the last installment. part v of why meditate, thoughts on my two 1-week back-to-back meditation retreats: part i, part ii, part iii, part iv, & part v. An abridged version for moderns exists at Shambhala New York.
And that was it. After lunch there was a banquet to close the week, and a bit of a talent show with poetry, songs, skits, and the like performed after the meal. As I enjoyed my desserts, Seth asked (snarkily) when I was on. “I thought you were going to share something with us.”
“Hmmm? What do you mean. I already did. You missed it?” I snarked back.
“Oh, you mean at lunch? The bawling over your hot dog?” As if his words weren’t enough, he brought his hands to his mouth, grasping an imaginary whole foods organic hot dog with caramelized onions and nori, rounded his shoulders, closed his eyes, pulled down the corners of his mouth, and snapped his diaphragm up (he’s obviously done some yoga) which bobbed his torso and head a bit to mimic that ungodly heaving that accompanies a big cry.
It was pretty funny.
We laughed. I’d never met Seth before but, as always happens on retreat, by the end of a week I felt like I’d known the people around me forever, even though we’d never spoken. I was thinking about this on the first day, when everyone felt so strange to me, which I wasn’t used to at Shambhala. I was used to knowing people. But it had been a while. I wondered then how these strangers would quickly unfold as we sat together in silence. And they did. It is like magic.
When the festivities and the retreat were over, I went home and emailed Zka, telling her more or less what I’ve told you. I cleared my schedule completely for the next days, and we had dinners, coffees, drinks, and walks over three boroughs in her last days in NYC. I took her to JFK and we sat quite near a NEW YORK HOT DOG stand while we chatted before her flight. I didn’t cry.
A few times I’ve had to explain to people that because I felt sad about Zka’s leaving does not mean I’m defined by it, or that I’m depressed. As a culture we are so against sad that we’ve forgotten that to feel sadness and let it pass is a fine, healthy thing to do.
It is almost fall now, and I’m more able to stay inside and get things done. I still angle for the sunny spots on the sidewalk because the sun feels so good, but a part of me is relieved by the cooler air and the softer light. See? Even summer girls can adapt.
So, that’s why I meditate. It’s one thing to get it intellectually. And it’s another thing to sit. You really, really have to sit. There’s a great story about the Venerables Mahakasyapa and Ananda, about why the Buddha chose Mahakasyapa to succeed him rather than his cousin Ananda. (Ananda didn’t practice!) Yes, this is a myth. There’s some argument over who succeeded the Buddha, and this story seems more popular in Zen traditions. That’s not the point though. The point is, you have to practice.
The story is pp 123-125.