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I have been interested in Buddhism off and on for many years. I like the concepts of Buddhist philosophy and how it complements other more formal religions if one so chooses. One thing that inspires me about Buddhist practices is the fact that Buddha encouraged his students to question everything and not to believe everything he said merely because he said them. He inspired people to live wisely and apply those practices that made sense for each individual. I admire the “do no harm” practice of Buddhism in which protecting all living things is important because it is believed all living things are interconnected. There are many other things I admire about Buddhist and Zen practices, but I won’t provide you the entire list here, because it’s a long list that goes on and on and could end up a dissertation instead of a blog post. The bottom line for me is that I like the way Buddhism’s governing principles give everyone the benefit of the doubt in that at our very core, people are good, we are all good.
The people whom I've gotten to know during the course of my retreats are absolutely fascinating; a Catholic Priest, a schoolteacher, a fisherman, a Buddhist nun, and two women from Missoula Montana who run their own Buddhist center. Everyone was a kick in the pants and each of these individuals inspired me in different ways. Laughter, stories, advice and kindness were shared freely and openly. Everyone had experiences to share and from which we could all learn. Meals and break times were always lively and entertaining, and I was in awe of the accomplishments of some of these people. On more than one occasion I stood, mouth wide open and speechless, (it is rare that I am rendered speechless as my family -- particularly my dad -- will swear to). There was a very wise, older woman who traveled the distance of several hours to attend the retreat. She was funny, childlike in her inquisitiveness, and pure joy to be around. She had noticed that I wore a lot of t-shirts with logos from a very prominent company in Silicon Valley. After the 4th day she finally asked if I worked for the company that was advertised on the shirts. “I do,” I told her, with a twinkle in my eye (little did I know that this very fact would make me very popular at meal times). She chuckled, mischievously, and told me her son works for the “other guy” and then we both laughed. Our inside jokes and bantering continued throughout the course of the retreat. When the time had come to exchange email addresses and phone numbers, she told me, apologetically, that she wouldn’t be online for a while. Apparently, her computer had come down with the “blue screen of death” right before she left for the retreat and so she said she would let me know when her system and email were back up and running. And so she said to me, “I guess you get the last laugh on this one” to which I just grinned, closed my eyes and shook my head, saying not a word.
Three days into the retreat on a Sunday afternoon, I finally had what is known as a “Zen” moment; a transformational experience that no book or person could have convinced me was possible. Up until now, I believed such encounters were fabrications from well-meaning authors, and that the only way I would ever have such a moment was if I shaved my head and fled to the nearest ashram) not something that’s likely to happen anytime soon, if at all). As my mind frequently jumps from one thought to another, a mis-calibrated stream of consciousness, I have a difficult time keeping in the moment. There is a never-ending, constant, chatter that I have grown to accept and understand. The ongoing, inner dialog never leaves me feeling lonely and without company. Is it any wonder that I’m an insomniac?
The extraordinary moment came about during one of our many meditations and after having recited a single mantra well over 150 times, so many times, in fact, that I think I actually lost count. My prayer beads in hand, I continued reciting in silence. I have no idea how much time had passed, but I do know that when they called time and rang the gong, I was overcome with feelings of serenity and peace; complete relaxation, intermixed with exuberant energy, and I felt like I was busting out at the seams (not to be confused with “busting at the seams” from one too many trips to the food table). It’s a feeling that is difficult to describe and a feeling that I have never before experienced. Not long after our meditation, several people discussed the constant, loud noises that had been coming from the next room, noises that made it difficult for them to meditate. Noises I never heard, which is odd since repetitious noises typically sends me through the roof (remember the post about barking dogs?). I felt so tranquil. Still, I was in a state of disbelief, so I asked Juanita, the woman who sat to my right, if she had heard any snoring coming from my direction. She confirmed, there was no snoring and assured me that I had NOT fallen asleep in an upright position. I was happy, and I felt a sense of accomplishment from having achieved the sense of calm that I had always read about and that I so very much needed. I was also encouraged that if this could happen once, it could happen again, and so it did, but not until after several more failed attempts.