This past November I had the good fortune to participate in a meditation retreat at The Mandala Center, led by Don Handrick of Santa Fe’s Thubten Norbu Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center. Although I have read nearly every book published on Zen Buddhism over the past fifteen years, my practice has remained completely unstructured and ritual-free; something I felt I needed to remedy. My ego, or spirit, or body- perhaps a collaboration- began to nag that I wasn’t disciplined enough in my spirituality. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was lazy. So, to jumpstart my new-found commitment to a more solid spiritual foundation, I eagerly signed up for this four-day silent meditation retreat on the Four Immeasurables. I was a little intimidated. I’d never done anything like this before, but I brushed off the insecurity and allowed myself to wear that ‘beginner’ title proudly. I understood that unless I was willing to take the risk and try, I’d never progress.
So I jumped in, and found it remarkably difficult; more so than I imagined, in fact.
Around day three (after nearly eight hours of sitting meditation a day) I found myself in the middle of a meditation on compassion, struggling with so active a mind I thought I’d never find my way back to internal silence. I began to feel angry with myself. Surrounded by a group of people seemingly so deep within their own peaceful mindfulness, I began to compare myself to those who could do this, feeling as though I could not. The attempts to suppress the constant battle I found myself embroiled within began to exhaust me. So as our teacher had instructed, I called on the image of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of compassion, to help me. I envisioned this glowing Divine Being floating in the air above me and I asked him to flood me with the light energy of acceptance and compassion- for myself.
At that moment, a beautiful thing happened.
I heard a loud knock on the window of our nature-surrounded meditation room. It was more than a knock really – it was more like a small jackhammer pounding at lightning speed. I tried to stay focused, but it only got louder. I cracked my eye open a tiny bit to see if anyone else was curious about this intrusion. Nobody seemed to notice. They all remained quiet as little Buddhas, deeply within their own contemplative serenity. And then, as the pounding got louder and louder, it was as if time stood still and I was the only witness to a very personal moment.
I quietly turned around, eyes unapologetically open, to see what was behind me. There, clinging to the adobe wall, pounding on the window frame was the most glorious orange Flicker. His little head was cocked to the side and he seemed to be staring me directly in the eye. I imagined he did this upon direct guidance from Chenrezig himself and pictured him enquiring as to the nature of his summons- “Which one of you called for me?” I nearly ignited with joy. The Flicker is my birthday totem on the Medicine Wheel; one of my very favorites of the avian species and a totem symbol of spiritual harmony and rapid growth. It was as if I received the direct message that I was more than fine. On the journey of our own spirituality there is no ‘wrong’ way to progress. It is only our own overactive, internal critic which tells us so.
Perfect imperfection. A step forward is beautiful no matter how clumsy. And I believe at the dawn of the brand new year, amidst the swirl of resolutions, this is an important reminder for all of us.
Marketing Assistant at The Mandala Center