After the Retreat (AR)
In many ways I wish that AR (After the Retreat) marked as significant a milestone in my life as A.D. or
B.C. do for the world. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As much as I may like to be able to report
that my life was instantly and mystically transformed post retreat – sadly, it has not been. However,
my life and points of view have been altered.
The chance to escape and focus on myself, without a constant stream of interruption and diversion,
is a precious and staggeringly rare thing and the retreat, with no phone, email or contact provided
We moved to Taiwan six months ago primarily so that our eleven year old son, Connor, can learn
Mandarin and the culture attached to it. Behind this overt motivation however was a half-expressed
hope that transplanting our lives may also let us find alternative methods of living our lives to the
one we were living - A life filled with worry over ensuring we earned more than the people around
us, where we lived, what car we drove and endlessly obsessing over getting Connor into the 'best'
The truly terrible thing about this kind of materially obsessed life, as has been noted by many before
me, is that you can literally never win. After obtaining your goals and desires you simply realise that
there is more that you 'need' or that someone else has. Think you have enough handbags? Prada
has just released a USD$2 million handbag. Think you have a good cover for your iPad? Hermes has
one for USD$1200 or if you are truly 'successful' then a New York jeweller has a diamond-encrusted
one for USD$4 million (and they cannot keep up with demand).
Fortunately, within a week of arriving, we went on a full day meditation to a nearby temple with the
English meditation group.
Versus a materially obsessed life, it seems to me that seeking enlightenment (or at least bringing
more happiness into my own and other people's lives) is something that is not only more worthwhile,
but actually easier to achieve.
The journey towards self-actualisation also appears to be a much nicer and more rewarding journey
than one of constantly seeking new things. The people that I have met at every meditation event,
including the retreat, are the kinds of people that it is a joy to be around. I believe that meditation,
in promoting a focus on the 'now' and being centred, brings out the best in interactions between
people and this positive interaction quickly becomes a virtuous cycle. This is the main idea that I
have taken away from the retreat.
Every day I try to meditate, usually with my son, for at least thirty minutes, before we start the day.
We do this so that we are more 'stilled' and more open to creating and allowing positive interactions
with the people and situations around us. My life has not miraculously altered as a result, however
by consistently being more open to the great things in people and situations I have found so much
good in them that I would have otherwise been largely closed to. I can already see a positive cycle
starting that may well over time 'miraculously' alter our lives.
Perhaps one day AR may truly be marked as a transformative event in my life.
Thank you all for making the retreat such a delightful and memorable experience to me!
Kishi told me to write something and I did. This piece I'm posting here is not entirely about the meditation retreat. It's more like a brief narrative of my spiritual exploration in Taiwan.
Buddha Nature, Inner Child
I like the quote "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to tell the difference.” For a while, I was resorting to God for help. The Christian group I was associated with are extremely kind and helpful to me, to each other, and to people in general, and I enjoyed bible reading, gospel meeting, and other activities with them. For me though, it was difficult to say out loud “Oh, Lord Jesus,” to believe that human beings are merely containers where Lord Jesus is invited to come fill up, or to get baptized any time soon so I won't disappoint people. Chan meditation doesn’t make me feel as pressured. What attracts me most in Zen/Chan is its emphasis on Buddha-nature, which, I think, is close to “inner self” or “inner child” in the West, a pure, precious, and unpolluted being. It reminds me a poem by Wordsworth:
My heart leaps when my eyes behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Yes, Wordsworth's poem is an ode to nature, but when I read it now, it also feels like an ode to inner nature. The leaping heart is where the inner nature is hidden, and "the child"is the precious being that helps "man" to remember, to re-experience the joy we felt in heart when first seeing the colorful lights of the rainbow. A joyful heart is the beginning of our life and it also keeps us from fearing age and death (doesn't this remind you of the story of shakyamuni buddha we saw where he first saw aging, sickness and death and was determined to look for a cure?). During the meditation retreat, I literally felt that my heart became more joyful and expanded. It used to be a small heart, only enough to contain myself in it, and now I’m willing to make an effort to expand it so eventually it will have space for all beings 众生。During the meditation class, someone shared a Chan story about the ocean and a bottle of water. A bottle of water is easily hazed by a few drops of mud but the ocean remains the same. He inspired us to think that if the heart is big enough, it’s less likely to be disturbed. The heart will remain a heart peaceful, joyful and compassionate.