Into the Clearing
Reflections on New Year Retreat
“…create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently…”
From Clearing by Martha Postlewaite
“I want to go home now, he’s not making me laugh ALL the time”, announced the six-year-old half-way through the clown show we were attending. Over the many years since that fateful event, it’s become a standard joke in our family when someone is getting a bit bored or agitated. A signal to change the channel, move on, a sign that patience is wearing thin. The memory came to me on day three of the four-day silent retreat over New Year.
The pattern of walking, sitting, walking, sitting, eating, a little mindful movement, then more walking, eating, sitting was beginning to create agitation in mind and body. A tricky back injury was showing some of its old flair, making walking difficult. The guy with the moustache is beginning to annoy me as he’s wearing a jacket that’s two sizes too big. A good night’s sleep was elusive as the person across the corridor is constantly snoring as sonorously as a love-sick whale. I sneak a second piece of cake -a little comfort eating goes a long way in these kind of situations. I wanted to go home now.
Simply being with myself with none of the usual distractions was taking its toll. The temptation to turn on the phone was the hardest piece: maybe I had missed a vital call, maybe someone had cleaned out my bank balance, maybe my friend’s mother had died and I had missed the funeral, maybe… In any case, I needed to look up the timetable for the bus to Dublin.
Dutifully, I turn up for the final sitting of the third evening. Perhaps sensing the general mood, our wise retreat director Invited us to do a Metta or loving kindness practice. She recalled that this practice was taught by the Buddha himself as a soothing or calming practice.
Bringing to mind the person that brought us joy was the starting point – wishing them peace, joy, happiness and ease while putting all of our intention and attention behind the words, over and over. I chose the now 26-year old who expressed herself so clearly at the clown show all those years ago. A sense of not just calm but of joy and expansiveness came over me. Gone was the frazzled child who wanted to go home. A clearing had opened. Into that clearing came the thought that everything changes all the time. We simply have to be aware and wait patiently. Tomorrow, on the final day of the retreat, and the first day of the new year, there would time to begin again the sustaining mindfulness practices of walking, sitting, eating, sitting, walking and loving kindness. There would be a new day, a new beginning and, who knows, even time for some clowning around on the way home.
by Mary Jennings
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness then the Sanctuary has the ideal courses for you, designed to introduce beginners to the concept of mindfulness and the practice of meditation: