Monday, September 21, 2009

Vipassana Retreat, Installment 16

           The Yaza started at 10:30 pm, and was divided into half hour sits, with different students signing up to lead. There were about 10 of us altogether. Terry had suggested that we move our chairs or cushions closer to the dais to give each other support instead of remaining scattered around the large room sinking into senescent oblivion. Shinzen was slated to lead the first couple hours, but ended up leading the entire Yaza. He didn’t rise or noticeably shift in his seated posture for the entire 6.5 hours, except when every sitter, except me, took snack break, around 3:00 AM. (My time sense of the Yaza is fuzzy, so all times are approximate.)

It was kind of interesting how that went down. Terry led most of the group on the first optional outdoors walking meditation around 1:00 AM. We returned to the main building around 1:30 with the intention of indulging in the general snack display Choshin had laid out earlier. Terry poked his head into the Zendo to alert Shinzen and the remaining sitters about the snack break. He rejoined us a second later, saying the vibe inside the Zendo was incredible and suggested we postpone snacking to join the sit. Somewhat resentfully, I put back my paper plate and returned to the Zendo with the others, silently taking my meditation station.
            Some time later, Shinzen stuck the gong 3 times, indicating the beginning of a sitting session (one strike indicates the end of a session). I seemed to be the only one stirring or opening his eyes. I couldn’t figure out what was happening; my negative talk kicked in. Was this some kind of head game? I assumed we were waiting for some sort of cue from Shinzen. After about 10more minutes, I stood up and exited the Zendo, digging into the snacks on my lonesome. I tried to be mindful as I ate (as opposed to feeling resentful, guilty or worried). Finally, I flashed on Shinzen’s promise of tea and saki, neither of which I could find on the snack table. Maybe Shinzen had pulled out the saki after I’d left and was sharing it with the students who’d had the forbearance or docility to stay seated while I’d been driven from the Zendo by my internal talk.
            I poked my head back into the Zendo, but the lights were off; pitch blackness within. Yeow! I quickly withdrew, sat back in the reading nook/library. After a couple of minutes, I thought better of it, and screwing up my courage, re-entered the Zendo. My eyes quickly adjusted; the room was fairly well lit by ambient outdoor light from the bank of floor-to-ceiling picture windows. The overhead lights suddenly clicked on when I was halfway to my station. I was startled, but recalled that all the lights in the Center were motion controlled, turning off if there was no movement (for a period of time I couldn’t estimate), then turned back on at the wave of one’s hand or the lifting of a cup of green tea 2 one’s mouth. (I’ve no doubt the Sisters conceived this as an energy saving strategy, but it struck me as rather wasteful in practice. But what do I know? Not much, apparently; I’m continually being confronted, at this retreat, with the lesson that I don’t know what the Hell is going on.)
            I made it to my chair without further embarrassment. Eventually, the pattern became clearer to me—Shinzen would strike the gong bowl once every half hour. I don’t know why he struck it thrice that one time, or why he bothered at all. It was an open sit; one could come and go as one pleased (though nobody seemed to take advantage of this).  Eventually, Shinzen struck the gong and stood up, announcing the snack break. I remained seated while everyone else left the room. (Maybe that’s when they had the saki.)
            Terry led two walking meditations during the Yaza,
            On the first walk, we followed him into the back courtyard, and half way down a ramp towards the duck pond/fountain where he bade us stand and wait. He instructed us to note SIGHT and SOUND space in terms of six quadrants: right, left, front, back, up and down. Noting SITE space, he had us fix our gaze on the view in front of us and scan the quadrants (up, down, right, left) without moving our focal point. He directed us to note how our bodies changed as we did this. (I couldn’t sense any change.)

  On the second walk, around 3:30 AM, Terry took us to the front courtyard, lined us up closely to one another around its circular perimeter. He asked for a volunteer to lead the walk. Nobody else stepped forward, so, to expedite things, I did. He had me walk briskly and for everyone behind me to follow me in lock step. After a few minutes of this, he bade us change direction. Now I was in the rear, having to follow in lock step myself. This was more interesting. It took complete mindfulness to follow the woman directly in front of me as closely as possible without colliding with her or stepping on her heels.


            I took 3 naps of about an hour’s duration each during the rest of the day. I woke up in time for my 7:45 AM session with Pam. She had me meditate on FEEL, noting where bodily sensations associated with emotion occurred in my body. As previously, my throat and face centers activated them when I put my attention on them. Oddly, my forearms activated in the same way, becoming rather warm, even though they weren’t in sunlight (we were sitting outdoors, in the shade). I also found my eyes glimmering with teariness. I recalled last Thursday’s appointment with my chiropractor/nutritionist, and how tears streamed down my face as he muscle-tested me to find the proper dosage of food supplements. I told Pam how I go through periods of free-floating anger or sadness, where everything seems to piss me off or make my sad. At the retreat, I seemed to be going through free-floating equanimity. Pam said that often happens to sitters on retreats.

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