Notes on a Buddhist path

An Extra Ordinary Retreat

April 21, 2014 By | 6 Comments

“I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me, That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea… There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute, except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Awakening this morning there was a spaciousness to the air, a stillness and lingering dreams of peace. My long slumber cast across the hours had sown seeds of kind reflection in the field of this new day.

Seeking_human_kindnessI thought of the past weekend, sitting in silence with others and sharing in the Dhamma with Pascal Auclair, a wise and whimsical teacher of Vipassana meditation. One of the seeds Pascal planted with me was the above quote by D.H. Lawrence. “The mind has no existence by itself.” Magnificent. To be walking in meditation with mindful curiosity and suddenly encounter diamonds glittering on a sea of green was a moment of exquisite awe. Those seconds that followed when my mind organized the diamonds into shining raindrops perched on leaves and blades of grass shifted the presence and separated me from the connection with all that had just arisen. This body, this being, felt the earth these feet know so well, the sun that wrapped its warm arms around these shoulders, the song of a bird that brushed against these ears. Pascal pointed to the sighting of this illusory mind, how its words and images are like so much foam on the waters of the sea. Transitory, vanishing, as ephemeral as the wind and deluded as a budding flower seeking divinity in the sky.

He reminded us with a wry sense of mischief that these senses, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness we encounter are not ours and suggested we see them instead as National Parks. The National Park of Anger. The National Park of Drowsiness. The National Park of Jealousy. The National Park of Not Being Rightness. Places to explore, to be curious, to observe how each has its own texture, its own subtleties and grossness, how ultimately each of them dissolves and fades away. What a sublime image. To be on the Grand Tour with the Five Aggregates and see them for what they are and are not. To witness that long held perception about this body or that other being and sense its faulty logic, its empty bravado, its melting veneer is to embrace the three tenets of existence taught by the Buddha. All that we cherish will leave us (anicca), all is without any resonance of a self (anatta) and our desire for it to be otherwise is a life of wobbly dissatisfaction (dukkha).

The days were rich and heartfelt surrenders to the suchness of life and the tender beauty of our moments on this earth. Pascal told us of a meeting he and others had with a director at Greenpeace, how this man reflected his respect for our Buddhist ways as we will be better prepared to be with less in these coming years. When I heard those words a sadness arose that instantly melted into a knowing and then became a reservoir of peace. In that reservoir was a gladness in being part of a community where renunciation is honoured and seeing that which is given up as a lightening of our load, both personal and global. Our sighting of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity as our compass on the path will serve us and all beings well as our final years, days and hours unfold on the planet.

One special gift I took away from this weekend of seated and walking meditations, of Dhamma talks and mindful practice, was a saying Pascal shared with us from Ajahn Analayo, the author of Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization. Ajahn Analayo summed up the four foundations of mindfulness with a simple acronym, KCKC: Keep Calmly Knowing Change. “Keep” is the diligent comprehension we are asked to give. “Calmly” is to be in the peace of just this, free from desires and discontent. “Knowing” is our curiosity, our mindful unraveling of the complexities of all that arises and passes away. And “Change” is our direct realization of that impermanence and the hollow, discordant nature of this conditioned existence.

Sitting in the stillness of this white afternoon, while Bach refrains drift past these ears and these eyes watch the dances of newly borne leaves on the fingertips of well fraught trees, I can behold the tenuous nature of this moment and feel kindness arise. There is gratitude to Pascal and all who brave the sorrowful landscapes between those oases of kindness. There is in this moment the extra ordinary, the tiny fragment of just this that opens me to a greater understanding of us all. To know we are all connected, all tenants of this earth for such a brief and precious time, is an extraordinary gift that begs us to welcome everything, to surrender our separateness at the borders of our hearts and see them shatter, falling to the fertile earth like shards of diamonds seeding kindness wherever they land.

by Naomi Shihab Nye
(with appreciation to Pascal Auclair for sharing this poem on the final day of our retreat)

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the
Indian in a white poncho lies dead
by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night

with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

From The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye,  © Eighth Mountain Press, 1994.

D.H. Lawrence excerpt from Apocalypse, © Penguin Classics, 1996. First published 1931.

Image Credit:

Seeking Human Kindness by Enver Rahmanov via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Lovely! National Park of Loveliness!

    • Ah, thanks Kim. Isn’t that just the best description of all those pesky things that show up in meditation? A National Park for each one of them. I must say some of my parks are quite a bit bigger than the others. 🙂

  2. Thank you, Tess, for the reminder that nothing “belongs” to anyone, that even National Parks are without boundaries.

  3. “Those seconds that followed when my mind organized the diamonds into shining raindrops perched on leaves and blades of grass”. An amazing and wonderful awareness.

    When I remember, I like to see myself as being an inquisitive scientist from another planet, sent to earth in human form to explore what it is to be a human being. To explore those National Parks. Here to record rather than to react.

    Wow, the poem Kindness really drops an anvil into the pond of our complacent lives. “Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore”.

    Thank you for sharing all that you experienced in this retreat.

    • I like the inquisitive scientist image, David. To be curious about every atom I think is ultimately where the unconditioned stillness can be found. Thanks for your kindness and its ripples in the pond of my life.

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