Sunday, January 02, 2011


At the end of a painful retreat (about which, click here), Laurie came to pick me up.

She brought Echo, a rambunctious Samoyed, who, she informed me, was disappointingly not named Moksha.

We walked the dog around the outer grounds of Spirit Rock. Up the hills, through the winter-brown weeds and grasses. She tugged and jumped and played. She started at a tall, white marble Buddha standing in a grove of trees, was only wary of a small seated Buddha halfway up the hill, and by the time we encountered another figurine at the foot of the hill, she was
unimpressed, sniffing along the fringes of the dirt footpath.

Coming off this retreat, my heart was a bit raw, but relievedly open.

* * *

The first several days had been a painful, pain-filled retreat for me. The only relief I found was in walking meditations – under the overhanging eaves during heavy rains, under the bay laurel and live oak forest when the rains lightened. On one of the most difficult days, I found a stretch of forest trail to serve as my walking path. Fifteen slow steps from a young fir tree to a huge, head-level oak branch, covered in bright green moss and grey lichens. Then back. Then back. Then back. Then back.

The deep sound of the far-off courtyard bell signaled the return to seated meditation and the pain I was unsuccessfully struggling to overcome. I paused at the overhanging oak limb. Pressed my face against the cold, rough, damp moss. Inhaled the scent of cold, wet life. I turned my head toward the trunk, pressing my cheek against the moss. Deep in the moss-lined niche where the limb joined the trunk, sat a two-inch statue. But unlike the blissful, peaceful icons of Buddha-nature that dot the grounds of Spirit Rock, this one is rendered inexpertly in clay. Its face is more of suggestion than a rendering – eye sockets and a closed mouth. The effect is a gaunt and troubling figure.

That isn’t the Buddha. It’s a starved yogi.

* * *

I heed the bell and return to the meditation hall, rotely bow to the standing Buddha at the front of the room to acknowledge my effectless resolve to seek liberation, and resume my pain-filled and increasingly desperate sitting.

* * *

The next time the rains lighten, I return to the bit of trail for walking meditation. At the end of the slow slow slow walking, I look again at the clay statute. It is still gaunt. It still seems to say more of warning than of enlightenment. I walk. The distant bell sounds. I approach the tree limb end to my path.

I turn to walk away. Then I feel a slight desire well up. In the quiet, the mind turns toward the desire, and I see a want to offer something. “No. Foolishness.” my mind says. I turn to follow the bell’s call back to the meditation hall. The same up-welling arises. I look to the forest floor and find a bit of oak branch with tiny, ungrown acorns barely emerging from scaled caps. I place it before the gaunt little statue.

* * *

On our walk, Laurie and Echo and I approach the last statue of the Buddha from behind. As we near, we see strands of weathered mala beads hanging from the statue’s neck. We round it and stand, looking. Someone has clipped a barrette to a strand of mala beads. Someone else has hung a pendant around the statue’s neck. In the statue’s mudra-nestled hands someone has put a piece of flint, several have put coins, another has placed a smooth, red stone. At the base of the statue are arrayed impromptu offerings – more coins, a house key, a cracked nerf football, stones, bracelets, a corroding piece of folded paper clipped with a wooden clothespin, an earring. I bow toward the statue, feeling this time in my raw, open heart, the acknowledgement of the path, of the pain I’ve stopped resisting. I let go of the form, and gratitude wells up. The bow offers my complete awareness.

* * *

Fetters of I, me, and mine fall away, veils of time and place pull open and the gratitude of the mala-bead offeror is present. The gratitude of the house-key offeror is present. The gratitude of the barrette offeror is present. The gratitude of the bead-purse-offeror, and rock-offerors, and the feather-offeror, and the coin-offerors, and the football offeror is present. And the gratitude of countless people who have bowed before the statue is present. And all of us in that moment without ourselves are realized in one offering, one gratitude, one bowing.

And as I’ve done countless times on this retreat, I weep.

Laurie unclips a tag from Echo’s collar and places it gently beside someone’s house key.

(Cross-posted at, which has some of Laurie's pictures from that day)