Satori from my Southern Insight Meditation retreats

… In which I write about my realisations in life over the last few years of being in the Souther Insight Meditation group and participating in the retreats

Silence is golden, speaks more than words. — The first evening of my first retreat with SIM seems yesterday and vivid. Here I was, on a Friday afternoon, just back to my office after my third meeting of the day. The suitcase is packed at home; I was waiting for a woman who told me she was going to buy my iPhone 6 on that day she won at trademe. She turned up an hour later than when she said she was going to come. Then she told me she worked as a cleaner at a cafe and she got released just then. Her son desired for an iPhone 6 and saved for six months; the poor son was distressed he did not have this gadget that he so craved for, so to relieve his suffering, she cobbled together money to buy him what he coveted. As I handed over my phone to her, she said, ‘Wow, it looks a nice phone, why are you selling it? You do not have the desire to have one?’

At once Bodhisattva Avalokiteswara the great heart of compassion appeared before me, and I bowed to her and I said, “For I am leaving for a meditation retreat long and deep; I do not need this device anymore”. I haven’t had an iPhone since. I do not have the desire.

So here I was, already late for the first evening of the retreat at Staveley camp, not knowing where it was; I was late, I was hungry, I was driving through the darkness, not knowing where to go. It was the journey that mattered at that instant, swerving the bends in the single lane highway at 120k, dodging past logging trucks. Realised half way down the darkness of a winding back-country highway through the hills of Malvern county in the South Island that I did not have the luxury of pecking on the waypoints on a google maps to give me directions that I needed it most. I had no phone on me.

Anyway, I arrive at the meditation retreat, join for the supper, sign in, and then after a while we enter the first evening’s proceedings. They ask us to leave our cellphones on a basket. I do not have one on me; we abide by the five precepts and the silence begins. The first night’s chatter in the mind died down slowly over the next few days. But. The silence spoke in its own ways. Without speaking a word, I could see friends and the Sangha and how we all worked; not a word was spoken, but in that serenity, we had done everything we needed to do. This was bliss. Over the next several years, in all SIM gatherings, I would barely speak a few sentences, but the depth of the friendships and Sangha I found as refuge is unbelievably strong. Who says you need words to build friends and groups. Try silence!

The Zen of vacuum cleaning. — In the retreat, I had the job of cleaning up after breakfast, lunch, and supper sessions with the other members of the cleaning team. What was special about vacuum cleaning? Nothing. Except we did it in silence, mindful for every morsel of food, every speck of dirt in the silent retreat.

I returned home and that Sunday, I picked up the vacuum cleaner stick and worked my way through the house. Wife remarked after that hour of work that if there was one good reason for me to attend retreats, it is this: each time I return a better vaccum cleaning guy. Gary Snyder would agree, as would his teacher, Roshi Oda Sesso: ‘In Zen there are only two things: you sit, and you sweep the garden. It doesn’t matter how big the garden is.’

Awaken the joy within. — Over the few years I grew in my consciousness an awakening with SIM. James Baraz — who wrote the excellent book and devised the training programme of “Awakening Joy”, delivered a workshop on December, and I followed it up with several two hour sessions with Julie Downard. Reflecting on that process, I sense myself waking up, one dreamless sleep at a time.

Another retreat beckons.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

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