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Erect spines & noble silence - Day 5

Observation or judgement?

Routine is setting in. 4:30 am: The alarm goes off. 5 am: First meditation practice. After that tea, yoga, breakfast, working meditation, sitting meditation, walking meditation, Dhamma Talk, lunch, break, walking meditation, individual meditation, tea, sitting meditation, walking meditation, dinner, chanting, sitting meditation, Q&A, 8:30 pm: bedtime. My mind has also finally arrived. Some meditations are going really well. Some just seem to never end. In increasingly enjoy the walking meditation, where you move in snails pace shifting your focus on each of your steps and being aware and mindful of all sensations around you, including your thoughts. It´s an experience difficult to describe in words, as to an outsider it just looks like a bunch of spaced out people who have just lost it. But I feel that when I allow it that it sharpens my senses and empties my mind. If I read these lines a few days ago, I would have thought “Yeah, I know, that’s how I feel when I´m running through the woods.” To some extend that´s comparable but then it isn´t. This feels different. And then, just when you think you have your mind under control it will teach you better. You can´t control your mind. As soon as you try to control it, it controls you. That´s probably why monks meditate all their lives, I guess, to empty their mind, to accept that they can never be in control and to learn to let go. Is that a life goal worth achieving? Not for me at least. Not now.

The mind is quite restless by nature, at least mine is. It just arrived and now knowing that the retreat is over in two days, it would just leave again, making new plans, if I let it, which I am not. Never before have I better understood and felt the true meaning of restlessness.

I´m wondering how the others are experiencing this retreat. We´re 20 people practicing meditation and noble silence for seven days. We know our faces by now. Once in a while you do exchange a smile with each other. But we know nothing about each other. Not about our jobs, our hobbies, our age, where we come from, why we are in Sri Lanka, not even our names. To be fair there is the Q&A session where we can throw a few burning questions to our teacher from different corners of the room every night. And I asked one of the guys if he had a band-aid, after my little toe accident. I could tell by his accent that he was probably from Australia and he told me that his Mom was caring enough to pack him a little emergency aid kit. That put a smile on my face as I´m usually the one providing others with patches, alternative medicine and the like that my Mom urged me to take in my luggage. Now Mia has our emergency aid kit. I didn´t think I would need it on a meditation retreat. I was wrong. Anyway, we´re a group of complete strangers spending the entire day together while being just with ourselves in midst of noble silence. It´s a very funny setting and it teaches a lot about group dynamics. Homo Sapiens is a social animal by nature. Our closest relative is a chimpanzee. So when you have a totally random group constellation like ours, we automatically try to get a feel of the other members of the group. How do we usually do that? Well, we talk to each other. Talking reveals a lot about us, at least it seems to be our main point of reference, together with appearance and body language when we are trying to make out who we are dealing with and in which box we can put that person. Is the voice of the other person loud and clear or quiet and erratic? Is he talking fast or slow? Is her voice confident or insecure? Is he articulate? What accent does she have? Then we quickly sort people in good, bad, generous, greedy, selfish, happy, sad, trustworthy, dangerous, friend, enemy. But since neither our voiced, nor our bodies were talking to each other, we only had appearance and that certainly leaves a lot of gaps in the puzzle. Or is it just me? I know that I am quite an observant person and I´ve been told I am. After a few days I know who doesn´t eat spicy, I know who drinks coffee and who prefers tea, I know who likes their hot drink sweet and who prefers it plain. I know who usually goes for seconds and I know who tries to avoid to eat carbs. I know who sits in the lotus position when meditating, who takes a stool and who just sits. I know who´s taking notes and who skips the evening program after dinner. That might sound extreme, but I just can´t help it. It has always been like that. I can think of two reasons why. First of all I grew up in a family where habits and behaviors were often being commented, always in a funny way but that was just part of our family dynamic. I only became aware of this years later when I had long moved out and realized that when I do observe it is sometimes wiser and kinder to be silent about it. The second reason why my observational skills are quite well developed is probably, that I was being bullied as a kid for a short while. Such an experience sharpens your senses and makes you very conscious of what´s going on around you. I assume that we all observe others, some more some less. From an evolutionary standpoint out of safety reasons, from a modern perspective out of curiosity or the mere urge to find your place in a group dynamic. The interesting and important question is: Are we observing or are we judging? And here we are right back in the middle of Buddhist meditation. For Buddhists life is a never-ending meditation. Sounds exhausting, right? But what that simply means is that whatever we are doing, if we are eating, walking, working and even sleeping, we do it mindfully, detached and with Mhetta, loving friendliness, towards another and most importantly towards ourselves. What sounds quite straightforward is a hell of a challenge when you honestly look yourself in the mirror. So even though I am supposed to focus on myself in this retreat, by willingly or unwillingly observing others I receive a lot of revelations of myself – if I allow it and if I´m honest to myself. Am I having kind-hearted thoughts about others? Am I just observing or am I judging? How often do we judge people we barely know because we take things personally or we project our past experiences onto them? Instead of observing all these insignificant things about my fellow meditators, I started to think of one thing I like about each of them without ever having spoken to them. And while going from one person to the next, my heart was immediately touched and I felt compassion and love. Too cliché? Try yourself with the next few strangers you see or better yet with a person you actually dislike.

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