When you're making gravy, you finely cut onions, slowly fry them, and gradually add flour, flavourings and water. Once the ingredients are all mixed its very easy to think nothing is happening for quite some time. But don't ever go away and do something else. If you take your eye off the gravy for even a few seconds it will thicken too much, form a skin, or worse still burn on the bottom of the pan. To make a good gravy you need to keep stirring, keep adding water, you need to give it your full attention. As with gravy, so it is with practicing the spiritual life. If you don't give it the right degree of attention, keep stirring it, keep adding water, it will solidify forming a wrinkled old looking skin, or at worst the light of inspiration will burn itself out.
I've been away on retreat, for a fortnight at Padmaloka. The retreat, called The Heart of Ordination, was based around the four ordination vows that I took when I became a member of the Western Buddhist Order. You accept the ordination on the basis that you will - be loyal to your teachers - remain in harmony with friends and brethren - do so in order to attain enlightenment - and for the benefit of all beings. I took these vows eight years ago. The day before the Public Ordinations we were told to note them, as they were very important commitments we were to recite. However, that was the first I'd heard of them. These days the four vows have developed a much higher profile in the WBO, to the extent of having an entire retreat constructed around them.
I was supporting Padmavajra in his study group, so I'd prepared well, and dutifully read all the background material and made notes. I knew this retreat would challenge my rather distant stance towards the institutions of the Order, and sure enough it did so. One by one, within the first few days they all popped up- being in good contact with my Private Preceptor, attending Order weekends, being in a Chapter, writing in to Shabda, doing my sadhana. What quickly became clear was that my original decisions to withdraw from close association with these things was entirely emotionally reactive. These undoubtedly had there purpose at the time, and were encouraged, if not inflamed, by the climate of liberalisation and permissiveness then current in the Order,which I was strongly resistant to. As I have changed my lifestyle considerable since then, these views were in serious need of an update. They'd settled into sentimental habits very entrenched against change. Once again my strong tendency to respond to disillusion / dissatisfaction, by dropping whatever causes it like a hot potato, was being highlighted. This had been particularly the case with my feelings about Order Chapter - based entirely upon my uncomfortable dispiriting experiences in my first Chapter. After some reflection and reconsideration I am now up for joining a Chapter again.
The retreat had four ordinations taking place during it which were very wonderful and pleasing events to be a part of. I couldn't help but remember my own. I realised on the retreat how important it is to keep the connections with my ordination alive. So it was a good atmosphere, good study, some excellent walks, talks and pujas - we did two Confession pujas which I'm particularly like, as it is based on a chapter from The Sutra of Golden Light - one of the few Mahayana Sutras I genuinely have time and fondness for. So I've returned back to Cambridge with renewed sense of spiritual purpose, as if some great impediment has been removed, and I'm sort of back on track. I've a list of six things I need to address over the next six to twelve months, I'm confident I will be able to significantly move these on. I have great resolve within me than I've had for a number of years. I'm feeling easier within myself, and more content.