Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Swimming Against the Stream

My first extended silent retreat was a men's retreat at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in 2000. In his opening remarks, Jack Kornfield noted how unusual it is for men to come together in this way. Mostly, he said, men only come together in the context of business or sports.

During the retreat, I had a dream that I am at Dodger Stadium, sitting in a box seat on the third base side behind the Dodger dugout. Sitting with me are all the men from the retreat. Then the public address announcer's deep, stentorian voice echoes through the stadium. "Now meditating...for the Los Angeles Dodgers..." And all of us stand up with our meditation cushions, and march somberly down to the infield near the on-deck circle. Once there, we plop our cushions down on the grass and sit in perfect zazen posture, meditating the Boys in Blue on to victory.

Would that meditation, or any spiritual pursuit, were honored in this way in our society. Maybe in India, where I am told there are some 4 million saddhus (holy men) wandering around the country at any one time. These yogis are carrying on a 7,000 year-old tradition of renunciation and austerity practice, supported solely by the generosity of the people they meet. I have a feeling, however, that showing up at work wearing a lungi and carrying a trident would not be looked upon favorably.

Instead of taking refuge in silence, we seek after i-Pods. Instead of space, we accumulate clutter. Rather than learning to liberate ourselves by releasing the tight fist of grasping and attachment, we cling to our impermanent possessions. Instead of practicing generosity, we celebrate greed. And even though we must know in our hearts that hatred is only ended by love, we still love to hate.

What I am suggesting is that we don't give ourselves time to cultivate much introspective, individual spiritual practice. If we could all just find fifteen minutes a day to be quiet and still and just feel being alive, I really believe our world would be a better place in which to live.

And maybe the Dodgers could be World Champions again...

Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda (translated by Alastair Reid):
And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

No comments:

Post a Comment