By JUDE SMITH
My name is Julian (Jude) Smith, and I believe humanity is very young. I recently attended the first of our three non-residential retreats on a Friday and Saturday, Mindfulness of the Breath and Body.
This was my first retreat and the longest I have ever attempted to concentrate continually.
I had some caution as the retreat started but was energetic and confident that I would be able to make use of the whole time. I did make use of the whole event, but my caution was warranted. This was difficult!
We talk a lot about how awareness is the natural state of mind, and that we are simply returning to it, but we all must choose to practice that. When we live the way we do day to day, we adapt to the conditional nature of our daily tasks. If we practice mindfulness to help bring some clarity and context back into our awareness, although we are returning to the natural state of mind, it is a profound shift in experience. It takes work!
I got through that challenge with some compassion for myself. I let it be okay that I wasn’t as strong as I thought I could be.
I let the experience be what it was without needing it to be “better.” Lo and behold, that thought of “better” was the main distraction from the present moment. By doing my best to simply be present, after multiple sessions of sitting, I experienced a mental clarity that was finer than my usual state of mind.
The Buddha teaches in the sutras that when a person truly experiences the Dharma, the change in him or her is great and can occur quickly. While I haven’t even scratched the surface of where this practice can take me, I found it incredible how much can change with only a couple days of sincere effort.
The opportunity to practice for these extended sessions is an awesome one that shouldn’t be passed up. The stillness of the hall and the clarity of the teachings helped a great result take place for me, and I felt a sort of “aliveness” that I rarely felt before without intense adrenaline. Although in instances of great stress or excitement, I have felt a natural imperative to be conscious, the effortlessness of natural clarity born of calm and focus has a far stronger impact.
The constant reminder of the practice, second by second, reaffirmed with each breath, serves as a confirmation of that awareness. In this sort of clarity, life is not simply issuing a challenge to be awake but is expressing its very "awareness" through us in a way that is utterly stable. The phrase "sit like a mountain" comes to mind. How different from riding the gusts of the world's winds!
The goal of this practice is to end distraction and experience the true state of reality. This is very attainable. The nature of life is right here and now if we choose to observe it. It just takes a little practice to break our habit of running.
The world we live in is filled with running people. There are people running after rewards, mental or physical, which suggests they are incomplete. There are also people constantly running away from stress, which only provokes the experience of being unequipped to deal with an issue, or that the stress in question is simply at odds with a livable life.
If we can break this habit and embrace every moment as it is, then we can realize every event in life is natural and purposeful, and we can be really free.
So the chance to sit is a precious one, and I can’t emphasize enough what an opportunity it is to have a community that provides events like these. I encourage everyone to take part.
Our thanks to Jude of Winter Haven, a member of the Tampa Sangha, for sharing his insightful first retreat experience. He joined FCM in March of this year.