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Reflections on the Fall Retreat on Mindfulness and Calm Abiding, by Ned Bellamy

02 Dec 2018 3:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

With gratitude to FMC member Ned Bellamy for this sharing


On the retreat grounds before dinner on our first day, I walked the labyrinth’s outer circumference. I didn’t take the time to proceed inward toward the center. But after the retreat, I thought of my movement around the outside of that circle a lot, after Fred challenged some of us to consider if our Buddhist practice was marked by “movement, but not progress.” That description seemed an apt, albeit uncomfortable, way to describe my own practice.


For five months prior to this retreat, I’d honored a personal commitment to increase my involvement with the sangha and to deepen my practice. But by the retreat’s end, I realized I still had not been doing enough to progress along this path. I was still looking “for an easier, softer way.” This weekend provided the time and space for me to finally examine some of my self-created obstacles.


First, although my practice had recently become my highest priority, my other interests, including some volunteering and research for a book, were eating into my formal meditation time. It seemed very clear now that to develop the concentration skills and habits of mindfulness I needed to progress, I must devote more time and attention to my practice than I had planned. I decided to relinquish indefinitely some of my other time-consuming pastimes.


Second, although I had been reading a lot of Buddhist literature, I felt stuck in my meditation practice. I was a little bored and not finding meditation very satisfying. I had begun to think I just didn’t have the meditative chops to do this right, or well enough. During the retreat, we spent many hours in guided meditation that reignited my curiosity about, and interest in, the contents of my mind. The result, so far, has been a lessening of my impatience, an increase in energy, and greater enjoyment of formal meditation. 


Finally, I recalled that I never had an ongoing mentor or teacher in my personal, academic, or professional life. My resolute self-reliance reminded me of a grandchild insisting she could tie her shoes by “me self.” I acknowledged to Fred in a small group that I gave up trying to do this alone — and needed his help. Fred and I have since met and I’ve also asked a senior practitioner to help coach, encourage, and challenge me.

                                                              

******************


I was reminded of how much of meditation is about remembering. During formal meditation, of course, we remember to return to the object of meditation. In my case, the larger challenge occurs off the cushion: remembering to be mindful in the first place, remembering to slow down, and then to stop. Lately, I’ve focused on my drive times -- especially difficult occasions for me to remain present.


Fred, Angie, and Bryan reminded us during the retreat to protect our mindfulness practice from incursions of thoughts about the past and future. It was useful to notice that my most troubling future thoughts were about all four pairs of the eight worldly concerns — and not just one or two of them. Thoughts about gain or loss, or praise and blame, for example, were so potent because each pair was accompanied by both fear and hope.


Once I’d identified these recurring thoughts, I found these concerns easier to interdict at mindfulness’ gate, before they had a chance to get a running start.


The most far-reaching result of my retreat was the wake-up call to confront and close the gap between my stated aspiration for my practice — and the time I’d set aside to fulfill it. Rather than feel discouraged by this realization, I feel enthusiastic about embracing a more realistic view of the work ahead.


The other benefits of the retreat largely resulted from our many hours of guided and unguided meditation together. With a freshness that feels like “beginner’s mind,” the following fruitful changes to my practice have been unfolding:

  • I'm sitting a couple times a day now, and for more extended periods.
  • Formal meditation has begun to feel more interesting and much less like a chore.
  • With increased frequency, focused presence occurs earlier at the beginning of each session; and at sessions’ end, I feel more energy — instead of less.
  • ·Although I’ve been able to enjoy shamatha for some time, during the retreat my concentration practice seemed effortful and inconsistent, perhaps because my breathing is shallow. So I am setting aside more time than in the past to just counting breaths.

Since the retreat, I am focusing more attention to my informal meditation. Every 15 minutes my phone invites the lovely sound of a new re-mindfulness bell. Walking the dog is more a more effective meditation practice now that I stand still to “turn on the mindfulness switch” before opening to choiceless awareness.


Also, my time spent driving has always been a challenge to my mindfulness, so my new oft-repeated private gatha to interrupt my thinking is: “Ned, where are you now? C’mon back.”

Comments

  • 03 Dec 2018 3:02 PM | Anonymous member
    Ned, feeling appreciation for how you take us along with you in an exploration of your meditation practice.
    Link  •  Reply
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