In the silence surrounded by a hundred other West Coast Dharma meditators at the UBC Asian Centre I finally got it: the simultaneously awake, energized and restful feeling that comes with putting my oars in.
It’s a metaphor
The oars belong to the row boat which represents the body. The river is breath, and the flow of experience which is constantly changing. The oars are attention.
Looking outside ourselves
Like most of us, I spend a lot of my time and energy focused on thrusting my oars forward in pursuit of some goal or project. My actions, whether I am conscious of it or not, are often directed at increasing pleasurable experiences, and reducing uncomfortable or unpleasant ones.
The moment when I pull my oars in, focus on the quality of my breath, and notice sensations arising, true intimacy comes alive in me.
Dissolving the Filter
As the filter of striving for something else that’s not here dissolves, stillness and contentment come flooding in, and all is right in my world.
Paradoxically, this state of contentment is not something that we attain, it is what remains when we neither grasp nor push away our experience.
When we slow down and savor what’s happening, it becomes obvious that nothing we experience is permanent.
Our bodies, which feel so solid, are in a constant state of change. Every moment we are getting older, and closer to the moment of death.
Our attitude toward ageing and dying in this culture is one of denial. We pretend that if we just do more better, than we will elude it. We treat ageing and dying as a calamity and great sorrow.
What a relief when we recognize that change is a natural, and inevitable part of life.
Losing my Dad
When my dad died in a plane crash in 2007 I was devastated. The world would never be the same.
I cried, mourned and grieved. This is natural, I was in pain.
When I can ride the wave of pain, I feel it in my body, heart and mind while on some deeper level I know that it is not permanent.
Suffering is different. It’s like a big, dark, impenetrable cloud that feels solid and permanent. In its grip I have no hope of relief. When I grasp onto pain too tightly, or annihilate it with avoidance, there’s no space to feel, or be intimate with it.
Over two whole days plus of silence, meditation, and listening to the wise words of Tempel Smith, our excellent guide, I learned to relax into the steady flow of arising and passing experience. Open to feel what was arising, I could savor both the impermanence and uniqueness of the moment.
This is being truly intimate with myself, and it is in this soil that compassion for others can take root and flourish.