May 14, 2009

retreat part 3: i know it when i see it

One of the teachers pointed this out: the mark of a true thing is that when you hear it, you instantly feel as though you've always known. You integrate it in to your consciousness so completely that it's sometimes embarrassing to look back at how you acted previously ("how could I have been so ignorant?"). On the other hand, sometimes you look back and see that if only you had trusted yourself, or had some support in asking the questions you were asking, you might have realized the truth much earlier ("I *was* on to something!").

In some senses, being on retreat - and in specific, hearing the teachers speak - has been much like coming home after years and years away, and suddenly finding that I am once again - or is it for the first time? - not alone with my questions. I've had quite a strong sense for most of my life that the things I stay up late thinking about, not coincidentally things I write about here, are of much less immediacy to many people than they are to me. Fears about whether or not there is a reality? Weird, right? Wanting to live with the emptiness of the world? Utterly insane! But those ARE the very questions that are attended to in the context of a retreat. Mind you, nobody can answer these questions for you, but it hardly seems to matter, as long as the questions are honored...

Reading through this blog after having been in an environment where those questions are so respected, and where I have learned a new vocabulary to describe my experiences, has been quite a trip...

From October, 2007:
A little bit later I realized that actually, I'm fine. The baby mouse was sad, and yes, I do cry about such little things, but that little sadness didn't have to ruin the day. I'm busy and tired, and sometimes I just want to go to sleep, but does that necessarily mean that I'm doing badly? I don't think so. I think I'm ok. Sometimes I get stuck in this strange frame of mind, where "good" is this unattainable state of rest and contentment, with no outstanding responsibilities to speak of. That doesn't happen here at MIT. But that's all right - there are other ways to define "good".

From October, 2007:
And then I suddenly realized I was being totally ridiculous. I spent all afternoon getting freezing cold and soaking wet on purpose, as part of my SCUBA lesson. I can take as many warm showers as I want. I have plenty of clean dry clothes. Was I really all that uncomfortable? Nah. I merely had stopped being aware of my surroundings. I had decided that biking in the rain isn't nice, and so of course it wasn't. Honestly, the rain was actually quite mystical and gentle.

Anyway, I decided my awareness needed some tinkering.

From September, 2007:

Sometimes I feel like the gain on my internal amplifier (please excuse the EE talk, it's all I've been doing lately) is turned up way too high. Sigh. Sometimes there's nothing to do about Life's Persistent Questions other than curl up in the dark, listen to the rain, and secretly fall asleep with your fingers crossed, hoping that it is possible, and worth the effort, to understand each other.

From September 2007:

And that might just sum up what I love most about the violin, and what makes me so resistant to the idea of super-accessible music making. What else is there these days that actually requires you to meet with a master, one-on-one, and try to do the impossible? What else takes 40 years to get good at? What else connects you with a whole world of other questers who are desperately trying to awaken something that a guy centuries ago imagined?

And is there anything as magical as taking out a funny-shaped, hollow wooden box, drawing some sticky horse-hair across it with everything you've got, and finding, in the end, that somehow you *have* managed to communicate something meaningful to other people?

From September, 2007:
Well, for starters, it does sometimes do exactly what it's supposed to, so score 1. When it's misbehaving, it gets me to slow down and realize that I must sleep, eat well, and take care of myself. Because of it, I now know a jillion things to suggest to anybody who needs help with a stomach problem. I know what it's like to feel stuck in a pit, unable to dig one's way out of the wrong perception that life will never be easy or cheerful again. Because of my stomach, I've learned a lot about the brain and how fear works. Perhaps above all, I've learned that when I see somebody sitting in a meeting looking distracted or unhappy, there are a thousand ways in which just being there, sitting in that chair, could be unimaginably hard for them. Actually, even if somebody doesn't LOOK distracted or unhappy, it still might be hard.

So.... hey buddy. Yeah, you, Stomach. I know you're tryin' hard. I'm getting someplace, I really am. Thanks for all the hard work. You can be quiet now. I'm paying attention.

From March, 2007:

If you really tried, could you stop being stressed? Imagine making a concious decision. Imagine some day, a month from now. You have 2 problem sets and a paper, all in one night. You could either feel horrible about it, stay up until 4 AM with a feeling of anguish because you know you can't do it all before you collapse of exhaustion, or you could stay up until 4 AM, realizing that worrying that you can't do it all won't make you work faster, and get the same amount done. The evening would probably be more pleasant.

And yet when *I* imagine this situation, there's a niggling feeling of guilt. I think I'd actually feel like I was telling the world "I don't care that I can't do this", and I guess I'm afraid to project that image. But it's not true - I do care, I just realize that worrying won't help the cause.

From January, 2008:

Hence I feel inauthentic, not-myself, not-really-who-I-want-to-be. I find myself talking to people and only afterwards realize that what I said was 90% idle chatter (most of which is funny, light-hearted, and kind of pieced together every example I've ever seen of how to be entertaining in social situations) and 10% Real Meaning. It's not that I'm making stuff up, it's just very superficial. I feel as though I'm in a huge crowded swimming pool, and everybody's splashing around and whatnot, and I've got my eyes closed and I keep wincing from all the splashing. It takes so much energy to keep the water out of my eyes and keep treading that I haven't managed to discuss much beyond the metaphorical equivalent of sunblock and potato chips. It's fun for a little while, but too much of it leaves a hollow feeling behind.

A whole post rom April, 2008.

A whole post from August, 2008.

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