Saturday, May 10, 2014
This year I got offered a spot in the highly prized retreat with visiting Burmese master Sayadaw U Tejaniya. Some of the 100 folks at this years retreat had been at his last retreat two years ago. Others had been on the long waiting list for that one and were thrilled to be here now. The list of yogis was also filled with well known teachers and celebrities, some of whom I recognized in person, some whose names I know from the Dharma world. Not surprisingly, I spent a lot of the first week working with comparing mind – looking out for the famous teachers, who is “more advanced,” trying to figure out how they divided the interview groups, was I in a “good group” etc. So familiar and painful. I was also judging and comparing the slightly different behavior and protocols surrounding the Burmese monastic style. I had read a lot of Sayadaw’s writings, and thought I knew how to practice in this style – but, yow, it was different to be with him than I expected – of course.
There were six interview groups. Each met with U Tejaniya and the translator for two hours every three days. Each of the 25 folks in my interview group got to ask a question only twice over the course of the two weeks. The first time I got to speak, I reported on working with my comparing mind and also on an experience of awareness that felt totally neutral, with no preference as to what it was aware of. Then I asked a question about doing metta for all the yogis at the retreat. Perhaps my question got lost in translation, or perhaps the great teacher saw past what I thought I was asking and told me what I needed to hear. He said I should not do metta, but go right through the center of suffering and see it with clear awareness. Metta will not help the suffering go away. Yikes – that is different.
I started to chew on this. I started to compare this with what I thought had been taught before. I started to doubt myself and how I have been practicing, then I started to doubt the teacher. Ok, this is just doubt – or is it? I finally gave into wanting to figure this out and left a note for Carol Wilson, who was helping facilitate the retreat. As I was talking with her, I saw that I was assigning a hierarchy to experience – feelings of metta – better experience, comparing mind – worse experience. Awareness has no preference….”but where is the juice??!!!” Ah, that is just wanting. Hummmmm, this is tricky. What is wrong with just resting in that non-preferential awareness w/o the juice of metta or compassion? Can you see compassion or metta arising and passing away as just another mind state? But…….but…but…..
And where was anything about my dad dying? Nothing about that came up at all and not a tear was shed the whole two weeks. Strange. Oh, and along the way I decided to sign up for the Gluten/Dairy Free diet option just to see if that would do anything for my low acid diet. I was also taking Licorice supplements before every meal and eating no sugar. By the time I got home I had lost more weight than usual at a retreat, and I was down to almost 110 lbs. Yikes, I haven’t been that thin since HS. Even so, it was a tremendous relief to have a break from Estate executor stuff. I was so happy to be in familiar Barre and walk in those beloved woods, even in the rain. During the two weeks, winter gave way to the first signs of spring and tender green poked its head up through the crumbling leaves.
At the end of the retreat as we started to have mindful talking, I had some amazing conversations with old and new friends. Everyone was noticing the greater emphasis on wisdom, and lesser emphasis on the heart aspects of the practice. Was this just U Tejaniya’s style, or is it a Burmese thing? As we walked the loop road, Susan O’Brien recounted some similar experiences with U Pandita – you can see the sunset, but you mustn’t enjoy it…..really? That is attachment to pleasant experiences, yes, but can we really let that go?????? What about soaking in the wholesome qualities? Wow, a lot to reflect on.