Getting Better

posted Jan 15, 2010, 11:05 PM by ash ‎(evermindful)‎   [ updated Jan 15, 2010, 11:48 PM ]
It’s the now the new year and to welcome this event we celebrate. In my family we celebrate with an act of dana (ie. Giving or generosity). The best thing to give is food/nutrition to help one continue healthily on their path in pursuit of happiness. For the last two years my wife and I have celebrated by giving each other the nutrition of attending a meditation retreat at the beginning of each year.

Meditation and mindfulness is a priority for my family and we practice it daily. I’m continually developing the skills of effort, mindfulness, concentration and discernment. However, when attempting to develop a skill to a professional level one can no longer treat it as a part-time vocation or hobby. Developing a specific skill to a professional level requires a full-time commitment until that skill is productive.

A meditation retreat is a rare opportunity to develop those specific skills to a productive level. Note, there are many styles of meditation practice and as such there are a variety of meditation retreats. The retreats that my wife and I attend are specific to Insight Meditation where our greater families have known the monk for many years.

In such retreats we observe noble silence, practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, eating mindfully and mindfully observing the bodily hygiene functions. In this retreat the daily timetable was as follows:

Daily timetable

 3:30 – 4:00 am
 Rise and Shine
 4:00 – 5:00 am Walking Meditation
 5:00 – 6:30 am 
 Sitting Meditation
 6:30 – 7:30 am
 Morning Dana (breakfast)
 7:30 – 8:30 am
 Personal Washing Time
 8:30 – 9:30 am Sitting Meditation
 9:30 – 10:15 am Walking Meditation
 10:15 – 11:15 am Sitting Meditation
 11:15 – 1:00 pm Dana (lunch) and Quiet Rest
 1:00 – 1:45 pm
 Dhamma Talk (English)
 1:45 – 2:30 pm Questions and Answers (English)
 2:30 – 3:30 pm Walking Meditation
 3:30 – 4:00 pm Tea Break
 4:00 – 5:30 pm Sitting Meditation
 5:30 – 6:30 pm Walking Meditation
 6:30 – 7:30 pm Optional Walking/Sitting Meditation
 7:30 – 9:00 pm Dhamma Talk (Sinhalese)
 9:00 – 10:00 pm Questions and Answers (Sinhalese)

We also observe sila (morality) through the following practices:
  1. To refrain from taking life
  2. To refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing)
  3. To refrain from sexual misconduct (improper sexual behaviour)
  4. To refrain from lying and deceiving
  5. To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.
  6. To refrain from eating at the wrong time (by only eating from sunrise to noon, one ensures that all food eaten in a day is digested before nightfall)
  7. To refrain from all entertainments and decorations (e.g., dancing, wearing jewellery, watching movies, going to shows, etc. This especially includes entertainments that bring the viewer's mind to sexual imagery)
  8. To refrain from using a high, luxurious bed, or beds that provide extraneous softness or comfort

These retreats are an opportunity to let go of the baggage that we carry in daily life. We drive to a country farm away from home. When I park the car and remove the baggage from the trunk my wife becomes just another practitioner at the retreat. We enter the dinning hall to determine the location of our dormitory. I then go and unpack my few possessions in one of the men’s dormitories. I also setup my meditation stool and cushions in the mediation hall and then immediately start sitting meditation.

Last year my wife and I strictly followed the timetable, although I practice further sitting meditation or read Dhamma during the non-English sessions. Also like last year we briefly break the noble silence and telephone the kids after lunch each day. This year I regularly sat meditating for 1.5 – 2.5 hours in preference to walking meditation, tea break or personal wash time. Walking meditation is great for developing awareness but in this retreat I found myself deep in contemplation.

These retreats are excellent for the purpose of developing a specific skill. However, we must always remember the retreat is an artificial incubated environment. The purpose is to take those specific skills and practice them productively in daily life.

In this year’s retreat I gained many new insights. At times I was overwhelmed with joy with my progress or insights. However, the monk teacher would kindly remind me of my conceit and arrogance as I enthusiastically described my experiences in practice with him in a one-on-one consultation. Dissolving the ego is work in progress. I know I still have far to go but I take comfort in knowing “it’s getting better all the time, better, better, better! Getting so much better all the time”.

with metta ash