Quarterly Newsletter of the Dharma CenterAutumn 2004 · Page 1 · 2 · 3
When it became known that two of our Prison Sangha Members were planning to do a 31-day retreat, I sensed a golden opportunity to make use of some very valuable 'prison' time - which as you all know, we have tons of - and also to get to know myself a little better. Boy was I in for the surprise of my life...
I still wonder if I would have done it, if I knew what all lay ahead. Little did I know that in wanting to get to know myself a little better, I would receive a HUGE hit.
However, I don't regret a single thing about the retreat, but - in retrospect - at the time I was completely oblivious to the complexities and depth of emotions, thoughts and feelings I was to experience. I think I am still a little 'Zen shocked' about some of the things that appeared and the way in which they manifested.
A person cannot sit for so many hours in contemplation and meditation each day, counting breaths and just observing yourself so intensely, without being deeply touched by what you see and feel.
The depth of emotions, the pain, sorrow and despair, the ecstasy and bliss of delusion and fantasy has had a profound effect - to say the least! - on the person 'I think' I am. This experience has changed my life for ever - that is no lie!
With the start of the retreat - because of inexperience and ignorance - our timetable was a little 'wonky' and had to be reworked as time went by. But after some trial and error, we finally stumbled upon a workable schedule and stuck to it as best we could.
The first week was very hard and physically painful and the body protested 'Big Time'. The knees and ankles ached and my 'butt' became a 'zafu' in itself. I could not for the life of me figure out why on earth I had agreed to do this and how I was going to take another four weeks of this… But, by some divine intervention, we did do it!
During the second week the retreat really started to take off and things started to happen. It was during this time that some of the walls started to crumble and the many, many masks slowly started to peel off. Without beating around the bush, this was a very raw and unpleasant experience for me!
The thing that hit me the hardest, the blow that struck me right in the face, was the intense realisation of the suffering that 'I' have caused in this life-time already! This resulted in the fact that I was left with a very peculiar and unanswered question: "Why suffering and not happiness?"
Why is it that we humans always choose suffering over happiness? Why can't we just choose happiness instead of suffering and be kind, compassionate and loving towards all beings? If it is that easy to choose and create suffering, it must surely be just as easy to choose love, happiness and peace above all. Why do we do this?
What is wrong with the people of this world? I guess I'll never really understand this myself...
The thing that really took me by surprise is the massive effort and commitment from the other guys that also did the retreat. I would 'shave my head again' for them without thinking about it twice - I was so taken with their determination and great 'try-mind', and to sit through, no matter what situation arose. I honestly don't know what would have happened if it weren't for them, their courage and support.
I also wish to give a huge Dharma Hug to PSN for coming to see us when we really needed a shoulder to cry on, and Rodney for driving all the way to only sit with 'Dog' in the parking-lot. I wonder who barked the most?
I don't know why this was so - it was so weird - but every time things were really getting tough and we really needed some guidance and advice, the compassionate, smiling face of 'Mom PSN' - peeping around the corner - just lit up our day and with the breeze of a gentle morning fog, took all our pain away. Guys, I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.
We concluded the retreat with a very special little ceremony; seeing that we had no Christmas celebrations like everybody else. An hour or so before midnight on 31st December 2003, we did some 'loving-kindness' meditation - keeping all in mind - as the rest of the world prepared for the countdown to absolute madness and mayhem. Then, just before midnight the 'chug-pi' was hit 10-times, counting down the last 10-seconds of 2003 - while we continued sitting into 2004 - which was in itself a very powerful experience.
At 00h30, we concluded the retreat by conducting a little repentance ceremony of all our past actions, and also by renewing our vows (Precepts). Then we did three prostrations each, thanking one another for the retreat, and had our cake, coffee and... - celebrated well!
I wish to conclude this report by saying that this was an amazing experience for me, although it is quite impossible for me to try and put it into words.
I wish it was possible for everyone in this universe - when they are ready - to have such an opportunity. Because I'm of the opinion that this is one of the vital secrets of the Teachings, in making this world a better place for all! I am surely going to try and become a much better person in the future!
The biggest thing I think I have attained from this retreat and which I feel I wish to share with all, is that the only thing we can do in this life, is to just 'be with' whatever 'is' in the present moment. It doesn't matter what it is; if it's a feeling, an emotion, a thought, or a situation; all we can do right now, is to 'be with' whatever 'is' and just observe it. You cannot stop it, you cannot control it, and you can surely not pretend that it doesn't exist… because it does! We don't have to make anything of it though, but just observe the moment for what it is. And as one famous Teacher once said: Don't judge the judgmental mind! Just try to keep a 'non-judgmental' awareness in every moment.
A 31-day retreat
In December 2003, we spent a month in retreat. To me, the retreat was really challenging and very interesting. I would like to say "thank you" to the three guys who were with me in the retreat.
Sitting started from 5:30 a.m. till 10:30 p.m. the first few days. I can only talk about the sore knees and the pain that caused discomfort. After I was settled and the pain in my legs was gone, I was facing my whole life.
Sometimes I would cover my face so that no-one would see me, and just cry - and it was all because of pain, grief and joy. The truths that made me the person I am have come up - now I understand myself better.
Hey! Some of the things would have never come up if it wasn't for the intense sitting over such a long period of time. Being with those sorts of emotions has helped me to really understand myself and the world we are living in. It was a fresh start, the beginning of a new chapter in life. And I started a new year with a different mind. I want to thank you, the members of the sangha inside and outside of prison, for having given us the courage to go for it! I want you all to know that it wasn't easy. It was a BIG step.
A special thank you goes to Heila Poep Sa Nim for the interviews, they helped us to complete the full month. Thank you again!