Sunday, March 06, 2005

life koans

I've been finding myself thinking of my last experience at the IMS recently--mostly just because I'm dying to go back. (I'm trying to figure out whether I can take a week or two in May or June.) During group meetings with the teachers, we go around the circle and talk about what we've experienced in the past couple of days. Since this is only real talking that the retreatants do there, these sessions can make a big impression. One meeting in particular stuck with me. The teacher was talking about questions that come up during meditation, and how they're not always easy to answer, and not necessarily supposed to even have answers. Instead, they're questions that we carry with us, taking them out to look at and turn over in our minds, using our responses to them to inform our actions in the present moment. Life koans, she called them.

We all latched onto the concept immediately. As we went around the circle, people started phrasing their experiences in terms of questions--the woman who'd been dealing with the fear of aging associated with physical pain asked, "Can I be happy without a healthy body?", the woman who realized that she was a retreat junkie, hopping from one to the next with no sense of commitment or stability, asked, "Can I grow by picking something and sticking with it?", the man who realized how actively he'd been seeking out distractions in his daily life asked, "Can I survive this sense of emptiness?"

It was like Buddhist Jeopardy.

My own questions were "Can I be happy without following the precepts?"--to which the teacher responded by quite involuntarily laughing out loud and saying "No!"--and "Is it possible to be in a romantic relationship without deceit and without the attachment that leads to suffering?"

(She didn't try to answer the second one for me.)

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