It's been a week since I got back from my retreat, and it already feels as if it were a month ago. The retreat itself was quite challenging. The Bodhicaryavatara material does not indulge or accommodate any niceties of taste, feeling or decorum. It goes straight for the jugular of our fundamental selfish natures. This is a core problem for any would be Bodhisattva, who's said to have denied themselves full enlightenment until all sentient beings have also been saved. It's as though one has been riding on the backs of the four horseman of the apocalypse only to get thrown off at the end. You have to face the fact of how far away you are from being a Bodhisattva. So far, in fact, you're unable to see yourself becoming one at all.
The beginning of the retreat was slightly marred by waking with a strong headache and nausea on three consecutive mornings. Was it tension released by the change in context, poor sleep posture, trying too hard in meditation or being unused to the higher level of meditation practice? In the end it proved to be neither of these, it was oxygen starvation overnight. The two of us sleeping in the dorm were recycling the same air, with ever depleting levels of oxygen - easily resolved by opening a window.
Consequently, during the initial days, I struggled with the study. Old low self-esteem in study demons came out of the wood work for a revisit, after a number of years absence. Oxygen starvation removed as a contributory causal factor, I soon perked up. I am never the most verbose contributor in a study group, but what I do say is invariable considered, can be right on the spot, or at least clearly and succinctly expressed. Speed of response is rarely my strong point, but provided I seize the opportune moment to speak, I can be a useful contributor to any study discussion.
My meditation gradually deepened as the retreat progressed. I stayed on for four full days after the retreat, utilising the time well. My practice began to slip regularly into Access Concentration, and more than occasionally teetered into 1st Dhyana, which was most gratifying after many years of nadir. The recent increase in my level of practice pre-retreat must have laid good conditions for this fruitful outcome. I also did two to three hours of personal study every day, on a chapter from Mystical Realist by Hee Jin Kim, that describes and explores the basic concepts and models in Dogen's religious approach. This I found extremely productive study material. I got a specific grip on something I'd only previously had a general grasp of. (I'll do a seperate posting about this )