For David K
A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. – Albert Einstein
At the end of August, I participated in a week-long group meditation retreat, most of it in silence. It was beneficial in a lot of ways, including timeliness: I’d wound myself up with stress again in August and the retreat unraveled me in a day.
I’m learning that the more stress I feel, the less compassionate and generous I feel. Wanting to protect myself, I start to close up and become stingy all-round.
And that’s what I took to the meditation cushion on Day 1 of the retreat. The PSC gave a steady commentary on the other participants, the majority of whom I’d never met before, like it was a Santa Claus parade.
But the PSC was diminished in a remarkable way on Day 2. In the morning, I wondered “where’s David?” a Sangha member whose probing questions I always appreciate in classes but who was not attending this retreat. Then, during a walking exercise, the person walking by me reminded me of David, and then I thought of the next person as David, and the next person, and so on. I suddenly felt very warmly towards everyone there, like they’d all been my friend for years.
There are many contemplations and practices for generating compassion and connection. Here, it seemed to happen naturally when I needed it.
The PSC thoughts are just another way to judge myself. For the remainder of the retreat, whatever anyone was doing, on or off the cushion … blew their nose, stretched their legs, seemed nervous, was late, scratched their arm, played with their hair, was falling asleep, had their stomach growl, fidgeted, burped, seemed selfish, ate loudly, checked their cellphone, put their jacket on, took their jacket off … I thought me too and felt kindly towards them (and myself).
After the retreat, I took it out into the world for a while. The inconsiderate driver. The impatient customer. Everyone on the bus with their nose in their cellphone. The man waiting in a fast food drive thru. The child having a tantrum. The woman struggling to walk up a hill. The close friend professing a surprising personal decision. Me too.
We human beings are all such funny, fidgety, finicky creatures. We’re all always just trying to get comfortable. And we’re all always just trying to become happy. Me too.
References and related links:
- diy earlier post on my August stress.
- PSC: the Petty Social Commentator, one pattern of my thoughts.
- Sangha: a local Buddhist community.
- Tonglen: a Tibetan Buddhist practice to generate compassion, meaning “giving and receiving.” Per Sogyal Rinpoche: “No other practice I know is as effective in destroying the self-grasping, self-cherishing, self-absorption of the ego, which is the root of all our suffering and the root of all hard-heartedness.”