Blue Cliff Monastery – Day 2

This morning we had sitting meditation at 6 am, followed by a reading and then exercise. Our choices for exercise were qi gong and “stick exercise.”  Having no clue what stick exercise was, I chose qi gong, which was different and fun, except for the cold!  After exercise, we had breakfast, which is a completely silent meal – we can talk once we’ve washed up our dishes.  It’s not hard for me to eat breakfast in silence.  I’m still waking up and so even if I think of something to say (this morning it was a question about something I was eating), I’m not with it enough to care about saying it.  Perhaps the most shocking thing about breakfast this morning was how not-hungry I was.  Normally, I wake up starving, but today I didn’t feel like eating much.

After breakfast we listened to a dharma talk by one of the sisters.  The talk was about managing strong emotions and two things really stuck out to me: 1) 知己: Soulmate.  When Sister D wrote these characters up on the whiteboard, I recognized them and their meanings, but I did not realize that together they meant soulmate.  The first character, 知, means “to know,” and the second, “己,” means oneself.  It was a lovely revelation – that we are our own soulmates, that when we truly know ourselves, we are Home.  This, along with the song we learned today, I have arrived, I am Home, felt particularly relevant and poignant, given my feelings about SF and my recent trip home.  2) Original Fear.  She used this term to refer to the moment when we are born and we are no longer weightless and warm and suddenly have to take our first breath.  She pointed out the inherent risk in pregnancy and childbirth and how this innate fear is passed down from mother to child.  Naturally, I thought of the fear I’ve witnessed in all my clients, the fear I’ve felt myself at births.  I think it’s healthy – like never turning your back to the ocean – a reminder of the power and sacredness of birth.  Unfortunately, we live in a society that preys on this fear and has given rise to our present birth culture.

After the dharma talk, we went for a meditation walk, then had lunch.  The structure of lunch is similar to that of dinner – the main difference being that once we have our food, we wait for the reading of the Five Contemplations (which remind us to be mindful of where our food came from and how we eat).  From lunch, we headed back to the meditation hall for Deep Relaxation, which is similar to yoga nidra.  We jokingly call Deep Relaxation and yoga nidra “nap time,” but to me, both are more fulfilling than a nap.  I always wake up feeling rested and awake and satisfied.

In the afternoon, I studied a bit while others did chores.  My dharma group was exempt from afternoon chores since we were scheduled to wash dishes after dinner.  I was secretly glad to have scored the dish washing chore, not just because it got me out of cleaning toilets, but also because I actually really enjoy washing the dishes.  Since I don’t cook, I often find myself washing dishes – I find it’s a more tangible and concrete way of expressing gratitude for the food I’ve received.

Once we finished up with the dishes, we reconvened in the meditation hall for a second round of deep relaxation, followed by a practice called “Touching the Earth.”  Touching the Earth is five prostrations, each one with a different focus.  The first is showing gratitude toward your blood ancestors, your parents and grandparents and all others who came before you.  The second is gratitude for your spiritual ancestors and teachers.  The third is for our land ancestors, the people who lived on and cultivated the land we currently walk on.  The fourth is for those who love us and whom we have caused to suffer because of that love.  The fifth is for those who have wronged us and challenged us. It’s a beautiful and moving practice, one I’d like to incorporate into my daily life and yoga practice.

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