Day 5: and like in any retreat environment, the romance has faded a bit and now it's down to the real work of day-in, day-out complete-and-total orientation to practice, practice, practice.
It's been a fascinating journey, so far. The structures of my life have come alive with potentialities that I never considered before-- and mainly because I never realized I had time before. So I find I am able to get more work done, including the work of child-rearing, which very often means learning how to play again. And, as in any retreat environment, there's been an increase in the time I devote to meditation, and to consciously living zen, to "not getting off the cushion". And, there's even been Dharma talks! Each day, some delivered in ways more mysterious (and by unlikely teachers, I might add) than I could ever expect.
But today I draw my inspiration from a more likely source. Grace Schierson has long been a friend of my own teacher, who has forever encouraged me to attend the women's retreat held annually at Empty Nest Zendo. I delighted to find this interview with Grace about her new book, Zen Women: Beyond Tea-Ladies, Iron Maidens and Macho Masters. You can listen to the entire interview in the link below. The portion that was most inspirational to me-- and indeed, the basis of my Home Retreat-- is this:
Whatever comes my way, whether it’s people bumping into me or someone being rude to me – I will retain my equanimity and return some kind of kindness. I do not have to be a doormat, but I don’t have to conquer everything.
The balance is finding out how to “accept” without “becoming a victim”. I think this is particularly difficult for women … It’s all about taking-care-of… but how is it we include ourselves in that circle? This is a big practice—this takes a lot of concentration and stability. We watch our reactivity and victim-hood from a very stable observation place. And that’s what meditation teaches.
Women practice at home. That's one gist of this book: a woman's practice, throughout the ages, has been centered in the heart of hearth and family. Whether we (historically) have been prevented from joining the men of the monastery, or whether we have chosen to (presently) manage the growth of our families (--which could mean staying home, or working and caring; neither leaves much room for monastic time!), women's practice is often under the radar of the more visible masculine lineage.
So my recipe for retreat is this: a real concentration on home-as-practice, family-as-sangha, living itself as Buddha. And I realized very quickly that the only way that concentration could be fostered was by really taking the attitude that I am on retreat. Once that attitude was set? An important foundation, or structure, was laid.
My friend Barry brought up an excellent point: the structure of retreat really is the backbone of retreat. Structure fosters a certain "attitude"-- a degree of curiosity or experimentation with what's possible in this life. In that focused place, you can dedicate your entire being to your practice, and live it within each moment. Even mundane tasks like cleaning or going to the bathroom suddenly offer rich possibilities-- simply because the retreat environment, with its mingling of scents, iconography and indeed the pure effort of each person there gathered, creates a safe ground where practice can be the focus of each moment.
"Cleaning"? I sure got that in spades around here! Not to mention "going to the bathroom". It's potty-training time, if you catch my drift. I am always in the bathroom these days (if not in the kitchen, that is). Plenty of opportunity for enlightenment!
Jokes aside, any mother of a young child can tell you that the structure of a day definitely contributes to the success of parenting itself. And as I considered this retreat, I considered how the structure that our days normally follow might serve as the backbone of my practice. And as is true with anything, the closer you look, the more likely you are to find exactly what you need, sitting right in front of you, as it always has been.