And now for something a little different – an answer to the question nobody asked – “What does a forest monk do in the rain?” The answer may or may not surprise you. We sit.
This weekend I had wonderful accommodations – a fully furnished, clean, warm retreat apartment at a house next to a tibetan monastery. The surrounding hills and forests are gorgeous, but it was raining almost the entire time, so I committed instead to doing a self-guided breath meditation retreat. Without really intending to, I planted myself on a 6×10 foot rug in front of a Buddha image – and that’s w closed) box and spend up to three years there. Monasteries who do this practice often have monastics on rotating schedules. Some are in retreat, some are looking after retreatants’ basic needs, and some are out taking care of the facilities. Time passes, and they alternate.
I tried to find a license-free image of such a box, but this cat picture is all I got. Hopefully it helps a little to visualize what this would be like.
Whether or not the things that enclose us are a prison is up to us. The real prison, it turns out, is in the mind. If we rage against our boundaries we will always be unsatisfied. But if we accept them and see them as protecting us, guiding us, and focusing us, then the narrative flips.
That might seem like an odd sentiment for a forest monk who, like a deer, wanders in and out of buildings and woods alike as if he doesn’t see boundaries at all. But something one recognizes when they study nature is that when the conditions aren’t right to act – animals stay put. They wait. Imagine a spider sitting on a web for hours, for days, silently attentive to the slightest motion on the webstrings. It’s not because of some miraculous powers of concentration. They are just conserving energy in their life or death struggle for survival. But we, as human beings, have the ability to train our minds to let go of the external and focus on just what is right here – the webstrings of our own body, and our breath.
Just a thought for consideration.