Notes on a Buddhist path

Slip Sliding Away

November 2, 2014 By | 6 Comments

You know the nearer your destination the more you’re slip slidin’ away.” ~ Paul Simon

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of a meditation retreat is the abandonment of decisions. There’s no need to choose where to sleep, when to get up, what to eat, how one’s day will be filled. Time and its cadence take on the rhythm of the monastery, of the other retreatants, of the pattern of hours laid out on a piece of paper waiting for us on our simple beds. Starting with the call of a bell long before the sun’s rising, its ringing voice announces our meditations, our meals, our times to gather. In between are the vistas of quiet hours set aside for contemplation, for reflections on the Dhamma, for going inward and opening to wisdom’s whispers of love.

MeditationIn late September I travelled to Birken Forest Monastery for nearly two weeks of silent retreat. It had been almost a year since I had been back and I found the time leading up the journey filled with yearning and excitement. I missed my spiritual family, the peace of the land, the embrace of the monastery’s walls and rooms, its generous solitude, and most especially my teacher, Ajahn Sona. Going to Birken is like coming home for me. It’s a place of comfort, of acceptance, of boundless metta, loving kindness, and a place where the Dhamma welcomes all who enter.

Shortly after arriving a final worldly decision is asked of each of us, that of choosing a bowl and plate, spoon, fork, knife and cup we will use during our time on retreat. Tearing off a small piece of green tape I wrote my name on it and pressed it onto the cup that would hold my hands in the coming days.

Settling in, the hours soon crossed a panorama of arisings and passings that brought with them gifts of sightings and subtle awakenings. With the body’s pains were insights into how transient all of life is; how uncertain are the moments we cling to when the experiences and the “self” observing them shift and flow so swiftly into some new constriction. Watching an emotion flare up and discovering a salve for the kilesas, those suffering mental states that cloud the mind, in the triple gem of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Recollecting over and over again the Buddha’s words to Bahiya, “in the seen just the seen, in the heard just the heard,” reminders that in every sense encounter there is no one seeing, no one hearing, no one touching, tasting, smelling or thinking. Knowing there is only the object that has opened the sense door, whether it’s the sight of someone yawning, the sound of a coyote’s howl or the thought of when one will eat again, each encounter brings us to the awareness that we can end our suffering by not following the breadcrumbs of our stories, our proliferations, our becomings that continue the uncompromising cycle of samsara.

As with each moment, each meditation retreat is unique. Each bears the fruit of our intentions and our commitment to the practice. Each time for this meditator the hope arises that a little less of “me” comes back to this life in the city. That old patterns and ways of being the “I” has clung to for survival and perpetuated to prop up this existence of dissatisfaction can begin to slip away. Like patches of skin peeling to reveal a tender new surface, it feels as if there’s a joyous strength revealing itself in the wake of those many hours of practice. A joy that offers a glimpse of life beyond the trappings of a sensory world to the lightness of being beyond cravings, beyond birth and death, of walking in equanimity to the horizon of that final breath.

One of the last things to done before leaving Birken is to wash our dishes a final time and return them to their places on shelves and in drawers of the now still and empty kitchen. The name written on that tattered piece of tape had faded over those many days. Perhaps part of “me” has faded as well.

Image Credit:

Meditation by Lucas Torresi via Flickr Creative Commons



  1. “Going to Birken is like coming home for me.”

    We all yearn to come home, both to a place that calls to us, and to that space in our own hearts. I rejoice that your path is leading you to both.

  2. Your writing touches my restless heart-mind as I await next week’s 5-hour drive to “my” monastery. Similar longing: the gathering of likeminded practitioners, the familiar setting, the scent of incense embedded in walls and cushions, the bells, gongs, and clappers that regulate our long days (and short nights), the teacher’s presences … and toilets waiting to be cleaned.

    This longing is mixed with worry. About the unknown amidst the familiar. The ego, afraid of being found out for what it isn’t. So I listen and welcome the lamenting — “like a mother protects her child” as it says in the metta sutra.

    • Mudita arises at knowing you too will be heading to your spiritual home next week. As for the longing and the worry, following the wise suggestions of Ajahn Brahm that you shared with us about letting go may be of help ( Perhaps writing “worry” on a stick and tossing it into the ocean will settle your heart and your mind.

      Metta to you, my friend, each and every day.

  3. Less ego , more presence; beauty and grace on the path; all this in a few paragraphs, thank you Tess

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