By BEATRICE BOLES
The very first time I crossed the threshold of FCM was on a Thursday evening for Extended Meditation. That was over three years ago, and I continue to be a “frequent flyer.” Extended Meditation, with or without an optional private interview with our teacher Fred, is one of the most precious to me of FCM’s many activities.
If I’m going to have a deep meditation at all during the week, it is likely to be here. Structure, silence, and the support of the teacher and the group give me the self-discipline I need to make my best effort. For me, it’s a mini-retreat.
As the saying goes, “Structure provides the container that holds the practice.” Two senior students generously facilitate to ensure that the evening runs smoothly. Time is controlled by bells, whose sonorous tones announce the start and end of seated and walking meditation periods. And for those members who choose to opt in, on some evenings the noise of a tinkling bell carries the invitation for a teacher interview.
Other than the bells, there is near-perfect silence. I love it that there’s no talking at all in the Meditation Hall during the two hours (except for a few short instructions from the bell master and a dedication of merit at the end). Once I’ve entered the hall, I’m committed. So I just relax, rest my mind, and resolve to go deeper.
If sometimes the length of the two 40-minute seated periods seems challenging, and if tension or pain arises in my body, I’ve learned that it’s best to just observe the sensations -- and they will transform. There are no outside distractions, nothing to think about or plan, and no words to formulate. As the sun sets, the light in the room silently changes.
All I have to do is sit, walk, and sit again. Bow. And leave, carrying the silence home.
On many evenings, after about 20 minutes, members are given the chance for an interview with Fred. (It’s completely optional.) For those of us who are reticent, it can be challenging to take the plunge when interview time is announced and to stand up to take a seat in the interview line. Once we’ve broken the ice and done it a few times, we develop more of a relationship with the teacher -- so it gets easier.
At the sound of the teacher’s summoning bell, when it’s my turn, I walk downstairs. Following the traditional formality of “dokusan,” I bow at the door of the little room, enter, close the door, and take a seat. Then we talk till he signals the end of the interview. He and I bow, he rings his small bell, and then I exit with a bow at the door. Returning to my seat upstairs, I usually feel lighter.
I find Fred very easy to talk to. He seems patiently accepting of wherever we are on our developmental path, even as he stirs us on and offers his great insight and encouragement.
My ideas about life sometimes differ from his, and when I’ve been confrontive, he’s handled my challenges cheerfully and respectfully. With Fred’s coaching I’m learning to release my grip on concepts and ideas, and this has been freeing.
Overall, these interviews have helped me to deepen my practice and become a better human being. Extended Meditation is an ongoing, rich opportunity on Thursday nights. I’m grateful for my mini-retreat.
A bow of gratitude to Beatrice Boles, Tampa Sangha member, for this thoughtful article.