thumping bass music coming from somewhere outside. I thought my son must have left a stereo running on low volume in the workshop. Yesterday he was building a large rolling trolley out of spare wood, on which to put a portable DJ station.
I assumed this creation must have been based on some ideas he’d picked up from the unknown teens at the Buddhist camp, and I worried to think what else he might have learned that might possibly contribute to “disturbing the peace.” My sons’ best buddy at the camp was a tall and very cool-looking 15-year-old from Sweden with a shock of blue hair.
I crept downstairs but the music was not coming from our workshop, nor from our yard. At least one of my assumptions had been wrong.
It must have been coming from our neighbours. Damn! Another party I had not been invited to! And this time they were still drunk and partying till dawn, blasting the countryside on a Sunday morning with heavy bass. It sounded like a distant irregular jackhammer. I mindfully walked toward their house in the pre-dawn light. I thought I might peacefully pass by and ask them to turn it down a smidge. But as I grew closer to the house, I saw that there was no activity there at all. My assumptions had once again been wrong.
Aha! It must instead be the new people moved in across the road from so-and-so’s house! Well, the morning was growing light and the golden fields were beginning to glow in the blue hills, so I peacefully and enjoyably walked a few more hundred metres. But no. Everything was shuttered and quiet there also. My assumptions had yet again been wrong.
The music was coming from somewhere very far away, perhaps a festival or who knows where…. but as you have probably guessed by now, the point of this little tale is to show that assumptions (well, mine, at least) can often be wrong. I walked slowly back home, enjoying the gorgeous, motionless countryside and began to take enjoyment in the fact that somewhere, perhaps a group of young people were having as wild and good a time as I often used to have into the wee hours of the morning, oblivious to the fact that I and my friends were disturbing someone’s Sunday morning peace even kilometres away. I also enjoyed the fact that I would not this day experience the ensuing hangover and sense of regret or shame for not remembering everything I may have said or done, or perhaps worse, for remembering it and feeling it was out of character and inappropriate or not in line with my core values.
I felt grateful that I’d been able to walk with mindful and peaceful intentions to investigate further, instead of, say, stewing with resentment over wrong assumptions. But I need to need to walk further still, on the metaphorical path of eliminating my assumptions. Wrong assumptions can get us into so much emotional quagmire, making us feel very alone and wronged and attacked and/or left out and/or forgotten, when perhaps these supposed realities are only figments of our own imaginations.
When we feel alone or wronged or treated unfairly or without regard, the tendency can be to lose oneself in habit energies and behaviours… filling the emptiness we perceive, with anything at hand that we normally use to soothe ourselves.
At the mindfulness retreat last week, there were many difficult moments. In the very beginning of the trip, I actually craved a glass of wine, or even non-alcoholic beer (which has become my replacement holiday drink) to alleviate the discomfort of these moments. On holiday, the first thing I used to want to do after setting up camp was relax with a glass of wine. I would focus nearly entirely on that future ideal relaxing moment when I would get to enjoy that glass of wine.
But with kids, that ideal moment rarely occurs, or if it does, it never seems to last long enough (especially while enjoying a glass of wine, in my case, since truly enjoying a glass of wine always meant refilling the glass a few times). You may pour the glass of wine, but perhaps not get to enjoy it due to interruptions. This meant that many holidays were filled with yearnings that were never satisfied. I have learned to bypass my cravings by remembering this fact, so last week it perhaps only lasted a few seconds. I must say it is an absolute joy to be free from even that seemingly small hold on my life that alcohol used to have. I was considered a moderate drinker by many standards —- though not by my own, since I knew how much more I craved it than I actually gave in to it.
This time, my main addiction to notice was my addiction to connecting with friends online. Every time I felt alone or misunderstood or wronged at the camp, my immediate impulse was to turn to you all here WordPress. I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. However, I truly tried to practice “sitting in my suffering” that past week. A couple of times I did check in… especially in the first few days. But later I grew more and more accustomed to simply sitting there, even if only for a few moments — since there wasn’t much time in the schedule — alone in my suffering. This did in fact transform it. I have not experienced that often before. Usually, and including last year at the camp if I remember right, I need/ed to write to get through pain. This time I was able to understand “sitting meditation” — zazen — as I believe it is sometimes called — on a deeper level.
To experience this non-judgemental state, I did not necessarily have to sit. I could also remain lying in my bed in the van, after finally getting the kids to sleep, or in the minutes after I first woke up.
I could also perform it while walking mindfully to my various duties (though to be honest, I more often trudged anxiously and distractedly — I could use a thousand excuses but basically, I have much work to do still inside myself). The monastics called it walking meditation. When I achieved it, I did in fact experience true joy, even if only for a few moments. I would see the leaves on the trees just over my head, the flowers blooming alongside the paths, even just the pebbles on the ground, and take joy just in those small sights that with my focussed attention grew ever more expansive in my mind, gently overtaking the worries and anxieties that were consuming me.
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”
I hardly wrote at all during my time there, not even in my journal, since there literally was no time, unless I would choose to cut into much-needed sleep. The schedule began at 05:00 or 06:00 a.m. (depending on the day) and did not finish until 22:00. I was still busy with the kids or with organizing things in our own little camp, or washing clothes (by hand), sometimes well past that time. During the days, there was a lot to do as a parent as well as a lot to do as a community member (each person is assigned a job — mine was cleaning and sanitizing in the kitchen before and after meals, along with the rest of my assigned dharma family) as well as a lot to do as a student. But the most important thing to do was practice mindfulness through all of it. The most supportive thing about it was that everyone at the camp is practicing the same thing, with the same positive intent. This makes everything easier, even though the situations can become difficult, as misunderstandings arise between community members.
This week at the camp was one of the hardest holidays I’ve had, but also one of the most deeply rewarding. Not only for me, but also for the children.
I have and hold such deep gratitude to the monastics who allow us lay people momentarily into their way of life, to understand an alternative, straighter and more difficult path, which can more immediately lead to profound understanding — through true perception of, and eventual enjoyment of, the present moment.
Buddhist philosophy talks of taking refuge in the three jewels: the buddha, which I perceive as a manifestation of deepest inner nature; the dharma, which I perceive as the teaching and the right path of action; and the sangha, which is the supportive community that helps us remain true to our values.
Thank you so much for being here now… and for reading and bearing with my run-on thought-trains. For me, you who have so kindly supported me with your responses, and/or who have generously shared your own musings on your own blogs, have been the sobriety sangha… you have been as a tree of life.
Post image courtesy of Skitterphoto on Pexels.