Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Clear Forest Pool

The Venerable Ajahn Chah, who led a famous forest monastery in Thailand, once said:
Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surrounding, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will see clearly the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. Problems will arise, but you will see through them immediately. This is the happiness of the Buddha.
When we sit with intention, on purpose, and allow the body to be still, we are like those incredibly dedicated nature photographers who wait for hours or days or even weeks in all kinds of weather to capture rarely seen, or perhaps never before seen, glimpses of wildlife in their natural habitat. One errant move or sound could mean that the creatures they are filming will be spooked and scamper or fly away. 

In the same way, being still in the body will allow sensations, habitual tendencies of mind, their resulting emotional reactions, and insights about all of the above, to be seen clearly. We can then take these insights off the cushion into daily life and apply them as needed to help us act more effectively in difficult situations.

When I am on long silent retreats, I often find myself waking up in the wee-morning hours between 2 and 5 am. When this happens, I like to get up, get dressed, and trundle down to the meditation hall to have a sit. The absolute stillness of that time of day is tremendous. I am often not the only meditator in the hall, either. Others may already be there, or may come and go while I continue sitting. Sometimes I just keep sitting for hours until the wake-up bell rings and the rest of the retreatants file in and take places on their cushions.

These early morning sits are some of the sweetest and most powerful meditation experiences I've ever had. In these hours, when the threshold intensity between the conscious and unconscious mind is weak, some very interesting and useful insights have presented themselves. It is exactly like Ajahn Chah describes it: the really weird, scary, and beautiful animals come out to get a drink at the waterhole. I sit as quietly and as still as I can so as not to scare them away. I watch how they move, how they change, how they relate to each other, and how, eventually, they recede back into the darkness.

If you ever find yourself lying awake in the early morning stillness, try sitting for a while, devoting attention to the body breathing, and allowing the mind to settle a bit into the present moment. Enjoy this rare and exciting time with mindful awareness, and let the inner creatures come. The more these creatures learn to trust you, the less they will threaten you when daylight comes.


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