Note to self: When going on retreat, drop all expectations about what you think or want to happen on that retreat because no matter what you want or expect, you’re going to get something completely different.
A little over a month ago, I went on a ten-day retreat at Spirit Rock focusing on concentration practice. Ever since I had my surprising and wonderful samadhi experience at the my last retreat in December, I’ve been quite interested in concentration/samadhi and, as one teacher called them, the spiritual goodies that come with a highly concentrated mind. The focus of my practice for the last four months had been concentration (vs vipassana/mindfulness) in anticipation of this retreat. I was approaching my practice with almost an athletic vigor (as athletic as you can be sitting on your ass and focusing on your breath). My motto going into the retreat was “jhana or bust”. (Who me? Striving?)
I got to the retreat shortly after registration opened so that I could get my pick of “yogi jobs” (a daily chore either in the dining hall or general housekeeping) and find a good seat in the meditation hall. At my last retreat, after being assaulted from behind by a serial cougher, I found myself moving my seat to the very back of the room against the wall. There I was safe from anyone stabbing me in the back with their germs. Call me misanthropic, but I found the relative seclusion quite comforting and safe. So, this time I immediately looked for a suitable space in the very back of the room. I found one nestled between a credenza and a pile of cushions. Yes, this will do nicely. So, I grabbed a zabuton, a zafu and a couple of knee cushions and secured my space. This would be my meditative home for the next nine days.
By the second day the wall of cushions had been dismantled by the other yogis in this sold out retreat. My left flank was wide open. You can guess what happened next. I’m not the only one who has the impulse to move away from the herd, so soon I had a neighbor.
For most of the retreat, in my mind (it was a silent retreat, after all), I called my neighbor Mike. I don’t know why. To me, he looked like a Mike. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow, but his face looked etched with sadness or worry. And while after a day or two of retreat, most of us do appear a bit grim, Mike seemed pained and lost. Of course, I say this in retrospect. At the time I didn’t see his pain, I just saw him as a pain in the ass.
To say Mike was a tad restless is like saying Glenn Beck is a tad crazy. While it takes most everyone a minute or two to settle into their meditation posture at the beginning of a sit, Mike’s preparation took much longer. Of course, that could have to do with selecting among, and placing his vast collection of meditation props:
When Mike initially moved into my space I found his shenanigans really annoying. In fact, even outside the meditation hall, I found reasons to be annoyed with him. I found fault with how he moved about on the trails outside, and the amount of food he put on his plate and the speed with which he ate it. At one point I saw him with a bag of groceries, and I even found his choice of food and beverages annoying. I was developing my first VV – Vipassana Vendetta – a common retreat phenomenon whereby you project a whole awful story upon a fellow yogi whom you find unpleasant. My retreat journal, rather than filled with insights or ruminations about the dharma, was filled with complaints – nay, rants – about Mike and his noisy-ass self.
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