Thursday, 28 May 2009

Ten Days of Stillness

John, one of our Sangha members, has just returned from a 10 day meditation retreat at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire. Amaravati is a monastery in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism and a centre of teaching and practice. Its heart is a resident community of monks and nuns, whose life of meditation and work is open for visitors to share, as a living example of the Buddhist path. "Amaravati" means "Deathless Realm" in the Buddhist scriptural language, Pali, a verbal reminder of the highest spiritual aspiration.

Here is John's story of his retreat......


( A commentary on a Retreat held at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery)

I felt dreadful when I woke up on the third morning at 0430,waiting for the bell to rouse us. ‘I’m not even half way through this’ My body complained. The initial enthusiasm had evaporated. ‘Another day of more of the same boring stuff, sitting and walking, sitting and walking.’ The Ajahn had advised us not to read anything either. My whingeing mind went on and on.
Be mindful and observe. Stop reacting, we had been instructed.

Fifty retreatants of mixed Nationalities were with me, all following the ‘ Noble Silence’. Early rising. Chanting and Meditation till a bit of porridge at 0700. Working Meditation for an hour (Which means hoovering, cleaning WC’s and washing up- mindfully) then back for a spot more sitting and walking till the only meal of the day at 1200.( There is a certain skill involved in taking enough to eat to last through 19 hours abstinence, but not to gorge!). ‘Chew chew swallow, chew chew swallow.It’s not that exciting, just the thought that makes it so’ The Ajahn smilingly advised.

Afternoon programme?....yes you’ve guessed it, sitting and walking, till 5pm when we were allowed a cuppa.

Each evening we would listen to a talk in the Shrine room, as the sun went down, with just the reflection of the candles on the golden Buddha for illumination.Ajahn Jayanto would expound on ‘Awareness Practice’ . ‘Just this moment, just now’ and we would inwardly nod sagely.

Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day we practised being simply in the present. Feeling each sense, individually, as we walked a straight path or simply sat. Becoming ‘the Knower’ of the fact that those thoughts would just dissipate, like steam off your morning porridge, if you did not attach to them.

By Day six I began to experience great calmness and well being in the sessions. My breathing finely tuned. My patience with myself and others grew. I could open my eyes wide during these periods and simply…….be here and now. Quietly alert. "Body doing its thing, mind doing its thing. Just watch" the Ajahn continued.

Suddenly it was Day Ten. It was all over. We were released from our Silence and Eight Precepts.’ Go and talk with the people you’ve silently interacted with!’ we were told. I did and discovered a whole family of like minded bodies.

Retreats are something to immerse into. Take the opportunity to move your practice forward. Your mind will rebel, but, after all…. who is in charge?!

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