I’m on day 4 of a weeklong silent meditation retreat, and I’ve just had my one-on-one meeting with our dharma teacher, Susie Harrington. Painful stuff has come up for processing. I return to the sun-washed meditation hall, lower myself onto my cushion as quietly as possible, and close my eyes. I notice my feelings of agitation. I decide to focus on my hearing “sense gate,” as they call the senses in Buddhism: I tune into the chirping of birds announcing spring outside the windows, steam issuing from the teakettle. Then, I become aware of the rise and fall of my fellow meditators’ breathing. The sound is subtle and very gentle, like the softest of ocean waves. The endings and beginnings are what I notice, the peak of the inhale, the final emptying of the exhale, the same cycle repeated and repeated, just uneven enough to remind me it comes from humans.
As I sink into that sound, I can sense the energy of calmness my fellows are exuding into the room. Sweetness arises in my heart. I feel tender as I dive into that sea and swim, directionless and free, for a while.