Do beings want to be alone to pass away? Our family dog did, he took off one day when he was sick and never returned, and was never found. My mother would call to him. Simon! But each time she realized it was not him, but another dog like him. Eventually we gave Simon up for dead. We mourned him, my mother particularly did, however in time he faded from memory. Although the sight of a liver and white Springer Spaniel can still catch me with my heart thumping. Creatures die but are not gone, is that an expression of clinging? Not necessarily I feel.
My mother died alone, in hospital with no nurse beside her bed. My dad and I had left an hour before. As my mother died, we were at home cooking Christmas cake. For the most part religious practice is like this, one just gets on with life. When life comes, step out into life. When death comes, step out into death. There can be no calling back of the past or calling for the future. Sitting a meditation retreat, you just sit, you’re willing to die to your entire world of experience. Which is the world of, arising and passing, appearances.
My mother appeared ordinary, bent over and white. She was however a woman of great dignity, born out of a natural pride. For too many years I judged her by appearances. I appreciate her more fully now, and understand a little of the source from which she drew her vitality. While sitting a sesshin, with less sleep than usual, sitting multiple periods of meditation each day, the question of vital energy comes to the fore. Just what is right effort, when formal meditation is deliberately deciding to do nothing? Put plainly, how do you keep your eyes open when everything in you wants them closed? At one point during the retreat I thought the lights had gone out. No, just my eyes snapping firmly closed! Somehow the where-with-all to open them is there reflexively. I’d not call that energy so much as merit. The collective merit flowing from meditation in groups, is greater than the sum of individual efforts. Everybody helps each other, in an unseen way, to keep going.
2 thoughts on “Contemplations (two)”
Good to read both parts of your thoughts post-sesshin before heading back to the hospital myself (my partner and I are doing shifts with our toddler who’s in traction with a broken thigh). I’m not sure what the formal link is but all I can do for much of the time whilst he’s sleeping or watching TV or blowing bubbles or ‘reading’ is sit – but my own ‘right effort’ in this case is to do each activity with him placed whole-heartedly at the centre of it like never before. Every now and then I drift off or focus on something – and he sharply brings me back! It’s not exactly practice, I suppose, but it’s as close to it as I’ve come since the introductory retreat at Throssel.
Hi Dad, I read about your child on your blog to-day. Sounds like you have a great little teacher there and an excellent opportunity to sit still in the midst of, testing, conditions. What you are doing is sitting, believe me!
When I lived in a mobile home in Cornwall I’d sit in the mornings with the Today program on (a news programme on the radio in England) which drowned out the racket of the rain thundering on the roof. I developed an ability to sit still in the midst of this even finding a deep calm at times. There is a place for ‘pure zazen’, formal sitting, however for me the sitting still in the midst of conditions is the daily ‘place’ of practice. Thats the constant ‘returning’ I was talking about during the retreat. If practice doesn’t serve you on the top of a London bus in the rush hour with a toddler in tow, what’s the point? At lease one can aspire to remember to return, where ever one is traveling. Hospitals are interesting places aren’t they.
If you would like a Transfer of Merit notice put up do drop me an email with a name and I can get it posted for you. My address is to be found within my profile, or whatever it’s called. Good fortune and good sitting.