I just returned from a 10 day silent meditation retreat in a beautiful forested area 1 hour north of Toronto. Yes, 10 days of sitting quietly with my inner experiences without distractions in the company of 80 others. Together, we practiced bringing awareness to the breath, to sensations in the body, and to thoughts coming and going in the mind. And as we sat in silence, something beautiful happened.
In the outside world, spring arrived! This has been a COLD winter in Canada. We’ve gone months without a day above 0 degrees. But during this week, the thick blanket of sparkling winter snow began to melt as the sun shone its warm rays on us. Three days of warm sun passed by with little change and then suddenly it all started to melt. Rivers of water began to flow and seep into the ground nurturing dormant trees. One lunch break I sat under a tree and watched as the snow flakes lost their shape and collapsed in on themselves suddenly turning to water and flowing away; Solar energy leading to fluidity leading to budding of spring blossoms. What a joy!
It was such a magnificent parallel of the inner process that was happening as well. When we practice bringing awareness to the direct unfiltered experience of our breath and sensations in the body, something starts to happen. At first we may feel nothing changing at all. Eventually though, with persistence and equanimity, the penetrating rays of a concentrated mind start to melt the physical and mental knots that we hold within ourselves…. Literally.
It is quite amazing to witness. The patterns of tension and holding, and the physical aches and pains that we carry start to dissolve. Pain comes and goes but we see its changing nature and we no longer worry about it. Eventually, the muscles relax, the hips open, and we feel well.
Similarly, the mental knots, the tightly held ideas that we have about ourselves and about the world that ultimately lead to suffering, these too start to melt. Tremendous energy is released. Emotions are released. Sadness, anger, anxiety… they all arise and pass. We feel these as sensations in our body and we start to see the lack of solidity. They become fluid. We open.
And as we open a river of good will begins to flow through us. This good will has no beginning and no end, no giver and no receiver. At the end of the retreat, you can see this sparkling in people’s eyes. People have become more caring, more attentive, more happy. We begin to blossom with the freshness of a warm spring day.
There is so much we can learn from observing our natural world. We often miss the lessons when we are in the city or just simply too distracted to look. So this will be the first episode in a series of lessons from nature that will include little practice exercises to try to reconnect with the wisdom of nature.
Choose a time when you have 5 -10 minutes and stand in the sun. If it is a cloudy day, don’t worry. The sun is still shining its rays from behind the clouds!
Notice your breath and the tip of your nose. Can you feel it? Take a minute to just be with your breath. Now, allow yourself to feel the sun shining on you. Start at the crown of the head, your scalp, your face. Check if you can feel the sun shining down on each part of the body without leaving anything out. Notice if some parts are warmer than others. Don’t worry if you are covered in a winter jacket. Just notice how each part feels: warm, cold, tingly, itchy, numb, painful, tight, open. As the sun shines down on you, shine the light of awareness on your experience. What is it like to feel your breath and body in this very moment?